Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #96

Frontier Status Report #96

May 8, 1998

Dale M. Gray

An extremely active week on the frontier with five launches and the landing of the Shuttle Columbia. A number of very large business deals and new legislation bode well for expanding the satellite-based communications frontier. The International Space Station's woes continue even while new elements are being considered.

Highlights of the week of May 8 include:

  • Landing of the Shuttle Columbia
  • Launch of EchoStar-4 on a an ILS Proton rocket.
  • Launch of Iridium satellites on a Long March rocket
  • Launch of a classified payload on a Titan 4 rocket
  • Launch of a Russian military payload
  • Launch of a student payload on a sub-orbital flight
  • Salvage of HGS-1 (AsiaSat-3) by swinging around the moon


After 16 days in orbit, the Shuttle Columbia landed at Kennedy Space Center on Sunday, May 3 at 12:09 p.m. EDT. The landing proceeded despite a malfunctioning hydraulic unit. The Shuttle has three hydraulic systems, but in an emergency could land with only one. The malfunctioning unit was found to overheat after a short period and turned itself off automatically. The unit was turned on during the most demanding portion of the landing -- supplementing the power of the two other systems to run control surfaces as the Orbiter glided back to Earth (Flatoday; AP; NASA).

At the conclusion of the Neurolab mission, six of the seven astronauts were removed from the Shuttle by stretcher so that they might be examined prior to their bodies readapting to gravity. In addition, about 2,000 animals including rats, fish, crickets and snails were unloaded and dispersed for scientific study. While 52 of 96 baby rats died in orbit from maternal neglect, researches expect the snail population to have grown from 60 to 700 (AP).

The launch of the Shuttle Discovery has been delayed five days until June 2. The Orbiter, attached to the new Aluminum Lithium External Tank, rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building on May 2 and is now located at Launch Pad 39A. Hotfire testing of the Orbiter's three auxiliary power units and the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test have been successfully completed. The master event controller (MEC) No. 1 failed tests and was replaced. The payload was installed into the Orbiter on May 5. The tanking test of the new External Tank will occur on May 18, followed by the Flight Readiness Review on May 20 (NASA).


Having completed five EVAs, the Russian crew members have resumed efforts to conduct scientific research. These experiments originally were discontinued due to the 1997 failure of the Altair-1 communications satellite which served as a data relay. Working with a team of scientists in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany via a link with the Altair-2 satellite to establish remote operation cable connections with experiments such as the Titus furnace (Chris v.d. Berg).

Russia has agreed to begin deorbit procedures for the Mir space station with the docking of the Progress supply vessel on May 19. As many as four Progress missions will be required to lower the station to altitude to 130 km by December 1999. From this altitude, atmospheric drag will pull the 120-ton station into reentry where it is expected to burn-up or splash into the Pacific Ocean (SpaceNews).


Dan Goldin recently reported to Congress that the Russian leadership has failed to do what they have promised to do. As a result, the International Space Station is over budget and facing repeated delays. This marks a change in the NASA leadership's attitude toward the Russian Space Agency. Previously, NASA had expressed "cautious optimism" over the partnership. Goldin promised to present a new estimate of costs and assembly schedules by June 15. The new plans will reflect lack of Russian participation in several important aspects of the program. A meeting of space station participants will occur on May 31 to determine a new launch schedule (Flatoday).

NASA is working on plans to attach a spare parts warehouse to the airlock module of the International Space Station. Three options based on standard Shuttle cargo pallets are currently being considered that will cost from $10 to $20 million. The warehouse module would allow the station to rapidly recover from possible hardware failures while it is being assembled (SpaceNews).

Congress passed an emergency supplemental appropriations bill on April 30 to allow NASA to transfer $63 million in 1998 funds from space science and human space flight accounts to the International Space Station program. This transfer is to offset cost overruns on the station project. The White House had originally requested $173 million be transferred, but only the lesser amount was deemed necessary (SpaceNews).


An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket was launched on May 7 (May 8 in Baikonur) at 7:45 p.m. EST from Baikonur, Kazakstan. The three-stage Proton rocket carried the EchoStar 4 satellite which was attached to a Block DM fourth stage. The rocket was produced by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center near Moscow. The A2100AX model satellite was produced by Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, California. About 6 hours and 38 minutes into the flight the Block DM fourth stage and the satellite were injected into a 108 nautical mile parking orbit. The Block DM, built by RSC Energia, will fire twice to place the satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. It will ultimately be placed in the 119 degrees West longitude slot. The satellite will provide the United States with video, audio and data services through the DISH Network (Flatoday; ILS, PR; LaunchSpace).

