Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #43

Frontier Status Report #43

April 27, 1997

Dale M. Gray

The week on the frontier has been highlighted by two launches: the resumption of services by the Pegasus XL rocket and the last launch of an Atlas 1 rocket. Their success has placed a Spanish scientific payload, and a spare weather satellite in orbit. The Pegasus launch also marks the first commercial funerals in space. The shuttle Atlantis is preparing for its May 15 launch. The crew on Mir continues to try to plug leaks and fix aging equipment. Testing on solar panels for the international space station has been completed and the program continues to be a concern at the highest levels of government. Cassini has arrived in Florida for preparation of its October launch. Business news is lead by Boeing throwing its hat back into the ring for a contract to manage various NASA space missions.


Atlantis has been moved to the launch pad 39A in preparation for its May 15 launch. Payload installation is set for Monday, April 28. Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test will occur April 28 - 29 with Flight Readiness Review on April 30. The schedule of the mission to Mir has been extended one day to 10 days so that a spare oxygen generation system may be delivered and set up on the space station (Flatoday; NASA).


Despite rumors circulating in the Russian media, progress is being made repairing the Mir space station and it is unlikely that the station will have to be abandoned. While two of the leaking coolant loops have been repaired, a leak in the third cooling loop remains problematic. Antifreeze ethylene glycol vapors from the leak are creating eye irritation, but is well below danger levels (Flatoday).


The design, testing and integration of the E-wing solar array for the International Space Station by Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space has been completed. The qualification unit is the final testing configuration used prior to the production of flight hardware. Testing included 84 extension and retraction cycles, and individual solar panel circuits were flash tested to verify power output. The deployed E-wing is 108 feet long and 20 feet wide and only one half of the width of the final arrays. Four shuttle flights are necessary to fly the eight solar array wings necessary to supply the electricity needed by the space station. The E-Wing testing included 84 extension and retraction cycles of the 108-foot deployment mast and solar array blanket. Also, the individual solar panel circuits were flash tested with simulated sunlight to verify their output power (Boeing).

NASA and Russian space agency officials held a one-day critical design review on April 24, in Moscow. The meeting was to determine if the delayed Russian Service Module will be ready for launch by December 1998. At stake are U.S plans to build a U.S. replacement spacecraft. It is not presently known if the issue was resolved (SN).


On Monday, April 21, the Pegasus XL rocket successfully launched the Spanish Minisat-01 science satellite from Gando Air Base in the Canary Islands. This is the first from western Europe. The Spanish space agency INTA satellite has two astronomy experiments and a microgravity research payload. The rocket also carried ashes that will circle the earth attached to the spent third stage for 18 months to 10 years before reentering the atmosphere. Celestis, Inc., a Houston-based company, offers a unique funeral service whereby 7 grams of ashes are sent into orbit for $4,800. The ashes of 22 individuals, including Gene Roddenberry and Timothy Leary, were placed into ampules and placed in the 3rd stage of the Pegasus to utilize excess launch capability of the rocket. This was the first launch of the new service, and a significant step on the frontier, as it represents the first private space passengers, albeit deceased. (Flatoday).

The Pegasus launch also puts the XL back on line after a launch failure last year when two satellites failed to release from the spent rocket. The XL model has met with success in only three of its six launches. NASA has a backload of six satellites to be carried on the XL. The 52,000 pound rocket is dropped from a L-1011 carrier aircraft named Stargazer. Because of the in-flight launch capability, the rocket can be launched from the most advantageous point and is less subject to weather problems (Flatoday).


The last of the Cold War design Atlas 1 rockets was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station early on Friday, April 25. The launch was delayed one day due to extreme weather at the launch pad with tornadoes reported in the area. The launch successfully orbited the GEOS-K weather satellite for a cost of $220 million.


The Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft has completed the last leg of its journey on Earth by arriving at the Kennedy Space Center. A C-17 cargo plane delivered the spacecraft from Edwards AFB. The craft will undergo final integration and testing at the Center prior to its October 6 launch on a Titan IVB. The craft will then take a round-about tour of the planets gathering speed for its voyage out to Saturn. While Cassini then studies Saturn, a hitch-hiking probe named Huygens, which was built by the ESA, will be released to parachute down to the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The craft's high-gain antenna and several instruments were constructed by the Italian Space Agency. The mission is scheduled to arrive at Saturn on July 1, 2004 (NASA).


Despite Germany's backing out, France appears to be going ahead with their Helios 2 spy satellite program. Budgeted at 12 billion French francs ($2.1 billion), 10% of the program had been promised by Germany (SN).


Minisat-1: Launched on Pegasus, the Spanish Minisat-01 has been placed in a circular 365 mile orbit and is projected to operate for two years. The six-sided, 430-pound satellite carries three experiments: EURD, LEGRI and CPLM. The EURD is a spectograph designed by the U.S and Spain to examine background ultraviolet radiation in space. LEGRI was designed by Spain and the U. K. to pin-point low level gamma ray radiation sources for spectral studies. The CPLM studies liquid bridges in microgravity (Flatoday).

GEOS-10: Launched this week on a Lockheed Martin Atlas 1, the GEOS-K weather satellite will spend the next two weeks slowly working its way to its Geosynchronous Orbit slot between the two active GEOS satellites. The third of five Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GEOS) contracted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for $1.1 billion. The program seeks to have two operational weather satellites available at all times, so the new GEOS satellite will be placed between the two functioning satellites as a back-up in case of a failure. The satellite will be renamed GEOS-10 when it reaches orbit and will become operational after two months of testing. With the upcoming hurricane season predicted to be extremely strong, it is of vital import to maintain the weather observation system in orbit to save lives and property (Flatoday).


Boeing: The Boeing Company has decided that they will indeed bid on a NASA contract that could potentially be worth $6 billion - $600 million per year for ten years. The contract would consolidate many of NASA's space operations. Two months ago Boeing's Space Division dropped out of the competition, leaving the field open to Lockheed Martin. At that time it was felt the acquisition of Rockwell had stretched the company too thin. However, after review at the highest levels of the company, it was felt that Boeing could indeed handle the contract and had a very good chance to win it. The contract winner will perform control and monitoring functions with spacecraft--a job now spread out in NASA centers in four states. It is thought that a common infrastructure would increase efficiency (Flatoday).


As part of the fallout from the Russian space funding woes, the Space station has had to survive still another vote in Congress. The House passed legislation funding NASA for a full two years - $13.8 billion (1998) and $13.9 billion (1999). This is slightly more than current funding levels. During the debate, Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind. introduced an amendment to the NASA funding to eliminate the station. The measure was defeated 112-305. While Roemer argued that the station is costing the tax payers far more money than it is worth, others were quick to point out that most of the cost overruns were a direct result of Congress repeatedly meddling in the station's design process. The new legislation does include language to hold the President and the Russians more accountable as work on the station proceeds (Flatoday).

An international agreement has been signed by 32 agencies and companies that is designed to lower customs and regulatory barriers for satellite-based mobile communications. While the first round of signatories includes companies promoting future satellite systems, more signatures are expected during the next meeting of the United Nations' International Telecommunications Union in Geneva in June (SN).


(Courtesy of Justin Ray and Laurie Cochrane)

  • May 01 - Delta 2, Vandenberg AFB, Iridium Mission-1 (3 comsats)
  • May 04 - Galileo, Orbital Trim Maneuver #26 (OTM-26)
  • May 06 - Panamsat-5 Proton Launch
  • May 06 - Galileo, Callisto Observations (Orbit 8)
  • May 07 - Galileo, 4th Ganymede Flyby (Orbit 8)
  • May 07 - Mars Pathfinder, Trajectory Correction Maneuver #3 (TCM-3)
  • May 09 - Delta 2, Cape Canaveral Air Station, THOR 2-A comsat


The space population remains at the baseline of three, all on board Mir: Two Russians and one American. This Friday marks the 2,686 day of continuous human presence in orbit beginning with the reoccupation of Mir on September 8, 1989.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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