Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #27

Frontier Status Report #27

December 3, 1996

Dale M. Gray

Not since word leaked out of Sutter's Mill starting the 1849 Gold Rush to California has there been a more significant week on the frontier. On December 3, scientists announced the presence of a frozen lake of water on the south pole of the Moon. Water, without a doubt is the most precious substance in space, necessary for life and valuable as a fuel. While it is currently unreachable, the presence of this ice will prove key to the next occupation of the Moon.

Meanwhile, the Shuttle Columbia has successfully retrieved one of its two research satellites, but has had to cancel two important space walks when an external door jammed. Russia has successfully resupplied Mir and has announced the development of a new model of rocket called the RUS. Mars Global Surveyor successfully completed a course correction burn and the Mars Pathfinder has been left on the pad on two launch attempts, but has a number of remaining launch windows. The ESA has announced plans to replace the Cluster mission destroyed on the failed first launch of the Ariane 5 rocket. Orbital Sciences found the cause of the recent failed Pegasus mission to have been a degraded power bus damaged by the third stage separation.


Scientists have confirmed that the 1995 Clementine probe has indeed found a frozen lake of water on the south pole of the Moon. The information comes from analysis of radar emitted by the craft picked up by large antenna on Earth. The ice was found in the deepest hole in the solar system, the 13 kilometer deep Admendson crater that is perpetually in shadow. Scientists theorize the water came from the tail of a comet that hit the moon 3.6 billion years ago. Because the crater's ambient temperature is a super-cool minus 382 degrees Fahrenheit, the water was effectively trapped at the bottom of the crater (CNN; AP; Flatoday).

Clementine was a combined DOD/NASA project that evolved out of the now defunct Strategic Defense Initiative and its successor programs. The Clementine spacecraft was constructed in less than 2 years at a cost of only $75 million. The program was designed to test solid state imaging sensors and spacecraft components in the space environment. Rather than construct an expensive test chamber or put the instrument package in low Earth orbit, it was decided to send it around the Moon. As a result of this decision, the mission obtained over two million multi-spectral images and highly detailed topographic information of the lunar surface. After the craft successfully completed its primary lunar mission, it was sent off on a secondary mission to record an asteroid. A software problem caused the craft to be lost enroute. Data received from the South Pole of the Moon lead scientists to suspect the presence of water almost immediately. Announcement of the discovery was delayed, presumably, so that the data could be carefully reviewed and the discovery confirmed.

In the wake of the announcement about possible life on Mars, the lunar water announcement could not be more significant in terms of the emerging space frontier. Water delivered to a space station in LEO currently costs around $6,000 per ounce. Water delivered to the Moon from the Earth with present systems, by some estimates would cost around $18,000 per ounce. To understand the significance of this discovery, one has only to go back to the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848. In 1848 only two Yankee ships visited San Francisco, but the next year 775 Yankee ships streamed into the harbor. At the time gold was worth around $20 per ounce (worth about $400 to 500 in 1996 dollars). The confirmed presence of lunar water in usable quantities can and will be the basis of the first lunar base and industry. It will happen not because it is easy or hard, but because it will make money, a very large chunk of money, for whoever can tap it first.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with extreme pleasure that I announce the first lunar land rush officially open. Take your children and grandchildren out tonight and look upward to the Moon, for there is their future.


Having overcome a number of problems getting into space and then retrieving its two satellites, the Columbia continues to find unique ways to balk its astronauts. The scheduled Thanksgiving space walk of Jernigan and Jones was suddenly canceled when the external door to the cargo bay refused to unlatch. Two hours of struggle with the latch by the suited astronauts proved unsuccessful and subsequent bare-handed efforts by Story Musgrave also were unfruitful. This was to be the first space-walk for Jones, Jernigan and for the shuttle Columbia. Subsequently, all attempts to open the door proved unsuccessful and the spacewalks were canceled. The mission, however, was extended one day to allow the trailing telescope additional time for observations (Flatoday).


The supply ship launched from Baikonur on November 20th docked with the Mir on November 22. The vessel brought needed fresh fruit, clothing, equipment and seasonal gifts for the crew. The crew has finished the seventh run of the Passive Accelerometer (PAS) with 3 more to go. They are also busy with the Human Life Sciences Skeletal Muscle Evaluation experiment, the Biotechnology Systems (BTS) cartilage growth experiment, and station maintenance.


In a surprising move, Russia has announced the development of the new RUS rocket that will be capable of launching humans to space from the more northern launch complex at Plesetsk. Currently the manned launches have been from Soyuz U rockets launched at Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The new rocket, also known as the Soyuz 2, is based on the Soyuz design, but will have an improved upper stage that will be able to lift an additional 800 kg.

The Russian military has announced plans to launch a 14-day space mission in a Bio-11 ship on December 10. Two rhesus monkeys will be launched on a Soyuz -Y from the Lesetsk space port. This is only the sixth monkey experiment in the history of Russian space research (Flatoday).


The European Space Agency (ESA) recently announced plans to replace the Cluster space probes that were lost on the failed maiden flight of the new Ariane 5 rocket. The original Cluster program was to study the solar wind at a cost of $700 million. The new program, named Phoenix, will attempt to build one cluster unit out of spare parts from the first Cluster program and build three additional units at a cost of $320 million. The ESA will approach national committees for the money in February (Flatoday).


On February 21, the Mars Global Surveyor completed a 43 second correction burn to put the craft on a precise path towards Mars. The burn was not affected by a partially deployed solar panel and analysis indicates that future burns and aerobraking can be accomplished with the present configuration. It is currently thought that a "damper arm" broke during the initial deployment of the solar panel and is now trapped between the shoulder joint and the solar panel. The broken element was part of a system to slow the extension of the solar panel. Engineers still hope to gently move the panel to a locked position. Although the panel is not in position, it is fully functional and does not endanger the mission (Flatoday).


The Mars Pathfinder atop a Delta 2 rocket at Cape Canaveral has missed its first two launch windows. The first two-minute window on Monday December 2, was scrubbed due to the passage of a cold front through Florida. The second launch attempt on Tuesday morning was aborted at T-1:33 because the propulsion console in the blockhouse malfunctioned. A third launch window will open early Wednesday morning. The Pathfinder will arrive at Mars on July 4 with a lander and a small rover (Flatoday).


The November 4 failure of the Pegasus XL to deliver two satellites to orbit has been traced to the shock of third stage separation. The separation damaged a power transfer switch in a power bus. As a result, there was insufficient voltage available to activate a pyrotechnic device to release the satellites. Orbital Sciences Corp's next flight of the Pegasus system in late January or February of 1997 will incorporate an improved power bus (AW&ST).


The space population stands at eight: three aboard Mir and five aboard the shuttle Columbia.

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