Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #91

Frontier Status Report #91

April 10, 1998

Dale M. Gray

One Proton launch tops the weeks events. With the continued acceleration of the high frontier, it becomes increasingly difficult to track the major events as they occur. This week saw numerable business deals and a continued effort on the part of the US government to keep Americans out of the remote sensing frontier. Mars Global Surveyor images the Face on Mars to settle a long- standing debate.

Highlights of the week of April 10 include:

  • Proton launch of 7 Iridium satellites
  • Cosmonauts brace broken solar panel on Mir
  • Lockheed Martin announces Atlas 3
  • Node 1 of the International Space Station renamed
  • Tom Hanks mini-series on Apollo debuts on HBO
  • Face on Mars unveiled (see guest Frontier Corner).


The Shuttle Columbia is on the pad preparing for an April 16 launch at 2:19 pm of the STS-90 NEUROLAB mission. The mission is expected to last 16 days, 21 hours, 48 minutes. Early payload installation is complete with aft compartment close outs to continue until Saturday. The countdown will begin on April 13 at 2 am EST with the crew set to arrive at Kennedy Space Center later in the afternoon (Flatoday).

Delays in the construction of the International Space Station have NASA looking for an additional summer Shuttle mission. The first two elements of the station are currently slated for launch on June 30 and July 9, but delays may push the flights to August 25 and September 3. As a result, the space agency is considering a re- flight of the Neurolab mission. A decision on the space station schedule and the possible reflight of Neurolab is expected by mid- May (Flatoday).


The second space walk in as many weeks resulted in the long awaited bracing of the broke solar panel on the Spekt module. Talgat Muasbayev and Kikolai Budarin stabilized the panel with a 1.5 meter metal splint. The space walk came to an early halt when the cosmonauts were told a thruster engine used to orient the station to the sun ran out of fuel. The Russian pair were ordered back into the station to activate a backup system. Later it was learned that the VDU had not run out of fuel, instead the control center had accidently turned off the attitude control system. The walk was also plagued by intermittent communications problems with the ground. The space walk ended after four hours and 15 minutes instead of the five and half hours planned. Left undone was the retrieval of some scientific equipment (Flatoday; JSR).

A third space walk is scheduled for Saturday April 11, the cosmonauts will be working to replace the VDU thruster on the Sofora boom on the Kvant module. The replacement system arrived in last months Progress supply ship (Flatoday; JSR).


The Long Spacer, slated to be launched on STS-97 in April of 1999, has been delivered to Kennedy Space Center's Space Station Processing Facility. There it has been unpacked and placed on a test stand. The Long Spacer, when attached to the International Space Station, will provide a structural support for the Photovoltaic Modules, heat dissipation radiator , ammonia fluid lines and two Pump and Control subassemblies which will be used to cool the solar panels. The Long Spacer will be joined to the Integrated Equipment Assembly (JPL PR).

NASA recently implemented a new policy of naming the parts of the ISS as they approach launch. The first American component to be launched, the Node 1, was recently re-named Unity. The ame symbolizes the ndocking module function of connecting modules made by Russia and America. Unity with the attached Pressurized Mating Adapter-1 was recently subject to a four day pressure test. The assembly, which is currently scheduled for launch in July, passed the test with virtually no leakage. Unity will be subject to one more pressure test before being shipped to the launch pad (Flatoday; JPL PR).

The European-built Automated Transfer vehicle (ATV) which will be used to transfer cargo to the ISS is apparently a year behind schedule. The European Space Agency has been in consultation with Aerospatiale, the prime contractor of the ATV. As a result of these negotiations the work on the vehicle is back on track (Space News).


A Proton rocket carrying seven Iridium satellites was launched from Baikonur, Kazakstan on April 6 at 10:13 p.m. EST. The rocket utilized was a three-stage Proton-K rocket with a Energiya Blok DM2 upper stage. The DM2 fired twice to achieve deployment orbit. The satellites were released about 88 minutes into the flight. The DM2 fired again after deployment to deorbit, thereby reducing space debris. This brings the total number of operational Iridium satellites in orbit to 63 of the planned 66 satellite constellation. This is the 13th Iridium launch in 11 months. Launches of a Delta II and a Long March 2C/SD rocket in late April will complete the constellation with on-orbit spares (Flatoday; Iridium PR; JSR).

The Proton/Iridium launch was contracted directly between Motorola's Satellite Communications Group, the maker of the Iridium satellites and Krunichev the maker of the Proton rocket. The last Proton launch, an International Launch Services effort on December 25, failed to place AsiaSat 3 into its proper orbit. RSC Energia built the Block DM upper stage motor that proved to be at fault. During its second firing, it operated for only one second instead of a planned 110 seconds. The successful Iridium flight places the Proton system back on line for an early May launch of EchoStar 4 (Flatoday).


