Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #63

Frontier Status Report #63

September 19, 1997

Dale M. Gray

This week marks yet another watershed in the development of the space frontier. In defiance of their own inspector general and the House Science Committee, NASA is proceeding on with the Shuttle/Mir program. Goldin has apparently abandoned the safe and easy path to take a route that he perceives to be actually going somewhere.

  • Atlantis poised for Sept 25 lift-off
  • Mars Global Surveyor begins science and aerobraking
  • Mir has yet another computer-caused blackout
  • US satellite passes within 1,000 yards of Mir
  • Proton launches seven more Iridium satellites
  • Congress debates NASA involvement in Mir
  • Lewis spacecraft spinning into reentry.


Atlantis with the SpaceHab double module is on Pad 39A awaiting launch on Sept 25 and the seventh Mir docking on Sept 27. The ordinance connections have been completed and checked. Space suits to be used by Parazynski and Titov during planned repair EVAs have been stowed and checked out. On Thursday, Sept 18, the aft compartment closeouts were completed, aft doors installed, and the payload bay doors closed. The countdown will begin at 2 pm Sept 22 at the T-43 mark. The crew of Wetherbee, Bloomfield, Parazynski, Titov, Chretien, Lawrence and Wolf will arrive for the launch on Sept 22 (NASA).


For the second week in a row, computer problems have blacked out the Mir Space station. On Sunday, two of three blocks of a controlling computer malfunctioned. Although the computer appeared to function normally when it was restarted, it was decided to replace the suspect blocks. The crew used spare parts scavenged from several broken computers to create a functional computer that successfully passed tests. While some systems were put back on line, several others remained powered off in case the computer failed again. Despite the station being at near-full power, the recovery from blackout took longer than expected because of problems powering up the gyrodynes that orient the station to the sun. By Thursday, however, the station was again functioning relatively normally with nine of the ten remaining gyrodynes active.

The crew is now working to extend power to the Pridroda module and Michael Foale is resuming scientific work. Because the Pridroda module has been powered down, condensation has built up on the module's equipment. Hot air and fans have been employed to dry the module out. Power is expected to be connected on Monday (Flatoday).

The US military has also contributed to the stress of operating Mir. On Tuesday, a defunct Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) satellite traveling perpendicular to Mir passed within 500 to 1,000 yards of the station. US Space Command informed NASA of the close approach thirty hours before the passage and NASA in turn notified the Russians. As the object approached, the crew on Mir retreated to their Soyuz capsule for thirty minutes until the 370-pound craft had passed. This was the closest approach of another tracked object in Mir's eleven years in orbit (LaunchSpace).

Russia has now reported to NASA that the last Soyuz return capsule had a harder-than-normal landing. The Soft Landing Engines (SLE's) fired at an altitude of 3-4 km instead of immediately prior to touchdown. As a result, they were not available when the descent module touched down. The bottom of the craft was dented and shock absorbers on the seats had stroked half their movement range. The Russians are now investigating the malfunction (Houston Chronicle Space Forum).


Despite several innovative methods of spreading the cost of the International Space Station, Daniel Goldin informed senators that the station would exceed the spending cap imposed by Congress by $430 million. The overrun is largely the fault of delays in developing hardware and software. Boeing, the station's prime contractor, estimates that the station will likely be $600 million over budget before the station is completed. Earlier this year Boeing lost $40 million in contract award fees for not meeting the contract obligations. It has since worked to get the program back on schedule and has invested $30 million of its own to construct a software integration facility (Flatoday).


Arriving at Mars on Sept 11, Mars Global Surveyor entered into a 45-hour elliptical orbit in preparation for aerobraking. On the second orbit the Magnetometer and Thermal Emission Spectrometer were activated for continuous operation. The Orbiter Camera and Laser Altimeter were activated for twenty minutes at the lowest point of the third orbit. Information from the science instruments is stored in solid state recorders and then downloaded to Earth during two sessions each orbit. Instruments have already found Mars to have a residual magnetic field only 1/800th as strong as Earth's. On Tuesday, at the top of the third orbit, the craft fired its engine for five seconds. The action slowed the craft sufficiently so that the bottom of the orbit passes through the upper Martian atmosphere. Over the next four months, this aerobraking will lower the periapsis, or high point of the orbit, from 54,000 km (33,555 miles) to 450 km (280 miles) (NASA; Flatoday).


