Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #78

Frontier Status Report #78

January 2, 1998

Dale M. Gray

In the wake of one the frontier's busiest weeks, the world's launch systems took a well-earned rest. This week also marked the end of the busiest year of launches in the history of space flight. Highlights reported for the week include:

  • Mir computer fails.
  • Mir space walks delayed again.
  • Orbcomm satellites are checked out in orbit
  • Final preparations for the Lunar Prospector mission.


(Courtesy Jens A Lerch)

Number of launches resulting in orbital payload or debris:
USA 37  
Delta II  10  excluding one failure (SRB) 
Space Shuttle    8   
Atlas II    7   
Pegasus    5  one launched from Canary Islands 
Titan 4    4   
Atlas I    1  the last launch 
Titan 2    1   
Athena (LMLV)    1  the first successful launch 
Russia 28  
Soyuz  10   
Proton    9  including one failure (4th stage) 
Molniya    3   
Tsyklon    2   
Kosmos    2   
Start    2   
Zenit    0  excluding one failure (1st stage) 
Europe 12  
Ariane 4  11   
Ariane 5    1  the first successful launch 
China   6  
CZ-3 (Long March 3)    4   
CZ-2 (Long March 2)    2   
Japan   2  
H-2    1   
M-5    1  the first launch 
India   1  
PSLV    1   
Brazil   0  
VLS    0  excluding one failure (1st stage) 
Total 86  

Total of eighty-six launches achieving orbit. 


In 1997, the Shuttle completed eight missions, carried fifty-three crew and logged 34 million miles. Total flight time for the Shuttle system reached two years during STS-86. While only seven flights were planned, the reflight of STS-83 pushed the total to eight. STS-83 was cut short by a problem with a fuel cell on Columbia. The Orbiter was reprocessed in fifty-three days for the reflight of the mission as STS-94. Highlights for the year included the second Hubble Telescope Servicing Mission, and three dockings with Mir.

In the past year many of the goals for Phase One upgrades of the Shuttle improvement plan were accomplished. Only the super-lightweight tank and the Block II main engines remain to be implemented under Phase One. Phase Two goals will reduce the processing time for the Shuttle and provide some cost reductions. Phase Two also includes development work on the Integrated Vehicle Health Monitoring, fiber optic flight systems and less toxic waterproofing for the Thermal Protection System. These systems will be added to the Orbiters under Phase III. Work is also underway to reduce the number of payload-bay reconfigurations between flights. These improvements could result in as many as fifteen flights per year.


Having failed seven times in 1997, the computer on Mir has started out the new year by again failing, resulting in a power loss. Unlike previous occasions last year, the crew now have sufficient spare parts to quickly correct the problem. In a well-practiced drill, non-essential systems were powered down along with the sun-orienting gyrodynes. As the crew effects repairs, the station can be maintained in proper orientation with the attached Soyuz or Progress vessels. (Flatoday)

Space walks scheduled to retrieve experiments, and to prepare for repairs to the Spektr module have been delayed so that work may be performed on the Vozdukh system. The crew began installing the CO2 removal system in Nov, but a series of small problems have slowed the work. During the Jan 6 space walk, the two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoly Solovyov and Pavel Vinogradov, will place handrails on the exterior of the Spektr module. On Jan 14 Solovyov and American David Wolf will retrieve American experiments from the exterior of the station (Flatoday). 


With the Dec 24 launch, the Proton system has completed nine launches in 1997 (not four as reported last week). Four launches were for ILS, two for Motorola (Iridium), two for the Russian military and one for the Bank of Russia.

Next year there are fourteen launches scheduled: nine for ILS, two for the International Space Station (FGB and the Service Module), one Motorola (Iridium) and two for the Russian military (Jens A. Lerch). 


