Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #64

Frontier Status Report #64

September 26, 1997

Dale M. Gray


One of the busiest weeks ever in the history of space. No less than six separate launches occurred around the world. Highlights include:
  • Atlantis launches for a rendezvous with Mir on Sept 25
  • Mars Global Surveyor continues aerobraking
  • Mir has yet another computer-caused blackout
  • Delta 2 launches 5 more Iridium satellites
  • Russia launches two rockets.
  • Ariane 4 launches Intelsat 803
  • Japan launches sounding rocket
  • Lewis spacecraft spinning into reentry.


Atlantis made a spectacular night-time launch on September 25 to begin a ten-day mission to the Mir space station. Although tanking began an hour late, the launch at 10:34:19 pm EDT was on time. On board are 7000 pounds of equipment and supplies for the Mir. The items in the inventory include a new 59-pound computer to replace the chronically-failing computer now in use on the station and two space suits that have emergency thruster packs to be used in case the space walkers lose physical contact with the station during a repair EVA. Final approach to the station will test a new rendezvous and docking system for the European Space Agency. The system is being developed for the ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which will be used to resupply the space station. Docking with Mir is slated for 3:55 pm EST Saturday, Sept 27 (NASA; ESA; Flatoday).

The launch was surrounded by controversy over whether the Mir station was safe enough to host Dave Wolf for a four-month stay. Dan Goldin made the final decision on the morning of the launch (Flatoday).


For the third week in a row, computer problems have blacked-out the Mir Space station. On Monday not only did the computer fail again, but a fan on one of the carbon dioxide removal systems failed as well. Both the computer and the CO2 removal system were repaired early in the week as the crew prepared for the docking of the Shuttle. As if that was not enough, a leak of a mysterious brown fluid was detected outside the station. Because of the capricious nature of the station's computer, the Shuttle has special instructions in case of a failure as it approaches to dock. Once the Shuttle is docked, it can use its systems to keep the station oriented in the event of a computer failure. The crew of the station appear to be ready to fix the station's problems once Atlantis arrives with the necessary spare parts.


Cosmos 2343, a Russian spy satellite, recently reached the end of its 124-day service life and was destroyed in orbit by its controllers. The satellite was launched on May 15 by a Soyuz-U booster from Baikonur. The remains of the satellite are predicted to have burned up in reentry on September 26 (LS).

A Cosmos-3M booster was launched Sept 23rd from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The two satellite payload separated from the rocket about 48 minutes into the flight. The two payloads then separated at about 3.5 hours into the flight. The primary payload is a 900-kg Russian maritime navigation satellite called "Tsikada." The satellite appears to be functioning normally. However, communications with the secondary payload, the 100-kg FAISAT 2V satellite, has since ceased. This satellite, which is owned by Final Analysis Inc. of Lanham, Maryland, was the second of a series of thirty communications satellites to be launched by 2002. It is hoped that an on-board timer will reactivate a second transmitter. The satellite was to provide e-mail services to remote posts of the Volunteers In Technical Assistance (VITASAT) organization (LS).

On Sept 25, Russia launched a Molniya-1T communications satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The satellite was carried aloft by a four-stage Molniya-M rocket. This is the 260th launch of the Molniya system (Flatoday).


The Mars Global Surveyor continues to elliptically orbit Mars every 44 hours. The Martian atmosphere was found on the third orbit to be twice as thick as expected, resulting in an adjustment to the aerobraking schedule. On Tuesday, during the seventh orbit, thrusters were fired to further slow the craft and drop the low point of the orbit from 121 to 116 km and the high point from 53,595 to 53,340 km. Currently, each pass through the atmosphere slows the craft by one meter per second, but this will gradually increase to five meters per second. Friction from the aerobraking heated the exterior of the craft by ten degrees--well within parameters. Currently, all systems are nominal (NASA).

Back on Earth, cuts have been proposed to NASA's 1999 Mars exploration budget. As a result, the Mars Surveyor mission of 2001 will be rescheduled for 2003 and later missions bumped two years as well. The budget cuts coincide with a $150 million cut to the Mission to Planet Earth (SN).


NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been repaired of the minor rip in the insulation of the Huygens probe. The probe, built by the European Space Agency, is designed to land on Saturn's moon Titan. The official launch date of the spacecraft on a USAF Titan 4B is now scheduled for October 13 (NASA).


On Sept 23, Arianespace reached a milestone by launching its 100th mission. The Ariane 42L was launched at 7:58 pm local time from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. The rocket released the Intelsat 803 into a transfer orbit 20 minutes, 46 seconds into the flight. In the 18 years that Arianespace has been launching rockets, only eight have failed. The next launch is likely to be the second qualification flight of the Ariane 5 in mid-October with an Ariane 4 launch of two commercial satellites on November 4 (Flatoday).

Because final qualification of the Ariane 5 software and control system has taken two weeks longer than expected, the flight of the Ariane 502 rocket will be delayed at least until October 15. A potential problem with oscillations during flight is related to excessive oil use on the Vulcain engine actuators. This is being addressed by analysis of the mathematical model used to discover the problem and by installing a filter on the oil feeds for the actuators that steer the main engine. Additional qualification tests could push the launch back 7-14 days. Confirmation of a new launch date is now expected in early October (ESA; AW&ST).


