Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #31

Frontier Status Report #31

January 23, 1997

Dale M. Gray

A wild week on the frontier, both good and bad. The destruction of a new generation Navstar GPS satellite as it was launched by a Delta 2 rocket tops the news. A modified Minuteman missile was launched from Vandenberg in a failed test when another component of the test failed to launch from the Marshall Islands. The US is scrambling to find a replacement for the behind- schedule Russian-built Service Module. And a government study has been released pinpointing the cause of the loss of the Clipper Graham reusable rocket last July.

But not all the news is bad. The shuttle Atlantis successfully completed its supply mission to Mir. Several components of the International Space Station are being tested and moving forward in production. The Mars Global Surveyor is on track and functioning well. Several large business deals have been confirmed involving space communications. And finally the last of the Cold War designed Altas 1 rockets will be launched in March to carry a GOES satellite to orbit.


Shuttle Atlantis completed the 34th shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday January 22. The 10 day mission to the Russian space station Mir was the fifth in a series and the second to transfer U.S. astronauts. Jerry Linenger exchanged places with John Blaha. At touchdown of the shuttle, Blaha had completed 118 days on Mir and 128 total in space. Linenger will be replaced by Mike Foale during the May STS-84 mission. The mission also conducted a number of experiments in the dual SPACEHAB module. The module was also used as a cargo hold for the 3 tons of supplies being transferred to Mir.

The next shuttle flight, STS-82, will be the shuttle Discovery. Scheduled to launch on February 11, this will be the second servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Rollout of the Space Shuttle Discovery was briefly halted when a 24-foot-long "Y"-shaped crack was discovered on the Mobile Launch Platform (MLP). Rollout resumed when structural engineers determined that the crack did not compromise the integrity of the MLP. The crack was discovered near the left-hand SRB flame hole after a loud bang was heard (NASA).


As the November 1997 launch date for the first components of the International Space Station nears, news of station assembly quickens. Perhaps the biggest news is the selection of a previously classified Navy satellite system for use as an interim control module which will act as a replacement for the Russian built Service Module. The Service Module has been poorly funded and has slipped more than 6 months behind schedule. The interim control system would be used in conjunction with a second FGB which would be adapted for use as a fuel source for the control system's thrusters. The system would provide station keeping for the early stages of construction.

The Russian-built FGB and the McDonnell Douglas Pressurized Mating Adapter docking mechanism (PMA), were successfully joined in a test at Khrunichev in Moscow. The docking mechanism for the PMA, known as the Androgynous Peripheral Docking Assembly, is manufactured by the RSC-Energia for NASA (BOEING).

The Habitat structural test article successfully completed the proof pressure test to 22.8 psi on Dec. 20.

Testing has begun on the Lab Systems-1 computer software that controls the Station's critical systems including environmental control and life support, electrical power system, and the thermal control system (NASA).


The recent visit by Atlantis is only one of many sojourns to the space station Mir in early 1997. Between February and August there will be two manned Soyuz capsules, three Progress automated supply ships and a second visit by the Atlantis. The first Soyuz capsule will contain a German astronaut who will stay on Mir for three weeks before returning with the rotating crew. There are also three spacewalks by Russian cosmonauts scheduled to mount equipment on Mir's exterior between March and June (SN).


On Friday January 17, the USAF launched a McDonnell Douglas Delta 2 rocket with a Navstar GPS payload. At T+13 seconds after lift-off the rocket exploded with a redundant destruct signal sent by the Range Safety Officer at T+21 seconds. Falling debris from the explosion sent observers sprinting for shelter, but did minimal damage to the launch pad, which was built in 1956. No injuries were reported, but at least twenty automobiles were destroyed by the rain of flaming rocket fuel that left the ground around the launch pad heavily cratered. This is the first loss of a Delta rocket in a decade, the last being in May of 1986. It is only the 14th failure in 241 launches for the system. While the cause has not been determined, speculation points toward a separation of the first and second stages, a rupture of the first-stage metal casing or propellant tanks, or even a failure of one the rocket's nine strap-on solid-rocket boosters. The Delta launch system has been grounded pending the conclusion of investigations. Ten launches were scheduled from Florida on Delta rockets in 1997 (Flatoday). MH2>MARS GLOBAL SURVEYOR

This week, the Mars Orbiter Camera was activated for four days of star imaging. Once each day the camera conducted focus checks on the Peiades. Images were stored in the spacecraft's solid-state memory and later transmitted to Earth at a rate of 85,333 bits per second. Wednesday a two-hour radio-science calibration was made. On the 71st day after launch, Surveyor was more than 16.05 million kilometers from the Earth and moving in an orbit around the Sun with a velocity of 30.85 kilometers per second. The spacecraft will reach Mars on September 12th, 1997. All systems on the spacecraft are in excellent condition (NASA)


Odyssey: Odyssey Telecommunications International Inc. has signed an agreement with China Telecommunications Broadcast Satellite Corp. (ChinaSat) to operate one of seven regional Odyssey ground stations. ChinaSat will also own or operate one or more gateways linking to China's own telephone and wireless communication system. The system is expected to serve 200,000 Chinese subscribers by 2002 and 1.3 million by 2010. ChinaSat is the first company to sign up for Odyssey's $3.2 billion, 12-satellite global telephone system (SN).

SPAR: Spar Aerospace Ltd. of Mississauga, Canada has contracted to build an electro-optical satellite and ground system infrastructure for the National Research Council of Thailand. The remote-sensing system contract is worth $155 Canadian dollars (SN)


A Minuteman Satellite Launch System (MSLS) vehicle was launched from a northern Vandenberg AFB silo on January 16. The three-stage MSLS booster is a former Minuteman II ICBM purchased from Lockheed Martin. This was part of a project that was to simultaneously launch vehicles from Vandenberg and the Marshall Islands to test the ability of the Marshall Island rocket payload to track simulated threat objects generated by the Vandenberg payload. Unfortunately, the Marshall Island rocket did not launch and the test had to be aborted after the successful MSLS launch (NASA; SN).


The cause of the July 31 loss of the experimental reusable rocket Clipper Graham, has been determined in a January 7 governmental report.

The report states that a brake line on the helium pneumatic system for landing gear #2 was not connected. As a result, the brake did not release so that the landing leg could extend. At the completion of the normal fourth flight test last summer, only three of the four legs extended. As a result, the vehicle toppled and was then destroyed in the following explosion and fire. The brake line had not been identified as a critical component and had not been inspected prior to the test (NASA).


Due to the loss of the Delta 2 rocket on Friday, the Delta rocket carrying the first three elements of the Iridium system has been grounded until the cause of the failure is found. The Iridium satellites were slated to be launched next week from Vandenberg.


The GOES-K weather satellite, built by Space Systems/LORAL, is scheduled to be launched aboard an Atlas I rocket on April 24. This is the third of a series of advanced geostationary weather satellites to be launched for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The spacecraft is capable of providing pictures while performing atmospheric sounding. Once in orbit the spacecraft is to be designated GOES-10. The launch will also be noteworthy in that it will be the final use of the Atlas I rocket system. The Atlas I has been used by NASA since 1962. It will be replaced by the more advanced Atlas II system which will launch the follow-on GOES satellites (NASA).


With the landing of space shuttle Atlantis, the space population has dropped down to three: Two Russians and one American on board Mir.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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