Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #77

Frontier Status Report #77

December 26, 1997

Dale M. Gray

Following a quiet week on the high frontier, a flurry of six launches occurred on three continents. Between Dec 20 and 24, 17 spacecraft totalling 18,236 kg were placed into orbit (LS). Highlights reported for the week include:

  • Endeavor moved to Pad 39A, KSC
  • Progress M-37 launched on a Soyuz, Dec 20 (Baikonur)
  • Five Iridiums launched on Delta II, Dec 23 (Vandenberg)
  • Intelsat 804 launched on an Ariane 4, Dec 21 (Kourou).
  • Eight Orbcomm sats, launched on a Pegasus XL, (Wallops)
  • Asiasat-3 launched on an ILS Proton, Dec 22 (Baikonur)
  • EarlyBird-1 launched on Start -1, Dec 24, (Svolbodny)


The double SpaceHab module was placed in the cargo bay of Endeavor over the weekend of Dec 20-21. After a Christmas break, powered work on the Orbiter will resume on Jan 2. The Payload Interface Verification test will be conducted Jan 4-5 and the Flight Readiness Review will be conducted January 7 (NASA).


Following the successful docking of the Progress M-37 (Progress-236) supply ship on Monday, Dec 22, the crew of Mir is busy unloading 2.5 tons of fuel, supplies for the coming weeks, equipment to maintain and repair the orbiting station, and holiday gifts. Among the supplies are nine newts and hundred and twenty snails which are part of an experiment. One of the newts, a four-year old, is a veteran of three flights to Mir. Researchers wish to see if it adapts to space faster than its fellow rookie newts (Flatoday).

Included in the Progress manifest is a new seal for the leaking Kvant-2 outer door, which was used for egress from the station during November's external space walks. Three walks are slated prior to the arrival of Endeavor. The first, an internal walk on Dec 30, will install the new seal on the Kvant-2 external door. The second, on Jan 5, will be made to install handrails on the damaged Spektr module--in preparation of repairs to the damaged solar panel base. The third walk, originally slated for Jan 9, has been rescheduled for Jan 12. During this walk, Commander Anatoly Solovyev and David Wolf will retrieve American external experiment packages (Flatoday; NASA).

Last weeks failed activation of the Inspektor free-flying inspection device has been traced to the failure of the on-board star tracking system. An orbital inspection of Mir was to have been triggered by a command from a laptop computer on Mir. While the device did transmit several images to the laptop, it did not begin its inspection sequence (NASA).

David Wolf is continuing his science experiments, including a study on bone loss during long-term space flight. He has had a relatively trouble-free four-month stay on the station. He will be replaced by Andy Thomas when Endeavor docks with the station late in January. Thomas, who is Australian-born, will be the last US astronaut to be stationed on Mir. He will remain on board until June (Flatoday).


Having reconsidered its earlier accusations, the Russian Space Agency has decided to award flight bonuses to the most problem-plagued crew to be stationed on Mir. During their time in space, flight commander Vasily Tsibliyev and engineer Alexander Lazutkin had to deal with numerous power outages, broken environmental systems and finally the infamous June collision with a garbage-filled Progress supply vessel. When the pair returned to Earth, they received not praise for their many heroic actions that kept the station alive, but instead were spotlighted for blame for the collision. A government report issued in September pulled the blame from the crew and instead attributed the crash to an unfavorable combination of factors. While a commission at RKK Energia proposed to fine the crew their pay, Energia chief Yui Semyonov recently ordered the crew to be paid their flight bonuses in US dollars. Vasily Tsibliyev was reported to have been paid about $100,000 and engineer Alexander Lazutkin about $80,000 (Flatoday; AP).


