Frontier Status Report #44
Frontier Status Report #44
May 2, 1997
Dale M. Gray
While no launches have occurred this past week, it does not mean that the frontier has been quiet. Work to overcome obstacles and new advances have occurred in several areas. Despite several past technical failures, American launch systems are preparing for two coming launches. The Shuttle Atlantis is slated for May 15 despite a problem with the fuel cell system. The Delta 2 rocket has been scheduled to launch despite an unclear understanding of the earlier catestrophic failure of a solid booster. An American astronaut conducted a space walk with a Russian while wearing a new space suit. Portions of the International Space Station continue to progress through manufacturing despite delays in the program. A Hubble telescope camera is out of focus. The Russian upper stage rocket for the new Atlas 2AR has failed the third of a series of four tests. Finally, an amateur society will attempt to place a balloon-launched rocket into space this coming weekend.
Shuttle Atlantis Flight Readiness Review has been completed and the Shuttle has been cleared for a May 15 launch. This announcement has come despite no clear understanding of the cause of the power failure that brought the recent Columbia mission to a premature end. Managers have also reversed an earlier decision to extend the mission by one day to allow for the installation and testing of a new oxygen system to be delivered by the Shuttle. It is now felt that the necessary work can be accomplished within the original nine-day mission time frame. The Atlantis mission to Mir will mark the beginning of Michael Foale's four-month stay on the space station and the end of Jerry Linenger's (Flatoday; NASA).
After weeks of repairing balky equipment and chasing coolant-loop leaks, on Tuesday, astronaut Jerry Linenger and cosmonaut Vasily Tsibliev donned new Russian space suits and ventured outside the space station. The suit's helmets have a visor and other improvements to prevent fogging and to help with visibility. The first combined Russian/American space walk lasted for five hours with Linenger on the end of a telescoping crane operated by Tsibliev. The crane was used to move the pair and their equipment from the Kvant-2 module to the docking module where the experiments were attached. First removed were two instruments used to measure the space debris that hits the station. The experiment was placed on the docking module earlier by American astronauts during the STS-76 visit to Mir 13 months ago. Two new experiments, the Environmental Experiment Packages (MEEPS), were also added: one to measure radiation and one to test the durability of materials that may be used in telescopes and coatings that have been measuring the amount of space debris that hits the station. Photographs were also taken to document the condition of the station. The next combined American / Russian spacewalk is scheduled for September when a walk using American suits will retrieve the MEEPS while Atlantis (STS-86) is docked to Mir (Flatoday; NASA).
The first Remote Power Controller Module (RPCM) flight unit completed acceptance testing and was shipped April 18 to Marshall Space Flight Center's payload assembly facility. The RPCM will one of 37 to be placed in the Space Station's U.S. Laboratory to provide fault protection, secondary power switching for the equipment racks, and servicing for over 220 loads, including heaters, lighting, fans, pumps, special instrumentation, and communication equipment. The units are constructed by Boeing in El Paso (NASA).
The once-problematic nodes are moving forward toward launch. The node structural test article recently passed a stiffness static test which was conducted on the axial port. The test was necessary to determine how the node will react to on-orbit assembly. Test data indicates that measured end-cone stiffness is in the normal range. Meanwhile node support equipment has begun to arrive at the Space Station Processing Facility at KSC. A test equipment platform and Element Rotations stands have arrived. Other equipment such as a full rotation stand are still to be delivered (NASA).
The outfitting and early assembly and checkout (A&CO) has been completed on the US Laboratory. This clears the way for "full-up" A&CO which will begin with additional hole drilling and installation prior to placing the Lab in a clean room (NASA).
The grounded Delta 2 rocket system was set to return to service Friday following approval granted by the Air Force April 30. However, high winds aloft forced a rescheduling of the Vandenberg AFB launch for the Saturday five-second launch window. The rocket will deliver the first five Iridium satellites to orbit. The constellation will eventually reach 66 satellites that will provide satellite telephone service from anywhere in the world using pocket-sized telephones. A second Delta launch is slated for May 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Station that will carry a Norwegian communications satellite (Flatoday).
Expansion of a block of nitrogen ice beyond predicted values has bumped the Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer out of focus on the Hubble Space Telescope. The 225-pound block of ice is utilized to keep detectors at a minus -355 degrees F. While two of the spectrometer's cameras are functioning normally, the third camera was pushed out of focus by the ice expansion. NASA reported that since March, the focus has moved back a third of the required distance. It is not known if rebound will restore focus. Failure of the camera could cut the lifetime of the camera in half. The $105 million infrared camera was designed and built by the University of Arizona (Flatoday; NASA).
The development of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AR was set back on April 23 when a Russian RD-180 engine was damaged during testing in Khimky, Russia. The failure occurred during the third of four planned tests of the engine. The rocket engine is part of LockMart's developing Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The rocket was the first flight-model version. The next flight-model RD-180 is slated to enter testing in May (SN).
The Huntsville-based HAL-5 society is rumored to be preparing for their second launch attempt of their HALO rocket. If all goes well the rocket will be lifted to altitude by a helium balloon. When the rocket motors fire the rocket will burst upward through the frozen balloon. If successful, this will be the first amateur rocket to reach space (Artemis).
CASA, the Spanish manufacturer of last week's successfully-launched Minisat are now in talks with Chili and Argentina. Officials hope to cement plans to produce more advanced Earth observation versions of the satellite. Minisat costs of about $21 million includes the cost to develop and launch the satellite as well as for a control center (SN).
Rather than trying to force Intelsat signatories to reduce their ownership of an Intelsat spin-off company, the United States has decided to seek to ensure a level playing field for Intelsat's competitors. This will be achieved through less stringent ownership restrictions and rules of enforcement. The Intelsat spin-of is slated for early 1998 (SN).
(Compliments of Justin Ray and Laurie Cochrane)