Repairs have been completed on a tear in the insulation on the Huygens Probe. Damage was caused by an excessive air blast from an air-conditioning duct. The Probe has been tested and will be reattached to the Cassini Probe which in turn will be placed back upon its Titan 4B rocket. If work continues with no problems, the mission could be launched as early as October 13 (NASA).


On Sept 13 a Proton rocket was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome with seven Iridium satellites on board. The 1,445 pound satellites were released into transfer orbits about 88 minutes into the flight. In the coming weeks the satellites will be maneuvered into their 421-mile orbits--joining the twenty two satellites previously launched. Ultimately, the $5 billion communication system will have sixty six satellites in orbit (Flatoday).


Additional studies and tests of the launcher systems of the second Ariane 5 to be launched are now complete with the exception of checks relating to the launcher's dynamic behavior. As a result, the launch will slip from the September 30 target date. The new launch date will be announced Sept 25 (ESA).


An experimental satellite owned by Final Analysis Inc. will be launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Sept 23. The satellite will test a new frequency-sharing technique. The satellite was originally slated to launch this past spring, but encountered problems during shipment to Russia (SN).

In an almost unbelievable turn of events, Voice of America is planning to lease the services of Intersputnik of Russia to broadcast programming to all of the former Soviet republics. Intersputnik is the only satellite telecommunications provider with the required assets in place. Presently, Intersputnik, which evolved out of the former Soviet satellite communications system, uses less-capable Russian-built satellites. Beginning in 1998, they will begin utilizing modern Lockheed Martin Satellites (SN).


The International Resource Corporation out of Sydney (IRC) has announced that they will be breaking ground on an Australian spaceport at Cape York in October. In the past months several developments in the project occurred. The site was moved from the east side of the Cape to the west side near Weipa. The company also signed an agreement with Starsem a Russian/ French consortium for rights to use Zenit rockets (Barry Haworth).


The H-2 launch of the Engineering Test Satellite VII (ETS-7) scheduled for Nov. 1 will be delayed 2 or 3 weeks. During a Sept 7 prelaunch check., one of twelve thrusters failed to switch off due to a malfunction in the controlling electronics. The H-2 will also launch NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite from Tanegashima (SN).

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has cleared Thiokol to begin the full- scale development of an extended Castor 4A motor to be used on the Japanese H-2A rocket. Production of the XL model of the Castor 4A is scheduled to begin in June of 1998 in an initial contract in excess of $50 million (SB).


Lewis: The spinning Lewis satellite remains out of contact with ground controllers. Having slowed to a rate of half an rpm, the satellite has had several periods of favorable exposure to the sun. Controllers opted not to try to reestablish contact in order to maximize recharging the batteries. Since the satellite now has less than a week left before it reenters, active efforts are now being made to reestablish communications so that the 890-pound spacecraft can be boosted to its 321-mile operational orbit. However, despite the best effort of controllers, the craft has not yet responded--indicating that the batteries were not recharged. Reentry is now calculated to be between September 23- 30 with Sept 27 the most likely date (Flatoday; NASA).


Aerospatiale: Eurasiasat is preparing to sign a deal with Aerospatiale to buy a direct-broadcast television satellite. The satellite, which will be launched in October 1999, will serve Turkish speaking homes in Europe and the Mideast. The satellite will be co-located with Turksat 1C at 42 degrees east longitude (SN).

Hughes: Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications, a consortium of 13 Mideast and European telecommunications companies, has signed a $1 billion contract with Hughes for a mobile satellite phone system. Hughes will provide a turn-key system based upon a satellite to be launched in May 2000--operational by Sept 2000.


The debate on US participation in the Mir program reached a peak this week with the report of NASA's Inspector General Roberta Gross and with a Congressional hearing to examine the safety of the Shuttle/Mir program. The Inspector General's report indicated that the station was unsafe and that some NASA employees felt they could not speak out against risks. The House Science Committee held a hearing in which Mir safety was examined in light of the fire and the collision. Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., issued a dire warning to Dan Goldin and NASA if they proceeded with the program and placed David Wolf on the unsafe station. Rep. George E. Brown Jr., D- Calif added a not-very-veiled threat that, "The administrator has been forewarned that he makes that decision at his own risk."

