Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #57

Frontier Status Report #57

August 8, 1997

Dale M. Gray

A big week in space with launch activity from all of the major players. The US and Russia successfully launched two manned missions and the ESA successfully launched a satellite. Highlights include:

  • Discovery launch and deployment of Crista-Spas.
  • Soyuz launch and successful docking with Mir.
  • Pathfinder operations altered to daytime only after one month on Mars.
  • X-38 prototype gets first flight test.
  • USAF announces drop test of a new "mini-spaceplane."
  • Hughes announces plans for new extreme high frequency constellation of satellites.
  • Several big business deals
  • Updates on several recently launched satellites


After an uneventful countdown, the Shuttle Discovery blasted off from Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:41 am (EST), Aug. 7. The six astronauts on board achieved a 175-mile orbit nearly nine minutes later, after firing the orbital maneuvering engines. The German-built payload, the Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes for the Atmosphere-Shuttle Pallet Satellite-2 (CRISTA-SPAS-2), was deployed about eight hours later. The free-flying instrument package will use its four telescopes and four spectrometers to examine the composition of the stratosphere and the movement of ozone and chemical compounds. CRISTA-SPAS-2 appears to be operating normally and will be retrieved by the Shuttle on Aug. 16. Other experiments have been activated, and the first activities of the Japanese-built Manipulator Flight Demonstration (MFD) begun. The Shuttle is scheduled to land in Florida on Aug. 18 (NASA; Flatoday).


Anatoly Solovyov and Pavel Vinogradov were launched from Baikonur, Kazakstan in a Soyuz-U booster on August 5. Forty feet from Mir, the automatic docking system failed and the Soyuz was manually guided to a successful docking with the station (August 7 at 1:02 pm Moscow time). With the station operating at only half power due to the June 25 collision, the arrival of the replacement crew brings the damaged station to capacity. After a week of joint occupation, Vasily Tsibliyev and Alexander Lazutkin will return to Earth (NASA; Flatoday; NBC).

As the present crew awaited the docking of the Soyuz, the recently-repaired Elektron oxygen-generation system again failed. Utilizing parts off of the back-up system, the crew attempted repairs, but were unsuccessful. Repairs of the system will now await a new part, a pipe connecting the generator to the air intake, that will be sent up on Atlantis. The crew is now attempting to start up the back-up generator. Ten gyrodynes are functional, orienting the station and its solar panels (Flatoday).

Solovyov and Vinogradov will conduct a series of internal and external spacewalks necessary to repair damage to the Spektr module. On Aug. 20, an internal spacewalk will attempt to reconnect the station's power grid to the solar panels on the damaged module. With astronaut Mike Foale assisting, the pair of cosmonauts will conduct up to six spacewalks to repair the Spektr module in the next two months. Foale is being considered for the second of the external space walks (NASA; Flatoday; NBC).


Having completed more than a month of operations on Mars, Pathfinder's lander has been given a few days off to recondition its battery. The lander will from now on operate using power from solar panels during daylight hours. With the 100 + degree swings in temperature, controllers eventually expect the lander to fail from solder joints cracking in the thermal swings. In the past week, several communications problems prevented the rover from investigating the "Rock Garden." The lander completed the first full-day weather observations (Flatoday; NASA; AW&ST).


Information from the descent of Mars Pathfinder to the surface of Mars revealed that the Martian atmosphere is significantly less dense than thought. As a result, when the Global Surveyor arrives at the red planet on September 11, its descent program has been modified to fire the engines one to two kilometers lower than previously planned to put it in orbit (SN).


An Ariane 44P rocket carrying the PAS-6 satellite owned by PanAmSat was launched into space from Kourou, French Guiana, on Aug. 8 at 2:46 a.m. EDT (0646 GMT). The satellite was released into orbit about twenty minutes after launch. The PAS-6 will transmit direct-to-home TV to South America. The 7,540 lb craft was built by Space Systems/Loral and contains 36 Ku-band transponders. The next Ariane launch is slated for September 2 (Flatoday).


