Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #84

Frontier Status Report #84

February 13, 1998

Dale M. Gray

The weather again dominated news in the space frontier. Both the Delta and the Taurus launch systems were delayed by weather. The Taurus was able to launch after a single day delay while the Delta launch of the Globalstar satellites was moved to Sat, Feb 14. Two launch systems were requalified for flight this week: the Russian Proton and the Arianespace Ariane 5.

Highlights of the week include:

  • Launch of Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket from Vandenberg
  • Light weight Shuttle External Tank delivered to Kennedy
  • First element of X-33 delivered
  • John Glenns crewmates announced.


Long awaited, the first ultra-light Shuttle External Tank has finally arrived at Kennedy Space Center. With the same capacity as the standard External Tank, the new tank made of aluminum lithium is said to be stronger and weigh 7,500 pounds less. The weight savings will be essential for the Shuttle to lift some of the heavier components of the space station. Prior to launch, the 15 story high tank will be filled with 528,616 gallons of -423 degrees F liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will fuel the Shuttle's main engines. The tank will be used on the launch of the Shuttle Discovery slated for May 28 (Flatoday).

NASA has announced the crew of the Shuttle Discoverys Oct 29 mission. Previously, John Glenn was assigned to the flight as part of a study of the effects of space that mimic aging. The commander of the mission will be Curtis Brown Jr. with pilot Steven Lindsey, mechanical engineer Stephen Robinson and Spanish astronaut-engineer Pedro Duque. Two medical doctors will also be on board: Chiaki Mukai, a heart surgeon and Scott Parazynki, who has completed a residency in emergency medicine. During the flight the astronauts will release the 1,364 kg SPARTAN free-flying satellite that failed to activate during the Nov 1997 STS-87 flight (AP).

The Shuttle Columbia remains in the Orbiter Processing Facility bay 3. Columbia is being prepared for an April 2 launch of the Neurolab mission. The Neurolab arrived at Kennedy Space Center on Feb 13 and is being installed in the payload bay. The Neurolab Interface Verification Test is scheduled for Feb 18. The aft compartment close outs continue along with work on the main engine heat shield attach points (NASA).


QVC, the home shopping channel, went orbital Jan 8. Early in the morning at 1:00 am EST, the cosmonauts on Mir were patched through to Earth shoppers to hawk the $32.95 Fisher Space Pen. A technical glitch prevented the cosmonauts from speaking, but the pen was seen to write "QVC" on a pad. Other highlights of the space sale, based at the Catch a Rising Star nightclub in Manhattan, were a $25,000 Sokol KV-2 spacesuit and 11 small pieces of meteorites proven to have come from Mars (AP; Flatoday).


While the Ariane 5 has yet to finish its qualification flights, managers are preparing for entry into commercial operations. While the 2nd flight was nominally successful, a serious roll torque problem placed the payload in a lower than desired orbit. While no cause has been pinpointed, Arianespace has made a series of changes that cover the range of possible causes. The final qualification flight of the Ariane 5 is slated for July 5. The Ariane 5 was originally designed to be able to launch two advanced telecommunications satellites at a time. However, increases in the size and mass of communication satellites have cut into the market for the rocket (AW&ST).


A governmental inquiry has determined the cause of a Dec 25 failure of a Proton Block-DM stage upper stage was caused by tubing cracks in the engine's gas generator. The investigation which was led by Moscows Central Institute of Machine Building, known as TsNIIMash, clears the way for a launch in early April (SN).


Winds aloft continue to be a problem for the launch of two Boeing Delta rockets. The launches are for the competing Global Star and Iridium telecommunications constellations. The Globalstar launch from Kennedy Space Center has been reslated for Feb 14 while the Iridium launch from Vandenberg is now pushed into mid-March (Flatoday).


After a one day delay due to excessive high level winds, an Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket was successfully launched from Vandenberg AFB area 576-East on Feb 10 at 8:20 am PST. Only the second Taurus to be launched, the rocket carried a variety of payloads into orbit. The primary payload was the Navy's 365 kg Geosat Follow-On (GFO) with two Orbcomm satellites and a Celestis payload.

