Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #97

Frontier Status Report #97

May 17, 1998

Dale M. Gray

Another active week on the frontier with two launches and a launch delay. Work is underway for the last Shuttle mission to Mir and the first launch of a Super Light Weight (SLWT) External Tank. Efforts are being made at the highest levels to assure the future launch of the International Space Station.

Highlights of the week of May 15 include:

  • Launch of Progress on a Soyuz Rocket
  • Launch of NOAA-15 on a Titan 2 rocket
  • Salvage of AsiaSat by swinging around the moon
  • Delta launch of Iridium final components delayed


The Shuttle Discovery is on Pad 39A awaiting the June 2 launch of STS-91 mission to the Mir space station. The Shuttle will conduct a nine day 19 hour flight and will carry six astronauts up and seven astronauts down. Crew includes Precourt, Gorie, Lawrence, Chang-Diaz, Kavandi and Ryumin. Andy Thomas will join the crew for the return to Earth. He will not be replaced. This will be the ninth and final scheduled Shuttle flight to Mir (NASA).

In the past week the Orbiter has been prepared for launch with the completion of hypergolic propellant loading, integrated voltage tests, SpaceHab interface verification testing, and Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) interface verification testing. Close-outs of the aft compartment are underway in preparation of Monday's tanking test of the new external tank. Flight Readiness Review will be conducted on May 19 (NASA).

Prelaunch cryogenic tests of the new Super Light Weight (SLWT) External Tank will begin May 18 at 7 am EST. This test will differ from standard tank tests in that the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen will not be loaded at the same time. As a result the tanking will take longer than usual and will not conclude until the afternoon. The test will be used to evaluate strut loads between the tank and the SRBs as well as to confirm the integrity of the new tank's components. The new tank, which is 7000 pounds lighter than the standard shuttle tank, will hold 143,351 gallons of liquid oxygen and 385,265 gallons of liquid hydrogen (NASA).


A busy week on the world's only orbiting space station with a wide variety of activities. The Mir crew continues with the renewed scientific experiments. The Altair-2 satellite link proved adequate for the experiments conducted by the Betriebstecknik Deutschland Direkt (BDD). A Russian / American furnace was also operated by the crew, which fed experimental ampules into the Optizon furnace. The recently installed external thruster (VDU) has apparently already been used. The VDU thruster is put into use maintaining the station attitude when the X-axis gyrodynes have to be reset. The crew also repaired leaks caused by the overheating of a heat circuit has caused the melting of pipes in a water regeneration system. Much of the week was utilized stowing assorted trash in the old Progress supply ship. This proved difficult since the ship had been modified to carry the VDU thruster (Chris v.d. Berg).


Progress-238 (M39) was launched from Baikonur, Kazakstan on a Soyuz-U rocket on May 14. The 7,135 kg resupply ship will dock with the Mir space station on Saturday May 16. The Progress is filled with food, water, equipment and fuel. To clear a docking port, the previous Progress supply ship (M38) which delivered the VDU thruster had to be released and sent to reentry. M38 was filled with station garbage and was detached from the station on May 15 and sent on a course to burn up in reentry. In addition to delivering needed supplies for the station, the new Progress will be used to lower Mir's orbit. This move is necessary in order to bring the station to a fiery end sometime in late 1999. The station will only be abandoned and destroyed if the new International Space Station is in orbit and manned (Flatoday; Chris v.d. Berg; LaunchSpace).


With initial launch set for sometime between August and November of this year, the International Space Station appears to be moving forward despite numerous obstacles. Dan Goldin will present to Congress a new assessment of costs and schedules for the International Space Station (ISS) on June 15. The largest challenge to the program has been and continues to be the construction of the Russian Service Module. This key component is now more than a year behind the original schedule -- primarily due to Russian monetary problems. However, officials inspecting the module have noted that progress is being made on the structure and it is likely to be launched in March or April of 1999. The new revised flight schedule for constructing the station has yet to be fixed, but it will take about 33 Shuttle launches, 12 Russian rocket launches and in excess of 1,700 hours of spacewalks to build the international station (Flatoday).

