Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #39

Frontier Status Report #39

March 21, 1997

Dale M. Gray

It has been another quiet week on the frontier. That is, unless you happen to be on the space station Mir where a fire drill occurs every time an oxygen candle is lit, and the station occasionally starts rolling on all three axes. On the ground, the shuttle Columbia is being prepped for its early April flight and the International space station's doors are being tested in Huntsville. As usual, large amounts of money are changing hands for space infrastructure. A new branch of the funeral industry will be born on the next Pegasus flight. This Saturday there will be an attempt by the amateur HAL5 group to launch a rocket into space using a balloon as a first stage.


The pilot of July's STS-85 mission of the Shuttle Discovery, Jeffrey S. Ashby (Cmdr., USN), has been replaced by astronaut Kent Rominger (Cmdr., USN), a two-time Shuttle pilot. The former pilot reportedly asked to be taken off of the mission for compelling personal reasons. The move is not expected to affect his standing with NASA and he will probably be reassigned to another upcoming mission. The eleven-day mission in July will study changes in the earth's atmosphere (NASA; Flatoday). Meanwhile, the shuttle Columbia is standing on pad 39-A awaiting its April 3rd launch. The shuttle will carry seven astronauts and the Microgravity Science Laboratory 1 into space for a nearly sixteen-day mission (NASA).


To keep hope and crew alive, candles are burning in the Mir station. The solid-fuel oxygen generators, more popularly known as candles, have taken the place of two Elektron systems that have failed: one with a failed pump and one with filter problems. The 180 candles in stock in the station are more than sufficient to last until the April 8th arrival of the Progress supply vessel with replacement parts for the failed system and a new inventory of candles.

Early Thursday morning, the main angular rate sensor on Mir failed resulting in the automatic switchover to a back-up. However, during the three-minute transition, the station began to rotate on all three axes. This rotation was controlled during a Munich communication pass, but the computer ended up with the wrong attitude in its memory until the next communication pass. The event used up ten kilograms of propellant (Kolker).

Meanwhile, work continues on the station. Experiments such as the Human Life Sciences Humoral Immunity Investigation, the Microgravity Opposed Flame Flow Spread (OFFS), the Human Life Sciences Sleep Investigation, and the 96-hour Liquid Metal Diffusion (LMD) experiment sample number 4 (NASA) were performed.

This coming Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the continuous presence of US astronauts on board Mir.


Boeing-built hatches for the International Space Station are now being subject to qualification and life-cycle testing at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Tests involve both intravehicular activity (IVA) and extravehicular activity (EVA). For the IVA testing the hatches were opened and closed 3,100 times. Astronauts Bob Cabana and James Newman took part in the testing. The hatches are being monitored for wear and degradation of the seals. Further testing will include testing mechanical systems, electronic bonding and a leak rate test (NASA).


Early Saturday, March 22, the Huntsville Alabama L5 Society (HAL5) hopes to be the first to launch an amateur-built rocket into space. The group plans to launch their garage-built rocket from Cerro Gordo, North Carolina. The High Altitude Lift-Off (HALO) will be first carried aloft by a seventy-foot-long polyethylene plastic balloon filled with helium. The combination, dubbed a rockoon, will rise to 90,000 ft before the hybrid motor fires. The rocket will burst through the balloon and hopefully rise to an altitude of 50 miles. This will qualify it as the first amateur rocket to reach space. The feat will be documented by an onboard GPS system and a television camera set to record the curvature of the Earth. The HAL5 group has launched five previous balloons and has conducted 50 static tests of their rocket engine, as well as a successful ground launch. The remarkable hybrid engine operates on the two non-exotic fuels of asphalt and nitrous oxide. The HALO system was first used in the 1950s by James Van Allen in a combined Navy/university project (HAL5).


The National Reconnaissance Office, the 36-year old semi-secret agency that is best known for its fine spy satellites is publicly tracking a 2.5-mile acrylic fiber tether in orbit. Launched on June 20, 1996 from a classified military satellite, the Tether Physics and Survivability experiment, called TIPS, is now in a 638-mile orbit and remains intact. The 1/10th-inch diameter acrylic fiber is wrapped in Spectra 1000, which is used in bulletproof vests and fishing lines. The ends of the strand are aluminum boxes weighing 83 and 23 pounds with the heavier end housing 18 laser reflectors and now-inert electronics. Tether systems have flown as early as the Gemini 11 and 12 missions and more recently on the Shuttle Columbia in 1996. A 22-mile tether is planned for launch on an Ariane 5 sometime later this year (Flatoday).


The Pentagon is now considering the possible transfer to space-based platforms of the radar-surveillance missions currently handled by Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) airplanes. Civilian and military air traffic control may also be transferred to space systems (SN).


Japan's space agency NASDA has chosen Thiokol Corp. to supply strap-on solid-rocket motors (SSB) to increase the capacity of their new H-2A booster. Thiokol currently has the contract to provide case technology and materials to Nissan for the H-2A's main solid booster. The SSB chosen is the Castor IVA-XL, a 38-ft. steel-cased motor capable of over 150,000 lb. of thrust for 56 seconds. The value of the contract is estimated to be around $50 million with their first flight in 2000 (AW&ST).


At a time when government spending in space is flat or declining, commercial expansion shows no sign of decline. Indeed, private investment in space has increased at 20 percent annually and some estimates place it in excess of $65 billion a year. Civil and military spending worldwide is estimated at only half that amount at $37-38 billion. The US contributes $27 billion, Europe $5 billion, Japan $2 billion with the remainder coming from Russia and other minor space powers (AW&ST).

Loral Space & Communications Ltd.: On March 14 Loral purchased AT&T's Skynet Satellite Services division for a reported $478.1 million. The deal was renegotiated down from $712.5 million after the recent loss of Telstar 401 on January 11. Telstar 401 was insured for $132 million.

Space Funeral Services: Although the funeral industry in Florida has tried to kill it, a new space industry is being born. A portion of the cremated remains of 24 people will hitch a ride into space from the Canary Islands on April 8 on a Pegasus XL rocket carrying Spanish Minisat-1. Celestis Inc. was originally founded in Florida in the mid 1980s and had scheduled its first burial in space for 1987, but the state's funeral industry drove it into bankruptcy. It has recently been revived as a Texas firm. The first delivery of ashes to orbit will include notables such as Gene Roddenberry and Timothy Leary, as well as others such as a Maine truck driver and a four-year-old Japanese boy. The price of the service is $4,800 for a 7-ounce vial of ashes. In one of life's ironies, Kuhl and Beauford Franklin, the founders of the original Florida-based space funeral business have since died--the present company has made a point of having their ashes aboard their first rocket (Flatoday; AW&ST).


  • Mar 22 - Comet Hale-Bopp Closest Approach to Earth
  • Mar 22 - HALO launch - attempt to be first amateur rocket to reach space.
  • Mar 23-24 -Partial Lunar Eclipse
  • Mar 31 - Galileo, Orbital Trim Maneuver #23 (OTM-23)
  • April 2 - Titan 2 rocket launch of a military weather satellite from Vandenberg AFB.
  • April 3 - Space Shuttle Columbia carrying the Microgravity Science Laboratory.
  • April 8 - Commercial Pegasus XL rocket of Spanish Minisat-1 and space burial.


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

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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