Attached to the final stage, the Celestis Payload Attach Container carries funeral ampules with a portion of the cremated remains of 30 people. Last April on the inaugural Celestis flight the ashes of Gene Roddenberry and Timothy Leary among with 22 others were launched to space on a Pegasus rocket. A quarter ounce ampule of ashes is sent into orbit for $4,800. The upper stage on which the ampules is attached may stay in orbit as long as 10 years (Orbital Sciences pr; JSR; AP; Celestis pr).

The Taurus is a four stage rocket based upon the Thiokol Castor 120 rocket motor. The motor is the upgraded civilian model of that used in the Peacekeeper missile. Indeed, the original Taurus rocket launched in 1994 was based upon a converted Peacekeeper first stage. The second Taurus also was improved with a larger payload faring to accommodate the multiple payloads (JSR; Flatoday).


The Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) has reached an important milestone with a demonstration that the spacecraft can accurately communicate with the operations control center. On Feb 2 & 3, a team of engineers successfully established a link between the spacecraft at the TRW assembly facility in Redondo Beach, CA and NASA's new Operations Control Center (OCC) in Cambridge, MA. When in orbit, the orbital facility will communicate with OCC via the Deep Space Network and ground-based communication lines. The spacecraft also recently passed a test of every electrical connection and a functionality test of every flight unit. The 10 meter X-ray telescope will be the most powerful X-ray telescope ever placed in space. It will be able to detect X-ray sources 50 times fainter than previous telescopes. The Facility will study a spectrum invisible to the Hubble Space Telescope. The AXAF is being built by TRW for NASA with subcontracts by Eastman Kodak and Ball Aerospace & Technologies. Because the construction is behind schedule, its launch on the Shuttle Columbia has been pushed back to December of this year (TRW pr; Flatoday).


One year from launch, the STARDUST mission has also reached several milestones. At the Lockheed-Martin Denver plant, the electrical power and continuity (EP&C) tests for the space craft have been completed and command and telemetry interface testing is underway. The 13,000 ft drop test of the Structural Thermal Model Sample Return Capsule (SRC) at the USAF Utah Test and Training Range was successfully completed February 5, 1998. STARDUST seeks to be the first comet sample and return mission (NASA/JPL pr).


While no official word is forthcoming, Dr. Alan Binder, the Principle Investigator for the Lunar Prospector mission, has stated that the rumors concerning the presence or absence of water on the Moon are entirely unfounded. To date, the lunar orbiter has returned outstanding data from the neutron spectrometer -revealing detailed information on the composition of the lunar crust. However, the presence of water will be determined from data produced by the Gamma Ray Spectrometer. This data may take up to 6 months to analyze and to "correct for all the effects". Because of the importance of any announcement, Binder and Dr. William Feldman head of the Spectrometer team have opted to be sure of their findings before they make any announcement. A preliminary press conference is tentatively slated for late February or early March (SC).


As of Feb 12, Mars Global Surveyor had completed 128 orbits of Mars. The low point of the orbit has dropped to 117 km while the orbital period has been reduced to 17 hours. On Feb 18, the science instruments will be turned off. Because the craft receives a large stream of data to control attitude and to rotate the craft for warming sun exposure, the shorter orbital period is beginning to cause communications conflicts with the scientific data being gathered. The rotations to maintain an internal temperature of 10 degrees Celsius will probably continue until Sept (NASA/JPL).


The first element of the X-33 suborbital prototype has arrived at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, CA. The 26 ft long, 2,500 kg aluminum tank arrived from LockMart's Michoud Space Systems facility in New Orleans, LA on Tuesday. The two lobed tank will be placed in the nose of the vehicle where it will be filled with 82,273 kg of liquid oxygen for the multiple test flights. The X-33 is a sub-scale technology demonstrator for the next generation of reusable space vehicles. The first test flight is slated for July of 1999 (NASA pr).


Orbital Sciences, the company that holds a $60 million NASA contract to build two X-34 reusable booster prototypes, recently announced that the first flight test will be delayed 3 months until March 1999 (SN).


