Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #52

Frontier Status Report #52

July 4, 1997

Dale M. Gray

What a couple weeks on the High Frontier! Mir suffers a collision and its crew is scrambling to stay in business. Columbia sets records with a rapid reflight. It was a big week for NASA's new Discovery series of spacecraft--Mars Pathfinder is on the verge of landing while NEAR sent back photographs of Mathilde. The ESA launches an Ariane 4 carrying an Intelsat. Merger mania continues as the Boeing/McDonnell Douglas merger is approved and LockMart has announced its merger with Northrop-Grumman. The X-33 program is progressing, but with several snags. The Japanese satellite ADEOS was lost in orbit.

A new editorial section called "Frontier Corner" has been added with this issue that highlights developments in terms of the evolving High Frontier. Comments, rebuttal and objections are eagerly sought.


The Shuttle Columbia left the pad at 2:02 pm EST for a reflight of the Microgravity Science Laboratory mission. The launch was moved up forty seven minutes to avoid local thunderstorms. The countdown proceeded exceptionally smoothly with a short delay due to weather in the RTLS (Return to Launch Site) area. No technical issues arose as the Orbiter made a textbook ascent to orbit. During the course of the sixteen-day scientific mission, 32 experiments will be conducted and 144 experimental fires will be set in test chambers. The Shuttle set a post-Challenger record with a turn around of 84 days for the reflight. This also marks the 200th human space flight (NASA; Doug Pratt; Flatoday).


- At 1:18 pm Moscow time Wednesday June 25, the Mir space station was struck and damaged during a new "cosmonaut in the loop" docking exercise with the Progress M34 resupply vessel. The craft had previously been unloaded of supplies and heavily loaded with refuse from the station. The Progress undocked from the station thirteen hours prior to the docking attempt. During the approach the Progress failed to respond to braking commands. As a result the vessel missed the docking mechanism and hit one of the solar panels on the Spektr module, rebounded against a radiator cover and passed beyond the station. As a result of the impact, the solar panel was heavily damaged and the atmospheric integrity of the Spektr module compromised. The crew began immediate evacuation procedures from the module. While the cosmonauts severed power and air connections, which had been strung through the module's hatch, Mike Foale was able to deactivate electrical equipment in the module. After the hatch was closed, the air in the module continued to vent through what was later determined to be around 3 centimeters of opening (either one or more openings) to space (Itar-Tass; CNN; Flatoday).

With a significant portion of the power for the station lost with the closing of the hatch, the station was powered down to minimal levels to conserve energy. Equipment turned off include several of the systems recently repaired including the oxygen generation system, CO2 removal system and the cooling system. Other systems taken off-line included ventilation, cooling and the urine processing system. Thrusters were manually operated to keep the remaining solar panels oriented to the sun. Thursday the urine repossessing system was reactivated to the relief of the crew. By Monday, batteries had been sufficiently recharged so that several of the automated systems could be restarted. While activity and electrical systems continue to be severely limited, some science continues to be conducted in the remaining modules (Flatoday; CNN).

However, even with sufficient power the systems refuse to stay on line. A possible power surge on June 27 knocked out the computer that controlled the station's steering. The station was then controlled using the attitude control jets of the attached Soyuz return vehicle. Control of the station returned once the computer was reactivated. Eleven gyrodynes were at one point functional, relieving the crew of attitude-control duties, but late Wednesday, five of the gyrodynes in the Kvant-1 module spun down from a computer interface glitch. The remaining six gyrodynes were then spun down in a power conservation move. The station is again utilizing thrusters for attitude control (Flatoday).

On Tuesday the oxygen-generation system had to be shut down again due to an overheating cooling loop. The station is now utilizing oxygen "candles" which were the cause of the fire earlier this spring. Meanwhile cosmonauts are working to repair the cooling loop and fix the gyrodyne problem while preparing to attack the main problem in the Spektr module (Flatoday).

Russia is contemplating either an internal or external space walk to restore power connections to the remaining Spektr module. Because the leak may have been caused by the solar panel mounts being pushed through the 1/8 inch aluminum skin, it may not be possible to repressurize the module. Much of the equipment in the module will not be salvageable since it was not designed to operate in a vacuum. Nickel cadmium batteries appear to be especially sensitive. Medical and biological samples, log books and computer files appear to have lost along with Foale's personal gear. Mir's crew is now preparing for the internal space walk by clearing the transfer node of cables and ducts (SPACEF; Flatoday).


The planned Progress supply rocket launch scheduled for June 27 was postponed in the wake of the Mir collision. The rocket has been taken off the pad so that additional spacewalk supplies, and a custom-built hatch door can be loaded. The rocket is expected to be launched no earlier than July 5 with space walks inside or outside the module to follow on July 12 or 13 (Flatoday; CNN).


