Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #86

Frontier Status Report #86

March 6, 1998

Dale M. Gray

The discovery of ice on the Moon tops the weeks news. Four launches were also reported in this period along with an aborted space walk.

Highlights of the period between Feb 23 and March 6 include:

  • Lunar Prospector finds ice on the Moon
  • HotBird-4 launched on an Ariane 4
  • SNOE and T-1 launched on a Pegasus XL
  • INTELSAT 806 launched on an Atlas 2
  • Sweden launches a sounding rocket
  • Mir space walk aborted by 3 broken wrenches
  • ProSpace March Storm on Washington a success


Dr. Alan Binder, the Principle Investigator of the $63 million Lunar Prospector mission, announced Thur, Mar 5 that there is a high probability of water on the Moon. Analysis of data collected over two months of lunar orbits has shown the distinctive signature of water in the data from the Lunar Prospectors neutron spectrometer. Estimates range between 11 to 330 billion tons of water ice on the north and south poles with roughly twice as much on the north pole. The earlier Clementine mission estimated from 110 million to 1.1 billion tons of water ice. While the find is at the present mostly of scientific interest, it has long been held that the colonization of the Moon would not be possible without large deposits of water ice. The 233 kg Lunar Prospector was built by Lockheed Martin and launched on an Athena rocket on Jan 6. It has been collecting data while orbiting the Moon at 100 kilometers since Jan 11 (NASA; Flatoday; LS).


The Shuttle Columbia is in Orbiter Processing Facility Bay 3 being prepared for its April 16 launch on STS-90 - Neurolab mission. The main engine heat shields are being installed. Aft compartment close-outs and payload bay door inspections under way. The orbiter will be rolled out to the Vehicle Assembly Building on Mar 16 to be mated with the external tank (NASA).

NASA has announced the first woman to command a Shuttle mission with the assignment of Eileen Collins to the Dec 1998 Columbia mission to deploy the delayed X-Ray Observatory (AP).


Three broken wrenches later, the cosmonauts on Mir were still unable to remove the tenth and final latch from the faulty external hatch. While a stronger wrench was found two days later, Nikolai Budarin and Talgat Musabayev could not find it in time for their March 4 spacewalk to repair the external hatch and to place a brace on a solar panel damaged by last years collision. The 6 hour walk had been delayed when a problem was detected with the pressure controls. American astronaut Andy Thomas discovered a faulty valve in time for the space walk to proceed. The spacewalk will probably be rescheduled for April after the Mar 15 launch of the Progress-M38 supply ship (AP; Chris v.d. Berg).


NASA is seeking a ten week slip in the construction schedule of the International Space Station. Reasons cited include slow construction of components and continued problems with funding. NASA officials now admit that the launch of the Russian-built Service Module will likely be delayed from December to March 1999. The Clinton administration has asked Congress to allow NASA to transfer $173 million to the space station from other programs. In addition the manufacturer of the Service Module did not receive its scheduled Feb 15 payment from the Russian government. NASA and the Russian Space Agency have until April to decide if the first elements to be launched will be delayed (SN; Flatoday).


Arianespace launched Flight 106 with the Hot Bird 4 television satellite from Kourou, French Guiana on Fri, Feb 27 at 5:38 EST. The satellite was carried into orbit on an Ariane 42P with two solid rocket boosters. The satellite was released 20 minutes, 30 seconds into the flight This was the 34th consecutive successful Ariane 4 launch. The next flight is scheduled for March 20.

Hot Bird 4, a Eurostar 2000+ satellite, was built by Matra Marconi for the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization, EUTELSAT. After testing in the 29 degrees east orbital slot, it is destined to provide digital broadcast services from 13 degrees east. The 2,885 kg satellite boasts 20 Ku-band transponders. Total cost for the mission was reported to be $204 million (Arianespace pr; LS; SN).


At 7:21pm EST on Fri, Feb 27, a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station. The $200 million AC-151 mission features the 3636 kg INTELSAT 806 satellite which was boosted into a temporary 19,000 mile orbit. When the satellite reaches its orbital slot at 319.5 degrees East longitude, it will provide television services in the Americas as well as Europe. The satellite was built by Lockheed Martin Telecommunications. Intelsat operates a fleet of 26 satellites that provide TV, telephone and data transmission services. The Atlas launch was the 2nd for the year and the 37th successful launch since 1993. The next Atlas launch is slated for March 16 (Flatoday; LS).


At 2:07 am on Feb 26, Orbital Sciences successfully launched a Pegasus XL rocket from their L-1011 airplane based out of Vandenberg AFB. The rocket placed NASAs 115 kg Student Nitric Oxide Explorer (SNOE) and the 71 kg Teledesic research satellite T1 into a 576 kilometer orbit inclined at 97.7 degrees.

