Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #40

Frontier Status Report #40

April 4, 1997

Dale M. Gray

An interesting week on the frontier. Despite the seemingly endless problems with Russia, components for the International Space Station are continuing to be completed, tested and fabricated. The Shuttle Columbia has been successfully launched into orbit while the new-improved Endeavor returned to Florida. Hale-Bopp was studied by a series of four sounding rockets. A cold-war Titan 2 has been rehabilitated and is prepared for a Friday launch. The ESA under a new president has announced two important scientific missions. Meanwhile life on Mir continues to be a challenge.


Thursday's launch of the Shuttle Columbia was delayed a day because of missing insulation on a coolant loop in the payload bay. While this has not been a problem in the past, the extended cold of the sixteen-day mission necessitated the insulation of the loop. After a short delay due to excessive oxygen readings at T-9, Columbia made a flawless launch carrying seven astronauts into orbit to conduct a series of experiments (Doug Pratt).

A new Laser Imaging System was used to track the Shuttle. The technology was developed by Naval Research and Development (NRaD) to improve on previous optical tracking devices that were often impaired by the rocket's plume. The device was previously used on expendable launch vehicles and on the two previous shuttle launches (Flatoday).

The shuttle Endeavor has returned to Florida from California after an extensive upgrade that has modernized the Orbiter while trimming 1,300 pounds in weight. The work was necessary for future operations with the International Space Station. Over 20,000 parts and ten major modifications were made including a new external air lock. Endeavor was originally scheduled to launch the first US component of the station in December, but Russian station construction problems have delayed the launch until the summer of 1998 (Flatoday).


Lockheed Martin completed a thermal balance test on the Integrated Equipment Assembly (IEA) which will be part of the P6 truss segment to be launched on flight 4A. The P6 provides early power and thermal capabilities for the U.S. elements. Five separate thermal and electrical (heat load) tests were successfully performed on the IEA, and thermocouple and flight instrumentation data were gathered (NASA).

The Photovoltaic Radiator (PVR) system to cool the space station is being tested at the Lewis Research Center's Plum Brook Station. In the world's largest vacuum chamber initial tests have already successfully deployed the system in a vacuum environment in a wide range of temperatures. The next tests will determine the system's efficiency in a vacuum environment. Each PVR Orbital Replacement Unit (ORU) consists of seven radiator panels, each of the four ORUs are about 6 x 12 ft and weigh 1,600 pounds (NASA).

The current flight of Columbia features Boeing's International Space Station EXPRESS Rack. EXPRESS (EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments to the Space Station) is designed with standardized hardware interfaces and quick, simple integration of multiple smaller payloads. Using the rack experiments can be easily transfered from the shuttle to the ISS (NASA).


While crew on the aging Mir continue to work to resolve the numerous failing systems, Dr. Jerry Linenger became the fourth most experienced U.S. astronaut last Wednesday. His 84 days in orbit places exceeds the record dating from the days of Skylab. While the crew awaits the April 6 Progress launch for spare components for the oxygen system, they have been busy jury rigging a spare "Omega" attitude control sensor in the Kristall module to replace the one that failed on March 19 and sent the station tumbling. The new sensor will serve as a backup to the former backup system now operating. The Progress supply ship will dock with the station on April 8 carrying numerous supplies and two newly-designed space suits which will be worn by Tsibliev and Linenger during a spacewalk slated for April 29. Meanwhile a full schedule of life and material science experiments are being conducted (NASA).


The ESA has decided to replace the Cluster mission that was lost during the maiden flight explosion of the Ariane 5 rocket. The mission will include three new spacecraft and a "Phoenix" spacecraft constructed out of spare parts left over from the earlier program. The elements will be carried on two Soyuz rockets to be launched within a short time frame. The cost of the revived program is 210 million European Currency Units ($240 million) which includes manufacturing, launch and operations (SN;ESA).


