Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #38

Frontier Status Report #38

March 14, 1997

Dale M. Gray

In a rare week with no launches, the frontier continues to move to the private sector with numerous private satellites contracted and delivered. The Shuttle Columbia is being prepared for a research mission. The Russians continue to experience problems in orbit and on the ground. Frontier exploration has had several important developments with the completion of the Lunar Prospector and the successful completion of milestone transmission tests on the Mars Global Surveyor.


In preparation for an April 3rd launch, the Shuttle Columbia has been moved to launch pad 39A. The oldest orbiter in the fleet is being prepared for a 16-day research flight. The Columbia has been outfitted with a micro-gravity lab that will conduct twenty five materials science, protein crystal growth and physics experiments. The Shuttle will be commanded by Jim Halsell and piloted by Susan Still. Other crew include mission specialists Michael Gernhart and Donald Thomas; payload commander Janice Voss; and payload specialists Roger Crouch and Greg Linteris. Donald Thomas broke his leg January 29 when he misstepped going down the stairs of a shuttle simulator. He is recovering normally and is undergoing therapy on the leg so that he may be launch as scheduled. His replacement, Cady Coleman, is on-hand for the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test and Flight Readiness Review, but is not expected to be needed (Flatoday; NASA).


Oxygen-generation capabilities on Mir have been reduced by the March 4th shutdown of one of the station's Elektron oxygen generators. While the system was restarted and operated briefly, it again failed due to excessive air in the system. Located in the Kvant-2 module, the Elektron unit separates oxygen from onboard waste water using electrolysis. A reserve system was activated on March 7, but it failed from excessive hydrogen levels. On February 28, a different kind of oxygen-generating system caught fire and was destroyed. The station is now dependent on 242 generating candles said to be capable of sustaining 02 supplies for several months. Fans have been positioned to assure distribution of the oxygen throughout the orbiting facility. Repair equipment for the Elektron system is scheduled for the next Progress supply mission scheduled for April 6th. The supply flight has been twice postponed. It is thought that the Russians are having difficulties finding a booster rocket for the mission. Recently, the Russians were unable to redock the previous Progress capsule to Mir. After the automatic system failed, a manual attempt was made but the Progress passed the station by 750 ft. The Progress would have been used to boost the station with its remaining fuel and would have served as the station's garbage bin. It has since deorbited and burned up (SN; Kolker; NASA; AW&ST).


While a decision on the troubled Service Module replacement is expected in the coming week, there has been some progress on the station. PG-1 team has successfully tested the Power Converter Unit that will be used to convert the 28-volt Shuttle voltage to the 140 volts used by the station. The system will be required in the initial stages of construction before the station has a solar-power generation capability of its own (NASA).


Marshall Space Flight Center is asking NASA for $14 million for preliminary design studies for the X-33 follow-on vehicle. The Advanced Space Transportation division at Marshall has been asked by Dan Gold to develop combined-cycle, air-breathing propulsion. Sources state that such technology is at least five years away (SN).


The new Svobodny cosmodrome is preparing for a June launch of an EarthWatch imaging satellite. On March 4th, the rocket range launched a similar Zeya rocket that was built by Russian military students(SN).


NASA has announced that two $2 million contracts will be awarded by April 21 for development of prototype lightweight mirror systems for Hubble's replacement. The Next Generation Space Telescope is currently slated for launch after 2005. The new telescope is to weigh 1/10th the weight of Hubble and cost 1/10 as much (SN).


GOES-K is set to be launched from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas rocket on April 24th. The weather satellite will go into a holding orbit so it may be called upon to replace either of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) two operational Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES). GOES-8 was launched in 1994 and GOES-9 was launched last year. With two more satellites to be delivered, the NOAA will have spent $1 billion on their system (Flatoday).


The Lunar Prospector spacecraft has been completed and is now being shopped from Mountain View, California to Cape Canaveral for testing. The small craft will be launched on a Lockheed Martin rocket for a five-day trip to the moon where it will be placed in a polar orbit. Sophisticated instruments on board and mounted on extended booms will search the surface, especially the poles, for water, scan for minerals, map the surface, chart the gravity and chart the magnetic fields of the moon. If the craft has remaining fuel after completing a year mapping the moon in 118-minute orbits, it will be lowered to a lower orbit to continue mapping until it ultimately crashes into the moon (NASA; Flatoday).


The mission to Mars is already bearing fruit with the successful test of the new Ka transmitter. With no disagreements, twelve million data bits were simultaneously transmitted on a one watt, 32-gigaHertz Ka transmitter and on a 25 Watt, 8-gigaHertz X-band transmitter. While the X-band transmitter is standard for planetary missions, the Ka transmitter which is more commonly used on telecommunication satellites utilizes far less power while transmitting at three times the speed. At 120 days after launch the spacecraft is 36.46 million kilometers from the Earth, 76.39 million kilometers from Mars. It will reach Mars on September 12th, 1997 (NASA).


TCI: The Empire Strikes Back as the cable industry moves to shore up its eroding customer base. Last Saturday's launch of an Atlas rocket from Florida carried a new generation of direct broadcast satellite into orbit. The 3500 watt satellite is twice as powerful as any other previously-launched system. TCI Satellite will offer DBS services in combination with existing local cable programming. TCI Satellite spun off of the giant Telecommunications Inc. in December. Services are set to begin this fall. Customers will receive programming via a 13.5-inch dish (Flatoday).

Lockheed Martin: U. S. Satellite Broadcasting Co. is buying a Lockheed Martin A2100 satellite with three DBS transponders for placement in its shared orbital slot at 110 degrees west longitude. LockMart also recently sold GE-1 and GE-2 to GE American Communications for use in video and data services (SN).

Alcatel Espace: Alcatel Espace plans to create a constellation of sixty-four communication satellites in low Earth orbit. The $3.5 billion system known as SkyBridge would provide telecommunication services ranging from Internet access to high-speed data communication. Atcatel Espace has filed an application with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to operate the system beginning in 2001 (AW&ST).


  • Mar 15 - Mars Pathfinder Passes Mars Global Surveyor En Route to Mars
  • Mar 20 - Mars Global Surveyor, Trajectory Correction Maneuver #2 (TCM-2)
  • Mar 22 - Comet Hale-Bopp Closest Approach to Earth
  • Mar 22 - Pegasus XL rocket (Gando Air Base, Spain) carrying Spanish Minisat-1 with the ashes of Timothy Leary and Gene Roddenberry in the third stage.


The space population remains at three: two Russians and one American, on board Mir.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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