This is the first ILS Proton launch since the launch of Asiasat-3 on December 25, 1997 which failed to place the satellite into the proper orbit. The Block DM upper stage fired only one second of its second burn before releasing the satellite. An investigation determined that a defective wear-reducing coating on seals in the high-pressure liquid oxygen pump allowed air to leak into the pump. The resulting cavitation resulted in an anomalous propellant mix-- triggering an automatic emergency shutdown. The problem was corrected by replacing the seals with uncoated ones (Flatoday).


A Long March 2C/SD carrying two Iridium satellites was launched from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on May 2 at 5:16 a.m. EDT. The two satellites separated from the rocket about 50 minutes after launch. This is the 14th successful Iridium launch in 11 months. Six of the satellites now in orbit were launched by China Great Wall on Long March rockets. The final five satellites of the constellation are slated for launch on a Delta 2 rocket on May 15, 1998 (Iridium PR; Motorola PR).

Motorola has confirmed that another Iridium satellite has been lost. The satellite "SV 24" is the fifth of 67 orbiting satellites to be lost. Other satellites are reported to be having troubles with their momentum wheels which are used for orientation. Iridium has selected Chinese Long March rockets to launch the first two replacement satellites in June or July (LaunchSpace; SpaceNews).


A USAF Titan 4B-25 was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station Space Launch Complex 40 on May 8. The rocket, utilizing a Centaur upper stage carried a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. This is the second NRO payload this year. The launch was postponed one day due to a spring storm delaying prelaunch work (Flatoday; LaunchSpace; 45 Space Wing PR).


A Molniya booster carrying a Kosmos 2351 satellite was launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on May 8 at 4:53 a.m. EST. The military early warning satellite was placed into a 510 x 39,205 km orbit inclined at 63.0 degrees with a period of 704 minutes (LaunchSpace).


A Suborbital Student Experiment Module was launched on a NASA Orion rocket from Wollops Island, Virginia on May 6 at 1:56 p.m. EST. The Module containing four student experiments was recovered by the Coast Guard after it splashed in to the Atlantic 17 miles off shore (LaunchSpace).


Kistler Woomera, a subsidiary of Kistler Aerospace, signed an agreement with Australia's Commonwealth on April 28, to establish a commercial space launch site at Woomera, South Australia. The agreement allows plans for licencing and contains terms for Kistler's K-1 reusable launch vehicle. Ground breaking for the Woomera launch facility is set for next month (Kistler PR; Barry Haworth).



SThiokol Corp, the makers of the Shuttle's solid rocket boosters, has announced that it is changing its name to Cordant Technologies. Stock in the company will no longer be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under TKC, but will trade under CDD. The company has three divisions with a total of $2.2 billion in sales in 1997 (AP).

Orbital Sciences

SOrbital has signed a letter of intent with CCI International to serve as prime contractor for the Constellation Communications Inc. (CCI) ECCO satellite telephone system. For the construction and launch of 12 LEO satellites for the initial equatorial system Orbital will receive a contract valued at $450 million. Orbital will also become a major investor in the ECCO project by providing up to $150 equity capitol and vendor financing. The system of low-cost mobile and fixed satellite phones will become available to subscribers in equatorial countries beginning in 2001. An additional 35 satellites will later expand the serve globally. CCI shareholders include Raytheon E-Systems, Bell Atlantic Global Wireless and SpaceVest (Orbital PR).


SHughes Electronics announced that it has increased its holdings in PanAmSat Corp by acquiring the shares of Grupo Televisa, S. A as well as a portion of the shares of a group of original PanAmSat investors. Hughes paid $60 per share for Grupo Televisa's 11.2 million shares and for the founding shareholder's 2.9 million shares with a total purchase price of about $850 million. Grupo Television, the largest media company in the Spanish- speaking world, originally acquired its shares for $200 million. PanAmSat currently operates a network of 17 satellites with plans to increase its transponder capacity by 60% by the end of 1999 (Hughes PR; Grupo Televisa PR). Hughes Space and Electronics has completed an agreement with Asia Pacific Mobile Telecommunications Satellite (APMT) which is registered out of Singapore for a satellite mobile phone system. The system will include one satellite, one spare satellite, five gateways, an operations center and 70,000 user terminals. The satellites will be based upon the HS 601 with technical advances from the HS 702. The seven kilowatt satellite will be capable of supporting 16,000 phone links simultaneously using L-band and Ku-band gateway links. The satellite, with an expected service life of 12 years, will be placed between 95 and 125 East longitude (LaunchSpace).