The advanced-technology demonstrator for the X-38 crew-return vehicle (CRV) has made its first captive-carry flight on a B-52 out of the Dryden Flight Research Center. Designed to validate technologies necessary for emergency crew return from the International Space Station, the vehicle is built out of fiberglass and designed after the X-24A lifting body from the late 1960s. Following a series of captive-carry flights, the vehicle will be used in a series of free flights (AW&ST).


Despite budget cut-backs in the Japanese space program, one of the major elements on board the Orbiter Discovery will be the Japanese Manipulator Flight Demonstration system. The five-foot robotic arm and mount were developed for NASDA by Toshiba, Hitachi and IHI for $87 million. The arm is capable of more precise work than the Shuttle arm and is designed to be attached to the end of a traditional arm extending from the Japanese International Space Station module. The arm has six joints and a three-finger end effector. During tests on days two, four and five, the arm will be used to unscrew bolts on a simulated replacement box and then conduct various movement and control routines with the box. On day seven the arm will be remotely controlled by Japanese technicians on the ground (AW&ST).


Hughes Communications Inc. has gotten the FCC to approve a new "Expressway" bandwidth satellite system. The new system operating on what Hughes calls the V-band will have the capacity over 588,000 T1 lines with a 1.544-megabits/per sec. data rate. This is the first commercial proposal to use the 40-50 GHz extremely-high-frequency (EHF) bandwidth from geosynchronous orbit. Each of the proposed fourteen satellites will have 204 V-band spot beams as well as 8-10 Ku-band beams. Satellites will be able to communicate with each other using 3-GHz laser optical crosslinks. The first 12,000 pound 15 Kw satellite will be launched about 50 months after FCC approval. The system is expected to cost $3.85 billion (AW&ST).


AlphaStar: Financially-troubled AlphaStar has increased the number of transponders leased on Loral's Telstar 5 satellite to twenty four. Previously AlphaStar leased seventeen transponders on Telstar 402R. AlphaStar Television Network Inc., which serves approximately 60,000 customers, has been placed in receivership by the Bank of Montreal (SN).

SPACEHAB: SPACEHAB awarded contracts to Daimler-Benz Aerospace of Germany and RSC Energia of Russia for work on the SPACEHAB Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC)(TM) System. The ICC will be used to carry unpressurized cargo on the Shuttle for delivery to the International Space Station and to augment Single and Double SPACEHAB modules. Energia will produce the Unpressurized Cargo Pallet which will be positioned across the Shuttle bay above the tunnel to the SPACEHAB Modules. Daimler Benz Aerospace will be responsible for attachment hardware and will integrate the ICC into the Shuttle. Fabrication of flight hardware is expected to begin by the end of 1997 with first flight by mid-1999 (Flatoday).

Orbital Sciences: Orbital Sciences Corporation was selected by Mobile Communications Holdings, Inc. (MCHI), as prime contractor for development and manufacture of seventeen satellites for the FCC-licensed Ellipso "Big LEO" worldwide communications system. Under the $400 million contract Orbital will design, develop, construct and test the first-generation Ellipso satellites. The high-quality digital voice and fax communications network is expected to be launched in 2000 (Flatoday).

Hughes: Hughes Space and Communications has signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with CASA of Spain to cooperate in future and present space programs. The cornerstone of the MOA is a $0.5 million order for spacecraft panels. CASA is Spain's leading aerospace company (Flatoday).


TDF-2: Eutelsat, composed of forty five nations, has obtained the use of the seven-year-old TDF-2 satellite. The television satellite owned by France Telecom will be moved to 36 degrees east longitude so that its three functional transponders may serve the Russian television market until 1999 when it will be taken out of service (SN).

Orbview: Orbital Imaging Corporation, has successfully completed the first phase of its post-launch checkout of their OrbView-2 satellite and ground systems. The satellite was launched on Aug. 1 on a Pegasus XL rocket. The satellite is now being placed in a 700 kilometer orbit. Upon reaching its orbit, it will activate its eight-channel SeaWiFS instrument to collect multi-spectral images of the Earth. Commercial operations are scheduled to begin in September. The ORBIMAGE system of three satellites is expected to be completed in 1999. The company recently completed raising the $75 million necessary to develop the system (Flatoday).


