Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #36

Frontier Status Report #36

February 28, 1997

Dale M. Gray

As the first scheduled launch of the International Space Station approaches, material advances on the various components dominate the frontier news. However, the news from Russia is not good and will likely push the first launch back from November of 1997 to May of 1998. Other items of interest include a successful launch of the new, more powerful (and cheaper) Titan 4B by the USAF. Arianespace has delayed the launch of an Ariane 4 rocket from Thursday to Friday (Feb. 28). On Mir a small fire broke out but was quickly extinguished and no lasting ill effects are evident. Jupiter's moon Europa will be the target of a new Millenium series satellite, and the Galileo spacecraft has been given a two-year extension to its mission. Several multi-million dollar space contracts were awarded and there has been activity on the GPS and bandwidth frontiers.


Work is progressing rapidly on the American components of the International Space Station. The Integrated Equipment Assembly (IEA) manufactured by Rocketdyne in California has been delivered in segments via truck to the Kennedy Space Center where cranes were used to reassemble the 23-foot-long truss segment. The IEA is scheduled to be launched on station flight 4A along with 23 Orbital Replacement Units (ORUs). The ORUs contain the station's power switching, control and storage equipment and control computers (Boeing; NASA).

In Huntsville, work has been completed drilling 1500 mounting holes in the U.S. Laboratory module. These holes will be used for anchoring fittings for stand offs and racks. Proof pressure qualification tests and leak tests have been completed on the Lab/Hab common module Structural Test Article (STA).

The Common Module has been transported to Marshall Space Flight Center early in February, on the 6th, to be prepared for modal testing beginning May 9. The second of two Sync & Control Units (SCUs) manufactured by Lockheed-Martin Fairchild Defense Systems has been delivered to Boeing. The SCUs are a part of the internal video subsystem which supports video communication through the station elements. Ultimately the SCUs will be placed in the avionics racks in the Lab module (Boeing; NASA).

The Italians are now negotiating to construct two additional Nodes in exchange for discount or free shuttle rides for their astronauts. The current Node 2 would remain a permanent test article instead of implementing earlier plans to be upgraded to flight hardware. This barter would allow some of the station's cost to be absorbed by the relatively fixed shuttle operation budget. The Japanese have worked a similar deal and Brazil is expected to follow in the coming months (Rich Kolker).

However, the Russian soap opera concerning the delayed Service Module delivery continues. Because the Service Module is eight months behind schedule, the initial components of the station would have limited station keeping ability. There is a real concern that the early portions of the station would reenter before the Service Module could be launched. The first solution to the problem, an American-made Interim Control Module constructed out of a Navy satellite system, was rejected by the Russians. A modified Russian-built FGB similar to the first component to be launched was suggested in place of the ICM. This has now been replaced by yet a third option. The original FGB would not be launched on schedule--rather, a duplicate shell that is already in existence would be outfitted with engines, and components already mounted in the original FGB would be scavenged and placed in the new upgraded FGB. This then would be launched sometime in 1998 and would keep the gradually-growing station in orbit until the Service Module can be completed and launched. Further modifications, delays and unusual solutions are expected (Rich Kolker).

Wednesday, Dan Goldin, who heads NASA, admitted to the House Appropriations subcommittee that because of the Russian problems the launch schedule for the station is likely to slip into next year (Flatoday; NPR; M. Wallis).


A small fire made for some tense moments on board the Mir Space station on Sunday. Although the fire lasted only ninety seconds, the six crewmen donned surgical masks and goggles as a safety precaution until the air system could take out any hazardous fumes from the station's air supply. The fire began in the Kvant module during a routine change of a chemical canister of an oxygen generators. It is believed that the canister had a leak, which released chemicals that ignited from a spark. Two days after the fire, the crew was back to work (Flatoday).


President Clinton's new space budget includes $75 million for the New Millennium program to look for signs of life in likely places. A small probe is slated to be launched in 2001 or 2002 to take measure of Jupiter's moon Europa. The $250M probe would orbit at 60 miles using lasers and radar to explore the surface ice--seeking water beneath. Should water be found, a follow-on mission with a surface penetrator would be launched around 2005 (Flatoday).


The USAF successfully launched its upgraded Titan 4B on Sunday, February 23 from their launch facility at Cape Canaveral. The rocket carried a $200 million satellite built by TRW that will be used to detect missile launches. The launch is the result of a $950 million development program and will be used for launching heavy spy and military communication satellites.

The rocket has new guidance and destruct systems as well as new solid-rocket motors. The SRMs are 25% more powerful, yet have only five segments that can be assembled on the ground instead of the seven segments used in the previous model, which had to be partially assembled on the pad. The rocket is capable of lifting over six tons to GEO--over a ton more than the Titan 4. The rocket is scheduled to fly nineteen times through 2006. The next scheduled launch will be in October when the rocket will be used to launch the $3 billion Cassini mission to Saturn (Flatoday).


The Ariane 4 to carry the first of a new model of Intelsat satellites has been grounded on its first launch attempt late Thursday, February 27, by high winds.. Intelsat 801 features high powered C and Ku capabilities. The launch has been rescheduled for late Friday, February 28 (Flatoday).


Although Galileo was scheduled to end its exploration of Jupiter in December of this year, NASA recently announce that the program would be extended two years and that the craft would be able to complete ten more flybys of Europa, Callisto and Io. The program's extension will cost $30 million--primarily money saved by improvements in the spacecraft's mission operations (Flatoday).


FCC: The US Federal Communications Commission issued rules on February 19 opening up digital audio radio frequencies. Formerly reserved for satellite digital radio services, a April auction will now be opened up to wireless communications services as well as the satellite radio services (SN).

GPS: The US Defense and Transportation departments are negotiating for a second civilian GPS signal on future GPS satellites. Because of the frequency of the "L5" signal the military is concerned that it may interfere with a military communication system. The military has proposed an alternative frequency. A decision was to have been made February 24 (SN).

Johns Hopkins University: The Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University has been awarded a four-year $100M contract to build a solar-terrestrial probe for NASA. To be launched in early 2000, the Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Mesosphere-Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) Observatory is to study natural and human-related changes to our atmosphere (SN).

Malaysia: The Malaysian government has picked Surrey Satellite Technology of England to build a $12 million 50 kilogram microsat containing communication and Earth observation equipment. The satellite is to be launched in September by a Russian or Ukrainian rocket (SN).


  • Mar ?? - Feng Yun-2B Long March 4 Launch (China)
  • Mar ?? - Iridium-2 Delta 2 Launch
  • Mar 04 - Comet Hale-Bopp Directly Above The Sun (1.04 AU)
  • Mar 05 - Progress M-34 Launch (Russia)
  • Mar 05 - Tempo-2 Atlas-2A Launch


The space population remains at six - all on board the Russian space station Mir. The population is composed of four Russians, one German and one American.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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