Frontier Status Report #80
Frontier Status Report #80
January 16, 1998
Dale M. Gray
Very little action on the frontier, but some interesting developments nonetheless. Lunar Prospector achieving lunar orbit and a spacewalk on Mir have been overshadowed by the NASA announcement concerning the return of John Glenn to space. In a connected story, Barbara Morgan, former Teacher-in-Space candidate has been selected to fly as a mission specialist on some future mission.
Highlights reported for the week include:
Even as Endeavor prepares for its Jan 22 launch, the launch has taken a back seat to news of two new astronauts. After deliberating for half a year, NASA has given the green light for Sen. John Glenn to return to space on the Shuttle Discovery, slated to launch October 8. Since his earth-orbiting flight of Feb 20, 1962, Glenn has been the subject of detailed medical monitoring. This medical record will be used as a base line to study the common effects of weightlessness and aging upon the body. Glenn will be 77 years old when Discovery launches and carries him aloft as a Payload Specialist (NASA; AP; Flatoday).
In the same press conference announcing John Glenn's flight, NASAs Chief Dan Goldin announced that Idaho third-grade teacher Barbara Morgan will be given flight status. Rather than a resumption of the Teachers-in-Space Program for which she was the back-up astronaut, Morgan has been given a new designation as an Educator-Mission Specialist. Previously only Pilot Astronauts, Mission Specialists and Payload Specialists were given flight status. Her next step is to enter the next NASA mission specialist class and go through full training. Morgan, 46, has been associated with the space program since her selection as the alternate Civilian-In-Space in 1985. She has not yet been assigned to a flight (NASA; Idaho Daily Statesman)
The Shuttle Endeavor is on Pad 39a and is in the final stages of preparation for its Jan 22 launch. A replacement air conditioner and a motion-control computer were stowed in the SpaceHab module for transfer up to Mir. A small leak has been assessed on the auxiliary power unit #3 and hypergolic system pressurization is complete. Midbody and vertical payload closeouts are in process. Astronauts will arrive at the Cape on Monday. The 43 hour count-down will then begin on Monday evening at 7 pm EST (NASA).
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 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 an hour before launch around 8:48 pm EST January 22).
A relatively trouble-free week on Mir. The highlight of the week occurred Jan 14 when David Wolf and Anatoly Solovyov performed a EVA. Nominally to work on an American experiment, the walk gave Wolf his first space walk under the guidance of Solovyov. With 16 walks totaling 82 hours under his belt, Solovyov is the world's most experienced spacewalker. Because of continued leakage of the external hatch, the pair had to suit up and utilize the Instrument and scientific compartment (PNO) of the Kvant-2 module to depressurize. Unlocking the external hatch was problematic--putting the walk half an hour behind schedule. The space-walking pair were observed by a Vinogradov inside the station via a portable camera. An initially-balky NASA photo-reflectometer was used to gauge the aging of equipment in space. After 3 hours and 52 minutes in space, the pair returned to the PNO for repressurization. Wolf was only the third American to spacewalk on Mir (Flatoday; NASA; Chris v.d. Berg). More information can be found at www.spacer.com.
The repair of Mir's leaking external hatch will await the arrival of the new crew in late January. Solovyov and Vinogradov discovered a loose bolt on one of ten hatch latches on their Jan 9 spacewalk. The new crew consists of Russians Talgat Musabayev, Nikolai Budarin and French astronaut Leopold Eyharts. Eyharts was originally slated for a fall flight to Mir, but was bumped due to the June collision. During their time on Mir, Musabayev and Budarin plan to make at least eight spacewalks (JSR; Flatoday).
INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION
The first element of the International Space Station, the Control Module (formerly called the Functional Cargo Block - FGB) will be rolled out in a ceremony at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Center in Moscow on Jan 17. The 20-ton module will be shipped by a special train to Baikonur where it will be prepared for launch. The FGB will provide power and propulsion in the early stages of station construction as well as provide capability to remotely dock with the Service Module, which will be launched in late 1998. The US-funded and Russian-built control module is slated to be launched in late June on a Proton rocket. A few days later, in early July, the US built Node #1 will be launched on the Shuttle Endeavor. The FGB and Node #1 will then be mated in orbit by US astronauts during three space walks (NASA).