The USAF is preparing for free-flights of a new "mini-spaceplane" this fall to demonstrate an autonomous landing capability. The $5.3 million unpowered vehicle was built to 85% scale by Boeing North American. A number of technological developments are also underway for incorporation in the final design. The unmanned vehicle will be about 25 feet long and 11 feet wide and carry a payload of 1,200 to 2,000 pounds. The system will be carried to hypersonic speeds by a larger vehicle, released and then a reusable upper stage will insert it into orbit. The vehicle could stay in space as long as a year before returning to Earth for a runway landing. In October, the 2,500-pound test vehicle will be dropped from 10,000 feet by a Sikorsky UH-60 helicopter (AW&ST).


With the Frontier rolling ahead full steam, one cannot but wonder why Japan is downsizing its space budget. The country has previously bankrolled several development efforts. However, recently they have dropped or radically reduced budgets on nearly all of their space programs. Plans to manufacture Hope, their own reusable spacecraft have been dropped. Instead, they will continue work on the prototype and try to upgrade it. While this will result in considerable savings, we have learned that retrofitted shuttles are not necessarily cheaper in the long run.

Japan has historically suffered from being a very large economy trapped on very little real estate. In the past this has made for some nasty chapters in history. Space, however, offers an avenue of expansion that steps on no one's toes. However, budget constraints and a very powerful fishing industry have to date hamstrung the Japanese space effort.

Frontiers are areas of rapid economic growth, with seemingly unlimited opportunity. America has benefited from continuous geographic and technological frontier growth from the start. However, those who make money off of a frontier are those who control it. Further, control is nearly always gained by those who get into the game early with established assets. Bill Gates, for example, was there at the birth of the personal computer industry and has leveraged his early activity into control of a huge empire.

The reasons Japan backed away from space are not clear. Perhaps Japan has realized that several of its endeavors such as the Hope mini-shuttle were dead ends. Perhaps they are watching Boeing's SeaLaunch venture as a way around their fishing fleet dilemma. With the present rapid developments in new space transportation systems, it appears to be cheaper in the short term to buy tickets to ride on someone else's advanced rockets. However, by giving control of the ride to someone else in the early years of the frontier, they have chosen not to take the first and surest path to becoming a major player in space. While Japan may later be able to achieve major player status, it will come at a much greater cost.


(Courtesy J. Ray, AW&ST, and R. Baalke)

  • Aug 10-12 - Long March 3B, Space Systems/Loral Mabuhay spacecraft, Xichang, China.
  • Aug 10 - Lewis, Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle-1, Vandenberg AFB
  • Aug 14 - Return of Soyuz TM-26 with Vasily Tsibliev and Alexander Lazutkin
  • Aug 15 - Soyuz fly around Mir to inspect damage to Spektr
  • Aug 18 - Landing of Discovery, Kennedy Space Center
  • Aug 19 - Delta 2 flight 246, Iridium, Vandenberg AFB
  • Aug 20 - Internal space walk, Mir space station (Date may slip one day).
  • Aug 21 - PanAmSat-5, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan
  • Aug 25 - Delta 2 flight 247, Advanced Composition Explorer, Cape Canaveral.
  • Aug 27 - Atlas 2AS, flight 247, GE-3 comsat, Cape Canaveral.
  • Mid-late Aug - Classified mission K-18, Titan 4A/ no upper stage, Vandenberg AFB
  • postponed - Japanese H-2, COMETS, Tanegashima Space Center, Japan


As a result of two manned launches the space population has increased to eleven. There are four Russians and one American on Mir. On the shuttle are five Americans and one Icelandic-born Canadian. This is the 2791 day of continuous space occupation beginning with the reoccupation of Mir on September 8, 1989.

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