Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #67

Frontier Status Report #67

October 17, 1997

Dale M. Gray

Three launches, including Cassini, the last of the big-budget planetary missions, were reported this week. Pathfinder appears to be close to the end of its life while Mars Global Surveyor has experienced problems in aerobraking. Highlights reported for the week include:

  • Launch of Cassini on Oct 15.
  • China launches a Long March 3B carrying Apstar 2R
  • Russia launches Foton N11 spacecraft from Plesetsk
  • Cosmonauts on Mir prepare for internal space walk
  • First Globalstar satellites delivered for launch


Dan Goldin recently announced at International Astronautical Federation's (IAF) 48th conference in Turin, Italy that NASA will be seeking to increase the pace of privatization of the Shuttle fleet. The Agency will also seek to reverse the post-Challenger presidential decree and subsequent commercial space bill that prohibit the Shuttle from launching commercial satellites (AW&ST).

Columbia is currently in the Orbiter Processing Facility Bay 2 being prepared for bay door closeout. It will be rolled over to the Vehicle Assembly Building Oct 23 and out to Pad 39B on October 29. It is slated for launch on Dec 6 carrying the US Microgravity Payload #4 (NASA).

Atlantis is being prepared for ferrying to Palmdale, CA for Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (JSR).


NASA has announced that Andrew Thomas will be the last US astronaut to serve on Mir when he replaces David Wolf in January 1988 (NASA; Flatoday).

On Friday, Oct 17, the crew of Mir donned space suits in a dress rehearsal for the upcoming internal space walk. They also cleared equipment out of a docking chamber to make work space. One of the goals for the walk is to connect the orientation motors of the Spektr solar panels to a computer in the Kristall module. The computer that previously aligned the panels with the sun is located in the Spektr module and cannot function in a vacuum (Flatoday).


On Oct 14, NASA and the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) signed an agreement whereby the AEB will provide several systems for the International Space Station. Among these are the Technological Experiment Facility (TEF) and the Expedite the Processing of Experiments to Space Station (EXPRESS) pallet. The TEF will provide long-term exposure to space for active and passive experiments while EXPRESS will provide an interface to attach small payloads to truss segments. Other items provided by Brazil includes the Window Observational Research Facility, and an Unpressurized Logistics carrier. In exchange, NASA will provide Brazil access to ISS facilities on-orbit and carry on Brazilian astronaut to the ISS (NASA).

Meanwhile, France has announced plans to scale-down its participation in the ISS program, citing a desire for development of space exploration and applications independently of the US. France will continue to keep its commitments to the station as a member of the ESA.. There is also some talk that work on the French developed Crew Rescue Vehicle (CRV) may also be suspended. Savings from manned programs may be used for an Ariane 5 based Mars mission and a possible mission to Venus (AW&ST).


The Russian Space Agency launched the Foton N11 spacecraft from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in North Russia on Oct 9. A Soyuz-U rocket carried the 7,000 kg Foton aloft into a 736 x 825 km orbit. The Foton is a microgravity science satellite based on the Zenit. It contains the 154-kg Mirka recoverable capsule built by Kayser-Threde of Germany. The payloads from Germany, France and the ESA will return to Earth after fourteen days in orbit (LS; JSR; OR).


China's Great Wall Industry launched a Long March 3B carrying Apstar 2R telecommunications satellite from the Xichang Launch Center on October 16. The 3,700-kg satellite separated from the rocket twenty-five minutes after launch. Apstar-2R is a FS-1300 model satellite built by Space Systems/Loral for APT Satellite Holdings Ltd. It contains 28 C-band and 16 Ku-band transponders and has an expected lifetime of fifteen years. It will be placed at 77 degrees East longitude to serve Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia with the C-band transponders and primarily China with the Ku-band transponders (Flatoday; LS).


Aerobraking of the Mars Global Surveyor has been suspended at the end of the fifteenth orbit pending investigations into the movement of the balky solar panel beyond its fully-deployed position without the panel locking into place. The craft was taken out of the Mars atmosphere by a 2.3 meter-per-second burn at the furthest point of the orbit, raising the lower portion of the orbit to 170 km. During the hiatus the craft will orbit Mars every 35 hours and will collect scientific information from its scientific instruments (NASA).


