Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #81

Frontier Status Report #81

January 23, 1998

Dale M. Gray

The launches of the shuttle Endeavor and a Israeli spy satellite topped the weeks news. Lots of business deals in the works and preparations for launches in the coming weeks.

Highlights reported for the week include:

  • Endeavor launches from Florida
  • Israeli rocket fails to deliver spy satellite
  • NEAR flies by Earth on way to 433 Eros
  • Orbital Space gets to build second X-34
  • NASAs new budget request enlarged


Following a nearly flawless count-down, Shuttle Endeavor was launched from Pad 39A at 9:43 pm EST on Jan 22. The shuttle is carrying a crew of 7 and 2.3 tons of supplies up to a rendezvous with the space station Mir. A computer concern was resolved about an hour before launch which allowed a optimum time launch. Had the launch been delayed, it would have resulted in conflicts with the upcoming Altas launch and might have put 13 people on Mir at the same time. The shuttle is due to dock with Mir on Jan 24. It will undock on Jan 29 which will clear the way for the launch and Jan 31 docking of Soyuz TM-27 with the Mir 25 crew (NASATV; Doug Pratt, Sport Rocketry Forum; Flatoday).


Following the successful spacewalk of Anatoly Solovyow and American David Wolf, the external hatch of the Kvant-2 module continues to slowly leak. On Jan 19, Solovyow and Pavel Vinogradov entered the hatchway and examined the door latches. They detected damage to two of the locks. The problem appears to be minor and will be fixed by the next Mir crew (AP).

As Australian-born Andy Thomas heads upward toward Mir, David Wolf is packing his bags preparing for a return to Earth. Thomas will is the last scheduled US astronaut to stay on the Mir stations. Because the station appears to be well along its road to recover, there are some top-level discussions to bring one more astronaut to the station. At present, Thomas will be replaced by Valeri Ryumin, the head of the Shuttle-Mir Phase I program. Ryumin, who is currently 60 pounds overweight, ordered himself onto the Shuttle so as to better observe the US-Russian joint mission (NASA; SC).


An Atlas IIA on Space Launch Complex 36A at Cape Canaveral is poised for a Jan 26 launch of a National Reconnaissance Office payload. This will be the first Atlas launch of 1998. The launch will be conducted by a joint Air Force and Lockheed Martin Astronautics teams (45 Space Wing pr).


The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft passed by Earth early in the morning of Jan 23. The craft was launched on Feb 17, 1996 and has already had asteroid encounter with Mathilde in June of 1997. The craft used a gravity assist from Earth to swing it out of the orbital plain and towards a rendezvous with the asteroid 433 Eros on Jan 10, 1999. Scientists also used the swingby to test and calibrate the six on-board instruments. After the craft arrives at Eros, it will be put into a 600 mile orbit. The mission is expected to last until Feb 6, 2000 when controllers will send the craft into a controlled descent to the asteroid (NASA).


The contract between Orbital Science and NASA to build the X-34 flight vehicle has been modified to include a second flight vehicle at a cost of $7.7 million. The move will reduce risk to the program while allowing additional testing such as unpowered flight tests. NASA has also added $2 million for additional wind tunnel testing and a second leading-edge Thermal Protection System. The X-34 will be a nearly 60 ft long single engine rocket with short wings that will be capable of sub-orbital flight at Mach 8. The program will bridge a gap between the earlier Clipper Graham program and the X-33 program in development (NASA pr).


Major milestones completed, JPL is now prepared to begin assembly of the Stardust spacecraft. The mission, which is slated to launch Feb 1999, will take a 7 year voyage to Comet Wild-2, pass within 150 kilometers, and return to Earth with a sample. Testing for the reentry capsule will begin in February at the Utah Test and Training Range (JPL; SC).