The launch of the Engineering Test Satellite VII (ETS-7), which was delayed last week by a malfunction in the controlling electronics of a thruster has a new problem. A power loss in a transponder in the chaser satellite was discovered on Sept 18. The ETS-7 is composed of two satellites, a chaser and a target that separate and recombine in orbit to test remote-docking technologies. The NEC S-band transponder controls communications between Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, ground stations and the target satellite. A new launch date has not been reported (SN).

On Sept 24, a TR-1A sounding rocket was successfully launched from the Takesaki Launch Site on Tanegashima Island by the National Space Development Agency of Japan. A parachute deployed and the payload splashed into the sea about 180 km from the launch site. The payload, which was recovered about an hour after the launch, has not been identified (NASDA; LS)


On Sept 26, a Delta 2 rocket launched from Vandenberg AFB successfully deployed five more Iridium satellites into low Earth orbit. The satellites will now be boosted to their operational orbits of 421 miles. Of the 66 planned satellites, 34 are now in orbit, with only one malfunction. The system appears to be well on its way to beginning hand-held telephone and pager service on schedule by this time next year (Flatoday; LS).


On Sept. 22, the SEA LAUNCH COMMANDER was christened in Glasgow, Scotland by Bobbie Cromer, the wife of the Chairman of Hughes Space. The ship is part of the two-ship infrastructure currently being assembled by Sea Launch. The other ship, a converted North Sea oil drilling platform, is currently being outfitted to serve as an at-sea launch platform. The honor of naming the ship fell to Mrs. Cromer in part because Hughes has signed a deal with Sea Launch for thirteen launches. The first Hughes satellite, part of the PanAmSat network, will be launched in about a year. Sea Launch partners include Kvaerner ASA (Oslo), Boeing Commercial Space Co. (Seattle), RSC-Energia (Moscow) and KB-Yuzhnoye/PO- Yuzhmash (Ukraine). Launch activities will be based out of Long Beach, California (Boeing).


The third of NASA's "great observatories" was recently completed by a team of Kodak engineers working at a TRW facility. The two-ton telescope with four pairs of mirrors will be capable of detecting x-ray sources 100 times fainter than previously-flown x-ray telescopes. It is slated to be launched by the Space Shuttle next August (AW&ST).


Lewis: The spinning Lewis satellite continues to defy ground controllers' best efforts. NASA will have no chance of recovering the mission if it cannot contact the spacecraft by Sept. 25. The craft is expected to burn up on reentry on Sept. 28 (Flatoday; LS; NASA).

Intelsat 803: The Lockheed Martin-built Intelsat 803 was launched on an Ariane 42L rocket on Sept 23. The third of a new, more powerful, series of Intelsats, the 3,455-kg satellite boasts of 38 C-band and 6 Ku-band interconnected transponders and spot beams. It will temporarily be assigned to the 27.5 degree longitude slot to cover eastern Asia and the Middle East. In March it will be moved to 21.5 degrees West to replace Intelsat 515. The move is part of a shuffling of satellites caused by a telemetry problem with Intelsat 605. The new satellite is expected to have a life span of 15 years (Flatoday).


Daimler-Benz Aerospace: In a joint venture of the German firm of Daimler-Benz and the German "Intospace consortium," along with the Russian Khrunichev and Lavochkin will offer a commercial launch service that will feature a re-entry capsule for microgravity experiments. Designed to fly on the Russian Rockot, the 1,200-kg capsule will return about 350 kg of payload for a cost of less than $40,000 per kg payload. The service is expected to begin in 1999 (SN).

Primestar: The US Justice Department has determined that the six partners of Primestar might join their interests to create one public company without violating antitrust laws. The "roll-up" is now being reviewed by the FCC. Separately, Primestar's plans to acquire American Sky Broadcasting, a division of Murdock's News Corp, is still being reviewed by the FCC (SN).

Satmex: The "Satelites Mexicanos SA", aka Satmex, plans to team with foreign partners. Chief competitors for the position are Hughes, Loral and GE American Communications. Their bids will be reviewed in October and awarded Nov 17. Rights to Mexico's GEO slots are the prize for the winner (SN).

Intelsat: During the Sept 12-16 meeting of the Board of Governors of Intelsat, a contract was awarded to Lockheed-Khrunichev-Energia International (LKEI) to launch Intelsat 901 on a Proton M/Breeze rocket. The contract, with options for additional launches, is the first to use the Russian-built rocket. The flight is scheduled for between May and August of 2000 (Intelsat). China Great Wall Industry Corp: Great Wall Industry recently signed an agreement with Loral Space to provide launch services for ChinaSat-8. The Loral satellite will be launched on a Long March 3-B in late 1998. Last month a similar rocket successfully placed a Philippines satellite into orbit (Flatoday).


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

  • 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 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 8 - Soyuz-U, Progress M-36 Mir resupply, Baikonur, Kazakstan
  • Oct 9 - Pegasus XL, USAF STEP-4, Wallops Flight Facility, VA
  • Oct 13 - Titan 4B, Cassini Mission to Saturn, Cape Canaveral Air Station
  • Oct 15 (earliest) - Ariane 5, Mission 502, second qualifying flight, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Oct 17 - Pegasus XL, USAF STEP-4, Wollops Flight Facility, VA.


The space population has risen to ten. There are two Russians and one American on Mir. The seven-person international crew of Atlantis is composed of five American astronauts, Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Titov and French astronaut Jean-Loup Chretien. This marks the completion of 2940 day of continuous human presence in space beginning with the reoccupation of Mir on September 8, 1989.

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