Frontier Status Report #23
Frontier Status Report #23
November 7, 1996
Dale M. Gray
After several weeks of quiet, it has been a frantic week for the frontier. Three launches were scheduled: the Pegasus flew after 2 delays, but malfunctioned in orbit, the Shuttle has been delayed to study a problem and the Mars Global Surveyor was delayed a day before a successful launch. Several advances in rocket systems have been announced for the Delta 4, the Titan 4 and a new very small, but cheap system. New technology is now in place receiving information for Galileo and lowering costs for future exploration. Delays are rumored for the International Space Station.
The scheduled November 8 flight of the Shuttle Columbia has been delayed due to concerns over 60 erosion trenches in nozzle insulation on a solid rocket booster from the previous mission. While there was no danger from the erosion, mission managers delayed the flight to November 15 to give additional time to understand the problem. Because of the delay, the Shuttle must now also wait for an Atlas launch scheduled for November 13 with a backup opportunity the next day. A delay of Atlas would bump the Shuttle to November 16. The Shuttle will be carrying two free-flying satellites: the Wake-Shield semiconductor factory and a German astronomical platform (NASA; FLATODAY).
Proof testing is set to begin on the new Super Lightweight Tank for the Shuttle. Built by Lockheed Martin Manned Space Systems, proof and proto-flight tests are set to begin after the addition of a dome assembly to the tank. Constructed with aluminum-lithium technology imported from Russia, the Shuttle's new lightweight tank will weigh 7,500 lb less than the current external tank. This extra payload capacity is needed to lift some components of the International Space Station. The first lightweight tank, dubbed ET-96, is on schedule for its maiden launch in December 1997.
The news is not good for the International Space station. It is heavily rumored that Russia will shortly announce a 6-12-month delay on their service module. In addition the FGB and Node 1 are also behind schedule with problems in the hardware and software for the station. Although technical problems have contributed and some work is being done on the service module, the main problem is the low funding levels in both Russia and to a lesser extent the U.S. New manifests for the station show dramatically fewer Russian launches with many postponed with undetermined dates (Rich Kolker, FLATODAY).
France has announced that the next Franco-Russian mission on Mir will occur sometime in late 1997 or early 1998. Leopold Eyharts has been selected for the 20-day / 90 million francs mission. His backup, Jean-Pierre Haignere, may fly a four-month mission in 1999 which would involve an EVA, to be conducted by Haignere (FLATODAY).
MARS GLOBAL SURVEYOR
The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral at noon local time on Thursday November 7. A nominal flight lead to a successful separation - - sending the spacecraft on a path to intercept Mars in September of 1997. The first two launch opportunities for the MGS were canceled Wednesday November 6 by rain clouds and then high altitude winds. The second cancellation occurred only 66 seconds before launch. The rocket had to be launched by November 25 in order to make its Martian orbit (FLATODAY).
After a scrub on October 29 and an aborted launch October 31, a Pegasus XL rocket was finally launched on November 4 carrying two low-cost explorer satellites designed to study the explosive forces in the universe. The previous abort came only 5 seconds before launch when a rudder pin between the jet and rocket failed to retract. On Monday, the rocket was successfully released from an L-1011 jet aircraft over the Atlantic 95 miles off the coast of Wallops Island at an altitude of about 40,000 feet and an airspeed of Mach 0.8. All three stages successfully burned, placing the upper stage and payload into the correct 265 X 297 naut. mile orbit. However, due to loss of battery power in the upper stage, the upper stage failed to separate from the satellites. Despite the malfunction, the Argentine SAC-B satellite managed to deploy its solar panels and may be able to complete some experiments. Because the high-energy transient experiment was buried in the load, it became inert after its 6-hour battery drained (Justin Ray, FLATODAY).
On Monday, November 4, the Galileo spacecraft passed within 686 miles of Callisto, the outermost of Jupiter's four large moons. The 2,300-mile-diameter moon is the least active of the Galilean moons and has perhaps the oldest surface in our solar system (FLATODAY).
Because the Galileo spacecraft has been handicapped by the loss of its main antenna, new technology on Earth has evolved - bringing unexpected benefits to planetary exploration programs. NASA has completed an intercontinental link-up of giant antennas to retrieve a higher rate of information from Galileo's remaining low-power antenna. The low-gain antenna was originally expected to transmit at only 10 bit per second as opposed to the 134 kilobit per second main antenna. Signal compression and the international network have raised the data transfer to an effective rate of 1,000 bits per second, salvaging 70% of the original mission. Utilization of the international link-up will allow smaller Earth receiver dishes to be built and, more importantly, allow for smaller transmitters and antenna on future spacecraft, both at a substantial savings (FLATODAY).
The Scorpius rocket developed by the California-based Microcosm promises to send small payloads into orbit for under $1,000/lb. The system does not depend on new technology, rather low-cost technology to achieve this goal. No expensive turbopumps or engine gimbals are used and the rocket is fueled by kerosene and oxygen. Pressurized graphite epoxy tanks feed fuel to the simple combustion chamber. The engine has 31 non-precision parts and a prototype was recently tested in New Mexico producing 5,000 lb of thrust for 200 seconds. The goal of the DOD- and NASA-funded program is to put 170 lb in orbit for $750,000 and 2200 lb for under $2 million (New Scientist).
On October 31, McDonnell Douglas and Rocketdyne completed testing on a new engine for the U.S. Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Competition. During the test, oxygen and hydrogen were combusted at 100-percent pressure in the RS-68 main booster engine. This engine will be used in the Delta IV rocket system. In December, the EELV Competition will be narrowed from four aerospace industry teams to two with the final EELV design selected in 1998. The first launch is scheduled for 2001 (FLATODAY).
The Air Force's new heavy lift rocket the Titan IVb is now being prepared for a January 1997 launch. The new system can boost 47,800 lb into low Earth orbit (LEO), and payloads weighing 12,700 lb into geosynchronous (GEO) orbits. The rocket can lift 8,700 lb more to LEO than the current system (the Titan IVa) and more than a ton more to GEO. This feat is possible by using lightweight composite material rather than steel. Both the Titan IVa and IVb use two 112-foot solid-fueled boosters to get off the ground. However, the new 5-segment boosters are assembled off of the pad while two segments of the old 7-segment boosters were assembled on the pad. The change cuts a week off of assembly. The new rockets also have steerable engine nozzles, which eliminates the use of nitrogen tetroxide thrusters for steering. This advance will eliminate wind-direction launch delays due to the danger of an exploding rocket sending the toxic nitrogen tetroxide to populated areas. The rocket has an advanced guidance control unit similar to the one flown aboard Lockheed Martin Atlas rockets. The first cargo is classified, but is likely to used for the deployment of a Defense Support Program satellite (FLATODAY).
Orbcomm recently signed agreements to provide mobile communication services to three continents. The company which holds a FCC license for 36 communication satellites, plans to launch a $270 million system of 28 LEO satellites next year. The company currently provides environmental and remote pipeline monitoring in the U.S. The new system would provide global two-way, hand-held messaging (AW&ST).
A MX Peacekeeper was successfully launched 5:06am PST on Nov. 6th from Vandenberg Air Force Base (FLATODAY).
The Air Force is preparing to contract a new generation of early warning satellites to detect missile launches. The first GEO SBIRS satellite will be orbited in 2002, with all 4 in place in 2004. The system will be augmented by a LEO constellation beginning in 2006. The contract is potentially worth $10 billion (AW&ST).
FRONTIER POPULATION REPORT
The population of the frontier remains at 3: two Russian sojourners and an American sojourner on Mir.
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