Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #35

Frontier Status Report #35

February 21, 1997

Dale M. Gray

Another interesting week on the frontier. The Shuttle completed a very successful maintenance trip to Hubble. An Atlas rocket launched a Japanese satellite. Galileo made its second and closest pass by Europa. Lots of business deals around the globe and the American Congress is starting to take space seriously. Meanwhile, the Russians continue to be the major problem with the International Space Station.


The shuttle Discovery landed early Friday morning at the Kennedy Space Center having completed the second Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. During the ten-day mission, astronauts completed five spacewalks to upgrade, repair and service the orbiting astronomical observing platform. A total of 33 hours, 11 minutes were logged during the space walks, about two hours less than the five walks during the first servicing mission three years ago.

On the second walk, Greg Harbaugh and Joe Tanner replaced a degraded Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) with an upgraded sensor and replaced a failed Engineering and Science Tape Recorder. They also installed the new Optical Control Electronics Enhancement Kit which further upgrades the FGS. They noted during their work that insulation protecting the telescope was degraded.

The next day, Mark Lee and Steve Smith replaced a Data Interface Unit, replaced a faulty Reaction Wheel Assembly and exchanged a tape recorder with a solid-state recorder. The fourth walk by Harbaugh and Tanner resulted in the replacement of the Solar Array Drive Electronics package and covers on the magnetometers. The astronauts also placed thermal blankets over degraded insulation over the light shield. A fifth walk was added to repair the insulation that protects the delicate scientific instruments from the sun's rays. Space-walking Harbaugh and Tanner used an insulating blanket and materials fabricated by their fellow astronauts to protect three electronic instrument compartments. A sixth walk was avoided when a balky reaction control wheel began to operate normally after a slow start-up. The shuttle was used to boost the telescope's orbit before its release on Wednesday (Flatoday; AP; NASA).

During the last Hubble repair mission , a damaged solar panel was sent adrift on the assumption that its orbit would rapidly decay and it would burn up in the atmosphere. However, the panel is still in space, surprising orbital observers. The panel's orbit is decaying at a far slower rate than expected. It may survive as space junk for several more years (SN).


Mir is filled to capacity with a mixture of four Russians, one German and an American. Experiments continue to be conducted as the new crew gets up to speed on station maintenance and operations. The Microgravity Liquid Metal Diffusion (LMD) experiment continues to evaluate material dynamics in space.

The Solid Sorbent Air Sampler and the Grab Air Sampler were used immediately after the arrival of the new crew to sample the air of the station. In the Microgravity Glovebox the Angular Liquid Bridge (ALB) experiment to study equilibrium fluid behavior was completed on February 6. The French Cognilab hardware was used to conduct the Orientation experiment. This neuroscience experiment will be repeated several more times in the coming months. Photography of the Protein Crystal Growth experiment was completed and the hardware of the Gas Analysis System was evaluated. Other experiments include a sleep experiment, Earth observations and the completion of the back pain questionnaire (NASA).


The first launch of the International Space Station may slip into 1998. While there is little problem with launching the first two components--the Russian FGB and the American Node #1--these components are not likely to stay in orbit long without the Russian Service Module. In past weeks the US has launched a rapid-development program to adapt the Navy's previously secret Titan Launch Dispenser upper stage into an interim control module (ICM). This module was to temporarily preserve the orbiting elements of the space station until the Service Module could be completed and launched. However, recently work on the ICM has been suspended pending a NASA decision on further Russian participation on the station. On February 13, the Navy canceled a planned procurement of solar panels for the ICM (SN). NASA and Boeing are now in negotiations with the Russians to decide on whether to use some sort of upgraded FGB to maintain the orbit and docking capabilities of the early components. The Russian FGB would be launched in July 1998 as opposed to the proposed October ICM launch. Since several test article FGBs are already in existence as part of the original FGB program, it is assumed that modifications such as a shuttle refueling capability could be added relatively rapidly. While political pressures keep the first station launches in late 1997, engineering and economic pressures are increasing for a delay into 1998 (Rich Kolker).


An Atlas 2AS with four solid-rocket boosters was launched at 8:42 pm Sunday, February 16, from Complex 36B at Cape Canaveral. The Lockheed Martin rocket carried aloft a Japanese communications satellite built by Hughes (Flatoday).


To improve the stability of focus, last week a five-day "bake-out" was conducted to remove any residual moisture out of the craft's camera. On Wednesday, February 12, the craft was counter rotated for three hours to calibrate the gyroscopes. All systems are operating well after more than a hundred days in space. The craft is moving in an orbit around the Sun with a velocity of 28.78 kilometers per second and will reach Mars on September 12th, 1997 (NASA).


Galileo passed within miles of the surface of Europa on February 20. This is the second and closest passage to date.


While interest is high to replace the Cluster satellites destroyed during the failed maiden flight of the Ariane 5 rocket, negotiations have stalled over the contracted price of launch services using two Ariane 4 rockets to be launched in 1999 and 2000. Arianespace is asking $108 million, but project scientists have only budgeted $72 million (SN).


Iridium: Following the failure of the Delta booster in January, Iridium has determined to place its first five satellites in orbit on a Delta launch tentatively scheduled for May. The company had recently considered using Russian or Chinese launch systems to launch the first elements of their constellation of communication satellites (SN).

FCC: On February 10, 13 companies settled a fifteen-month-long dispute over the assignment of domestic orbital slots for geostationary-based Ka-band communication services. Licenses could be issued as early as April by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. Companies plan various services including broadband video telephony and high-speed computer links (SN).

Cosmos USA: Hitching a ride on a Russian Cosmos rocket late next year, Cosmos USA will launch the DLR-TUB microsat for the German Aerospace Research Establishment (DLR) and Aerospace Institute of the Technical University of Berlin. The microsat will have a camera that will send both live video and photographs of stars, space debris and objects on the ground.

Worldspace Inc.: The design for the three-satellite constellation of Worldspace has been set and construction begun on Afristar, with its first satellite set to be launched by Ariane rocket in May 1998.


U.S. House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner to introduce a space commercialization bill within the next few weeks. Last year similar legislation was approved by the House of Representatives but failed to make any progress in the Senate. The U.S. State Department objected to a provision making it harder to restrict commercial satellites from gathering spy-quality imagery. Space-based earth observations has since been deregulated and several companies are rushing to launch commercial high resolution observation satellite systems (SN; FS).

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R.-Calif.), the new chairman of the House Science Committee's space and aeronautics panel, has called for a restructuring of the ISS partnership with Russia. Rohrabacher advocates the commercialization of space (AW&ST).


  • Feb. 23 - Galileo, Orbital Trim Maneuver #21
  • Feb. 25 - Intelsat 801 Ariane 4 Launch
  • Feb. 26 - Progress M-34 Launch (Russia)
  • Feb. 28 - Comet Hale-Bopp Crosses the Ecliptic Plane


The space population was lowered from thirteen to six early Friday morning with the landing of Discovery. The remaining six people in space include four Russians, one German and American Jerry Linenger on board Mir.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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