Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #29

Frontier Status Report #29

January 7, 1997

Dale M. Gray

For the first time in 30 years, the US has launched more rockets than Russia or the former USSR. With 33 launches in 1996, the US outpaced the Russians' 23 successful launches. The past weeks have marked a Titan 4 launch of a not-so-secret spy satellite, the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, the continued erosion of the Russian space program and the awarding of the second round of EELV contracts. While the Shuttle is slated to launch January 12, a Delta 2 launch has been repeatedly delayed. Multimillion-dollar deals involving space resources have been reported and efforts are being made for position in the coming space-based Earth observation frontier.


Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch January 12 for an 11-day mission to Mir. The shuttle will perform an increasingly important transfer of personnel and supplies to the Russian Mir space station. In addition to 3,400 pounds of supplies, the mission will also transfer 1,400 pounds of water produced by the Shuttle's APUs. The mission will also mark the end of John Blaha's stay on the station and the beginning of Dr. Jerry L. Linenger's four-month stay on the station. The flight will be commanded by Navy Capt. Michael A. Baker. Navy Cdr. Brent W. Jett, Jr., will copilot Atlantis with mission specialists Marsha S. Ivins, John M. Grunsfeld, and Jeff Wisoff. Last week the mission was cleared for flight after erosional grooves seen in the solid rocket boosters of the last two missions were determined not to pose a safety problem (AW&ST).


An advanced KH-11 imaging reconnaissance satellite was launched from Vandenberg on December 20. This was the first announced flight of a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload. The satellite will replace an aging KH-ll satellite and will give the NRO a sophisticated constellation of three observation satellites unrivaled among the space-going nations.


The first three satellites of the Iridium system are slated to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Launch Complex-2 on Friday January 10. Originally slated for a December launch on a McDonnell Douglas Delta 2 rocket, the launch was twice rescheduled by technical problems to January 8 and then January 9th. The constellation of three Motorola-manufactured satellites will rapidly grow to a network of 66 low-Earth-orbiting satellites. The additional components will be put in orbit by a variety of launch services around the globe. Each satellite is expected to have a 5-8-year lifetime. McD/D has a contract for eight launches through 1998 and five additional maintenance launches through 2001. Iridium LSC is an international consortium of 17 countries that has raised $2.65 billion (US) thus far to build the system of communication satellites that will provide telephone, FAX, and messaging services around the globe. The system is expected to be in place and operational by late 1998. Should the launch be delayed again on Friday, the next launch attempt will probably be no sooner than a week (AP, Flatoday, AW&ST).


While the first two components of the station appear to be on schedule for launch later this year, serious doubt has been placed on Khrunichev/Energia's ability to provide the contracted service module (SM). The SM is a vital component of the station and is slated for launch in the spring of 1998. The module is 6-8 months behind schedule and NASA is now investigating options to create a replacement utilizing systems currently available to them (AW&ST).


With budget constraints pressuring the Russian space station, the Russian Space Agency is increasingly dependent on the Shuttle to provide supplies, money and crew rotation. While the former Soviet nation has several relatively inexpensive systems to provide the resupply, they have failed to fully fund their space programs and have used up inventories of boosters on the ground. Out of 20 nations active in space, only India spent less on their space program (AW&ST). RUSSIA

After two weeks in orbit, two monkeys launched aboard the Russian Bion-11 returned to Earth Tuesday January 7. The monkeys were launched on December 24 as part of an international effort involving the Ukraine, Lithuania, United States, and France. The monkeys were part of a biological study of the effect of weightlessness on vascular and locomotor systems. The monkeys will now be studied for two months before being retired to a zoo or the Sochi-based Institute of Medical Primatology. This is the sixth Russian flight involving monkeys, but the first in several decades.


The US Air Force has awarded second-round EELV contracts to Lockheed Martin and to McDonnell Douglas for advanced expendable launch systems that would supposedly place payloads into orbit for 50% of the current costs. LockMart's successful bid was based upon a family of rockets based upon an evolved Atlas booster rocket. The McDonnell Douglas bid was for their projected Delta 4 rocket family. Boeing and Alliant were removed from the EELV competition by the award. However, because of its proposed merger with McD/D (see below), Boeing probably remains a player in the competition (SN).


The US currently is planning to offer its NATO allies access to data from SBIRS (space-based infrared system) missile warning satellites. The offer is part of a plan to equip its allies with early warnings of missile threats. This will also help the US, Italy, and Germany fund the $3 billion Medium Extended Area Defense System which is to replace the Hawk air defense system (SN).


Boeing - McDonnell Douglas Plan To Merge: On December 15, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas stunned the aviation and space technology world by announcing a proposed merger. The combined company would have in excess of $48 billion in yearly revenues with a backlog of more than $120 billion. In addition to utilizing excess McD/D manufacturing capability to help build its backlog of plane orders, Boeing also gains access to the Delta launch systems. Boeing acquired Rockwell's North American aerospace divisions among other assets in early August. These assets along with Boeing's own SeaLaunch and ISS contract now make Boeing the premiere space access company in the world (Flatoday; AW&ST; SN).


TCI Satellite Entertainment is planning to sell one of its two Tempo direct-broadcast television satellites to Telesat Canada. TCI would retain an option to use the satellite. The deal is subject to a successful launch the first Tempo satellite Feb. 27 from Florida (SN; AW&ST).

Orbital Sciences

Through a sale of 1.2 million shares of common stock, Orbital Sciences Corp. raised $20.6 million last month for its Orbimage subsidiary. The money was needed to finance the Orbview 3 satellite. This satellite is part of the company's plans to obtain part of the emerging high-resolution Earth imagery frontier (SN).


The space population remains at three: two Russians and one American in orbit on Mir. This figure will increase in the coming week with the flight of Shuttle Atlantis.

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