Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #41

Frontier Status Report #41

April 11, 1997

Dale M. Gray

It has not been an easy week on the Frontier. Shuttle Columbia has landed 11 days early due to a problem with a fuel cell. Mir has experienced and environmental system failure. The International Space Station is now officially 11 months behind schedule. However, the shuttle may be recycled for a July launch of the same mission and a supply ship has brought repair equipment to Mir. Other news of note includes Galileo's discovery of evidence of a subsurface liquid ocean on Europa. Several events have occured affecting satellites in orbit and as usual lots of business deals making money for those in control.


For the third time in a row, Shuttle Columbia's has been hit with a problem during its mission. After only four days, the seven astronauts landed with a half-billion dollar mission only partially completed. The culprit was one of three power generators which experienced a voltage drop. Mission managers shut down the unit rather than risk a possible hydrogen/oxygen explosion. The system, which has flown five times previously, was purged three times, but still displayed the voltage drop. Mission rules require that the shuttle land as soon as possible, but allows an orderly testing of landing systems -- this bought the astronauts some time to do experiments. While the shuttle can land with only two of the generators operational, it would be difficult to land in the case of a second generator shut down. The lack of power also forced the scrambling astronauts to work in darkness utilizing flashlights in order to conserve power as they attempted to do as much science in the small time allowed. Only fifteen to twenty percent of the 33 experiments they were conducting were completed before they had to button up for landing. Experiments included micro-gee fire studies to new metal alloys and medicine research, and development work on advanced semiconductor chips. The $500 million mission has been in planning for more than three years. The Shuttle successfully landed Tuesday, April 8. While NASA will investigate the faulty generator, the rigors of landing probably will have dislodged any contamination. Mission managers are now considering a rapid turn around of the same mission and relaunching the same cargo and crew in July. This flexibility was made possible by the slip in the Space Station assembly schedule (Flatoday).


The dynamic occupation and repair of the aging Mir space station continues. On Friday, April 4, the primary system that purged carbon dioxide failed. Leaks in the cooling loop caused the carbon dioxide system to overheat and shut down and caused the temperature of the complex to rise to 80 degrees. However, help was on the way, on Sunday April 6 a Progress-34 carrying two tons of supplies was launched from the Baikonur space center. It docked with Mir on Tuesday. In addition to the standard food, fuel and personal items, the capsule carried three fire extinguishers to replace the ones depleted during the February fire, parts to repair one of Mir's two broken oxygen generators, lithium-hydroxide canisters to replace those used in the past weeks, and two state-of the art space suits. The first order of business is to repair the leaking cooling loop and followed by repair of the oxygen generating system. Many of the station's science experiments have been placed on hold because of temperature concerns. The next shuttle to dock with Mir, Atlantis, will carry a space oxygen generator. Jerry Linenger will be replaced by Michael Foale during the Atlantis mission (Flatoday).


It is now official--last Wednesday NASA announced it will delay the start of construction for its international space station by 11 months. The reason: the Russians cannot meet the deadline for the Service Module. The Russian problem is due to a chronic lack of funding and senior NASA officials commented that an immediate infusion of cash was needed to keep the schedule from slipping further. Russian President Boris Yeltsin has finally authorized the transfer of over $200 million to the Russian space agency so that they may fulfill their obligations. Now under a best case scenario, the first elements of the space station will be launched in October of 1998. Meanwhile, NASA must deal with Congressional ire for having promised a station on-time and on-budget. Several members of congress have berated the agency for taking on the unstable Russians as partners (Flatoday)

In order to replace the delayed Service Module, NASA is asking Congress to transfer $200 million (FY 1997) and $100 (FY 1998) from the space shuttle's contingency fund to a Russia cooperation budget account. About $35 million would pay a Russian space firm to modify the existing Functional Cargo Block. The rest would be used to build the interim control module in conjunction with the Naval Research Laboratory. NASA has also recently committed thirty percent of the experiment volume on the U.S.-controlled lab to commercial companies and if there is enough demand is prepared to go as high as sixty percent (Flatoday; SN).


The first commercial launch of the new Ariane 5 rocket in early 1998 is slated to carry Eutelsat's Hot Bird 5 television satellite. Since the first Ariane 5 exploded in flight, the contract is contingent on the success of the second Ariane 5 flight. The satellite is being constructed by Matra Marconi Space (SN).


Swooping within 365 miles of the surface of Europa, Galileo has returned proof that liquid oceans exist under the surface ice of the moon. Black and white photographs from the February 20 flyby have revealed what appear to be icebergs that are being moved. Without winds or slopes to move them, a subsurface ocean with currents is almost certainly the cause of the movement. The liquid water coupled with evidence of volcanism makes the moon a likely candidate in the search for extraterrestrial life (NASA; Flatoday).


MSat-1: After operating less than a year, the Canadian MSat-1 has been crippled by on-board technical failures. Prime contractor Spar Aerospace and operator TMI Communications launched the satellite on April 20, 1996. Because the satellite was insured for $216 million for one year coverage, the companies will be briefing the insurers this week as they ask for a three-month extension (SN). They are expected to brief insurers this week on the extent of the trouble.

Intelsat 801: Apparently the Intelsat 801 which was launched February 26 was sent into an uncontrolled spin by a wrong move by ground controllers on March 18. As a result, the spacecraft lost its ability to point toward the Earth and may have damaged its solar panels. Control has been regained and tests will continue until April 25. Controllers do not think solar panel damage will affect performance or shorten its projected 14.5 year service life. It is slated to begin commercial operation May 7 (SN).


Globalstar: The launch of the first of Globalstar's four satellite constellation has been delayed from August to October in the wake of the January 17 Delta rocket explosion. The satellite is still slated to be launched on a Delta 2 rocket. Global mobile telephone service is planned to begin in late 1998 (SN).

Orion: Orion Network Systems presently plans to have 3 satellites in orbit by mid-1999 for business communication utilizing small dish antennas. Recently, the company announced plans to buy and launch an additional two satellites to be placed in orbital slots above India and the Pacific Ocean. No contractors have been selected for the satellites or launches (SN)

GE Spacenet: GE Spacenet has agreed to acquire AT&T Tridom which operates 56 hub facilities supporting antennas at more than 20,000 sites. The system, provides private network communications services to companies using small rooftop dish antennas (SN).

FCC: Federal Communications Commission has auctioned off two satellite radio broadcasting licenses to American Mobile Radio ($89.9 million) and to CD Radio ($83.3 million). The new industry expects subscribers nationwide to pay from $5-10 per month to receive digital audio services. Small dish antennas will be able to pick up to 50 channels (AW&ST).

COMING EVENTS - (courtesy Justin Ray and Laurie Cochrane)

  • Apr 16 - Ariane 4 Launch, French Guiana, V95/Thaicom 3; BSat 1-A comsats.
  • Apr 20 - Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL, Gando Air Base, Spain, Spanish Minisat-1; Celestis-1.
  • Apr 21 - Galileo, Orbital Trim Maneuver #25 (OTM-25)
  • Apr 21 - Mars Global Surveyor, Trajectory Correction Maneuver #3 (Canceled due to accuracy of present trajectory)
  • Apr 24 - Atlas I Launch, Cape Canaveral Air Station, AC-79/ GOES-K.
  • May 1 - Delta 2, Vandenberg AFB, Iridium (Three comsats).


In the wake of the landing of the shuttle Columbia, the space population has dropped back down to the baseline of three: two Russians and one American. All are in orbit aboard the space station Mir.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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