NASA has reported that space grown antibody crystals have proven instrumental in the development of an effective treatment for Respiratory Syncytal Virus. This virus causes life-threatening severe upper respiratory infections and pneumonia. Considered to be the most serious infant disease in the US, every year almost 4 million children between 1 and 5 are infected with the virus. Of these 100,000 are hospitalized with 4,000 dying. Viral antibody crystals were grown in space on the Shuttle Columbia during its June/July flight of 1997. The size and perfection of the space-grown crystals allowed scientists to precisely determine the atomic structure of the antibody. The antibody neutralizes all known variants of the virus. It is believed that therapeutics developed from the space research will significantly lower the mortality of the disease (NASA).



The French Space Agency (CNES) and Arianespace recently signed a contract for the launch of the STENTOR spacecraft on an Ariane 5 rocket in the 2nd quarter of 2000. The 2,000 kg spacecraft will demonstrate state-of-the-art wideband and multimedia telecommunications equipment associated with miniature user terminals (Arianespace pr).



The Navy's 365 kg Geosat Follow-On (GFO) was the primary payload of the Taurus rocket launched Feb 10. The satellite will continue the mission of the original Geosat launched in 1985 to measure the sea surface height and thereby provide tactical sea current and icepack location information to Naval ships. The satellite, built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies, utilizes a 13.5 GHz pulse radar altimeter and maneuvers with hydrazine thrusters. The satellite was placed into a near 500 mile polar orbit (JSR; Flatoday).


Two 41 kg Orbcomm communications satellites also launched Feb 10 on the Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket. As a secondary payload, they were stacked under the GFO. Communications were established with the satellites shortly after launch. They join 8 Orbcomm sats launched on a Pegasus in December and 2 others launched in 1995. Twelve of the 36 comsat constellation are now in orbit. The Orbcomm satellites built by Orbital Sciences, are based upon MicroStar satellite platform. The system provides two way data and messaging services for industrial asset tracking and fixed site monitoring in the US and Canada. It has recently been granted spectrum worldwide (Orbital Sciences pr; Flatoday).

Agila 2

The Agila 2 communications satellite owned by the Philippines continues to have problems with its Ku-band transmissions. Apparently the frequency interferes with other satellites in nearby orbital positions (SN).


Two satellites owned by PanAmSat have experienced propulsion-control problems with their state-of-the-art xenon ion propulsion systems. New satellite-management software is being loaded onto the satellites. The software fix has been successfully tested on the Galaxy 8 satellite (SN).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • Feb 14 - Delta 2, Globalstar-1 (4 comsats), pad 17A, KSC.
  • Feb 15 - Voyager 1 Overtakes Pioneer 10 as furthest man-made object.
  • Feb 19 - H-2 (#5), COMETS, Tanegashima Space Center, Japan.
  • Feb 19 - Soyuz capsule landing, Mir 24 crew return.
  • Feb 27 - Ariane 42L, Flight 106, Hot Bird-4, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Feb 27 - Atlas 2AS - INTELSAT 806, Cape Canaveral Air Station, pad 36B
  • post Mar 12 - Delta 2, Iridium (7 sats), SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • post Mar 13 - Pegasus XL, TRACE, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Mar 15 - Soyuz-U, Progress-240 resupply ship to Mir, Baikonur
  • Late March - ILS Proton, EchoStar 4, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • April - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 sats), Wollops Flight Facility, VA.


The population of space remains at 6 - all on board the Mir space station. The combined Mir crews include 4 Russians and one French cosmonaut and 1 Australian-born astronaut. This marks the completion of 3079 days of continuous human presence in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 8, 1989. Only 137 days remain until the launch of the first element of the International Space Station. All told, mankind has spent 57 man/years in space (Nathan Koren).

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

Home Tour Join! Contents Team News Catalog Search Comm
Sources of information. ASI W9900508r1.1
Frontier Status Report is written by Dale M. Gray. Maintained by by ASI Web Team.
Additional web formatting by Simone Cortesi. FSR is also archived on the web at
Copyright © 2001 Artemis Society International, for the contributors. Updated Sat, Oct 20, 2001
Maintained with WebSite Director. Internet services provided courtesy of CyberTeams.