Controllers have been unable to contact the Pathfinder lander since Oct 7. It is thought the problem is related to the degraded batteries and the colder temperatures being experienced by the lander. Without the battery, the lander cannot keep track of time and has power for shorter periods of time due to the shorter Martian day. Controllers are concentrating on sending signals later in the Martian day when there is more power available and the lander is warmer (NASA).


After a two-day delay due to high-altitude winds and two minor computer problems, the Titan 4B carrying the Cassini mission lifted off the pad at 4:43 am (EDT) on Wed, Oct 15. The 5,650 kg spacecraft separated from the Centaur upper stage 43 minutes later. The craft will next be passing by Earth in August of 1999 on its way to a July 2004 arrival at Saturn. The craft was built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It is carrying the Huygens probe which was built by Aerospatiale Space & Defense. With a price tag of $3.3 billion, Cassini is the most expensive interplanetary mission in history (LS; NASA; Flatoday; OR).


Starting next year, Kistler Aerospace will be doing some test launches from Woomera (Haworth; Ad Astra).


Orbview-2: A software problem occurred on the Orbview-2 Earth-imaging satellite on Sunday, Oct 13. Controllers believe bad data was uploaded to the satellite which caused problems with the attitude and altitude parameters. In response to the bad data, the satellite went into safe mode. A software fix should be completed by week's end. Orbview-2 was launched by a Pegasus XL on Aug 1 (LS).

Globalstar: The first two satellites of the fifty-six-satellite Globalstar network in LEO have been delivered to Cape Canaveral. FM-1 and FM-2 will be joined by two more satellites before their launch on a Delta 2 rocket on December 4. The system will also utilize Zenit and Proton rockets launched from Baikonur. The satellites were manufactured by Alenia Aerospazio in Rome, Italy. Globalstars system will provide low-cost telephone and digital communications and will be integrated with existing wire and cellular systems (Flatoday).


CD Radio: On Oct 10, the FCC approved the first license for a satellite to car service. At a federal auction last April, Satellite CD won the spectrum with a bid of $83.3 million and has recently made a final payment (SN).

Spectrum Sharing: The FCC recently eased the fiscal requirements for small companies seeking to operate LEO satellite systems. Previously such companies had to prove financing for building, launching and operating an entire satellite system for a year. Under the spectrum-sharing system, little LEO firms have only to prove they can build, launch and operate only two satellites for one year. Under the plan, five companies will receive licenses to provide tracking, messaging and paging services from LEO (SN).


(Courtesy J. Ray, B. Hartenstein and R. Baalke)

  • Oct 20 - Spektr internal spacewalk, Mir
  • Oct 22 - Pegasus XL, USAF STEP-4, Wallops Flight Facility, VA
  • Oct 22 - Start-1, EarlyBird remote sensing, Svobodny, Russia
  • Oct 23 - Titan 4A, A-18, NRO payload (no upper stage), Vandenberg AFB
  • Oct 23 - Terrier-Orion, Plasma Physics experiment, Andoya
  • Oct 24 - Atlas IIA, Flight AC-131, DSCS-3, Cape Canaveral Air Station
  • Oct 27 - Long March 3B, Sinosat 1, Xichang
  • Oct 28 - Ariane 5, Mission 502, second qualifying flight, Kourou, French Guiana
  • Nov 1 - Titan 4A, Mission A-17, Classified NRO mission, Complex 41, Cape Canaveral
  • Nov 6 - GPS Navstar Delta 2 Launch, Cape Canaveral Air Station
  • Nov 7 - Ariane 44L, Flight 102, Sirus-2 and Cakrawarta-1 (Indostar-1), ELA-2 at Kourou, French Guiana
  • Nov 8 - Delta 2, Iridium Mission 5 (five comsats), SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB
  • Nov 18 - Orbital Sciences Taurus, Geosat-Fo/1,Celestis-2, & ASU, Vandenberg AFB
  • Nov 23 - Athena-2, Lunar Prospector, Cape Canaveral Air Station.


The space population remains at the base line of three. There are two Russians and one American on Mir. This marks the completion of 2961 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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