McDonnell Douglas recently finished the Pressurized Mating Adapter 1 (PMA 1) which will connect the American-made Node 1 with the Russian-made Functional Cargo Block (FGB). McDonnell Douglas will ship PMA 1 to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in mid-July after acceptance tests, (Flatoday).


Mars Pathfinder is nearing the end of its flight from Earth to Mars. On final approach, the craft is preparing to utilize the atmosphere to slow down. A series of parachutes will then deploy further slowing the craft. In the final moments before touchdown, airbags will deploy as rockets fire to slow the craft. The craft is due to touch the Martian surface around 1:00 pm EST (AW&ST; Flatoday; CNN).

Controllers have high confidence in the landing system which was extensively tested by drop tests, conducted by Weaver Aerospace, near Boise, Idaho. They are less confident in the terrain on which they are landing. Baring mishap, the 23-lb. Sojourner rover should be deployed and the first pictures returned late Friday night (NASA; CNN; Flatoday; NPR).

While Pathfinder is dominating the news, Mars Global Observer has made its own first contribution to the knowledge of Mars by returning its first image of the Red Planet. The craft is 16.72 million kilometers from Mars and will go into orbit September 11. The craft is in good health (NASA).


On June 27, NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft passed within 750 miles of asteroid 253 Mathilde. This is the closest encounter with an asteroid by a spacecraft. Only one instrument, the multispectral imager, was activated due to power constraints. However, 500 photographs of the asteroid were returned by the craft. The instrument found the 33-mile-wide C-type asteroid to be heavily cratered and twice as dark as charcoal, reflecting only 4% of light that strikes it. Color enhancement techniques revealed little color on the asteroid. The flyby was a bonus for the craft on its way to a Feb. 6, 2000 rendezvous with asteroid 433 Eros (NASA; Flatoday).


On Wednesday June 25, an Ariane 44P rocket boosted the Intelsat 802 telecommunications satellite to orbit from Kourou, French Guiana. The rocket with four strap-on solid rocket boosters carried the 7,580-pound spacecraft to a GEO transfer orbit where it was released 21 minutes later. The $179 million mission features the latest generation of Intelsat VIII series satellite with 36 C-band and 6 Ku-band transponders along with spot beam capability for voice, data, and video transmissions. Intelsat will now move this and several other powerful satellites into position over the Pacific to meet anticipated growth in that area. The new satellite is expected to have a fifteen-year life span (Flatoday).


Problems have emerged in the development of the X-33, the vehicle touted as the prototype for the vehicle that will replace the Shuttle. At present the vehicle being developed by LockMart's Skunkworks is too heavy, too expensive and behind schedule. As a result, the critical design review and first flight will be delayed. Lockheed Martin is addressing management problems by consolidating work and placing the project under a new manager. Design problems with instability in the transonic region are being addressed by modifying the lifting-body-plus-wings configuration. A problem with developing a composite tank for the hydrogen propellant has delayed the first flight from March to July 1999. Because of the growth of subsystems and their additional weight, the craft will not be able to reach the Mach 15 goal. The $1.1 billion program is also about $23 to $500 million over budget. However, testing of the new aerospike engine used by the vehicle has gone well and is on schedule. NASA and Congress do not appear to be alarmed by the problems with the program - which many see are typical of development of new technology (AW&ST).


A three-stage Minuteman 2 missile was launched on June 23 from Vandenberg AFB as part of a test of a new exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) sensor developed by Boeing. The missile payload was the third flight of the LockMart-developed Multi-Service Launch System (MSLS) which carried nine target objects built by Sandia National Laboratories as well as various decoys. The new sensor was on a vehicle launched from Meck Island in the Kwajalein Atoll. The new sensor was able to view the target cluster for several minutes while in flight (AW&ST). MH2>ADEOS Satellite Loss

The Advanced Earth Observing Satellite (ADEOS) satellite built and launched by Japan last August suddenly stopped transmission on Monday, June 30. The satellite was built in a joint venture with NASA and was expected to operate for 3 years. NASA provided a $15.1M spectrometer to measure ozone in the upper atmosphere. It also provided a $214.5M scatterometer to measure ocean waves and the direction and velocity of winds blowing over the ocean. The instrument took 190,000 measurements per day. A weak signal from emergency batteries was briefly detected, but no signals have subsequently been received. Sources speculated that the satellite was hit by space debris and give little hope of recovery for the craft (Flatoday).