The first weather-delayed launch of a Proton rocket has ended in failure. After a two-day delay due to unacceptable winds aloft, an ILS Proton was launched at 6:19 am, Dec 24 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan. It was the first weather-related delay in the 30-year history of the Proton rocket. The rocket carried Asia Sat-3 for the Asia Telecommunications Company Limited of Hong Kong. However, the Block DM upper stage, built by RSC Energia, did not fire as planned. The second planned burn lasted only one second instead of the planned hundred and ten seconds necessary to circularize the orbit. The 2,539 kg satellite was then released by the upper stage into a useless elliptical orbit with a perigee of just 155 miles. The tumbling satellite is expected to burn-up in the atmosphere. Past failures of the Block DM upper stage were also responsible for the losses of Mars 96 and the Russian Raduga satellite. This was the 4th and last Proton launch for 1997; nine launches are expected next year (Flatoday).


The 7,195 kg Progress M-37 was launched at 3:45 AM EST on Dec 20 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Progress supply vessel separated from the third stage eight minutes after launch. Five engine firings put the supply vessel in a position to successfully dock with Mir at 5:22 AM EST on Monday, Dec 22 (LS).


The first commercial launch from the Svobodny Cosmodrome featured a Start-1 rocket carrying the EarlyBird 1 remote sensing satellite. The launch occurred at 4:30 AM EST on Dec 24. Fifteen minutes after launch EarthWatch controllers confirmed a successful separation of their satellite from the rocket. The Start-1 is based on the reliable SS20 and SS25 intercontinental missile designs, which have hundreds of suborbital flights to their credit. The new commercial launch complex is operated by STC Complex based in Moscow (EarthWatch; Flatoday).


An Ariane 42L rocket lifted off the pad at 7:17 EST, Dec 21 from Kourou, French Guiana. The rocket was carrying the 3,455 kg Intelsat 804 which separated from the third stage twenty minutes into the flight. This is the twelth and last Ariane launch for 1997 (Flatoday; LS).


At 8:16 am EST Dec 20, a Delta II rocket launched five 657-kg Iridium satellites into orbit from Vandenberg AFB. This was the tenth launch of the Delta system for 1997. The Iridium satellites were built by Motorola's Satellite Communications Group. The launch brings the total number of Iridium satellites in orbit up to forty six with twenty more awaiting launch to complete the system (Boeing; LS).


Having reestablished their launch license, Orbital Sciences has successfully launched a Pegasus XL rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The rocket was carried to an altitude of 39,000 feet sixty miles off the coast of Virginia by an L-1011 carrier aircraft. The rocket was released into flight at 2:11 PM EST on Dec 22. The rocket carried eight ORBCOMM satellites, bringing the total in orbit to ten with eighteen remaining to be launched. Each of the satellites weighed 41 kg. Orbital Sciences is now five for five with the Pegasus system for 1997 (Flatoday; Orbital Sciences).


With last month's dust storm settling down, MGS has resumed its normal aerobraking regimen. From Dec 13-23, the high point (apoares) of the craft's orbit was reduced 1,994 km while the orbital period was reduced by almost two hours. On Dec 23, the craft's orbit was reported to be 37,384 x 122.4 km (23,229 x 76.1 miles) with a period of 27.7 hours. Controllers are now preparing science objectives for an aerobraking hiatus scheduled between May 1998 and September 1998. Following the hiatus, aerobraking will resume for six more months until the craft reaches its final orbit (Flatoday; JPL)



The ill-fated Asiasat-1 launched on an ILS Proton on Dec 24 was built by Hughes. From its intended orbital slot of 105.5 degrees East longitude, the craft was to provide TV and telecommunications to Asia, the Middle East, and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The satellite was equipped with 28 C-band and 16 Ku-band transponders. Had it reached its proper orbit, it would have had an expected life of 15 years. Both Krunichev and Asia Telecommunications were covered by insurance for the $270 million mission. A replacement satellite is expected to be ordered (Flatoday).


Sunday's successful Ariane launch placed Intelsat 804 into a transfer orbit. The Lockheed Martin Telecommunications-built craft contains thirty-eight C-band and six Ku-band transponders. The high-power satellite will provide services to dish receivers as small as six feet. The 3,455 kg satellite will be placed in a 64-degree east orbital slot in February 1998, where it will join six other Intelsats above the Indian Ocean. This is the fourth of the Intelsat 8 series to be launched this year, and is the twenty-seventh satellite in the Intelsat constellation (Flatoday; LS; INTELSAT).