SMobile Communications Holdings, Inc. has chosen Boeing as system integrator for the design, development, construction and launching of the Ellipso satellite communications system. The contract, valued at $1.4 billion will employ 300 Boeing workers mostly in southern California. The system will utilize a "unique, patented elliptical orbit configuration" for two complimentary sub- constellations. The system will us 17 satellites with one on-orbit spare. The orbital scheme will maximize satellite coverage over populated areas during peak daylight usage hours, thereby lowering costs by reducing the number of satellites and launches. The system will provide low-cost telephone and data services (Boeing PR).



SThe Algerian National Center for Space Techniques announced that it hopes to put a small satellite in orbit by 2002. The first of a series of satellites to be constructed will be used to study deserts and water supplies in North Africa (AP).


SOrbimage, a subsidiary of Orbital Sciences, recently acquired TRIFID Corp. TRIFID specializes in satellite and aircraft image processing with clients including the US National Imaging and Mapping Agency (NIMA). The acquisition will allow Orbimage to rapidly grow when the company deploys its OrbView-3 and OrbView-4 advanced high-resolution imagery satellites in the coming years (LaunchSpace).



SThe former Asiasat-3 completed its last a two minute motor firing Thursday May 7, to send the reclaimed satellite on a nine day swing around the moon. The HS 601HP will pass within 5,000 miles of the moon on May 13 before swinging back to Earth. On May 16, braking will begin to place the satellite in orbit around the equator. The satellite was placed in a unusable elliptical orbit by a malfunction during its December 25 ILS Proton launch. Unable to reach its proper orbit, the satellite then reverted back to Hughes. The satellite is fully functional will 44 C-band and Ku-band transponders. While the experimental maneuver may salvage the satellite, Hughes is not convinced it can still make a profit from the satellite (LaunchSpace; SpaceNews).

Feng Yun 2B

The Chinese Feng Yun 2B weather satellite has been reported to have lost Earth lock. The country's only geostationary weather satellite was launched on June 10, 1997. Controllers apparently were able to temporarily reestablish Earth lock for 12 hours, but the satellite now appears to be permanently lost. A replacement satellite is expected to be launched in October (LaunchSpace).


SAn insurance claim has been filed on the experimental T-1 satellite built and launched by Orbital Sciences for Teledesic on February 25. Engineers are continuing to work on the satellite which is communicating only sporadically with controllers. Teledesic has filed a $14 million claim with its broker Willis Corroon Inspace to protect its interests in case the engineers are not successful (SpaceNews).


On Wednesday, May 6, the US House approved a measure that would privatize the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat) and International Maritime Satellite Organization (Inmarsat). The bill, sponsored by Tom Bliley, R-Va and Ed Markey, D-Mass, passed by a vote of 403-16. The change is expected to save consumers $1.5 billion over 10 years. It also ends the requirement that all American companies go through the Communications Satellite Corporation (Comsat) for access to the consortiums. Under the bill, Inmarsat which has 82 member nations has until the beginning of 2001 to privatize while Intelsat with 142 member nations has until the beginning of 2002. The bill has not yet been voted on by the US Senate (AP).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • May 13 - Titan 2 (G-12), NOAA-K, SLC-3, Vandenberg AFB.
  • May 15 - Soyuz-U, Progress-238 to Mir, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • May 15 - Delta 2, Iridium (5 communications satellites), Vandenberg AFB.
  • May 19 - Long March 3B, Chinastar-1, Xichang, China.
  • May 31 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 communications satellites), Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
  • June 2 - Shuttle Discovery, STS-91, mission to Mir, pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center.
  • June 3 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (Remote sensing satellite), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • June 9 - Delta 2, Thor-3 comsat, pad 17A Cape Canaveral Air Station.


With the landing of the Shuttle Columbia, the population of space has returned to 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 3166 days of continuous human presence in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 8, 1989. It is no longer clear how many days remain until the launch of the first element of the International Space Station.

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