To cloak the identity of T1, the satellite was manifested under the fiction of BATSAT - Broadband Advanced Technology satellite. T1 is an experimental satellite built by a combined Orbital/ Teledesic/ Boeing team. The satellite is to test technologies for Teledesics 288 satellite constellation which will provide a global, broadband Internet-in-the-Sky. T1 was designed, built and launched in less than a year. The $9 billion network is bankrolled by Craig McCaw and Bill Gates with a reported 10% interest held by Boeing which will provide launch services on their Delta IV rockets now under development. The system is expected to go on-line in 2002 (Orbital Sciences pr).

The SNOE satellite was developed by students at the University of Colorados Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and was funded by NASA. It will measure the effects of the sun and the magnetosphere on the density of nitric oxide in the upper atmosphere (LS).


The Sweden Space Corp (SSC) launched a Nike-Orion sounding rocket on Mar 3 from the Esrange launch sit in northern Sweden. The rocket rose to 134 km and parachuted to a landing 76 km downrange. The rocket is part of an upper atmosphere study project of the Swedish National Space Board (LS).


The 3rd and final test flight of the Ariane 5 system in July is new seeking a paying customer for the trip to space. Final negotiations are in progress to launch a Eutelsat satellite (SN).



Alliant Techsystems recently was selected by Hughes Space and Communications to design and build composite optical benches for two Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GEOS) to be launched between 2001 to 2003. Hughes was selected in January to build the satellites by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center under a $423 million contract. The Alliant-built optical benches will be constructed of advanced graphite composites that remain stable through a 500 degree range. Previously Alliant provided platforms for instruments installed on the Hubble Space Telescope. Alliants Space and Strategic Systems Group, which will build the platforms, is based out of Magna, Utah and reported $339 million in sales in 1997 (Alliant pr).

GE Americom

GE Americom has selected Arianspace to launch the GE-5 direct broadcast satellite late in 1998. The 1,760 kg satellite will have 18 Ku-band transponders to provide direct-to-home television service in the United States. The launch service is within the scope of a contract signed with Dornier Satellitensysteme GmbH a subsidiary of Daimler-Benz Aerospace which provided the satellite, launch and orbital slot (SC).


Orbital Imaging

Orbital Sciences announced that its subsidiary Orbital Imaging has completed a finance package worth $173 million for the construction and launch of OrbView-3 and OrbView-4. OrbView-3 with 1 meter black & white imagery and 4 meter color imagery, will be launched in 1999. OrbView-4 with similar capabilities and 8-meter hyperspectral imagery will be launched in 2000. Orbital Imaging previously launched OrbView-1, an atmospheric imaging satellite, in 1995. OrbView-2, an ocean and land multi-spectral imaging satellite was launched in 1997 (Orbital Imaging pr).


The Canadian Space Agency in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Works Government Services Canada and the Ministry for Fisheries and Oceans has announced the selection of MacDonald Dettwiler Associates Limited (MDA) for the construction and management of RADARSAT II. This new satellite, to be launched in 2001, will continue the critical environmental monitoring of RADARSAT I. The satellite will have the most advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) in orbit. Canada will provide $225 million for the project while MDA will invest $80 million (CSA pr).



While successfully launched on an H-2 rocket on Feb 21, the truncated LE-5A second stage burn has left the Communications and Broadcasting Engineering Test Satellite (COMETS) in a deteriorating 153 x 1179 mile orbit. Using attitude thrusters engineers hope to raise the $366 million satellite to a stable orbit so that some of the 30 gigahertz Ka-band and 21 gigahertz high-definition digital broadcast experiments could be salvaged. The satellite appears to be fully functional. The maneuvers are complicated by the necessity of folding the solar panels during the maneuvers. The cause of the orbital engine malfunction is not known (SN; Flatoday).



About 50 private citizens from around the US made their way to Washington to take part in the annual March Storm. This years effort concentrated on the passage of the 1997 Space Commercialization Bill (HR 1702) and the Civilian Space Authorization Act (HR 1275 and S1250). The legislation previously passed the House with a broad-based bipartisan support. March Stormers found the issue of commercial space to be popular on Capitol Hill, but problems with timing continue to threaten the important legislation. March Storm participants conducted 75 Senate briefings and 156 House briefings (Charles Miller; Dale Gray).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • Mar 14 - Soyuz-U, Progress-240 resupply ship to Mir, Baikonur.
  • Mar 16 - Atlas 2, AC-132, UHF-F8 military comsat, Cape Canaveral.
  • Mar 18 - Long March 2C/SD, Iridium (2 comsats), Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China.
  • Mar 19 - Pegasus XL, TRACE, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Mar 20 - Ariane 4, Flight 107, Spot-4, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Mar 23 - Delta 2, Iridium (5 sats), SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Early April - Krunichev Proton (Block DM), Iridium (7 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • April - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 sats), Wollops Flight Facility, VA.
  • Apr 16 - Shuttle Columbia, STS-90, Neurolab, pad 39B KSC.


The population of space remains at the baseline of 3 - all on board the Mir space station. The Mir crews include 2 Russians and one Australian-born astronaut. This marks the completion of 3103 days of continuous human presence in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 8, 1989. Only 115 days remain until the scheduled launch of the first element of the International Space Station.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

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