EarlyBird 1

Launched on Dec 24 on the first commercial flight from Svobodny Cosmodrome, EarlyBird 1 appears to have achieved orbit and is operational. After a brief calibration period, the craft will begin providing commercial imagery with 3-meter resolution in black and white and 15-meter resolution in color. EarthWatch, which owns the satellite, was formed in 1995 by the merger of Ball Aerospace & Technologies and WorldView Imaging Corp. EarlyBird 1 is the first of a constellation of private remote sensing satellites (EarthWatch).


The Total Ozone Mapping System-Earth Probe (TOMS-EP) has reached its new 740-km sun-synchronous orbit. The craft had earlier been stationed in a 500-km orbit. The change in orbit was made necessary by the loss of the Advanced Earth Observing Satellite (ADEOS) last summer. The higher orbit will allow TOMS-EP to salvage some of the ozone mapping data lost with ADEOS. It will also extend the life of the craft because of the reduced atmospheric drag in its new orbit. TOMS-EP was launched in July of 1996 (TRW;Flatoday).


Eight satellites in the twenty-eight-satellite ORBCOMM constellation were launched on Dec 22. Satellites will be placed into 810 km orbits inclined at 45 degrees. Two satellites were previously launched on a Pegasus rocket in 1995; two satellites will be launched on an Orbital Science Taurus rocket in January; and the remaining sixteen will be launched on two Pegasus launches in the first half of 1998. The two satellite ORBCOMM system currently can offer its services only 8% of the day. When the eight new satellites enter service in about ninety days, the ten-satellite system will be able to provide services 40% of the day. The system provides intermittent communications and messaging service worldwide. With the completion of the system in the spring of 1998, the company hopes to provide full-time, worldwide features such as two-way e-mail services through existing Internet accounts via hand-held units; transmission of faxes; and sending emergency calls. The network will also be used for remote monitoring, tracking and other uses in the fishing, transportation and oil industries (Flatoday; Orbital).



NASA recently contracted with SPACEHAB Inc for the use of SPACEHAB modules on three Shuttle flights to take place in the next three years. The value of the contract is estimated at $42.9 million from NASA and an additional $19 million from other International Space Station Partners. An option for a fourth mission is valued at $15.8 million. The first flight, scheduled for October 1998, will carry the SPACEHAB Research Single Module. The second flight, scheduled for December 1998, will utilize an enhanced version of the Logistics Double Module in the first supply mission to the International Space Station. The third mission, in May of 2000, will feature the first flight of the Research Double Module. Under an earlier contract SPACEHAB is providing a Double Logistics Module for the upcoming STS-89 flight to Mir (SpaceHab; NASA).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke

  • Dec 30 - Internal Spacewalk, Kvant-2 module external hatch, seal repair.
  • Jan 5 - External Spacewalk, Solovyov and Vinogradov, Mir station. Handrail installation on Spektr module.
  • Jan 5 - Athena-2, Lunar Prospector, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • Jan 7 - Proton, Gorizont-33, Baikonur Cosmodrome.
  • Jan 9 - Delta 2, Skynet-4D, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • Jan 12 - External Spacewalk, Solovyov and Wolf, Mir station. Experiment retrieval.
  • Jan 16 - Mars Global Surveyor, Aerobraking Ends
  • Jan. 22 - Shuttle Endeavor, STS-89, Shuttle-Mir Mission-8, pad 39A, KSC.
  • Jan 23 - Pegasus XL, SNOE and BATSAT, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Jan 25 - Long March 3B, Sinosat-1, Xichang Satellite Launching Facility, China.
  • Jan 26 - Orbital Sciences Taurus, two ORBCOMM comsats, Celestis-2, SLC-576, Vandenberg AFB
  • Jan 26 - Atlas 2A, AC-109, NRO payload, pad 36A, 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 3031st day of continuous human presence in space.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1997

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