Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #56

Frontier Status Report #56

August 1, 1997

Dale M. Gray

While things are moving slowly on the big systems, there is plenty of news on the frontier.

  • Shuttle Discovery on the pad waiting for its August 7 launch.
  • Slow recovery of Mir awaiting new cosmonauts for major repairs.
  • ISS air-lock evaluation and project scheduling.
  • Pathfinder busy collecting data with the usual software communications glitches.
  • Atlas 2S successfully launches Japan's Superbird C.
  • Pegasus successfully launches OrbView-2.
  • Boeing merger with McD/D approved by shareholders.
  • GEOS-10 successfully configured for testing.


Shuttle Discovery is on Pad 39A awaiting its August 7 launch of the CRISTAS-SPAS mission. The Mass Memory Unit No. 1 has been replaced and loaded. Hypergolic propellant pressurization is underway. Aft compartment closeouts are also underway. The crew of Brown, Rominger, Davis, Curbeam, Robinson, Tryggvason will arrive on August 4 and payload doors will be closed for flight on Aug. 5 (NASA).

The crew of STS-86, the 7th docking mission to Mir, has been changed. Wendy Lawrence, who was scheduled to replace Michael Foale on Mir, will return to Earth on the Shuttle. This is the second time she has been bumped from the Mir. In 1995, she was determined to be too short at 5'3" to fit into the Soyuz seats. Restrictions have eased on height, but the new situation on Mir made an American with EVA experience more desirable. Her berth on Mir will now be occupied by Dr. David Wolf, Lawrence's backup. The change is due in part due to Wolf's EVA experience and training. Additionally, Wolf more closely fits into the physical profile of the Orlan space suits available on Mir. The mission may be delayed by 10 days to accommodate Wolf's Russian space walk training (NASA; Flatoday).


A relatively quiet week on the Russian space station. With most of the systems operational, the crew has been concentrating on repairing two of the four non-functional gyrodynes. The station's attitude is currently being controlled by eight functional gyrodynes.

The repairs will give the station additional pointing margin and capability. While the remaining solar panels and batteries are providing enough power for most on-board systems, the recently repaired Elektron oxygen-generating system has been taken off-line to conserve power--oxygen is being provided by tanks in the Progress resupply vessel. The Vozdukh CO2 scrubber remains in operation. Because thermal control and ventilation systems in the Priroda and Kristall modules were turned off to conserve power, the remaining ventilation system had to be reconfigured to cut down on condensation in the two modules. American/British astronaut Mike Foale continues to conduct Greenhouse and colloidal gelation experiments. Mustard seeds were reported to have sprouted over the weekend. Commander Vasily Tsibliyev's heart condition appears to have resolved itself. He remains on some medication, but is no longer restricted to low-stress physical activity. The Russian crew is now preparing for the August 7 arrival of their replacement crew (NASA; Flatoday).


The first astronaut crew evaluation of the airlock for the International Space Station was conducted by Mike Gernhardt and Claude Nicollier in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) in Houston. The underwater evaluation, used to train astronauts and refine procedures, went well. The airlock is slated to be launched in Aug. 1999 on flight 7A (NASA).

NASA status reports indicate that aspects of many of the ISS assembly missions are well behind schedule. Further, these are American contributions and not related to the schedule slip caused by the Russian economic situation. Mission 2a Node Control Software Release 15 final qualification testing has fallen from 3/12/97 to 11/19/97. For Mission 3A the PMA 3 was to be outfitted by 6/30/97 and on the dock at KSC by 9/30/97--now to be outfitted by 10/8/97 and on the dock by 12/11/97. The Standoff/End Cone Installation for Mission 5A was to be completed by 11/27/96, now it is slated for 11/1/97--a year later. The lab acceptance test for the same mission was to be completed by 6/29/98, but is now targeted for 3/1/99 which is only two months before launch. Proof pressure testing of the airlock was to be completed by 2/25/97, but is only now being completed. Several other critical systems and hardware are three to four months behind schedule. However, at a meeting to discuss risks to the launch schedule, four previously-identified risks, including the Service Module, were found to have improved. Program Reserves, US Lab Schedule, Node Control System Software Development and 1A-8A Software ICD Part 2 were found to have higher risk to disrupt the schedule (Rich Kolker HCSF)


In the past week the rover and lander have been busy amassing data on the geology and weather of Mars. Rocks visited include Mini Matterhorn and Mermaid. A missed wake-up call and a software glitch put the Rover out of business for half a day as it waited for further instructions. Most recently Pathfinder scientists have identified a metallic cone from the landing system (NASA).


