Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #83

Frontier Status Report #83

February 6, 1998

Dale M. Gray

The weather dominated news in the space frontier for the week. Three different launch systems faced repeated delays from unacceptable weather conditions. Of these, only the Ariane has successfully launched to date. A shuttle landing and the docking of a Soyuz with Mir continue the crew rotation of the Russian space station.

Highlights reported for the week include:

  • Shuttle Endeavor lands at KSC Jan 31
  • Soyuz TM-27 docks with Mir
  • ISS problems continue to arise
  • Ariane 4 launches Inmarsat and Brazilsat
  • Pegasus and Delta rocket launches delayed


After a 9 day mission to Mir, the Shuttle Endeavor landed at Kennedy Space Center runway 15 at 5:35 pm EST on Jan 31. This the 42nd Shuttle landing at KSC. On board was former Mir crew member David Wolf. Wolf was presented a "symbolic pizza" upon emerging from the Shuttle, but had to wait until after medical exams before he could enjoy his first slice in 4 months. Endeavor's next mission will be to deliver the first US component of the International Space Station in July (Flatoday; NASA; LS).

Columbia, which is slated to be launched on April 2, is currently in the Orbital Processing Facility bay 3. The main engines have been installed and preparations are being made for the installation of the payload and the main engine heat shield (NASA).


Running on autopilot 16 minutes ahead of schedule, Soyuz TM-27 docked with Mir at 12:55 EST on Jan 31. The craft, which was launched from Baikonur on Thurs, Jan 29, contained Mir's new Russian crew of Talgat Musabayev and Nikolai Budarin. It also transported Leopold Eyharts a french cosmonaut who will spend three weeks on the station doing experiments before returning to earth with the returning crew. In the coming months, the new crew expects to make 6 space walks to make repairs to the damaged Spektr module (Flatoday).

In what has become a well-rehearsed drill, the space station lost attitude control on Feb 4. With both new and old crew still on board, the emergency provided on-the-job training for the new crew. Apparently the problem was caused when a wrong number was entered into the computer. The misentry was quickly corrected. Since the gyrodynes had not stopped spinning, the station remained stable. Mission Control in Russia stated that the computer caught the malfunction and that the computer did not crash (Flatoday).


Delays and rumors of delays continue to emerge concerning the launch and schedule of construction of the International Space Station. The US is considering a delay of launch of Node 1, the first element to fly on the Shuttle. This delay would be due to a gap in the shuttle schedule caused by problems on the unrelated Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility spacecraft. Originally, slated for an Aug Shuttle launch, the orbiting observatory will not be ready for launch until Dec 3. As a result, NASA is considering launching Node 1 in late July or August to minimize the gap in the launch schedule (Flatoday).

In light of continued problems with the Russian-built Service Module, NASA has manifested the controversial Interim Control Module (ICM) for flight 7A.1. The ICM will be built by the Naval Research Lab utilizing proven defense satellite technology. It will provide a stop-gap solution to keeping the station-under-construction in its proper orbit until the Service Module can be completed and launched. Under a revised schedule the Service Module would be added to the station after the Z1 Truss (flight 3A), the Photovoltaics and P6 Truss (flight 4A) and possibly even the Lab (flight 5A) (Rich Kolker, Compuserve Spaceflight forum).

Russia recently announced that they are not the only ones behind schedule. They cited problems with the US-built lab module that could delay station start-up by 3 months. NASA has admitted the problem, but has replied that workers are trying to bring the Lab back to schedule (Flatoday).


After a series of 5 postponements due to high winds above the Kourou, French Guiana launch complex, Arianespace finally was able to launch an Ariane 44LP rocket carrying Brazilsat-3 and an Inmarsat-3 satellite. The rocket with two solid and two liquid strap on boosters was launched at 6:29 pm EST Feb 4. This was the 33 successful flight in a row, the 75 Ariane 4 launch, and the 105th launch of Arianespace. The next Ariane launch is of HOTBIRD-4 scheduled for Feb 27 (Arianespace pr).

The 1,760 kg Brazilsat was built by Hughes for EMBRATEL of Brazil. It is a spin-stabilized HS 376W model telecommunication satellite. The satellite will use 28 C-band transponders and one X-band transponder to carry voice, data, corporate networks and television. It is expected to have 12 a year lifespan (Flatoday; Hughes pr).

The 2,000 kg Inmarsat-3 is a functional spare for a constellation of 4 previously launched satellites providing mobile telecommunications services. The satellite was built by Lockheed Martin with some Matra Marconi components. It has a 150 channels capacity in the 30 GHz band. The satellite was placed in an elliptical transfer orbit that will altered to near geosynchronous (Hughes pr; Inmarsat pr; Arianespace pr).


Winds aloft have postponed two Delta II launches: from both Vandenberg AFB and Cape Canaveral. The Jan 1 Vandenberg launch of 5 Iridium satellites was called off due to poor weather conditions. A launch attempt the following day was also called on account of weather. Since that time, conflicts with two Orbital Sciences launches at Vandenberg have caused the launch to be bumped to Feb 11 (Flatoday).

A specially configured Delta II was originally to be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station on Thursday, Feb 5, but unfavorable winds have delayed the launch. A Delta II 7420-10, which is a lighter configuration of the Delta rocket that has only 4 solid rocket motors, will carry the 1812 kg Globalstar payload. The usual Delta II configuration uses 9 strap-on rocket motors to lift 4,869 kg to low-Earth Orbit. The $48 million rocket will carry 4 $13 million Globalstar satellites. A second Delta / Globalstar launch is slated for April. The Globalstar constellation will ultimately include 48 satellites orbiting at 1400 km. The launch of the first Globalstar satellites is now rescheduled, weather permitting, for Sat. Feb 7 (Boeing pr; Flatoday).


