Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #46

Frontier Status Report #46

May 16, 1997

Dale M. Gray

A busy week on the frontier with three launches: the Shuttle Atlantis, a Chinese Long March rocket, and the amateur-built HAL-5 rockoon. Mir is preparing for the Shuttle visit. Meetings are taking place on the new Space Station schedule. Mergers of European space companies top the business news. And for the first time, six nations are represented in space in the crews of Mir and shuttle.


Shuttle Atlantis (STS-84) launched Thursday morning at 4:08 for the sixth shuttle mission to Mir. The ascent to orbit was nominal and the international crew is now preparing for its meeting with the space station late on Friday. During the five days when Shuttle will be docked to station, 2,700 kg of science equipment, logistics and water will be transferred. Mike Foale will also replace Jerry Linenger for a 4.5-month stint as crew. Foale will not only conduct science experiments, as did his predecessors, but will also be the first American astronaut to officially take part in the constant repair of the orbiting station. The mission is expected to last nine days and is slated to land on May 24 (Doug Pratt; Flatoday; NASA; ESA)


Following the announcement that the first commander of the station would be an American, veteran cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev has refused to serve on the first crew. Solovyev's decision is sparked not only by nationalism, but because the American chosen has no space command experience. Meanwhile the revised station schedule was voted on by the ISS Control Board on May 15. Space agency heads will meet on May 31 in Japan to discuss the impact of delays to the construction schedule (Flatoday; NASA; AW&ST).

Despite the constant controversy, the Russian-built FGB is on schedule for electrical test and checkout cycle this month. Once completed the FGB will be ready for the modifications necessary to refuel the propulsion unit in orbit (AW&ST).


The crew of Mir is preparing for docking with the Shuttle on late Friday. Repairs are continuing with the restoration of the Urine Reclamation/Processing System. The system was rejuvenated with a holding tank, valve and pump. The condensate recovery system has also been repaired by replacing two pumps. The system will not be used for drinking water until a sample can be analyzed back on earth--contamination from leaking cooling loops may make the water unpalatable. Leak-plugging operations continue, but must wait for equipment on the Shuttle for completion. The station will have its air flushed through the Shuttle's air purifiers. A new oxygen-generation system will be delivered by the Shuttle. Meanwhile, scientific experiments continue in the final days of Linenger's mission (NASA).


On May 11, the HAL-5 society successfully launched an amateur-built rocket to an altitude of 38 miles. The high-altitude balloon was inflated using helium purchased at a local grocery store. The rocket in a gondola under the balloon left the ground just before 7:00 a.m. EST. During the ascent the GPS unit signal was lost at about 23,000 feet. While the balloon was intended to reach an altitude of over 105,000 feet, at approximately 60,000 feet a seam in the balloon split, sending the gondola streaming back down toward the ground. At approximately 8:25 a.m. EST, the plunging rocket was successfully ignited on the third frantic attempt. The rocket had been intended to rise above the 51 mile mark that is considered the lower limit of space and reach an altitude of 64 miles. The final altitude of 38 miles was estimated from intermittent feed from an onboard B&W camera that measured the earth's curvature. While not all of the goals were met, the launch was hailed as a success. It is considered to have reached the verge of space and it broke a number of records. These include the highest altitude for an amateur-built rocket and the highest altitude for a hybrid rocket. The rocket splashed in to the Atlantic 120 miles down range and was not recovered (HAL-5; NPR; Gene Hornbuckle; Bill Brown).


The ESA will have a large role to play during the Atlantis mission. Both a GPS receiver, used during the long-range approach to Mir, and an optical rendezvous sensor, used at a closer range, were built by the ESA. Complementary equipment is already on the station. This is the first use of the automated system that is being developed for the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) being developed by the ESA. The ATV will be launched on an Ariane 5 and will begin delivering supplies to the ISS in 2003. The Shuttle is also carrying a number of ESA experiments in the Spacehab module in the cargo bay. ESA's Biorack is on its sixth trip to space. Docking, experiments and other Shuttle duties will be attended by ESA astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy, of France, on his second trip to space (ESA).


