Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #45

Frontier Status Report #45

May 9, 1997

Dale M. Gray

Without doubt the most important news of the week is the successful resumption of launch services of the Delta 2 system. Of perhaps more lasting import is the new partnership between Teledesic and Boeing in a $9 billion satellite venture. Teledesic is owned by billionaires Craig O. McCaw and Bill Gates. Other news of note includes the final preparations for the May 15 launch of Atlantis and an amateur space shot attempt on May 10. Launches for both the Ariane 4 and Delta 2 systems have been delayed. Telecommunication systems are also in the news with the successful deployment of the first five Iridium satellites and a problem with the evolution of the Echostar system. Canada has ordered a satellite from LockMart and Japan is negotiating with NASA over the exchange of services on the Muses C mission to an asteroid. Meanwhile, Galileo has swung by two of Jupiter's moons this week.


Atlantis is reaching the final stages of preparation for its May 15 launch to the Mir space station. The seven-minute launch window will be determined by the orbital position of Mir.


Unlike previous weeks, there is relatively little news coming from Mir. The repairs to the Elektron oxygen-generating system appear to have been effective and the system is now operating normally along with the other repaired life support and environmental systems. The crew expects to hold an audio conference on Saturday with the STS-84 crew to discuss the upcoming linking of shuttle to station. With science work resuming, the crew will begin anew their search for the leak in the Kvant-1 cooling loops. Jerry Linenger, who admitted during a recent interview that he is ready to return home, has been in orbit for 116 days while his Russian crewmates have been in orbit for 87 days (NASA).


Money in hand, Russia's Energia has begun accelerated development of the much-delayed Service Module. Of 1,070 major components and subsystems required for the flight module, 617 have been delivered. Russian and NASA have also completed a major design review. Yuri Koptev, head of the Russian Space Agency (RSA) and management at the Energia factory, predicts that the Service Module will be ready for its December 1998 launch. Meanwhile, Russia and NASA are taking advantage of the slip in the schedule to retrofit a refueling capability to the FGB spacecraft--the first component of the station--to be launched in June 1998. Should any additional delays occur, the FGB could then be refueled so as to maintain orbit until the Service Module is attached. NASA is also hedging its bets by continuing to develop the Interim Control Module (ICM) based on a formerly-secret Navy satellite design (AW&ST).


A potential problem with PanAmSat 6's power supply has caused Arianespace to bump its Ariane 4 launch from May 13 to later this summer. The power system is similar to that used in the Space Systems/Loral FS-1300 direct-broadcast satellite launched March 8 that experienced a reduction in power during a period of heavy solar activity. The flight of PanAmSat 6 was delayed so that the problem could be more clearly understood. In response to the delay, Arianespace moved the launch of Inmarsat 3 and Insat 2D up from June 5 to June 3 (SN; AW&ST).


Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) is discussing with NASA potential collaborations on their planned asteroid return sample mission, Muses-C. In the May 2 meeting, it was proposed that in exchange for NASA providing Deep Space Network tracking, navigation and technological support, Muses-C would carry a one-kilogram rover built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (SN).


After two days of weather delays and a bizarre abort at T-3 second, the Delta 2 rocket has finally returned to active duty by lofting the first five IRIDIUM satellites into orbit. On May 4, air-conditioning valves on the payload fairing were closed for launch as planned, but an alarm that should have been shut off sounded and stopped the launch. On Monday, May 5, the rocket finally launched, ending a moratorium on Delta 2 launches that began after a Delta 2 rocket carrying a navigation satellite exploded shortly after lift-off on January 17. It was later determined that one of the solid rocket casings had been damaged after it was manufactured. The solid rocket ruptured vertically a few seconds after launch, causing the entire rocket to explode. Monday's launch from Vandenberg AFB occurred at 10:55:29 a.m. EDT during a five- second launch window. The Iridium satellites deployed successfully a little more than an hour after launch (Flatoday; SN).

The next launch of the Delta 2 system from Cape Canaveral has been delayed from May 11 to May 18. During the May 5 flight, the second-stage attitude control system used more gaseous nitrogen than expected. While this did not affect the deployment of the 5 Iridium satellites, McD/D has delayed the next Delta 2 launch until May 18 to study the data. The May 18 flight will carry Thor 2, a Telenor Satellite Services of Norway satellite (SN; Flatoday).


Poor weather caused the cancellation of last week's launch of the HAL-5 balloon launched rocket. Most of the launch team for the amateur space-shot attempt are associated with NASA or aerospace companies in the Huntsville area. The next balloon launch attempt is slated for 6:15 am, May 10 from a grass field along US highway 17 near Hampstead, North Carolina, with the rocket to be ignited at altitude around 9:00 am. As part of their efforts for cheap access to space (CATS) the entire rockoon program from start to launch has been accomplished for under $20,000 and only $8,000 for the mission, manufacturing and operations (Steve Arnold; HAL-5).


Having passed by Calisto on Tuesday, Galileo swung within 1600 kilometers of Ganymede on Wednesday May 7. This is its last pass by the moon (NASA).


AT&T: AT&T has dissolved its plans for the VoiceSpan system and has withdrawn its application with the FCC for the Ka-band satellite system. AT&T will instead concentrate on core businesses such as cellular and on-line communication services (SN).

ECHOSTAR: A dispute over the type of encryption to be used in the direct broadcast satellite network has placed News Corp's $1 billion investment in Echostar in doubt. As a result a planned filing with the FCC has been delayed (AW&ST).

CANADA: Telesat Canada ordered a direct-broadcast TV satellite from LockMart Telecommunications. The April 30 order for the new A2100 frame with 32 Ku-band transponders is on a quick-delivery schedule. In the fall of 1998, the satellite will be launched into the Canadian orbital slot at 91 degrees west longitude and used to beam television and data to Canada (SN).

BOEING: Boeing has decided to invest up to $100 million in Teledesic after winning a competition for prime contractor against LockMart and Motorola. Teledesic plans to build a low-altitude, 288-satellite Ka-band communications constellation. Boeing will immediately invest $50 million in exchange for 5% interest in the company and will become the prime contractor for the development, construction and launch of the Teledesic system. Teledesic was founded by Craig O. McCaw and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates The 2,860 pound satellites will be placed in 435-mile polar orbits. Built at a cost of $20 million each, the satellites will have a modular design for ease of assembly. Earlier models of the system required 840 slightly-smaller satellites. Technical advances may further reduce the number of satellites. The satellites will be launched on a variety of systems including Boeing's Sea Launch, which will use the Russian Zenit rocket. McD/D Delta 4 rockets are also under consideration. The $9 billion system is hoped to be on line in 2002.(AW&ST).

IRIDIUM: The first five of sixty six scheduled Iridium satellites were successfully launched on a Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg AFB. The company has recently dropped its plans to charge $3 per minute for use of the wireless telephone system. Local service providers and market values will determine per minute charges. This brings Iridium in line with other global wireless telephone systems (Flatoday; SN).


(Courtesy Justin Ray and Lawrence Cochrane):

  • May 10 - HALO, Hampstead, North Carolina.
  • May 15 - Shuttle /Mir Mission 6, Kennedy Space Center, Shuttle Atlantis.
  • May 18 - Delta 2, Cape Canaveral Air Station, THOR 2-A comsat
  • May 24 - Lewis spacecraft, Vandenberg AFB, Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle-1
  • June 3 - Inmarsat 3 and Insat 2D, Kourou, French Guiana, Ariane 4.


The space population continues level at baseline with two Russians and one American on board Mir. This is the day 2700 of continuous human presence in orbit beginning with the reoccupation of Mir on September 8, 1989.

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