Lockheed Martin announced its new family of launch vehicles designated the Atlas 3. The family includes two models under development: the Atlas 2AR which is slated for first launch in December and the Atlas 2ARC which will be available in 2000. The two models have been renamed the Atlas 3A and Atlas 3B. Both rockets will use Russian-designed rockets engines to increase payload capacity. The Atlas 3A (2AR) uses a RD-180 in the booster and a RL-10A in the Centaur upper stage. The Atlas 3B (2ARC) will use two Pratt & Whitney RL-10A engines in the Centaur upper stage. The changes will allow the Atlas 3B to carry 4500 kg to geostationary transfer orbit--771 kg more than the Atlas 2AS which is the most powerful Atlas 2 configuration. International Launch Services (ILS) plans to offer the Atlas 3A worldwide beginning in 1999 and the Atlas 3B in mid-2000 (Lockheed Martin PR).

The RD-180 engine is now undergoing extensive testing at NPO Energomash facilities in Russia. A prototype Atlas booster will be fired on a NASA test stand in Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville in May. This will be the first Russian-built rocket engine to be test fired in an American test facility (Lockheed Martin PR).

The American-made RL-10 will also experience a cross-cultural development. The Russian Space Agency and United Technologies Corp have agreed to set up production of the Pratt & Whitney RL-10 engines in Russia. The engines, upgraded using Russian technologies, will be first used to increase the payload capability of the Proton rocket. Other international sales may follow (AW&ST).


The Infrared Space Observatory has completed its mission of making infrared observations from orbit. The European Space Agency facility was launched in November of 1995 with a designed lifetime of 18 months. The limited lifespan of the telescope was due to limits of superfluid helium that was used to cool the telescope so that it might make high precision observations. The telescope exceeded its design life by 10 months--running out of helium in early April (ESA; Launch Space).


Information on the testing of the Ariane 5 Vulcain engine was presented to the Launcher Qualification board on April 1. The tests sought to duplicate the excessive roll-torque experienced during Flight 502. Two possible causes were examined: the snapping of one of the rods that attach the engine turbine exhaust to the aft end of the divergent or because of roughness of the internal surface of the Vulcain engine divergent which caused the boundary layer of the main jet to spiral. As the result of three test firings, it was determined that the problem was
caused by the roughness of the internal surface. The excess roll torque will be countered by repositioning the turbine exhausts in future flights. The excessive roll torque during Flight 502 caused the premature shutdown of the rocket--leaving it in a lower than planned orbit (ESA PR).


Modern folklore has been revealed and dispelled with the unveiling of the Face on Mars. The feature on Mars Cydonia region was originally photographed by the Viking mission in 1976. The feature, which appears as a face on one photo, spawned a cult following that borders on becoming an industry--if not a religion. Images from the Mars Global Surveyor taken Sunday, April 5, have revealed the controversial image to be merely a hill with a depression (eye) and a rather ordinary watercourse (mouth). Soon after the image was released on Monday, Richard Hoagland, who has made a living off of such items denounced the photograph as being of low quality. Managers of NASA's Mars Global Surveyor do not appear to be taking a stand on the face--letting the photograph speak for itself (AP).

The next Mars lander mission, NASA's 1999 Mars Polar Lander mission will be bringing a new sense to experience the red planet. Riding along with a Russian lidar will be a 50 gram microphone similar to that used in hearing aids. Drawing one tenth of a watt, the microphone will collect sound and send it back to Earth in 10 second bursts. It is not known what sounds the microphone will pick up in the thin Martian atmosphere. The $100,000 addition to the mission is sponsored by the Planetary Society (AP).


Hughes Space and Space Systems/Loral are under investigation on suspicion of violating American export laws concerning the transfer of missile technology. The two companies, which were involved in a failed 1996 satellite launch attempt conducted their own investigations of the failure and then gave advice to the Chinese in order to correct the problem on future flights. Justice Department officials are concerned that the information transfer went beyond permissible levels to include assistance in improving guidance systems for the rocket. The Justice Department contends that systems to place satellites into proper orbits are similar to those used to deliver long-range missiles. The issue has since been clouded by the Clinton administration allowing Loral to provide similar expertise on another Chinese satellite launch attempt. Loral agreed to stringent safeguards to prevent the transfer of sensitive technology (AP).



Satellite phone manufacturing contracts worth $353 million have been awarded by Globalstar to Ericsson OMC, Ltd (Stockholm, Sweden), Qualcomm (San Diego) and Telital (Trieste, Italy) The companies will construct over 300,000 handheld and fixed satellite telephones. Globalstar has service provider agreements in over 100 countries. Four Globalstar gateways have been completed and are testing the satellite system. An additional 26 Gateways are under construction around the world (Globalstar PR).


