Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #25

Frontier Status Report #25

November 20, 1996

Dale M. Gray

It has been an active week on the frontier with both successes and failures to report. The shuttle Columbia after several delays has successfully launched and deployed one of its free-flying satellites. The Atlas 2A carrying the Hot Bird 2 satellite has been delayed by weather. The Russian Mars 96 was successfully launched, but the spacecraft was lost when the 4th stage failed to push it out of orbit. The contract for the new military satellite system has been awarded to Lockheed Martin. A new satellite communications network named WEST has been announced. An early milestone for the development of the X-33 Single Stage to Orbit prototype vehicle has been passed.


After several delays, the Shuttle Columbia finally was cleared for launch on Tuesday November 19, 1996. While there was two minute hold at T-31 seconds because of excessive hydrogen in the aft compartment, the 21st flight of Columbia blasted off at 2:55 pm from launch pad 39B. Aboard were Commander Ken Cockrell, Pilot Kent Rominger, Mission Specialists Tammy Jernigan, Tom Jones and Story Musgrave. The 16 day mission will deploy and retrieve two satellites to study the stars and produce ultra-pure semiconductor films. Two space walks are also scheduled. About eight hours into the mission, the Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer (ORFEUS-SPAS II) observatory was deployed and appeared to be functioning normally. It will fly free for 14 days before it is recaptured and stowed on Columbia. This is the second trip to space for the German Space Agency telescope. The Wake-Shield Facility will be deployed later this week. Tamara Jernigan and Thomas Jones will venture out of the shuttle two times in spacewalks to test new tools and a new crane designed to help construct the International Space Station. The shuttle is orbiting at 218 miles and is scheduled to return to earth on December 5 (Flatoday; NBC).


After three launch delays, a Soyuz-U supply rocket destined for Mir was finally launched from Baikonur in Kazakstan. The rocket lifted off at 2:20 local time carrying 2 tons of cargo to the station. The successful launch will keep the station from running low on food and oxygen. It will also allow Mir crew members to empty the station's bulging septic tank (Flatoday).


Lockheed Martin has completed the preliminary design review for the X-33. The contract for the single-stage-to-orbit sub-scale vehicle was awarded to the company four months ago. Construction on the innovative and controversial Linear Aerospike engines will begin in January of 1997. The first flight of the new engine will occur in 1998. Plans to fly a smaller scale version of the engine on an SR-71 may be scrubbed due to difficulties integrating the engine with the plane (AW&ST).


The Atlas 2A scheduled to launch the 3-ton Hot Bird 2 has been left on the ground after two launch attempts. The first attempt on Nov. 13 was scrubbed due to weather. The second on Nov. 14 was halted by a problem with a propellant valve. The launch was tentatively rescheduled for Nov. 22, after the back-up date for the Columbia launch. The satellite has been described by its maker as the single most powerful commercial communications spacecraft yet developed. The 4,900 watt, 20 Ku-band repeater spacecraft will utilize two 2.3 meter antennas to project a 52-dB. signal to an area from Northern Europe to North Africa and eastward as far as Kazakhstan (AW&ST). Because of the successful launch of the shuttle on Tuesday, the Atlas launch was moved up a day to Thursday (Flatoday).


Development has begun on the new Matra Marconi $2-billion wideband European communications satellite system. TheWideband European Satellite Telecommunications (WEST) is the follow-on for the European African Satellite Telecommunications (EAST) system which will compete with Iridium - providing spot-beam communications to Europe and Africa. The WEST system would place nine 4-ton satellites into medium altitude orbits and a 4-ton Eurostar 3000 into geosynchronous orbit. The lower satellites would be modified versions of the Eurostar 3000 bus and would be used for Ka-band communications. These satellites will be built in England and France with the first launch around 2003. The announcement was made by officials attending the Atlas launch of the Hot Bird - satellite (AW&ST).


On November 15, a rocket engine jointly produced by the Russian NPO Energomash (NPO-EM) and the American Pratt & Whitney (P&W) was successfully fired a second time at the NPO-EM's test facility near Moscow. The tests were the result of a contract to develop, fabricate, test and certify the RD-180, a new liquid-oxygen/kerosene rocket engine. This engine will ultimately be used in Lockheed Martin's Atlas 2AR that debuts in 1998 and may also be used in LockMart's EELV vehicle being developed for the US Air Force. The test engine developed 900,000 lbs of thrust and 337.5 seconds of specific impulse (vacuum). The RD-180 is a derivative of the proven high performance RD-170, with which it shares 70% of its components. With a new, smaller, low-pressure turbopump and new booster pumps, the new engine gives a 10% performance increase over current operational U.S. booster engines (Flatoday).


On Nov. 8 the USAF selected Lockheed Martin to build the 5 geosynchronous satellites and 2 high elliptical orbit satellites for the Space-Based Infrared System. SBIRS will replace the existing Defense Support Program (DSP). The award was based in large part upon Lockheed's new sensor that can detect the launch of SCUD-class missiles within 10-15 seconds of launch. The sensors will be built in a joint effort by Aerojet, Lockheed Martin and the two Northrop Grumman units. Previous reports suggested the military was favoring the Heritage sensor a key component of the Hughes/TRW proposal. The contract to build the Low Earth Orbit constellation of satellites portion of the system has not been awarded (AW&ST).


Speeding along at 74,000 mph relative to the sun, the Mars Global Surveyor is already more than 2 million miles from Earth. The mission is proceeding well with all 6 instruments coming on-line by Sunday Nov. 24 and calibrating using the Earth as a test object. While one partially deployed solar panel reportedly gave the craft a wobble, the power system is fully functional. A course correction on Thursday, a 40 second burn, is not expected to be affected by partially extended solar panel (JPL.NASA).


More than two years late, the Russian space probe, Mars96, was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome aboard a Proton-K booster on Saturday, November 16. The craft contained instruments from 20 countries and plutonium dioxide batteries. Although the first three stages of the rocket operated normally, the fourth stage malfunctioned and was unable to send the 7.5 tons / 30 X 10 foot craft out of its Earth orbit. Although NORAD and Russia disagree on when the craft reentered, they do agree that the remains of Mars96 hit the waters of the Pacific between Easter Island and Chile. Chile's navy has located the remains at a depth of 19,700 feet and intends on testing for radiation from the plutonium batteries. The plutonium, in specially designed canisters that likely survived reentry intact, was to power the craft's probes and landers. The Mars96 program had stretched the impoverished Russian space program to the limit. Because of this failure, it is unlikely the Russians will try another planetary exploration program in the foreseeable future (AW&ST; Flatoday).


Fueled by the aftermath of the failed Mars96 mission, anti-nuclear activists have vowed to infiltrate the Florida launchpad of the Cassini mission to Saturn and stop the launch. Because the 6 year mission will ultimately travel 1.7 billion miles from the sun, it will not be able to use solar panels. Instead plutonium powered generators will be used to power the craft's systems (Flatoday).


The next launch at Vandenberg will be the Delta/Iridium launch. The launch was originally slated for November 14, but was rescheduled because of delays in software controlling the main antenna and solar panels. The launch is now slated for December 15, allowing time for the launch team to return from the Dec 2, Florida launch of the Mars Pathfinder mission. A Titan 4 launch has been scheduled for December 18. The Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle, LockMart's second attempt at a privately developed launch vehicle, will launch no earlier than December 20. The LMLV will be carrying the Lewis satellite. A Minuteman II launch detection test has been postponed (Flatoday).


The space population has recently increased to eight: three aboard Mir (two Russians and one American) and five Americans aboard the shuttle Columbia.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1996

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