In a similar event in New Orleans, LA, a roll-out ceremony of the new Super Lightweight External Tank for the Shuttle was held at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility. The completed tank constructed of high-tech aluminum lithium is stronger, yet 7,500 pounds lighter than the External Tanks currently in use. The weight savings will be necessary to launch the heavier elements of the ISS. In addition, the structural design of the tank has been improved to provide increased strength and stability. The tank has the same capacity as the older design and will be attached to the SRBs and Orbiter in the same manner. The tank will debut on STS-91 in May (NASA).
A modified Minuteman II rocket was launched on Jan 16 from Vandenberg AFB as part of a test of the US Army National Missile Defense Program. The rocket successfully released 9 target objects over the Kwajalein Test Range in the South Pacific (Flatoday).
NASA has returned to the Moon. Having been designed and built in 22 months, the Lunar Prospector was launched on Jan 6. It arrived in orbit around the Moon on Jan 11 when two thrusters on the craft fired for 32 minutes to place the 650-pound spacecraft into a 11.8 hour lunar orbit. The following day the thrusters were fired for 27 minutes to lower the orbit. This left the craft with 23.5 kg of propellant for final orbital adjustments and operations. Two short thruster burns were added on Thursday to circularize the orbit at 63 miles. Once in a stable configuration, the operations switched to the medium-gain antenna. The craft is spinning at 13.2 rpm and is producing 206 watts of power for the 5 scientific instruments on board. One of the instruments, a neutron spectrometer, has the capability of locating as little as one cup of water per cubic yard of lunar regolith (NASA; LS; Flatoday). For further info, check out http://lunar.arc.nasa.gov/project/spacecraftp.html, and http://spacelink.nasa.gov/NASA.News/NASA.News.Releases/.
MARS GLOBAL SURVEYOR
As of Jan 13, Mars Global Surveyor's orbit has been reduced to 122 x 32,744 km. Aerobraking has proceeded slightly ahead of schedule with the orbital period reduced 45 minutes more than planned. The orbital period was reported to be 23.5 hours at the end of the 87th orbit. When the orbit has been reduced to slightly less than 12 hours in late March or early April, aerobraking will be suspended through the summer months so that the craft may be used to collect science and for proper timing of the mapping mission beginning in March of 1999 (NASA).
Having threatened to withhold part of the share-capital increase of the Ariane launch consortium, France has recently reconsidered its position. The French space agency (CNS) had earlier indicated that it would not be able to carry its full weight - $166 million - in the consortium in which it holds 32%. The decision to pay the full amount is expected to be confirmed in a board meeting in late January (SN).
Early Bird 2: EarthWatch continues their efforts to establish contact with their Early Bird 2 reconnaissance satellite, which was launched from Russia on Dec 24. Earlier this week it was determined that the satellite is in its proper orbit, but operating at a low level of power. Controllers are working on a plan to turn off systems in order to recharge the battery with the available power. Once the battery reaches proper levels, it is hoped that normal communications can be established (LS)
Telesat Canada: African Continental Telecommunications Ltd (ACT) and Telesat Canada announced Jan 14 that they had signed an agreement where Telesat Canada would provide tracking, telemetry and control services for the satellite recently leased by ACT from American Mobile Satellite Corp. Telesat will build two new ground stations and modify two others for ACT. Under a second contract Telesat will monitor and fly the satellite for ACT. The pan-African system is expected to cost $835 million (ACT/Telesat pr).
TECHNOLOGY Thermal Vacuum Chamber
The Hughes Electron Dynamics Division has announced the construction of a new thermal vacuum chamber to test xenon ion propulsion systems (XIPS). The new system reduces the propellant mass needed for space propulsion systems by 90% in long-lived satellites. The thruster derives its efficiency by accelerating positive xenon ions through a series of gridded electrodes at one end of the thrust chamber. Ions are emitted at a speed of 62,900 mph which is 10 times the rate of chemical thrusters. The 20 x 40 ft chamber took a year to build at a cost of $6 million. It features 30 vacuum pumps to remove Xenon emitted by the thruster tests. The chamber will be used to test 25 cm XIPS thrusters for the HS 702 satellites produced by Hughes Space and Communications. Of the thirty six satellites currently on back-order, thirteen will utilize XIPS thrusters--primarily for station keeping, but they can also be used to raise orbit. A 30-cm thruster has been delivered to NASA for use in the Deep Space 1 spacecraft, which will be launched in July (Hughes pr).