In Russia, Boris Yeltsin announced on May 5 that he was making Sergey Kirienko (Prime Minister), Michael Zadornov (Finance Minister), Evgeny Primakov (Foreign Minister) and Yuri Koptev (Russian Space Agency chief) personally responsible for the "unconditional completion of our obligation on the International Space Station" (SpaceNews).


A Titan 2 rocket was launched May 14 at 8:52 am PDT from Vandenberg AFB SLC-4 West carrying a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite. The 2,273 kg satellite, carried aloft on a refurbished 34 year old Cold War Titan rocket, separated from the second stage about 6 minutes 30 seconds into the flight and was placed into a 833 kilometer orbit. NOAA-15, built at a cost of $177, is the first of five new weather satellites designed to enhance weather forecasting and to study the environment. The satellite will be able to see inside clouds -- allowing new understanding of the formation processes of hurricanes. The satellite will also continue other established services such as weather monitoring and assisting search and rescue operations at sea. NOAA-15 was built by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space Co under a contract with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. After NASA tests the satellite for two months, it will be turned over to the NOAA who will test it another four months before it replaces the seven year old NOAA-12 weather satellite. The new satellite is expected to have a 12 year lifespan (Flatoday; KSC; Goddard Space Flight Center; LaunchSpace).


The May 15 launch of a Delta 2 rocket carrying five Iridium rockets was delayed due to a range safety issue. The concern was for the impact area for the predicted impact area of the solid rocket motors and engine nozzle covers. The launch from Vandenberg AFB SLC-2 was rescheduled for May 16 during a five-second launch window at 2:22:31 pm PDT. This will be the last of nine Iridium launch on Delta 2 rockets and the 15th Iridium launch in just one year. The launch will mark the completion of the 66 satellite Iridium system. In all Boeing will have launched 40 of the communication satellites in the past year. The satellites, along with the soon to be launched replacement units, were manufactured by Motorola. Service of the global digital wireless network will begin in September (Boeing PR; Iridium PR).


For the fifth time the Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) has failed to hit a target during test flights at White Sands Missile Range. The failure during the May 12 test is attributed to loss of control shortly after launch. The THAAD missile hit the desert two miles down range and the Hera rocket to be used as a target was detonated in flight. The system is designed to provide protection from missiles such as the SCUD, but its designers describe the effort as trying to hit "a bullet with a bullet". The prime contractor for the system is Lockheed Martin with Raytheon building the radar system. The system is expected to cost taxpayers $15 billion to acquire and $18 billion to operate over the course of 20 years - significantly more than the problem-plagued International Space Station. Legislation concerning future funding for the program is currently being opposed by the Clinton administration on the basis that it will deploy an undeveloped technology to defend against an unidentified enemy (AP).



The Kinetic Energy Antisatellite (KEAsat) program appears to have been excluded from the 1999 Defense Authorization Bill. The program's funding had previously been axed by President Clinton in 1998, but it was expected to reappear in this year's bill. The program has been excluded from both the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate version of the Pentagon spending bill includes $30 million to study technologies to control space (SpaceNews).



A contract for liquid oxygen, liquid nitrogen, bulk helium, and high-pressure gaseous nitrogen has been awarded to Air Products and Chemicals, Inc by SeaLaunch. The contract covers the required gases for 18 launches between October 1998 and December 2001 (LaunchSpace).


Globalstar and Al-Murjan have reached an agreement in which the Saudi-based holding company will act as the sole distributor for Globalstar mobile satellite services in eight Middle East countries. These include Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Bahrain. Al-Murjan will own and operate a centrally located Globalstar gateway and will obtain all necessary regulatory approvals in the countries. Globalstar now has service provider agreements in 114 countries. Global star currently has eight satellites in orbit with expectations to place 36 more in space by the end of the year (Loral/Globalstar PR).

