Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #22

Frontier Status Report #22

October 31, 1996

Dale M. Gray

Once again it has been a quiet week on the space frontier. But there have been significant advances both in technology and in society. This week marks one of the greatest space events of 1996 with the establishment of a system for American voting in space. In addition a major contract has been announced for the Delta III which is currently in development. Both the shuttle Columbia and the Mars Global Surveyor are preparing for launch next week. A Pegasus rocket launch is also slated for next week after two aborted attempts this past week. MIR continues to overcome problems as it orbits the earth. A new way to make money off of DirectTV is being explored.


The launch of shuttle Columbia may or may not occur as scheduled on November 8. The decision over when to launch hinges upon findings related to over 60 erosion grooves detected in the insulation lining of the bell-nozzle of one of the SRBs used in the recent Atlantis mission. Managers want to understand the problem before clearing the shuttle for flight. The decision is expected on Monday November 7.

The mission will deploy both the Wake Shield Facility-3 and ORFEUS-SPAS-2. Two spacewalks are scheduled to test equipment and construction techniques. Story Musgrave, at 61, will set a new record for the oldest astronaut to fly in space during this mission. Loading of hypergolic fuel has been slightly delayed due to the failure of a fuel pump on the pad. The pump has been replaced and the fueling resumed. Flight Readiness Review was completed Monday October 28, and ordinance installed October 29. On November 5 the payload bay doors will be closed and the countdown for the tentative November 8 launch will begin (Flatoday).


The crew of Mir took time out of their busy schedule for a press conference on Thursday October 24 and an interview with a Indiana radio station on Tuesday October 29. While experiments are continuing, the station is continuing to show its age and its vulnerability. The backup cooling system has sprung a leak and the urine reclamation system is down until the next supply ship. A virus cropped up on John Blaha's laptop computer. The station is now suffering a problem with space for its waste, both organic and electronic. With the delay of resupply from the Russians, sewage may exceed the station's storage capacity. One option to control the situation is to manually stir the sewage tank. The Russian crew joked that nothing in the American's experience prepared him for such an experiment. Meanwhile on Earth, Shannon Lucid is working on the problem of disposing of broken and unusable equipment that is beginning to pile up on the station. Lucid, who recently returned from a half-year stint on Mir, has found her own readjustment to gravity to be easier than she anticipated (Flatoday).


The Pegasus XL originally scheduled to launch from Wallops Flight Facility, Monday, October 28, was delayed due to potential problems with inertial measurement units (IMUs). The aircraft-launched booster rocket will carry two scientific satellites (HETE and SAC-B) for NASA and Argentina. The flight was delayed two days to allow the launch team time to recuperate. On Wednesday the L-1011 carrier aircraft lifted off on schedule for a 12:51 (EST) separation 50 miles east of Wallops Island. However, at T-5 seconds a rudder pin did not retract and the flight was aborted. A second attempt was made, but the original attempt had drained the 90-second battery powering the rudder pin retraction. The rocket was then safed and returned to Wallops. The problem will be analyzed, but the next attempt will be no earlier than Monday, November 4 (Flatoday).


Argentina's $29.5-million SAC-B satellite slated to be launched on the Pegasus was built under a cooperative agreement with NASA. It contains five instruments to study solar flares, gamma ray bursts, diffuse cosmic X-ray background and energetic neutral atoms. The satellite will serve as a proof of Argentina's ability to build and operate a satellite. SAC-B, however, is international in origin. NASA provided two instruments and launch of the craft. Italy provided a third instrument while Brazil provided testing facilities. The 400-pound satellite will be controlled from a center near Buenos Aires. The country hopes to launch a follow-on mission SAC-C in 1999 (AW&ST).


Also slated to be launched from the Pegasus with the SAC-B, the 275-pound high-energy transient experiment will study gamma ray bursts. The craft was built by AeroAsto Inc. and will be operated by MIT with ground stations in Westford, Mass, Japan, and France.


McDonnell-Douglas has captured a contract to launch 5 of 12 ICO Global Communications satellites beginning in 1999. The builder of the satellites, Hughes Space and Communications International, Inc., selected the new Delta III to launch the advanced communication satellites into 6,430 mile orbits from Cape Canaveral. Able to launch 8,400 lb into geosynchronous orbit, the new Delta III has over twice the capacity of the Delta II. The first Delta III launch is scheduled for 1998 when it is scheduled to launch a Hughes Galaxy satellite (Flatoday).

The $2.3 billion ICO network will be consist of 10 operational satellites along with 2 spares. These satellites will be launched on a variety of rockets during a 20-month period beginning in 1998. In addition to the 5 launched by the Delta III, one will be launched by a Lockheed Martin Atlas booster. Boeing has the contract for 3 of the satellites to be carried to orbit by Ukrainian Zenit rockets launched from the floating Sea Launch Co. facility. The remaining 3 satellites will be launched on Russian Proton rockets. The system will be operational at the end of 1999 when 6 of the satellites are in place. The system will provide global mobile telephone, data, facsimile, and basic messaging services through small, hand-held units similar to current cell phones (Flatoday).


New technology may soon bring DirectTV services to the flying public. In an experiment, a Delta Air Lines 767-200 has been fitted with a low-profile antenna to receive DirecTV broadcasts in flight. An antenna controller aims the antenna utilizing aircraft position information. Capable of receiving 170 channels, the system will be able to receive and transmit large digital files such as compressed movies and passenger communications (AW&ST).


On Wednesday, December 6, shortly after noon eastern time, the MARS GLOBAL SURVEYOR is scheduled to be launched from Launch Complex 17A on a Delta II rocket. There will be two opportunities to launch: 12:11:17 p.m. or 1:15:44 p.m. After 10 months in space, the craft will be placed in a polar orbit around the red planet in September of 1997. It will then spend two years (one Martian year) mapping the surface, surface, magnetic fields, mineral composition, and atmosphere. At the completion of its mapping phase the craft will continue to serve as a data relay satellite for other craft on the surface of the planet. While several missions will arrive at Mars in the next few years, NASA scientists predict that sample returns may be a decade away (Flatoday).


US Astronaut John Blaha onboard Mir has singlehandedly brought democracy to space by requesting an absentee ballot for the upcoming U.S. election. While a suitable encrypted electronic ballot was created, affixing Blaha's signature proved problematic and could not be produced in time for this election. Blaha's vote will not be counted in Tuesday's election, but he will complete the process to ensure that future U.S. Astronauts on Mir and the International Space Station will be able to exercise the most fundamental of American rights. While Blaha's stay on Mir will soon be over, his addition to America's democratic process is integral to the advance of America civilization into space (Robyn Suriano Flatoday; Dale M. Gray Frontier Model).


The population of the frontier remains at 3: two Russian sojourners and an American sojourner on Mir.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1996

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