On July 28 an Atlas IIAS (AC-133) launched the $100 million Japanese communications satellite Superbird-C from the Cape Canaveral Air Station Complex 36B. This was the 31st consecutive successful launch of the Lockheed-Martin Rocket from Cape Canaveral and marked the 40th anniversary of the launch system. The rocket placed the 6,902 lb Hughes-built satellite into a supersynchronous transfer orbit--thrusters will eventually place the satellite into its geostationary orbit at 144 degrees East longitude. Despite the threat of thunderstorms in the area, the launch was actually delayed from Friday because of problems with two retraction clamps on the launch tower. Saturday the launch was delayed by weather (Flatoday).


Orbital Sciences successfully launched its OrbView-2 satellite into low-Earth orbit on a Pegasus XL rocket. The rocket was dropped over the Pacific Ocean from a L-1011 carrier jet out of Vandenberg AFB on Aug 1 at 4:20 p.m. EDT. The OrbView-2 satellite separated from the rocket nine minutes into the flight. The satellite is the second of Orbital Imaging Corp's commercial imaging satellites. It will provide commercial and scientific multi-spectral images of ocean and land surfaces. NASA is the sole customer for the satellite, utilizing data from the Sea-Viewing Wide Field of View Sensor built by Hughes. The purchased data is part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth program. The next scheduled Pegasus launch will be the U.S. Air Force FORTE satellite in mid-September (Flatoday).


The upcoming launch of Japan's Communications and Broadcasting Engineering Test Satellite (Comets) has been postponed to allow full investigation of the June 30 collapse of the solar array paddle on Japan's Adeos satellite. Following recommendations from the Committee on Technical Assessment, the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) has delayed the Aug 18 Comets launch to assess whether its solar arrays could be at risk (SN).


Upgraded shuttle arm 303 was shipped July 30 from the Spar robotics facility in Canada to the Kennedy Space Center. This is the second of four Canadarms in the NASA shuttle fleet to be upgraded. The arm will be placed on Shuttle Columbia for its November STS-87 flight and will be used to deploy the Spartan 201 space craft (Flatoday).


Boeing: The shareholders for Boeing and McDonnell Douglas have completed voting on the merger of the two businesses. Boeing votes came in at a little above 99% for the merger while McDonnell Douglas votes were tabulated at 75.8% in favor of the deal. The main dissenting vote came from James S. McDonnell III, both a company director and descendent of the founder, primarily because McDonnell Douglas would not be used in the new corporate name (Flatoday).

CAI: CAI Data Systems Inc. has applied to the FCC to develop a $180 million Ku-band satellite system to provide two-way video, voice and data services within the continental US (SN).

Celestri: Motorola has applied to the FCC for five more GEO slots for the broadband Celestri system. This brings the total number of GEO slots for the system to nine with an additional sixty-three LEO satellites. The development of the system is expected to cost $12.9 billion (SN).


GEOS-10: Overcoming several technical problems, controllers of the Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite-10 (GOES-10) weather satellite have been able to reverse rotate the craft's solar panels to track the sun. Forward rotation of the panels is blocked by an unknown obstruction. Three tests of the satellite were successfully conducted with the panels reverse rotated. The configuration will allow the craft to function normally, albeit upside down. On-orbit testing of systems will continue this week (SN).

Iridium: Controllers at Motorola have not yet been able to determine the cause of the July 17 communication failure of one of the Iridium satellites launched on July 5 on a Delta 2 rocket. Unable to communicate with the craft, it remains in a parking orbit. It will be eventually be replaced as the 66-satellite constellation is completed. Tests on the orbiting Iridium satellites have begun with the first satellite-to-ground mobile paging and radio communications links established. Motorola sent hundreds of messages to prototype pagers during an orbital pass. On July 7, links were established between satellites and prototype handset phones (SN; Flatoday).

Inmarsat: On Saturday, July 26, the 4th Inmarsat-3 F4 satellite entered service by activating its global beam. The satellite's spot beams will be activated in about two weeks completing the Inmarsat global system featuring light-weight portable phones (Flatoday).


GPS: Funding for a spare GPS 2F satellite is in doubt. The satellite, one of three, has been taken from the 1998 House defense appropriations bill. The satellite would have been built by Boeing North American Inc, but there is no Air Force rocket available for its launch (SN).

