Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #89

Frontier Status Report #89

March 27, 1998

Dale M. Gray

Two launches topped the weeks news along with a double delayed Delta II launch. Mars Global Surveyor has suspended aerobraking to do some relatively low altitude science. However the biggest news of the week is the release of a report that states that the Space Tourism frontier appears to be close to ignition.

Highlights of the week of March 27 include:

  • SPOT-4 launch on Ariane 40 rocket, Kourou, French Guiana
  • Iridium launch on Long March rocket from Taiyuan, China
  • Delta launch of Iridium satellites scrubbed by winds
  • Mars Global Surveyor suspends aerobraking - begins science


The Shuttle Columbia has been moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building and is in position on Pad 39B in preparation for its April 16 launch. The orbiter countdown demonstration test is slated for March 30-31 with the Flight Readiness review on April 6 (NASA).


In preparation for an ambitious month of spacewalks, the crew on Mir has been getting suits and hatches in shape. On March 27, the balky 20th latch on the external hatch was successfully repaired. On March 3, the latch successfully resisted repair efforts and in the process broke three of the stations wrenches. New wrenches were brought up on the recent Progress flight. In the coming month, the cosmonauts will replace a propulsion unit and shore up a solar panel damaged by last years collision (AP).


Two attempts were made to launch a Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg AFB during the past week. On March 23, unfavorable winds aloft scrubbed the launch. On Fri, March 27, the launch was again called off due to winds. The launch of 5 Iridium satellites was rescheduled for March 30 (Flatoday).


At 8:46 pm EST on Mar 24 an Ariane 40 rocket lifted off from French Guiana on flight 107. The rocket which carried the 2755 kg French SPOT-4 satellite was the base model of the Ariane 4 with no strap-on boosters. The satellite was released 18 minutes, 38 seconds after the launch. The $500 million satellite is owned and operated by the French space agency (CNES). The injection orbit for the satellite is sun synchronous - 794 x 813 km inclined at 98.7 degrees (CNES pr; Flatoday; Jonathans Space Report).


Great Wall launched a Long March 2C/SD rocket at 12:01 pm EST March 23 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China. The rocket carried two 664 kg Iridium satellites which successfully deployed about 50 minutes after launch. This is the second Long March / Iridium launch and the 50th for the Long March rocket system. The successful deployment brings the total number of operational Iridium satellites in orbit to 51. The 66 satellite network is expected to become operational Sept 23, 1998 (Iridium pr; LS).


Mars Global Surveyor suspended aerobraking on March 27 and has activated its scientific instruments. The low point of each elliptical orbit provides an opportunity to study Mars from a lower vantage point than will be available once the craft assumes its final circular orbit. Photographs of three areas of interest, the Viking landing site, the Pathfinder landing site and the Cydonia region, will be available on the web sometime next month. The Cydonia region is infamous for its Face on Mars. Each of these sites will be in photographic range once every 8 days. The craft will resume aerobraking in September and assume its final orbit in the March of 1999 (NASA).


On March 25, NASA and the Space Transportation Association released a two year study entitled General Public Space Travel and Tourism Study Report that has found that space tourism is not far off. While current systems would have to charge around $10 million per person, the study stated that when launch costs drop to around $100,000 per person, the space-ride business will take off. However, there are several other major changes that will have to take place that seem relatively minor compared to reducing the cost of the ride. These include reducing space sickness and improving the comfort, safety and reliability of the spacecraft. The report concludes that all of these conditions including the price cut will occur within 10 years. In an age when there is no lack of buyers for $50,000 trips to Antarctica or $12,000 to fly 17 miles up in a Russian MiG-25, the $100,000 price to go to space does not seem so out of line. As proof, the Seattle-based Zegrahm Space Voyage is taking reservations for 100 km high flights that will begin in late 2001 with a cost of $98,000 - 20 people have already put down $5000 deposits for early seats. Space Adventures out of Virginia is also taking $6,000 deposits on sub-orbital flights that it estimates are 3-5 years away - 15 to 20 people have already put down deposits (AP; NASA; NSS).



Samsung Electronics of South Korea is hosting a delegation from the Moscow Opteks State Enterprise to negotiate a contract for transferring technical information on the manufacturing of remote sensing systems capable of 3 ft resolution. The effort to develop high resolution imaging systems in South Korea will be based on state-of-the-arts Russian reconnaissance systems. The contract would provide for the construction of three sets of instruments within 44 months of signing. Two sets to be built in Russia, one by Russia and one by Samsung. A third set will be built in South Korea by Samsung with Russian assistance. No satellite system has as yet been selected to serve as a platform for the systems (AW&ST).



Orbcomm has opened its first gateway outside the US. The European Gateway is composed of the Gateway Earth Station (GES) in southern Italy at the Telespazio Matera Space Center and the Gateway Control Center in northern Italy at the Telespazio Lario Space Center. ORBCOMM provides mobile two-way data and messaging services world-wide. Messages picked up by ORBCOMM Satellites can be received by the GES where they are transferred to traditional terrestrial lines serving 42 European counties. Applications include monitoring industrial systems, and tracking mobile assets as well as two-way communications. ORBCOMM is a partnership owned by Orbital Sciences, Teleglobe of Canada, Technology Resources Industries Bhd. of Malaysia (ORBCOMM pr).

CD Radio

Hughes Space and Communications and Atcatel have been given the contract to produce two satellites for American Mobile Radio Corp (AMRC). Hughes will build two HS 702 satellites while Atcatel will build the electronics. Hughes is a major investor in AMRCs parent company. The satellite system is set to begin services in 2000. The digital radio system will provide 50 channels of CD quality radio programming for automobile receivers in the US (AW&ST; LS).



Russia's Central Bank has called it quits on their Kupon-1 satellite after it stopped responding to commands last week. The 2,300 kg satellite, which was launched on a Proton K/DM-2 rocket on Nov 12, 1997 was used to conduct banking transactions across 11 time zones. Controllers and engineers admitted to being baffled by the failure - indicating that two stabilizers must have failed. The satellite was designed by Lavochkin NPO. The satellite was insured for 523.3 million roubles ($85.93 million) through Ingosstrakh for a period of 6 months. The Central Bank expects to use the insurance money to finance a replacement satellite (Flatoday).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • Mar 30 - Delta 2, Flight 255, Iridium (5 sats), SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Apr 1 - Pegasus XL, TRACE, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Apr 1 - Mir Spacewalk
  • Apr 2 - Krunichev Proton (Block DM), Iridium (7 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • Apr 16 - Shuttle Columbia, STS-90, Neurolab, pad 39B KSC.
  • 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.
  • Apr 26 - Cassini, 1st Venus flyby.
  • Apr 28 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 sats), Wollops Flight Facility, VA.
  • Apr 28 - Ariane 44L, Flight 108, Nilesat-1 & BSat-1b, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • May 3 - Shuttle Columbia, STS-90, lands at KSC, Florida.


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 3124 days of continuous human presence in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 8, 1989. As of March 24,US astronauts have competed 2 years of continuous presence on Mir. Only 94 days remain until the currently scheduled launch of the first element of the International Space Station.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

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