On Thursday, Jan 22, Israel attempted to launch the Ofek-4 satellite on a Shavit missile from near Palmachim Air Force Base south of Tel Aviv. Ofek-4, a $50 million spy satellite was to replace Ofek-3 which was launched 3 years ago. While the first stage of the rocket performs nominally, problems caused the flight to be destroyed 2 minutes into the second stage (AP).


Following the urging of over 200 members of Congress, the NASA's new budget request for 1999 is at $13.4 billion. The previous proposed budget was for only $12.6 billion. The new budget is $200 million less than the 1998 budget (SN).



DirecTV has recently agreed to lease four Ku-band transponders on PanAmSats Galaxy III-R telecommunications satellite. The additional capacity will give DirecTV the ability to provide 120 channels of programming including ethnic programs, niche programs and business-to-business applications. Galaxy III-R was built by Hughes and launched in Dec of 1995 (PanAmSat pr).


CNES, the French space agency has agreed to participate in the Alcatel SkyBridge satellite program. CNES and Aerospatiale are designing a satellite for use in the SkyBridge 64 satellite constellation (SN).


Even as Globalstar prepares to launch the first of its communication satellite constellation, it appears that rates may increase for some customers. The teaming of countries to share ground stations has reduced the number of Earth stations for the network from the original 150 Earth stations to between 50 and 60. Each gateway costs from $7 to $10 million. Some customers will have higher rates due to the reduced number of stations and the routing of calls further on existing land lines (SN).


Mobile Communications Holdings has announced that it will have an initial stock offering in 1998. The move is to raise a portion of the capital for the construction of its $910 million satellite telephone system - a direct competitor to Iridium and Globalstar satellite phone systems (SN).

EarlyBird 2

While EarlyBird 2 remains out of contact, EarthWatch has signed a contract with NTTs Kompleks of Moscow for the launch of EarlyBird 2. The Start 1 rocket to be used is the same that successfully placed EarlyBird 1 into orbit. The 4 stage rocket was derived from an ICBM developed by the USSR (LS).

Laser Communications International

A new company has been created by Ball Aerospace & Technologies and COM DEV for the development of optical laser based communications between LEO satellites. Laser Communications International is developing terminals that will be used to transfer data at rates of 1 - 10 Gbs at distances of up to 10,000 km. Qualification testing to assure component integrity in the LEO radiation has already been conducted with the USAF Phillips Laboratory (LS).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • Jan 24 - Shuttle Endeavor dock with Mir space station.
  • Jan 26 - USAF Atlas 2A, AC-109, NRO payload, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • Jan 29 - Soyuz TM-27, Mir-25 crew, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • Jan 29 - Shuttle Endeavor undocks from Mir.
  • Jan 30 - Ariane 44LP, Flight 105, Brasilsat-B3, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Jan 30 - ILS Proton, Astra-2A comsats, Baikonur, Kazakstan
  • Jan 31 - Delta 2, Iridium (7 sats), SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Jan 31 - Soyuz TM-27 with Mir 25 crew docks with Mir.
  • Jan 31 - Shuttle Endeavor lands at KSC.
  • Feb - Long March 3B, Sinosat-1, Xichang Satellite Launching Facility, China.
  • Feb - ILS Proton, EchoStar 4, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • Feb 5 - Pegasus XL, SNOE and BATSAT, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Feb 5 - Delta 2, Globalstar-1 (4 comsats), pad 17A, KSC.
  • Feb 12 - H-2 (#5), COMETS, Tangageshima Space Center, Japan.
  • Feb 15 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 sats), Wollops Flight Facility, VA.
  • Feb 19 - Soyuz capsule landing, Mir 24 crew return.
  • Feb 20 - Long March 3B, Chinastar-1, Xichang Satellite Launching Center, China.


With the launch of the Shuttle Endeavor the space population has risen to 10. There are 2 Russians and 1 American on Mir. On Endeavor there are 7 US astronauts including Australian-born Andy Thomas. This marks the completion of 3059 days of continuous human presence in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 8, 1989. Only 148 days remain until the launch of the first element of the International Space Station.

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