The USAF has determined that the January 17 Delta rocket explosion at the Cape Canaveral launch complex resulted from the cracking of the graphite-epoxy casing of one of the nine strap-on boosters. This set off an explosion that destroyed both the rocket and its $45 million military navigation satellite payload. The solid rocket booster split 7.2 seconds into flight with the crack extending for another six seconds until it reached a length of 203 inches. At this point the booster exploded--setting off the Delta's first stage automatic destruct system. The second and third stages were destroyed by a signal from the ground 22.3 seconds into the flight at an altitude of nearly 1,600 feet. The shower of falling debris created an additional $50 million in damage to the launch facilities. It is estimated that it will take an additional four to six weeks to determine the cause of the initial crack in the booster. McDonnell Douglas is now preparing for resumption of Delta II launches at both Florida and California beginning in early May (Flatoday).


McDonnell-Douglas recently completed acoustic testing of the graphite composite interstage of their new Delta III rocket. The 13-foot-diameter by 19-foot-long composite interstage houses the Delta III's second-stage cryogenic engine during the rocket's liftoff and first-stage flight. With a payload capacity of 8,400 pounds to GEO, the new rocket will double the lifting capacity of the Delta II. Its first flight in 1998 will carry a Hughes Communications Galaxy satellite. McDonnell Douglas has eighteen Delta III flights contracted (McD/D).


Scientists at White Sands are in the process of launching four two-stage Black Brant sounding rockets to study the Hale-Bopp comet. Each five-minute rocket flight will go as high as 240 miles before parachuting back to earth. The four different instrument packages were developed by University of Colorado, University of Wisconsin, Southwest Research Institute, and Johns Hopkins University of Wisconsin. The flights began March 25 and will conclude April 5 (Flatoday).


In the wake of Hale-Bopp, the ESA has announced that they will be launching the Rosetta mission on an Ariane 5 in January 2003. The spacecraft will spend eight years slowly matching the orbit of Comet Wirtanen, which circles the sun every 5.5 years. The spacecraft will then go into a near orbit around the comet for 17 months while taking numerous scientific readings and may even place a lander on the surface of the comet (ESA).


A Cold-War-vintage Titan 2 rocket is scheduled to be launched April 4 from Vandenberg AFB with a military weather satellite as payload. The Titan 2, formerly housed in a missile silo, is the same type that launched the Gemini missions of the 1960s. It has been modified by Lockheed Martin to put a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program 14 spacecraft into a 458-mile near polar orbit. The space craft is used to collect cloud imagery along an 1,800 mile wide orbital swath (Flatoday;SN).


After 25 years of communication with Earth the Pioneer 10 space probe has been shut down. While the robust craft is still functional, budget woes at home have led to its demise. Scientists at the NASA Ames Research Center decided that the small amount of data that the craft was generating was not worth the effort needed to track the craft and pull its signal from the depths of space. Pioneer 10 is currently 6.2 billion miles away traveling at 28,000 miles per hour. Signals from the craft took 9 hours to reach the earth. The shut down marks the end of the US's longest running space program (Flatoday).


The first attempt to launch the HALO "rockoon" was scrubbed on March 22 by a combination of an electrical problem, increasing winds, and increasing air traffic. The next launch attempt is tentatively scheduled for May (HAL5).


Aerospatiale: Aerospatiale is currently marketing one-meter resolution satellite reconnaissance to Asian and Middle Eastern countries. The Isys system is based on the Proteus platform being developed by Aerospatiale and the French space agency, CNES. The platform would incorporate optical sensors similar to those used on the French-led Helios spy satellite (SN).

Orion: Orion Network Systems Inc. or Rockville, MD. has acquired German Teleport Europe which provides private satellite networks for companies in forty countries. Orion has gained 55 new customers including automotive giant Volkswagen, and licenses to operate in seventeen more countries (SN).


  • Apr 05 - Launch of Titan II from Vandenberg AFB.
  • Apr 05 - Galileo, 3rd Ganymede Flyby (Orbit 7)
  • Apr 06 - Progress M-34 Launch (Russia)
  • Apr 07 - Galileo, Orbital Trim Maneuver #24 (OTM-24)
  • Apr 11 - Thaicom-3/BSAT-1A Ariane 4 Launch (ESA/Japan)
  • Apr 17 - Lewis LMLV-1 Launch


The space population increased Friday to ten: eight Americans and two Russians. Seven Americans are onboard the Shuttle while one is on Mir with the two Russians.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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