Preparations continue for the 8:31 PM EST January 5 launch of the Athena 2 rocket carrying the Lunar Prospector from Launch Complex 46 of Spaceport Florida. The $63 million mission is the third launch of NASA's Discovery program, which previously launched Mars Pathfinder and the NEAR spacecraft. The four-foot-high, 295 kg (653 lb) spacecraft was developed and built for the Ames Research Center by Lockheed Martin in only 22 months at a bargain-basement cost of $20 million. It will be sent into lunar orbit by the $28 million Athena II built by Lockheed Martin. Containing five scientific instruments, the spin-stabilized craft will examine the Moon from a 63-mile polar orbit for a year and then will be lowered to as low as six miles through the remainder of its mission. The craft will search for raw minerals, check for outgassing and will actively seek evidence of the most precious material of all, water (see Frontier Corner below). The craft should lay to rest speculation on the presence of water in the deep crater on the south pole of the moon (NASA; Flatoday).


The Australian government has set up legislation supporting commercial launch efforts at four sites around the country. The spaceports currently being considered include Woomera in South Australia, Gun Point in Northern Territories, and Cape York and Gladstone in Queensland (Orbital). 



Testing has begun on the eight Orbcomm satellites launched on a Pegasus rocket on Dec 23. The satellites are in a tight group orbiting at 820 km. While contact with one of the satellites lagged behind the others, all are now in contact with controllers and are being tested. Another of the satellites showed reduced electrical levels. The satellites, which are orbiting in their planned, low earth orbit, now appear to be healthy and fully functional. The satellites are expected to join two previously launched Orbcomm satellites in commercial service in about ninety days. The system will provide global remote monitoring and two way data and messaging services. In response to the successful launch of the Orbcomm constellation, Orbital Science stock jumped from around $24 to just shy of $30 per share (LS; Orbital Science; NASDAQ). 



HISPASAT, the Spanish satellite system communications company, recently awarded Aerospatiale with the contract for the construction of HISPASAT 1-C. The $92 million contract was also bid by Hughes and Matra Marconi Space . HISPASAT 1-C, a three-axis stabilized Spacebus 3000 spacecraft, is to be delivered in 23 months and launched in late 1999. The 2,800 kg satellite will be rated at 6 kW and be able to broadcast more than 120 television channels on its 24 Ku-band transponders. It is destined for a 30 degree West longitude geostationary orbit, where it will provide Spanish language programming on both sides of the Atlantic. It is expected to have a lifetime of fifteen years. This is the third major satellite contract awarded to Aerospatiale in a month. The company delivered six satellites to customers in 1997 (Aerospatiale pr; Orbital). 


The Ariane 5 launch system of Arianespace has been chosen by INTELSAT to lift INTELSAT 902, 903 and 904 to their geostationary orbits beginning in 2000. The satellites, massing between 4,300 and 4,800 kg, will be the largest INTELSAT spacecraft to date. They will carry 44 C-band and 12 Ku-band transponders to provide a variety of telecommunication services over the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The contract with Arianespace was signed Dec 20, one day before Arianespace placed INTELSAT 804 into orbit (Arianespace PR). 

INTELSAT recently exercised an option with SpaceSystems/Loral for two additional INTELSAT9 satellites. These satellites will be based on the FS-1300HL bus with transponders provided by Alcatel Espace of France (Orbital). 

A dispute between INTELSAT and Columbia Communications over the use of an orbital slot has been settled. Columbia will stop using transponders on NASAs Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-4 at 41 degrees West and transfer their communications traffic to Intelsat 515 at 37.5 degrees West. The satellite will be renamed Columbia 515 (Orbital). 


The African Continental Telecommunications Ltd. (ACTEL) has recently leased the American Mobile Satellite Corp AMSC-1 telecommunications satellite. The geostationary satellite will be moved over Africa in the summer of 1998. The $182 million contract will give ACTEL use of the satellite until 2003 (Orbital). 

Space Technology Development Corp

The US Office of Naval Research recently awarded a $128.9 million contract to Space Technology Development Corp. The contract is for the development of a dual-use hyperspectral satellite to be launched in 2000 (Orbital). 