MILITARY: Funding cuts in the Air Force has forced the elimination of 168 jobs or 20% of the civil service positions at Cape Canaveral and Patrick Air Force Base by 2000. While some of the positions are currently empty, half are to be eliminated by 1998 (SN).


Something happened while we were all watching. A new frontier was born. Mars Pathfinder has sparked a new way to make money from space - - exploration as a form of entertainment. As we watched, real money has been made in associated merchandising.

At its peak on July 8, 40 million hits were recorded on Pathfinder pages - twice the record one-day total at last year's Olympics. All told, the number is now in excess of 400 million hits. Further, Mattel is cashing in on Pathfinder's popularity with a Hotwheels Rover that is apparently the hottest-selling item in its inventory. Stores can't keep them in stock and Mattel is expecting to produce them through the end of the year. T-shirts are being sold (I have one myself) with a drawing of the lander. A portion of each purchase is donated back to JPL, thereby lowering the net cost of the project.

Every frontier follows upon the heels of governmental exploration of wilderness and is built upon the infrastructure of previous frontiers. The California gold rush, often thought of as an independent event, was actually built upon the infrastructure of the Georgia gold rushes, the Oregon Trail, the Mountain Man fur trade and the Spanish Mission expansion. So too the new frontier is built upon the infrastructure of the telecommunication frontier, the Internet and taps into the economics of America's booming entertainment industry. However, there is something new here. Instead of following in the wake of the exploration of the wilderness, the frontier has become an integral part of the exploration. It is as if 40 million of us were looking over the shoulders of Lewis and Clark. The ultimate in armchair travelers. All the joys of experiencing new and exotic locations without the worry of mosquitoes, dysentery or malaria. Is there money to be made? Just sit back and watch--pay for view.

Like those sturdy pioneers who hitched up the team to the wagon and headed to Oregon, we too have many of the essentials on hand for our frontier journey. With our computers and modems we can download and view pictures, movies and data from the surface of Mars. Information that is often only hours old. When we put a rover on the Moon, the information will be minutes if not seconds old.

Nor are entrepreneurs oblivious to the new frontier. Jim Benson's commercial space exploration company, SpaceDev, LLC, is pushing forward plans for NEAP, the first privately funded space expedition to an asteroid (Jim Benson; NEAP Project).

As for me, my own idea for cashing in on the new frontier is to build radio-controlled rovers with real solar cells on top for power and modified radio controlled cars underneath. This will help the exploration frontier, the rapidly expanding solar cell industry, and of course me. After paying royalties to JPL, hopefully I can make enough to pay for my Internet connection. Look for Radio Rovers in stores this X-mas.

For the last two years the frontier line extended out to Geosynchronous Earth Orbit. However, the slots there are rapidly being claimed and filled. The frontier has moved onward, outward--to the surface of Mars. Not much money has been made there yet, but this is only the beginning. Be patient--what we will see in the coming years will astound us all.


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

  • Jul 30 - Start-1, EarlyBird commercial remote sensing craft, Svobodny, Russia. (no data)
  • Aug 5 - Classified mission K-17, Titan 4A/ Centaur, Cape Canaveral
  • Aug 5 - Soyuz TM-26, launch, Mir crew rotation, Baikonur Cosmodrome
  • Aug 7 - Shuttle Discovery Launch, CRISTA-SPAS 2, Kennedy Space Center
  • Aug 7 - Soyuz TM-26, docking, Mir crew rotation, Mir space station
  • Aug 8 - Arianespace Ariane 44P, PanAmSat-6, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Aug 14 - Return of Soyuz TM-26 with Vasily Tsibliev and Alexander Lazutkin
  • Aug 18 - Landing of Discovery, Kennedy Space Center
  • Aug 19 - Delta 2, Intelsat, Vandenberg AFB
  • Aug 20 - Internal space walk, Mir space station.
  • Aug 21 - PanAmSat-5, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan
  • postponed - Lewis, Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle-1, Vandenberg AFB
  • postponed - Japanese H-2, COMETS, Tanegashima Space Center, Japan
  • postponed - Classified mission K-18, Titan 4A/no upper stage, Vandenberg AFB


The space population remains at the baseline of three. There are two Russians and one American on Mir. This is the 2777 day of continuous space occupation beginning with the reoccupation of Mir on September 8, 1989.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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