Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #24

Frontier Status Report #24

November 14, 1996

Dale M. Gray

Another interesting week on the frontier. Activity included one successful launch of an Ariane 4 rocket and launch delays for the Shuttle and an Atlas rocket. Mars exploration continues to be a major component of the frontier as America and Russia launch a series of exploration vehicles. NASA has announced plans for the X-38 crew return vehicle. China has announced ambitious plans for 1997.


Although the shuttle Columbia has been cleared for launch, conflicts with an Atlas launch and problems with the weather have pushed the launch date to Tuesday, November 19. The launch originally slated for late October was pushed back because of erosional channels found in one of the solid rocket booster from the previous shuttle flight. Managers decided to push back the timeline of the mission to give extra time to study the new erosion channels. A weather delay from the Atlas launch scheduled for November 13 has pushed the shuttle launch to Tuesday. In addition a problem with one of the shuttle's three fuel cells was resolved to give the mission a go-ahead for next week. The 16-day research mission will deploy two free-flying research facilities and feature two space walks. ORFEUS-SPAS, a German-built telescope will study invisible ultraviolet light emitted by stars. The Wake Shield facility will attempt to grow three ultra-pure semiconductors in the microgravity, hard vacuum of space (Flatoday).


Since 1995, NASA has been quietly working on the X-38 program to provide a lifeboat for the International Space Station crews and to demonstrate that the agency can develop manned spacecraft for drastically less. The lifting-body vehicle is expected to go from concept through test and production of four operational spacecraft for no more than $500 million. So far, NASA has spent about $11 million of the $80 million budgeted for two atmospheric and two space test vehicles. The resulting craft will then be able to be launched on a variety of rockets including the Titan IV, Ariane 5 and will fit inside the shuttle payload bay. The X-38 program must have an operational vehicle on the station by 2002. The X-38 will replace the Russian Soyuz Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) which is deemed too small and limited. The new vehicle will be able to carry as many as 6 returning astronauts and be able to land automatically in case the crew is incapacitated. The X-38 vehicle will have an aluminum structure with a shell of graphite-cyanate ester epoxy. It will use improved shuttle-derived blankets and tiles for thermal protection. To leave orbit a de-orbit stage attached to the tail will be fired and then jettisoned. At 0.8 mach a drogue chute will slow descend and the vehicle will use a parafoil below 0.25 mach to obtain cross-range maneuverability and slower speeds for its landing skids. While attached to the station, the CRV will need no maintenance and may be detached from the station in as little as 3 minutes (AW&ST).


The American-made Measat 2 and Arabsat 2B were launched Wednesday, November 13, from the Guiana Space Center on board an Ariane 44L rocket. The spinning HS 376 satellite is owned and will be operated by Binariang Sdn Bhd of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The first Measat spacecraft was also launched aboard an Ariane rocket in January. Measat 2 has 8 active high-power transponders and 3 medium-power transponders in Ku-band. In C-band, there are 6 active transponders. The satellite has three main enhancements: gallium arsenide photocells, which produce 40 more power, a bi-propellant station keeping propulsion system, and a new lightweight high-gain antenna. Measat 2 will be positioned over New Guinea to become part of Malaysia's national telecommunications satellite system. It will also provide fixed and mobile satellite communication services to eastern Asia for the next 11 years. Arabsat 2B, built by France's Aerospatiale, is set to provide telecommunications and direct broadcast services for 16 years to all 21 countries of the Arab League (Flatoday).


Great Wall Industries has announced plans to launch as many as 7 Long March rockets in 1997. Payloads will range from a Chinese communication satellite, a U.S. satellite, and an Iridium launch. Six of the seven will utilize the 3 stage Long March 3 launched from the Xichang facility. The LM3B can put 11,000 lb into geosynchronous orbit, but has failed in two of its three 1996 flights. Two Iridium satellites will be launched on a LM-2CSD from China Great Wall's Taiyun facility (AW&ST).


The National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO) has announced plans for a second tethered satellite. The NRO previously launched a tethered satellite on June 20,1996. The tether physics and survivability (TiPS) experiment consists of two small end masses connected by a 2-mm-thick nonconductive tether 4-km. long. TiPS has survived 20 months in orbit. A follow-on tether is planned in about 2 years (AW&ST).


The November 13 launch of a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2 was delayed due to weather conditions. The launch was delayed to winds in excess of 23 nauts at the 90-foot level. There is a 90% chance that weather will again be a problem on the 14th. The launch delay has bumped the launch of Columbia to November 19 in order to reset the Air Force range. The Atlas carries EUTELSAT's Hot Bird-2 broadcast satellite (FLATODAY).


Despite insertion into the correct orbit, the recent Pegasus XL launch failed to separate its 3rd stage from the HETE and SAC-B satellites it was carrying. The malfunction was tentatively identified as a problem with a battery connection. Despite being connected to the third stage, the SAC-B was able to deploy its solar panels. Managers attempted to stabilize the combined craft utilizing the SAC-B systems. Because the combined craft was spinning at 5 rev. per minute, the panels could not be properly oriented at the sun and the satellite's battery drained after a few orbits. The SAC-B was apparently functioning properly until it ran out of power. The battery for the HETE satellite, buried in the load, drained after 6 hours (AW&ST).


Launched on Thursday, November 7, the Mars Global Surveyor was successfully placed enroute to Mars. However, one of its two solar panels deployed only 20 degrees, but is providing full power. The tilted solar panel is causing the craft to wobble -- a problem that must be corrected prior to a November 22 course correction. Since the panel was deployed on the dark side of an orbit around Earth, scientists hope the panel will deploy fully when exposed to sunlight for a few days. Meanwhile other potential causes and corrections are being investigated by NASA scientists (Flatoday).


The Russian Space Agency has rescheduled the launch of their Mars 96 mission for Saturday, Nov. 16. There has been some speculation that the flight was delayed due to problems with its Proton booster. However, the spacecraft is now attached to the Proton and is on it way to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The joint mission of Russia, the USA, and Europe will place 12 instruments in orbit around the red planet in September of 1997. The craft also contains two small landers and 2 impact probes (Flatoday).


The Mars Pathfinder, which contains a lander and rover, is on schedule for launch Dec. 2. While launched later than Mars Global Surveyor, it will land on Mars on July 4, 1997.


The next scheduled launch at Vandenberg AFB is a Minuteman II missile to be used in a launch detection test of the MSX satellite. A Delta rocket with the LEO satellite components of the Iridium system is also slated. Preparations are also under way to launch the second Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle (AW&ST forum).


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

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