Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #37

Frontier Status Report #37

March 7, 1997

Dale M. Gray

Rupert Murdoch's merger with EchoStar is the most significant news of the week. The DBS telecommunication frontier has entered the final stage frontier development as witnessed by the entry of a "Robber Baron" as an active player. Other events include the launch of an Atlas 2a and an Ariane 4 both carrying commercial satellites. The Russians have brought back three Mir crewmen safely, launched a small rocket from their new cosmodrome and found a way to fund the Space Station Service Module.


With the probable delay of the first launch of the International Space Station, NASA is scrambling to find a new cargo for the scheduled November 1997 launch of the Shuttle Endeavor. Instead of carrying Node 1, which will likely launch in the summer of 98, the November launch may contain Spacehab 1. NASA is now looking for "viable payload candidates" for the flight (Rich Kolker, HCSF).

NASA is now studying the possibility of space shuttle avionic improvements that could extend shuttle operations through 2030. The shuttle's service life is currently considered to extend only until 2012 (SN).


On March 3, Russians Valery Korzun and Alexander Kaleri, and German Reinhold Ewald safely returned to Earth from Mir. Their Soyuz TM-24 reentry module touched down near the Dzhezkazgan in Kazakstan. The trio were reported to be in good condition. Ewald, who arrived at Mir on Feb. 12, is the eighth German to fly in space; the German space agency DARA paid $60 million for the trip. The Russians had been in space since Aug. 17. Their stay featured two space walks and over 200 scientific experiments (ITAR-Tass; Flatoday).

A recent attempt to boost Mir to a slightly higher orbit has failed. In February, the Progress-33 cargo ship was detached from Mir to make room for the Soyuz carrying Ewald and the Russian station replacement crew. The Progress did not deorbit, but was kept for future use to reboost the station with its remaining fuel. After Ewald and the former crew departed, the Progress was brought back to Mir, but was unable to redock. Progress 34, originally slated for a March 5 launch, has been rescheduled March 20 (Flatoday; Rich Kolker).


Although NASA has not had official word, Russian officials now claim that they have $100 million in loans to complete work on the beleaguered Service Module. There is very real concern that the Russians may be utilizing underworld banking to finance the construction effort. Dan Goldin, during a recent congressional meeting, was well aware of this option and stressed that documentation from any financial arrangements made by the Russians would be made available to NASA and that no criminal elements would be allowed to gain a toe-hold on space access (Flatoday; Rich Kolker).


The March 4 launch of a 191-pound Zeya satellite marks the first launch from Russia's new Svobodny cosmodrome. Construction began in the Amur region, 60 miles from the Chinese border, a year ago on the new cosmodrome to help ease Russia's dependence on the former Soviet launch center Baikonur in what is now Kazakstan. Russia continues to lease Baikonur while maintaining another center, Plesetsk, in their northwest. The new center, Svobodny, was reportedly once a base for a division of SS-11 military missiles. Two commercial satellites, a U. S. Early Bird communication satellite and a Swedish Odim satellite will be launched from the center later this year (Flatoday).


After a postponement from Wednesday, the Atlas 2a carrying a TEMPO direct broadcast satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Station was successfully launched from Florida early Friday morning. The satellite, the first of two built by Space Systems Loral for TCI, will be placed in GEO over the Pacific where it will provide services to the US mainland, Hawaii, and Alaska. This is the second of nine Atlas flights scheduled to lift from Florida this year (Flatoday).


At 8:08 pm EST on February 28, an Ariane 4 rocket lifted off from Kourou, French Guiana carrying the first of a new generation of IntelSats. Winds had delayed the launch by a day and was out of parameters for most of the launch window. The spacecraft separated from the rocket a little after 20 minutes into the flight. The apogee motor on the communication satellite has since placed the 7,540 pound IntelSat into GEO over the Indian Ocean. The satellite, built by Lockheed Martin Telecommunications for $78 million, is the first of six in the VIII and VIIIA series. It features the most powerful C-band capabilities to date in an IntelSat. With 38 C-band and 6 Ku-interconnected transponders, the satellite will have increased communications capabilities with not only the ground but also with other satellites (Flatoday).


Rupert Murdoch: The digital broadcast satellite frontier has entered a new phase of development with the entry of a "Robber Baron" as a major player. Rupert Murdoch has agreed to pay $1 billion in cash and assets for half interest in EchoStar Communications Corp. ASkyB, owned jointly by Murdoch's News Corp. and MCI, will merge with EchoStar. The company will operate under the name of EchoStar. Enlarged capacity of more than 500 channels will allow Murdoch to offer local programming to 75% of American homes. Lack of local news and information has in the past been seen as one of the major drawbacks to DBS systems. While this new development will pose a serious challenge to DirecTV, the unpopular cable industry is seen to be the true loser (AW&ST; Gray Frontier Model).

EchoStar had seen its stock drop 50% in price despite slashing the price of its DBS receivers. This left the company in need of a cash infusion - - paving the way for the merger. As terms of the agreement Charles W. Ergin, EchoStar founder, will remain CEO while Murdoch would serve as chairman. The company has two Lockheed-Martin-built satellites in DBS orbital slots that give full coverage of the contiguous US with another satellite launch slated for September. ASkyB also has a satellite slated for launch in September. Including three more planned satellites, EchoStar's constellation of 7 satellites will put it on equal footing with PrimeStar and DirecTV (AW&ST).

TELESAT Canada: Telesat Canada plans to buy a high-powered direct broadcast satellite from Lockheed Martin Corp. and Spar Aerospace. Several Canadian television company's will utilize the $222 million 32-transponder satellite that will be launched late in 1998. The satellite will replace a previously planned satellite called Borealis (SN).

Boeing: Boeing has opted not to enter a $6 billion contract competition for consolidated NASA spacecraft operations. Lockheed Martin is now the only remaining qualified company in consideration (SN).

Loral: Loral Space & Communications has agreed to pay $374 million in cash, equity and stock to buy out all four of its European partners in its Space Systems/Loral subsidiary. Each of the former partners owned 12.25% interest in the company. Aerospatiale, Alcatel Espace, and Alenia Spazio will get Loral common stock and convertible equivalent obligations while Daimler-Benz Aerospace will receive a $93 million cash payment (AW&ST).


  • Mar 09 - Solar Eclipse, Visible from Russia, Arctic
  • Mar 09 - Comet Hale-Bopp Crosses Over Earth's Orbit
  • Mar 10 - Asteroid 1990VA Near-Earth Flyby (0.2069 AU)
  • Mar 13 - Galileo, Orbital Trim Maneuver #22 (OTM-22)
  • Mar 15 - Mars Pathfinder Passes Mars Global Surveyor En Route to Mars
  • Mar 22 - Minisat-01 Pegasus XL Launch (from Spain)


With the safe landing of the two Russians and one German previously on board Mir, the space population has dropped to three. The three, two Russians and one American, remain on board Mir.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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