For the last quarter of a century, space enthusiasts could only look at the moon and shake their heads. Our goal was there before us, but most of us felt powerless to effect a return. Fortunately, some enthusiasts were not truly powerless and more importantly, they had the skills and vision necessary to plan a return. This coming week, we will hopefully see the fruition of their vision sent on its way to the moon in the form of Lunar Prospector. 

Officially part of NASA's new Discovery series of spacecraft, Lunar Prospector's origin stretches back to the 1980s. At that time some Johnson Space Center contractors and employees decided that there was still a lot to be learned from the moon, but weren't able to convince the powers that be to sponsor the return. Unwilling to wait for a bureaucratic change of heart, they decided to do the job themselves. As a result, the Lunar Prospector project was born. The low-budget, all-volunteer effort had the technical know-how and the ability to design, build and launch an exploratory craft into a lunar polar orbit--they even had a contract with the USSR to launch the craft. However, volunteer work and borrowed equipment could only go so far. Some hard cash, $13 -17 million by some estimates, was also necessary to get the project off the ground. Simulations were run, flight and operation plans made, but without funding the project stayed on the drawing board through the late 1980s and early 1990s. Though the spark grew dim on the project, it never went out (Rich Kolker). 

With the advent of NASA's smaller, faster, cheaper philosophy in the mid-1990s, the project's spark was fanned into a flame. The first to be selected as part of the new Discovery series, the project was able to hit the ground with a running start. Alan Binder, who was one of the early volunteers, became the Project Principle Investigator at the Lunar Research Institute. Plans were updated and altered to reflect new flight-tested technologies and the findings of the Clementine Mission in 1996.

With adequate funding, borrowed hardware that once served as back-up for the Apollo program was replaced with lightweight off-the-shelf components unavailable in the 1980s. A gamma-ray spectrometer will determine the make-up of the lunar crust--mapping out the mineral resources of the moon. A neutron spectrometer will look for hydrogen that may have been deposited by the solar winds. An alpha particle spectrometer will detect any gasses wafting out of the interior of the moon. Other instruments will map out and measure the gravitational and magnetic fields of the moon. However, the most important mission for the craft will be to determine whether there is water in any quantity on the lunar surface.

For those of us who have looked up at the moon and wondered when we will return, the wait is over. On January 5, a rocket designed and built not by a country, but by a company, will lift off with the first element of our return. It will contain a spacecraft first designed by enthusiasts like us and built with commercially available components. No men will be on board, but Lunar Prospector will nevertheless take the next small step on the road to our return to the moon.

With a little luck, the next time you look at the full moon, there will be a spacecraft in lunar orbit prospecting for the resources necessary for us to return and to stay.

Video and audio of the launch will be available on NASA Television with commentary running concurrently on Compuserve's Sport Rocketry forum.

(If you want to take part in the the Rocketry forum discussions, it might be best to establish a link to the URL prior to launch time. Once there, one of two free guest memberships plans can be selected and a browser plug-in--Virtual Key--can be downloaded and configured. Limited membership will allow participation in one forum--Sport Rocketry; Full membership allows free access to all 500 forums for 90 days. Once membership is established enter the Sport Rocketry Forum and click the NASA and Space Conference Room link on the forum front page. Coverage begins around 7:30 pm EST January 5). 


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke

  • Jan 5 - Athena-2, Lunar Prospector, Cape Canaveral Air Station. 
  • Jan 7 - Proton, Gorizont-33, Baikonur Cosmodrome. 
  • Jan 8 - External Spacewalk, Solovyov and Vinogradov, Mir station. Handrail installation on Spektr module. 
  • Jan 9 - Delta 2, Skynet-4D, Cape Canaveral Air Station. 
  • Jan 14 - 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 - USAF Atlas 2A, AC-109, NRO payload, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station. 
  • Jan 27 - Ariane 44LP, Brasilsat-B3, Kourou, French Guiana. 
  • Jan 29 - Soyuz TM-27, Mir-25 crew, Baikonur, Kazakstan.


The space population remains at the baseline of three. There are two Russians and one American on Mir. This marks the completion of 3038 day of continuous human presence in space.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

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