In the ultimate junket, the senior Senator from Ohio is about to get approval to fly on the Shuttle Discovery. The Senator, a former Presidential candidate, will most likely be placed on the crew of STS-95, which is slated to launch Oct 8. The 76-year-old Senator, who is approaching retirement, will take part in studies that will examine the link between the physical degradation experienced by astronauts in space and the similar degradation normally associated with growing old. As necessary background to qualify for the flight, the Senator has been the subject of extensive medical monitoring since the early 1960s. While his resume does include some time in space, his experience was relatively short and was on antiquated equipment. However, the Senator is in good health and has the direct support of President Clinton.
Not a bad way to end a political career. Especially if you happen to be John Glenn, the first American to orbit the globe in space.
If you are a space enthusiast, you have probably been hearing about Glenn's return to space for some time. When rumors began to appear last summer, the issue was intensely debated in the various space forums. Eventually interest in the subject waned, but the rumors now appear to have been true.
The debate over the merit of the flight has not taken long to resurface. Discussions in various space forums see it as either a grandstanding political move or as a fitting end to a classic American story. No one to date, NASA insider or high school student, has expressed an opinion that Glenn is flying on the merit of the research.
The Shuttle has long been an instrument of politics and not just a machine to achieve orbit. At $400 million per flight, far more than original design estimates, there is little science that could justify such expense. To keep the program flying, compromises had to be made. Early in its career, the Shuttle was heavily dependent on military funding. Later, it became a tool of political diplomacy carrying Astronauts from a dozen foreign countries. Now rides on the shuttle are being granted to foreign countries in exchange for participation in the International Space Station.
Glenn is preparing to retire from a life of politics. Having lived a full life as decorated military pilot, celebrated astronaut, successful businessman and now elder statesman, he is a man accustomed to doing great things and needs a great challenge. Earlier this century, Theodore Roosevelt explored an uncharted branch of the Amazon for much the same reason. Glenn is apparently in remarkable condition. As a side effect of his flight on Friendship 7, Glenn has been subject to regular intensive medical testing which has produced a remarkable medical record that has continued to this day. Any changes to his physiology from his ten-day stay in space can be compared to this incredible baseline medical record. Few people with Glenn's training and medical background exist. More importantly, few people exist with the political power to sell the research project and inject it into a Shuttle mission.
So why fly Glenn now? It is probably a matter of timing. Glenn's window of opportunity as an aged astronaut will not be long. Further, the Shuttle's dance card will soon be filled with the International Space Station for the foreseeable future. But I suspect that there is more and it is linked to the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is in trouble from a variety of causes. It is both behind schedule and over budget. Not exactly an unusual circumstance considering the complexity of the task, numerous international partners and the ambition to expand space station technology. But in this case, promises were made to Congress that the project would not be over budget or delayed. Congress has already been told that the station is both. There is every likelihood that the situation could boil over politically later in the year as elements are launched or are delayed. Since the Station is, like the Shuttle, a political tool more than a scientific instrument, the solution to the problem is one of politics and not one of the application of science or technology. In short, the Station needs to have broad-based voter support to get it over the coming hurdles.
While the International Space Station is the biggest thing to come along since Apollo, there are even larger issues. We are in the midst of a rapidly expanding space telecommunication frontier. One that has advanced space infrastructures, but is missing direct human presence.
One of the three main "props" for frontier expansion is "Charisma" (The other two being Technology and Legislation - TLC for short). Like a fire triangle, you have to have the proper mix to support combustion. We have gone far in the last eighteen months in technology and science. We made some progress in legislation and politics, but have lagged behind in the Charisma and public support of manned flight.
In essence all the arguments for the flight--pro and con--are based upon the flight's contribution to only two sides of the fire triangle: Technology and Legislation. These are areas that Glenn's flight is unlikely to advance in any significant manner--hence the negative comments on the flight announcement. However, one should ponder what will happen to public support for the space program when John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth flies in space again. Pathfinder has lead the way, now it is time to take a human step down the road. Glenn's flight--for whatever technical or political reasons--s exactly what we need right now in terms of raising public awareness and support.
If you support Glenn's flight, let your Congressman, newspaper and fellow Americans know. If you think the flight is an unnecessary stunt or political payback, yell it from whatever soapbox you can. We don't need a sleepy public willing to let public space policy take its course. We need a well-informed electorate that wants to take part in the expansion into space. Controversy is one of the fastest way to raise the public awareness. Glenn's flight is already well down that road. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke
Additional web formatting by Simone Cortesi. FSR is also archived on the web at cortesi.com.
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