Poor weather on Feb 4 forced the delay of the scheduled launch of the Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg AFB. A Lockheed L-1011 was to carry the rocket to 39,000 ft for the deployment. After a repeat attempt was canceled on Feb 5, the flight was rescheduled for mid-Feb. The rocket will carry the SNOE experiment and BATSAT communications satellite. The 115 kg Student Nitric Oxide Explorer (SNOE) was built by a team of students at the University of Colorado. The 70 kg BATSAT is an Orbital Sciences-built MicroStar spacecraft similar to those to be used in the Globalstar constellation (Orbital pr; Flatoday; NASAc2>Kelly Space & Technology announced last week that it would begin testing its tow-launch concept at NASAs Dryden Flight Research Center on Feb 5. It is hoped the demonstration flight will support Kellys plans for their Eclipse Astroliner which is a reusable launch vehicle that is launched using a tow plane. The tests, which involve both NASA and the USAF, will utilize a USAF QF-106A which is towed by a USAF C141A. Previous ground and flight tests have confirmed the safety of the aerodynamic interaction between the two planes. The work is being done under a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract. No results from the test flight have been reported, but weather may have postponed the flights (SC; Kelly pr).

The Astroliner will be a delta-wing vehicle slightly larger than the Shuttle. Beginning around 2001, it will be able to carry up to 10,000 pounds into LEO. The Astroliner will be towed to 20,000 feet where its tow line is released and the main engine ignited. The rocket will deploy its payload on a second stage at 400,000 ft (75 miles) altitude. The second stage rocket engine then delivers the payload to its proper orbit. The Astroliner then reenters the atmosphere and utilizes conventional jet engines to land. Kelly Space holds a $89 million contract for the launch of 20 Motorola communication satellites (Kelly pr).


Although the Lunar Prospector achieved lunar orbit on Jan 13, no substantive news has been released from the Ames Research Center which is managing the mission. Unlike the earlier Mars Pathfinder which was a high visibility proof of technology demonstration with plenty of exciting visuals, the Lunar Prospector contains no camera - instead producing data streams from 5 scientific instruments. The mission has several goals: measuring the lunar gravity, charting the weak magnetic field, and mapping out mineral distribution on the moon. However, the primary goal of the mission is to find and measure any water ice on the moon utilizing a neutron spectrometer. However, calibration of the instrument and analysis of the data with respect to surface locations is complex. Apparently, no icebergs have been found - else the news would have been revealed with great fanfare. However, rumor has it that ice in observable form has been found. Scientists at Ames have stated that no announcement of findings will be forthcoming until late February or early March (SC).


Beginning Feb 12, NASA plans to launch a series of 11 research rockets from the abandoned Tortuguero US Army base near Vega Baja. The launches will be conducted in concert with observations from ground instruments and the large radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The sounding rockets will be launched at night and will rise to 71 to 236 miles in altitude. Five of the rockets will release luminescent clouds of aluminum trimethol at altitudes of 50 to 93 miles before falling into the sea 60 miles north of the island. Six of the rockets will be outfitted with instruments only to measure the ionosphere. The experiment is being conducted to measure high-level winds and turbulence in the ionosphere in order to develop better radio and satellite communications systems. The project is a continuation of a the 1992 El Conqui project. The launches were protested last Sunday by as many as 1000 Puerto Ricans (AP).



Comsat has filed a $5 million breach of contract suit against IDB Mobile Communications for satellite services provided to IDB in 1997. In Sept, 1997, IDB filed a complaint against Comsat claiming that Comsat charged US carriers more than international carriers for access to Inmarsat satellites. IDB is a subsidiary of Statos Mobile Networks (SN).


Despite having no satellites of its own, Orion Network Systems-Asia Pacific Inc. is expanding its services into China and India by leased capacity on orbiting satellites. Orions first telecommunication satellite is expected to be launched later this year (SN).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • Mid - Feb - Pegasus XL, SNOE and BATSAT, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Feb 7 - Delta 2, Globalstar-1 (4 comsats), pad 17A, KSC.
  • Feb 9 - Taurus (Orbital Sciences), Navy Geosat Follow-on, ORBCOMM (2 sats), Celestis-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Feb 11 - Delta 2, Iridium (7 sats), SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Feb 15 - Voyager 1 Overtakes Pioneer 10 as furthest man-made object.
  • Feb 19 - H-2 (#5), COMETS, Tangageshima Space Center, Japan.
  • Feb 19 - Soyuz capsule landing, Mir 24 crew return.
  • Feb 27 - Ariane 42L, Flight 106, Hot Bird-4, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Mar 3 - Atlas 2AS - INTELSAT 806, Cape Canaveral Air Station, pad 36B
  • Mar 6 - Pegasus XL, TRACE, Vandenberg AFB.
  • March - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 sats), Wollops Flight Facility, VA.
  • Late March - ILS Proton, EchoStar 4, Baikonur, Kazakstan.


With the landing of Endeavor, the population of space has dropped to 6 all on board the Mir space station. The crew s includes 4 Russians and one French cosmonaut and 1 Australian-born astronaut. This marks the completion of 3073 days of continuous human presence in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 8, 1989. Only 144 days remain until the launch of the first element of the International Space Station.

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