Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #88

Frontier Status Report #88

March 20, 1998

Dale M. Gray

Two launches top the weeks space events. Another important development on the frontier includes the US Senate Commerce Committee approving a revised Commerical Space Bill (S1473) and passing the bill on to the Senate for approval.

Highlights of the week of March 20 include:

  • Launch of an Atlas II with a Navy UFO satellite
  • Launch of the Progress M-38 cargo vessel
  • Docking of Progress M-38 with Mir
  • Hughes completes additions to its satellite factory


The Shuttle Columbia is in the Vehicle Assembly Building being prepared for rollout to the launch pad. On Tues, Mar 17, the orbiter was slightly damaged during the process of being attached to the external fuel tank and SRBs. The mishap occurred after Columbia had been connected and the lifting sling was being removed. The sling struck near the lower left belly damaging part of a protective thermal blanket. Technicians were able to determine that no structural damage occurred and replaced the damaged thermal blanket. The incident is not expected to affect the April 16 launch of the NeuroLab mission (NASA; Flatoday).

Boeing engineers are now studying a plan to use fuel left over at the end of each shuttle mission to the International Space Station. The fuel, which normally returns to Earth with the orbiter, would be collected in orbit. The aggregate fuel from a number of missions could then be used to support a return to the moon. The plan would significantly reduce the need to use giant boosters for a lunar excursion (SN).


A Progress M-38 cargo rocket destined for Mir was launched from Baikonur, Kazakstan at 5:46 pm EST on March 14. In addition to fresh food and water, the 7,007 kg craft carried a set of 3 wrenches, a propulsion system, science equipment, a new hatch lock, clothes, fuel and a few private parcels for the Mir crew. The supplies will make it possible to conduct 6 scheduled space walks to repair a broken hatch lock, buttress a damaged solar panel and replace a propulsion system used to orient the station.

To make room for the new Progress at the Kvant-1 docking port, Progress M-37 filled with station trash was undocked and sent to incinerate on reentry over the South Pacific. The new Progress M-38 docked with the station on March 17. The automatic docking system failed 40 yards from the station, but Talgat Musabayev was able to complete docking using manual controls (LS; AP; Flatoday; Chris v.d. Berg).

The main cargo on the Progress supply ship is the propulsion system. This will replace Mirs boom jet assembly which is known as the "Sofora". This system has been in use since March 1987 and is nearly out of fuel. Three space walks have been scheduled to replace the system (NASA).

The station's new air conditioner, which was completed last week, is functioning normally. Temperatures in the Base Block have dropped from 35 degrees C to 29 degrees C. The functional air conditioner allows the Base Block Vozdukh CO2 scrubber to be used. A dehumidifier has been installed near the Vozdukh so that excess water can be drawn from the air, filtered and recycled for technical use. The drying unit in the Kvant-1 module Vozdukh CO2 scrubber previously dumped the excess water into space (NASA; Chris v.d. Berg).


The bumps on the road to launching the International Space Station appear to be growing larger. NASA recently admitted to Congress that the station could be as much as 3.9 billion over budget. Key to the successful deployment of the station continues to be the problem-plagued Russian Service Module. It is currently to be launched in December of this year, but is currently 2-3 months behind schedule. While NASA is only willing to cope with the Service Module being launched as late as June 1999. NASA will determine by May 1 whether the Russian Service Module will meet this deadline. As the launch of the first elements of the station is rapidly drawing near, Congressional support for the station is eroding (Flatoday).


At 4:32 pm March 16, the final Atlas II rocket was launched from pad 36A of the Cape Canaveral Air Station. The Lockheed Martin rocket was carrying the $190 Navy UHF Follow-On (UFO) communications satellite F8 built by Hughes Space and Electronics. This is the 8th in the contracted series. The 7,000 pound satellite was released into a 14,000 mile elliptical orbit. Over the next 9 days thrusters will be used to modify move the satellite into a geosynchronous test slot and ultimately into position over the Pacific at 172 degrees East. After on-orbit testing, the satellite will be turned over to the Navy in early June. The satellite is the first of the series to contain the Global Broadcast Service (GBS) communications package which contains 4 Ka-band transponders and 3 steerable downlink spot beams. UFO replaces the Fleet Communications Satellite (FLTSAT) and Leased Communications Satellite (LEASAT) networks that have reached the end of their useful lives (LockMart pr; Navy pr; Flatoday).


Technical problems have pushed the scheduled Mar 20 launch of the SPOT-4 Earth observation satellite to Mon, Mar 23. A problem was detected in the back-up electrical pyrotechnic command used to release the PASTEL telescope on the payload. This will be the 107 Ariane launch and the 3rd of 12 planned for 1998 (Flatoday).


Having completed 174 orbits, the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft has reduced the period of its orbits from 45 hours to the current 13.2 hours. With the abatement of the recent Martian dust storm, the flight team is preparing for the suspension of aerobraking in about 2 weeks when the orbital period reaches 11.6 hours. The hiatus from aerobraking will be used as a unique opportunity to collect science at a lower level than the final planned orbit. The time also is necessary to put Mars in the proper position in its orbit when aerobraking concludes next spring (NASA).



Hughes Space and Communications completed several important additions to their Integrated Satellite Factory in Los Angeles. The 41,000 sq ft of additions include a thermal stress chamber, an ultra-modern nearfield antenna range facility and a large dual-capacity thermal vacuum chamber. The chamber can simultaneously test two HS702 satellites. The factory is dedicated to the design and manufacture of the HS376, the HS601, and the HS702 as well as two lines of mobile communications satellites. Hughes, the worlds largest satellite manufacturer, currently has a backlog of 36 satellites (Hughes pr).