A second hairline crack has been found in the new first-stage turbopump for the new Japanese H-2A rocket. The first-stage engine is being developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The crack occurred during the fifth test of the LE-7A first stage motor and caused the 350- second test to be halted three seconds short of completion. The previous crack, attributed to resonance, occurred during the third test firing of the engine. Six more tests of two prototype LE-7A motors have been slated by NASDA (AW&ST).


On May 12, the Chinese Great Wall Industries successfully launched a domestically-produced satellite on a Long March 3A rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The Dong Feng Hong-3 satellite was placed into a GEO transfer orbit. This is only the second successful launch in a row for the problem plagued Chinese rocket program. In October, another domestically built satellite was placed in orbit by a Long March 2D rocket. The next Long March launch will carry the Feng Yun-2 weather satellite into geostationary orbit. Several western commercial satellites are on the manifest for later in 1997 (SN).


May's second McD/D Delta 2 rocket launch is scheduled for May 18. The rocket is stacked at Launch Complex 17A at Cape Canaveral as opposed to the earlier Vandenberg AFB launch. The payload is Norway's Thor II satellite owned by Telenor and built by Hughes Space and Communications. The satellite will provide 75 direct-to-home television services. The system is named after Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. Thor I was launched in 1989 on Delta's first commercial flight. Originally named the BSB-R1, it was renamed Thor I when it was purchased by Telenor (Flatoday).


Mergers: In a surprise move, Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) and Matra Marconi Space announced a merger of their space operations. Aerospatiale of Paris, long-time partner of Dasa, was caught unaware by the announcement. Aerospatiale is expected to announce a merger with Alcatel when Aerospatiale is privatized. In the wake of these mergers, only the Italian Alenia Aerospazio is without a major partner. Company officials had assumed that no deals would be made until later this year (SN).

Matra Marconi Space: In a $600-million deal yet to be inked, Matra has been selected by Constellation Communications Inc. to build the first 12 satellites for their $1.1 billion, 46-satellite global telephone system expected to begin service to 100 countries in April of 2000 (SN).

FCC: On May 9 the FCC awarded twelve US companies licenses to operate broadband communication services from GEO. The licenses cover 73 satellites providing high-data-rate Ka-band services. Companies include: Motorola ; EchoStar; Ka-Star Satellite Communications; Hughes Communications; GE American Communications; Morning Star Satellite; NetSat 28; Orion Network Systems; PanAmSat; LockMart; Loral Space & Communications; and VisionStar (SN).


(Courtesy Justin Ray and Laurie Cochrane)

  • May 18 - Delta 2 Launch, Cape Canaveral Air Station, THOR-2A
  • May 21 - NEAR, Trajectory Correction Maneuver #5 (TCM-5)
  • May 24 - Lewis, LMLV-1 Launch, Vandenberg AFB
  • May 24 - Proton Launch, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Telstar-5
  • May 25 - Shuttle Atlantis Landing, Kennedy Space Center
  • June 02 - Galileo, Orbital Trim Maneuver #28 (OTM-28)
  • June 03 - Ariane 4 Launch, INMARSAT-3 F4; INSAT 2D
  • June 06 - Orbital Sciences Taurus Launch, Vandenberg AFB, Navy oceanography geosat


With the launch of the shuttle Atlantis, the space population has risen to 11 (9 men and 2 women--with six nationalities represented directly or indirectly. Russia is represented by two men on Mir and one woman (Elena V. Kondakova) on the shuttle. The US has one man on Mir and four men and one woman (Eileen M. Collins) on the shuttle. Other shuttle astronauts include ESA astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy from France and Carlos I. Noriega from Peru. In addition, Mike Foale was originally a British citizen and Edward T. Lu, is of Chinese ancestry. This is the 2,707 day of continuous human presence in orbit beginning with the reoccupation of Mir on September 8, 1989.

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