It is moments like these that make me wonder how humanity ever got the nerve to leave the trees and walk upright on the African plains.

The specter of Challenger has once again been raised by posturing politicians who want to be in the position of saying "I told you so" in the event of an accident. They predict the sky will fall on the space program if there is a major accident and someone is killed.

With all due respect to our elected and appointed officials, this is pure undistilled crap. This line of thinking would have doomed the American Revolution. What if our founding fathers had decided that they wouldn't proceed with the Revolution because it was too risky--someone might get hurt. As I recall, they did decide to take on the risk and when the first man died in the revolution, it galvanized the people.

I will grant that Mir is a risky place. But it is far safer than Challenger. Trained men and women are monitoring the life-threatening conditions and have tested procedures to deal with the threats. Backups have been proven over and over. This the direct opposite of Challenger, where unsafe conditions were conspicuously ignored.

During the Cold War we lost many brave men to stretch the envelope of manned jet flight. They took risks and many died horrible deaths. We did it to save lives in any potential conflict by having the technological advantage. We saw the larger picture.

Now we are stretching the envelope of manned space flight. We are learning how to rehabilitate a damaged module at a bargain basement price. We are learning how to create environmental machines that really work and can be repaired. We are learning that our back-up systems can be trusted. We are learning to survive on the modern equivalent of the African plain. The Chicken Littles of our present Congress are afraid to take risks for fear of political fall-out. They care little of the future lives that will be saved by the lessons learned on Mir. They care little of the future lives that will be created by humankind moving off the surface of the earth and creating a space-faring society. They do care about next year's budget and how they will look if things go wrong. They need to understand that there are much larger issues at stake here.

This is the biggest thing that has happened to humanity since we swung out of the trees to venture forth upright. This is not an exaggeration. Going from tree to plain is hardly less dramatic a change than going from gravity/air to orbit/vacuum. Frankly, I am at a loss at how anyone could conceive of this transition occurring without risk and unfortunately some very ugly fatalities. This week Dan Goldin defied the gibbering apes in the trees and has chosen to venture out onto the African plains. He knows full well that there are lions out there, but he is going just the same. He apparently sees the larger picture. Should events conspire against Goldin, it will be interesting to watch whether Chairman Sensenbrenner chooses to come down from the trees and take on risk himself to assist Goldin or whether he will merely watch the lions have a good meal. The answer will demonstrate whether we will be the ones to take the next step in humankind's evolution--or whether we will be too afraid to venture out of the trees, and leave it to our grandchildren to find the necessary courage.


(Courtesy J. Ray, R. Baalke, and T. Duerbusch)

  • Sept 23 - Ariane 42L, Flight 100, Intelsat 803, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Sept 23 - Cosmos, Faisat 2V, Plesetsk Cosmodrome
  • Sept 25 - Shuttle Atlantis, STS-86, Mir mission 7, Kennedy Space Center.
  • Sept 26 - Delta II, Flight 248 Iridium mission (five comsats), Vandenberg AFB.
  • Sept 27 - 2nd Annual X-Prize Gala, McDonnell Planetarium, St. Louis.
  • Sept 30 - Titan 4A, K-18, (no upper stage), Vandenberg AFB
  • Early Oct - Ariane 5, Flight 502, Kourou, French Guiana
  • Oct 4 - Soyuz-U, Progress M-36 Mir resupply, Baikonur, Kazakstan
  • Oct 5 - Landing Shuttle Atlantis, STS-86, Mir mission 7, Kennedy Space Center.
  • Oct 6 - Atlas IIAS, Flight AC-135 Echostar F-3, Cape Canaveral Air Station
  • Oct 7 - Long March 3B, Apstar 2R, Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China
  • Oct 9 - Pegasus XL, USAF STEP-4, Wallops Flight Facility, VA
  • Oct 13 - Titan 4B, Cassini Mission to Saturn, Cape Canaveral Air Station


The space population remains at the baseline of three. There are two Russians and one American on Mir. This marks the completion of 2933 day of continuous human presence in space beginning with the reoccupation of Mir on September 8, 1989.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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