Arianspace has signed a contract with the British Ministry of Defense - Defense Evaluation and Research Agency to launch two microsats as auxiliary payloads on an Ariane 5 rocket slated for launch in mid 1999. The technology satellites, STRV1 c & d will be placed into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) using the Ariane 5 Structure for Auxiliary Payloads (ASAP 5). While ASAP has been used 6 times previously, it is its first use on an Ariane 5 rocket. The satellites will be used to test components and materials in the extreme environmental conditions of GTO with applications in both military and civil space programs (Arianespace pr).


In an early March London meeting, the Inmarsat council has agreed to restructure Inmarsat from a governmental organization to a privatized company beginning around Jan 1, 1999. The internationally owned Inmarsat provides mobile satellite communications world wide (LS).


Space Systems/Loral recently signed an agreement with Chinas Great Wall Industry for 5 launches on Long March 3B rockets by early 2002. While China has had disastrous launch failures in the past, in 1997 all launches were successful (LS).



PanAmSat has selected Hughes Space and Communications to build the replacement PAS-6B satellite. The HS 601HP will replace PAS-6 satellites which is experiencing deteriorating capability. PAS-6, which was built by Space Systems/Loral was launched in Aug 1997 and began service on Sept 19, 1997. Several circuit failures in the solar arrays have forced PanAmSat to drop several transponders from service initially with additional more in the years to come. The new Hughes satellite will have 32 Ku-band transponders, the XIPS xenon propulsion system and dual-junction gallium arsenide solar panels capable of generating 8 kilowatts of power. The satellite will be launched on an Ariane rocket in the 4th quarter of 1998 and will be placed in 43 degrees West orbital slot where it will assume the duties of PAS-6. PAS-6B will be used for Direct-to-home TV transmissions for NetSat Servicos in Brazil and the Multi-Country Platform for the rest of Latin America (excluding Mexico). The satellite is expected to have a 15 year lifespan. The limited, but still functional, PAS-6 will be moved to a new orbital slot (Hughes pr; PanAmSat pr).


COMSAT World Systems has announced that they have completed the Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) satellite link to establish a fiber optic cable equivalent Internet connection between Puerto Rico and South America. The link from Puerto Rico, utilizing a INTELSAT satellites in the 359 degrees East slot, provides 34 Mbps service outbound and 8 Mbps inbound. The service is provided by Telefonica Larga Distancia (TLC) utilizing the Telecomunicaciones Ultramarinas de Puerto Rico earth station facilities at Humacao (LS).


Bureaucrats Triumph Over Citizens to Close the Remote Sensing Frontier to Americans

Kingdom-building bureaucrats have successfully convinced the space sub-committee of the Senate Commerce Committee to remove key portions of the Commercial Space Act. What was removed are aspects that limit bureaucratic power to stall the issuance of Remote Sensing Permits. In the House version of the bill (HR 1702) the permitting agencies would have only 60 days to review applications for Remote Sensing Permits. A failure to act would result in an automatic issuance of the permit. Under the current system, permit requests can be put on hold indefinitely. As a result of bureaucratic pressure, the approved Senate version (S 1473) is missing this key to a new frontier (SpaceViews).

While American companies have previously been given the RIGHT to develop 1 meter resolution Remote Sensing Systems, in reality few can exercise that right. Companies with $100's of millions of dollars invested in technical systems have to cool their heels waiting for permits that are endlessly delayed. Technology is proven and markets are waiting, but what financial institution will continue to loan out money with no return in sight? (ProSpace)

The reason given by the bureaucrats who have taken it upon themselves to subvert American law is National Security. However, under present US law there are shutter controls in place for our companies that prevent photography of sensitive areas and that can shut down the American Reconnaissance industry entirely in the case of emergency.

However, no such controls are in place in the competing Remote Sensing satellite systems. The French have a remote satellite industry as does India, Israel and even Russia. So while we bury our own Remote Sensing Industry under the weight of bureaucratic overburden, companies from other countries grow rich peering down on the Earth - including selling photos of US soil. They have no controls in place to prevent them from selling photos of each and every secret American installation. Had American companies been allowed to enter freely into the frontier, their inherent superiority in technology would have caused competing systems to wither away. This would have resulted in an industry with shutter controls that served the interests of National Security.

Instead, the power-hungry bureaucrats have whispered fears into the ears of our elected Senators - convincing them that the American business men are stupid and can't be trusted. They have told the Senate that only bureaucrats can guard the gates of freedom. They have successfully gathered more power to themselves by wrapping themselves up in the flag of National Security. They have also very nearly choked the life out of America's newest high frontier.

This my friends is an evil thing.

The Senate version of the Commercial Space Bill contains many vital sections that are necessary to promote our activities in our other space frontiers and as such should be passed. But the House and Senate versions of the Space Commercialization Act have yet to be reconciled. A letter or call to your Congressperson would not be a bad thing right now. There is yet one chance to regain control over our own bureaucracy.


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • Mar 23 - Delta 2, Flight 255, Iridium (5 sats), SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Mar 23 - Ariane 40, Flight 107, SPOT-4, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Mar 24 - Long March 2C/SD, Iridium (2 comsats), Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China.
  • Apr 1 - Pegasus XL, TRACE, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Apr 2 - Krunichev Proton (Block DM), Iridium (7 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • Apr - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 sats), Wollops Flight Facility, VA.
  • Apr 16 - Shuttle Columbia, STS-90, Neurolab, pad 39B KSC.
  • Apr 17 - Ariane 44L, Flight 108, Nilesat-1 & BSat-1b, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Apr 23 - Delta 2, Flight 256, Globalstar (4 sats), pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • Apr 26 - Delta 2, Flight 257, Iridium (5 sats), SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.


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 3117 days of continuous human presence in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 8, 1989. Only 101 days remain until the currently scheduled launch of the first element of the International Space Station.

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