Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #26

Frontier Status Report #26

November 27, 1996

Dale M. Gray

This week was again one of mixed results. America launched both an Atlas 2A and the shuttle Columbia. The two managed to deploy three large satellites. The shuttle's two "release and catch" satellites will expand our knowledge of the life-cycle of stars and our understanding of ultra-pure semiconductors. Boeing has completed pressure tests on the Node #1 of the International Space Station and Russia has announced the completion of the Functional Energy Block one year from its launch. Mars Global Surveyor has successfully completed its first correcting burn, despite one partially deployed solar panel. But not all the news is good. Russia's space program continues to sink from lack of funds. This week they announced that they lost their last state-of-the-art reconnaissance satellite. France, too, has its problems with the loss of their private Earth observation satellite Spot 3.


The shuttle Columbia, orbiting at 220 miles, successfully deployed the 4,600 pound Wake Shield facility on Friday, November 22. Astronauts obtained a good view of the 12 foot wide steel satellite as it drifted within 10 feet of the shuttle's cockpit window before controllers activated the satellite's small nitrogen thruster. Since deployment the Wake Shield facility successfully grew seven ultra-pure semiconductor films in the hard vacuum of space. This is its third trip to space, both previous missions were marred by technical difficulties. It was retrieved Monday night and stowed back in its berth on Columbia.

The ORFEUS-SPAS astronomy satellite, released from the shuttle on Tuesday, flew in formation 28 miles from the Wake Shield Facility (WSF). Because of atmospheric drag on the WSF, ORFEUS-SPAS was cut the gap to 13 miles on Monday when the WSF was snared by Columbia. One day of observations was lost when controllers changed the orientation of the telescope so that it would slow down. The telescope has since resumed observations and will be stowed aboard Columbia on December 3 (Flatoday).

OREFEUS-SPAS is a combined German Space Agency / NASA program. The telescope was built by Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA) and is controlled from a German control center. It contains three ultraviolet telescopes. The largest of which at 1 meter is second only to the Hubble Space Telescope in size. The spacecraft will make up to 300 observations relating to the life-cycle of stars (AW&ST).

The mission has overcome several problems relating to solid booster erosion on a previous flight, hydrogen leaks immediately prior to the flight and two small micrometeor hits on one of the windshields. On Thursday, space-walking astronauts Tom Jones and Tammy Jernigan will test an 18-foot, hand-operated crane destined for the international space station. Columbia is scheduled to return to Earth on December 5 (Flatoday).


Boeing has completed the last proof pressure test of Node 1 of the International Space Station (ISS). The Node, which will serve as a connecting passageway to other modules on the ISS, was pressurized to 22.8 pounds per square inch or 1.5 times normal maximum pressure. The node had failed its first pressure test and as a result was successfully outfitted with 8 struts to take strain off of the radial ports. With the completion of this test Node #1 will be taken from Boeing's Huntsville plant to the Marshall Space Flight Center space station manufacturing building for assembly and check-out activities. In December of 1997, Node #1 will be launched as the first US component of the ISS. In space it will join the Russian functional energy block (FGB) which will be launched a week earlier. Boeing has completed structural manufacturing on all five of its major structural components (Flatoday).

With only one year until launch, Russia has announced that the Functional Energy Block (FGB) has been completed and that the 3 stage Proton that will lift the 22-ton FGB to orbit is 2 months ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, in light of increasing Russian deficit woes, Russian's remaining communists are increasingly critical of the Russian / American space station agreement (Flatoday).


The list of Russian 1996 failures in space continues to grow. This fall their Kosmos-2320 satellite, capable of photographing objects less than a yard in diameter has been lost. The satellite reentered and burned up about a year after launch. Because of several launch failures earlier this year, the country is left with out advanced space-based visual capabilities. While a number of older satellites are still in orbit, their capabilities are limited. Because of budget constrains, it is unlikely a replacement will be launched this year. Rather than leaving its military without a view of space, Russia has been forced to consider leasing satellites from another nation such as China (Flatoday).


Like Russia, Spot Image of France has suffered the loss of their own Earth observation satellite, the Spot 3. Controllers attempted to reactivate Spot 3, but to date have met will little success. Spot 3 had recently outlived its original 3 year design life. The French space agency had hoped to extend its use of the satellite. France will fall back on the less-capable Spot 2 launched in 1990 and will reactivate Spot 1 to help compensate for the loss. Spot 4 is currently under development, but isn't slated to be launched aboard an Ariane rocket until 1998. Spot 5 with a 5 meter resolution camera is scheduled to be launched in 2002. Spot Image is a commercial affiliate of the French space agency (CNES) and has in the last 10 years transmitted 4.5 million space-based images back to Earth (AW&ST).


The Hot Bird-2 broadcast satellite was successfully launched on an Atlas 2A. The satellite is said to be the most powerful communication satellite to ever be launched. It is owned by the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization, a consortium of European companies from 45 nations. This was the third launch attempt for the Atlas, the previous attempts scrubbed by weather and technical problems (Flatoday).


A scheduled 44 second burn occurred November 21, giving the spacecraft an additional 61 mph and trimming its course to Mars. This is the first of four firings of the main engine. Engineers positioned the craft in such a way that the firing would not damage a solar panel that only partially deployed, but is fully functional. This week the craft's instruments are being tested. The MGS is 2.6 million miles away moving at 74,000 mph with respect to the Sun (Flatoday).


Chile has found no evidence of radiation from the crash area of the Russian Mars96 spacecraft. This craft which was launched last week had a fourth stage failure which sent it and 270 grams of plutonium into the Pacific between Easter Island and Chile. The Chilean Air Force and Navy too samples from the air and water which were analyzed by scientists from the University of Chile and the Chilean Nuclear Commission. The plutonium is in a number of 15 gram capsules with protective shells. These were to serve as heat generating power sources for the two landers and two penetrators. The air tight capsules have several shells, the outer made of a corrosion-proof alloy and the inner shell constructed to protect against thermal and mechanical loads. The capsule has been tested against temperatures up to 1,700 degrees C, mechanical loads similar to that experience falling from orbit, explosions and corrosion (Flatoday).


Hughes Electronics Corp. will use Japanese-developed H-11A rockets to launch 10 satellites. The agreement worth about $1 billion is with Tokyo-based Rocket Systems Corp. The launches will occur between 2000 and 2005 with an option for 5 - 10 more launches. While Florida concerns view the deal with some concern, it is part of Hughes on-going plan to obtain the broadest possible base of launchers for its satellites (Flatoday).


The space population stands at eight: two Russians and one American on Mir, and 5 Americans on shuttle Columbia.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1996

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