The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) of the US Navy recently awarded Raytheon a $77 million contract to provide communications terminals for the Super High Frequency (SHF) satellite system. Under the terms of the seven year contract, Raytheon will provide up to 123 SHF Shipboard Satellite Communications terminals (SATCOM). The AN/WSC-6(V)X terminals will provide military users with high capacity voice and data communications (Raytheon PR).


The FCC has authorized Orbcomm Global to launch an additional 12 satellites. As a result, Orbcomms satellite constellation will be increased from 36 to 48 satellites. The FCC also will allow Orbcomm use a more efficient, higher data downlinks and to raise the orbits of the non-high declination satellites from 775 km to 825 km. These changes will allow the satellite system to improve services to higher latitudes and increasing capacity in the temperate zones (SpaceCast).



After two years of work by three US agencies, a proposed set of regulations for the private remote sensing industry has been scrapped. The move is the result of an April 1 public meeting where industry and other non-governmental sources were invited to comment. American companies gearing up for near-spy quality images from space have adamantly stated that the proposed regulations are both ambiguous and burdensome. Instead, they insist that the regulations be substantially revised or eliminated. The US Department of Commerce indicated that they may now have to go back to the drawing board (Space News).

It is becoming more apparent that the US Government will by design or by accident, continue to put its own countrys companies at a disadvantage in the newest space frontier. Because frontier opportunities are available for only a short time, the unrealistic regulations and endless delays will effectively place the money generated by the frontier into the coffers of companies operating out of more cooperative countries. By losing the initiative, the US government also loses any opportunity it may have had to control imaging of sensitive areas (Dale Gray Frontier Model).

Aerial Images

On April 3, Aerial Images of Raleigh, North Carolina and Sovinformsputnik of Baikonur, Kazakstan successfully deorbited and retrieved an imaging satellite that was launched February 17, 1998. During its 45 day mission, the Cosmos 2349 took commercial 2-meter resolution photographs of the southwest United States and populated areas around the world. The images will be made available later this summer via the Internet at and may be purchased through TerraServer for $8.95 to $24.95 per image. TerraServer is composed of Aerial Images, Digital Equipment Co, Eastman Kodak Co, and Microsoft. Sovinformsputnik is part of the Russian Space Agency created to utilize remote sensing technology formerly available only to the Soviet / Russian military (Flatoday; LaunchSpace).



An unusual new application for the Global Positioning System is being created by Pro Tech to monitor the position of offenders through the use of a portable tracking device (PTD). Ankle bracelets with a GPS unit and a wireless communicator can be used by corrections officials to locate personnel and determine when they have violated areas that are deemed off limits. The system can also allow victims to receive warning when an offender is in their area. Pro Tech recently awarded a contract to Sierra Wireless Modems for the construction of the SB 220 OEM module which is part of the PTD (SpaceCast).



The Japanese Space Agency (NASDA) has given up plans to utilize COMETS to support the robotic ETS-7 mission. Because of a malfunction in the H-2 rocket, COMETS was left in a low orbit that cannot support the ETS-7 mission. ETS-7 was created to separate into two space craft and then practice a series of remote control docking maneuvers. NASDA hopes that they will be able to continue the ETS-7 mission utilizing time purchased on a NASA satellite. The time will be paid for by insurance money from the COMETS mission. The situation is further complicated by a poorly performing main antenna (SpaceCast).

Space Communications Corp

Hughes Space and Ariane Space have signed agreements with Space Communications Corporation (SCC) of Tokyo for the construction and launch of SUPERBIRD-4. The satellite will be a high powered HS 601 model that will be launched in early 2000 on an Ariane rocket. Operating at the 162 degrees East orbital slot, the satellite is expected to provide business telecommunication for an expected 11 years. The satellite will have 23 Ku-band transponders and 6 Ka-band transponders--each set of transponders will have its own main antenna. Other features include a steerable Ku-band spot beam, xenon ion propulsion system (XIPS) and 5 Kw of power (Hughes PR; Ariane PR).


Tom Hanks is cranking up the public awareness of the space frontier with his 12 installment mini-series now playing on HBO. From the Earth to the Moon reexamines the Mercury and Gemini programs, but concentrates on the Apollo program and the moon landings. The first two installments appeared on April 5 with two every Sunday night until May 10. While critics are responding warmly to the efforts of the double Oscar winner, space fans have rated the series a Must See. Those of use without access to HBO can only wait for the boxed-set to come out (Flatoday; Tom Hanks on David Letterman).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • Apr 11 - Spacewalk, Mir.
  • Apr 16 - Shuttle Columbia, STS-90, Neurolab, pad 39B KSC.
  • Apr 16 - Spacewalk, Mir.
  • 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 - Ariane 44P, Flight 108, Nilesat-1 & BSat-1b, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Apr 30 - Long March 2C/SD, Iridium (2 comsats) Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center China.
  • May 2 - Long March 3B, Chinastar-1, Xichang Satellite Launching Center, China.
  • May 3 - Shuttle Columbia, STS-90, lands at KSC, Florida.
  • May 8 - Titan 4B/Centaur upper stage, Mission B-25 (classified), Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Air Station.