Hughes: Hughes Electronics Corporation has negotiated a deal to buy five or more launches on Chinese Long March rockets with options for an undisclosed number of additional launches. One launch will be the on the Long March 3 which can carry the HS 376 satellite and four launches on the Long March 3b which can loft both the HS 601 and the new HS 702 satellites. The first of the launches could take place by late 1998. The fiscal terms of the deal with Great Wall Industry Corporation were not disclosed (Flatoday).

On June 23, Hughes filed a $550-million lawsuit against Lockheed Martin for breach of contract involving a launch services agreement for the Proton booster. The suit involves a 1994 agreement with Lockheed-Khrunichev-Energia International (LKE) wherein Hughes purchased four launches at a rat of one per year beginning in 1997 at a fixed rate with an option for additional launches, as available, at a fixed until 2001. Hughes maintains that they have not been able to exercise the option while LKE has been able to utilize the Hughes agreement to establish credibility. Initially claiming the flights were sold out, LKE changed its position and made several flights available, but at a higher rate (AW &ST).

Mergers: The FCC and other regulatory agencies have withdrawn objections to the pending Boeing/McDonnell Douglas mergers. The lone hold-out is the European Community which maintains that the merger would dominate airline construction for the foreseeable future.

Lockheed Martin recently announced their acquisition of Northrop-Grumman for a reported $7.0 billion.


While the Mir space station continues to fall apart around the ears of the two full-time Russian maintenance cosmonauts, the recent collision with the overloaded garbage scow (Progress M34) comes at a very opportune time in terms of the evolution of the International Space Station. While much of the hardware to be launched is already constructed or has had its design frozen in preparation of construction, the manner in which the ISS will be operated will constantly evolve from this point onward.

Catastrophe, such as the Mir collision, is perhaps the greatest accelerator of evolution of both biological and technical systems. As the asteroid hit of 65 million years ago placed mammals in the driver's seat, so too have disasters changed direction and accelerated development in technical systems created by man. The Hindenberg and Challenger are sadly some of the best examples of how the process changes the way technical frontiers evolve.

Without a doubt, the ISS and every following human occupation in space will need to know how to cope with the consequences of orbital impact. It is well that we are learning the lessons now with an aging outpost with well-known assets and oft-repaired systems, and not with a shiny new ISS. The Russians' resilience in the face of continued system failures is showing on a very literal level how future space habitations will have to be maintained and improved. The recent Mir-Progress impact will push us decades forward in the evolution of disaster and maintenance systems for space.

Another thing to think about. One of the hallmarks of the close of a frontier and the advent of civilization is the merger of former competitors for survival and profit. The American defense contractor merger mania has now nearly run its course. Martin and Marietta merged, and then joined Lockheed. LockMart later acquired Loral and is now adding Northrop-Grumman to its holdings. Boeing and Rockwell's North American Operations merged last year and now are merging with McDonald Douglas. Raytheon recently announced a plan to obtain Hughes Electronics from General Motors. As a result of all these mergers, United Space Alliance, which is composed of Boeing and LockMart, has access in-house to nearly all of the established space assets of America's major defense contractors. Similar mergers are occurring in the European space community. While this was caused by the end of big-budget military spending, it also marks a significant step in the evolution of the space frontier. As a result American private industry has now surpassed every governmental space agency in the world in its ability to launch cargo and crew into the high frontier. From this point onward, business--not government--will lead the development of the High Frontier.

Tell your children that if they want to work in space, they will need to apply to Boeing or LockMart, not NASA.


(Courtesy J. Ray, L. Cochrane, and R. Baalke)

  • Jul 04 - Mars Pathfinder lands on Mars.
  • Jul 05 - Progress M-35 launch, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan
  • Jul 07 - Iridium -2 (5 comsats), Delta 2, Vandenberg AFB
  • Jul 15 - GPS 2R-2 Navstar, Delta 2, Cape Canaveral.
  • Jul 16 - Classified mission K-18, Titan 4A, Vandenberg AFB
  • Jul 17 - Columbia, STS-94, Landing, Kennedy Space Center
  • Jul 18 - SeaStar, Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL, Vandenberg AFB
  • Mid July - Lewis, Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle-1, Vandenberg AFB
  • Jul 22 - AC-133/Superbird-C comsat, Atlas 2AS, Cape Canaveral.
  • Jul 23 - NEAR, Deep Space Maneuver
  • Jul 30 - Start-1, EarlyBird commercial remote sensing craft, Svobodny, Russia.
  • Jul 31 - PanAmSat-5, , Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan


The space population has again risen to ten. There are two Russians and one American on Mir. There are seven on board Columbia. This is day 2756 of continuous space occupation beginning with the reoccupation of Mir on September 8, 1989.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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