Lockheed Martin

Afro-Asian Satellite Communications Ltd. of Bombay has chosen Lockheed Martin Telecommunications to build the Agrani multipurpose geostationary communications satellite system. The contract, worth an estimated $600 million, was signed on April 4 and announced May 11. Lockheed will build the Agrani satellite based upon their A2100AX bus and have slated it for launch in 2001. The satellite will provide both mobile and rural telephone services as well as direct broadcasting services to India (LaunchSpace).

Lockheed Martin Intersputnik

Lockheed Martin Intersputnik (LMI) and Rostelecom, Russia's long distance telephone provider, have signed an agreement for Rostelecom to use 25 transponders on the LMI-1 satellite. This is the first multi-transponder commitment on the satellite which is due to be launched in December of 1998. The satellite will be the first Western-built satellite dedicated to serving Russian and the CIS. Rostelecom will use the satellite to link to 26-30 earth stations to provide telecommunications services to remote areas of Russia. The satellite is part of a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and the Intersputnik International Organization. It will be based upon a Lockheed Martin A2100 satellite with 44 C and Ku band transponders and a 15 year service life. It will be launched on an ILS Proton rocket and placed into the 75 degrees East Longitude orbital slot where it will provide direct-to-home TV, direct radio, and telecommunications services. The LMI network is expected to eventually provide global coverage through launches currently slated from 1998 to 2001 (LMI PR; SpaceCast).



Hughes Mission Control Center in El Segundo, CA has sent the former AsiaSat around the Moon for a gravity assist in attaining an equatorial orbit around the Earth. The satellite passed behind the Moon at 3:00 pm EST on Wednesday May 13. The $1 million salvage operation of the communication satellite was made necessary because of a failure of the Block DM fourth stage during its December 25 launch on a Proton rocket. The 3.8 ton satellite is expected to be achieve 9,500 mph from the lunar gravity assist. Braking maneuvers will begin on Saturday night to ease the satellite into its proper orbit. While the final destination is not assured, Hughes Space and Communications has agreed to share any profits with the consortium of 27 insurers who allowed Hughes to attempt the creative lunar transfer orbit. This is the first commercial satellite to visit the Moon and its success will clear the way for routine commercial passage around the Moon to place larger payloads into orbit cheaper (Hughes; SpaceCast; AP; Richard Perry at Artemis-list).


Leasat 5, a former US Navy communications satellite, has begun a new live providing ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) communications for the Australian Defence Force. The satellite which was built by Hughes and owned by PanAmSat will be moved from its position over the Indian Ocean to the 156 degrees East orbital slot. The satellite was launched in 1990 and leased to the US Navy initially for five years. Leasat has two UHF antennas (LaunchSpace).


The Japanese Space Development Agency has taken another step in the salvaging of the Communications and Broadcasting Engineering Test Satellite (COMETS). The NEC built satellite, designed for geostationary orbit, was left stranded in a useless 1,901 km-apogee orbit after an engine failure on the H-2 rocket on which it was launched. This week the 2 metric ton satellite was raised to an orbit of 4,008 km. By May 31 six more maneuvers are planned to raise the satellite's orbit to 17,700 km where some of the satellite's communications experiments can be conducted (SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • May 16 - Delta 2, Iridium (5 communications satellites), SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • May 19 - Long March 3B, Chinastar-1, Xichang, China. June 2 - Shuttle Discovery, STS-91, mission to Mir, pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center.
  • June 9 - Delta 2, Thor-3 comsat, pad 17A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • June 9 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • June 18 - Atlas 2AS, AC-153, Intelsat 805, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • June - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 communications satellites), Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.


The current population of space remains at the baseline of 3 - all on board the Mir space station. The Mir cosmonauts include one Kazakh and one Russian. The crew is completed with one Australian-born American astronaut. This marks the completion of 3173 days of continuous human presence in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 8, 1989. The launch of the first element of the International Space Station has not been set, but occur no earlier than late August.

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