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 3138 days of continuous human presence in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 8, 1989. Only 80 days remain until the currently scheduled launch of the first element of the International Space Station.


Guest Editorial

The "Face" on Mars and Percival Lowell's "Canals"

Copyright (c) 1998 by Larry Klaes (

In light of the recent Mars "face" controversy, I offer up this quote from an article written in the Wall Street Journal in 1907:

"The most extraordinary development (in 1907) has been the proof afforded by the astronomical observations (showing) that conscious, intelligent human life exists upon the planet Mars... Dr. Lowell, director of the Lowell Observatory in Arizona... gives a number of photographs taken of Mars. He sums up the testimony of these photographs by saying that they reveal to laymen and astronomers that markings exist on Mars which are, of course, the lines of the great canals constructed on Mars for the purpose of irrigating that globe..."

Starting in the 1890s, the wealthy Boston astronomer Percival Lowell saw what he thought were straight lines crossing the surface of Mars. While he was not the first to see them, he was among the first and most vocal to make the radical interpretation that these lines were much too straight to be natural features. Therefore, they had to have been built by an advanced intelligence.

Lowell then populated Mars with an ancient and noble civilization trying desperately to survive its dying planet by bringing water from the poles to their great cities along the equator.

All this from the small and blurry images he viewed through his Earth-bound telescopes at the bottom of our planet's ocean of shimmering air, never closer than 35 million miles from the Red Planet.

One of Lowell's books on this subject, entitled simply Mars published in 1895, is available on the web.

British author H. G. Wells imagined in his great 1896 science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds, that Lowell's Martians decided it would be easy to conquer the noisy, primitive little monkeys walking around on that alluring blue globe and take the Earths bountiful resources for themselves. This novel is also available on the Web.

The public was entranced by Lowell's vision of Mars populated by alien beings. Newspaper editors from such prestigious papers as The New York Times vigorously defended Lowell and scolded other astronomers who said they only saw dark smudges instead of lines and theorized that the "canals" were merely optical illusions produced by limited seeing from tens of millions of miles away. The media and public accused astronomers of not being open-minded to the possibility. Astonomers for the most part simply wanted more evidence-- concluding that Lowell was making a major statement from very little data.

I highly recommend these two works on this amazing event in planetary astronomy history for more information.

Lowell and Mars, by William Graves Hoyt, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1976 (reprinted 1996).

The Planet Mars: A History of Observation and Discovery by William Sheehan, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1996.

When the first unmanned probes began detail imaging of the surface of Mars in the 1960s and 1970s, Lowells canals Lowell were found to be optical illusions created by his human mind connecting indistinct and disconnected natural features on the Martian surface. While there are "canals" on Mars, they are natural waterways created eons ago when Mars apparently had large amounts of liquid water.

People really want to know if we are alone or not in the Universe. It is a subject that has certainly compelled me all of my life. For all I know, there could indeed be alien artifacts on Mars, or a big, black Monolith buried under the lunar crater Tycho. It is not impossible that some Extra Terrestrial Intellegence have the capability and the will to explore other star systems either with robot probes or in person.

But I find it unfortunate that for the last two decades, some people have expended a large amount of time, energy, and effort on a surface feature that looked like a face based on a couple of distant images taken by the Viking orbiter. Had these images been as clear as the ones taken recently by Mars Global Surveyor, this Martian controversy wouldprobably never have happened.

People are free spend their time and energy focusing on whatever they please. But just imagine how Lowell and Wells would have reacted could they have seen Mars with the clarity of our space probes.

In summation, I am sure there is life beyond Earth spread throughout our galaxy and beyond. But I have no proof of this, so I won't say this for certain. I am not so certain that there is evidence of alien visitation in our own solar system, especially with the Mars "face".

Why? Because with 400 billion stars in our vast Milky Way galaxy, I do not think our solar system, specifically Mars, Earth, and humanity are the most well-known or popular visiting spots. This is despite our culturally egocentric view as to our importance in the greater scheme of things. But again, if concrete repeatable evidence can be found to the contrary, I will be as happy, fascinated, and eager to know more about it as anybody else.

I just hope that when it comes to the "face", the "pyramids", the lunar "spires", and other such items seen only vaguely in blurry images, that we will keep Lowell and his "canals" in mind before we turn rocks into alien artifacts without further evidence.

Larry Klaes

U.S. Northeast Regional Coordinator for The SETI League
General Coordinator for the Columbus Optical SETI Observatory
Former Editor of SETIQuest Magazine
Former Editor of the Electronic Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Altantic (EJASA)
Vice President, Boston Chapter of the National Space Society (NSS)

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