Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #98

Frontier Status Report #98

May 22, 1998

Dale M. Gray

Not an easy week on the frontier. A number of satellites have had problems including one of the more important American telecommunciations satellites. Galaxy 4 malfunctioned Tuesday sending paging services and other communications into disarray. On a positive note, with a Delta launch, the Iridium network has been completed with 67 functional satellites in orbit. The new Super Lightweight External Tank for the Shuttle has passed its final tanking test. A Progress supply ship has docked with Mir to bring food, fuel and experimental material.

Highlights of the week of May 22 include:

  • Super Lightweight External Tank tank test completed
  • Launch of five Iridium satellites on a Delta 2 rocket
  • HGS-1 sent on second swing around the moon
  • Motorola joins forces with Teledesic


On Monday, May 18, the new Super Lightweight external tank (SLWT) passed its final test before launch. The tank was filled with 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The tank is constructed of a new Aluminum Lithium (AlLi) alloy developed by Lockheed Martin at the Michoud facility under the brand name Weldalite(R). The new material is not only stronger than the aluminum alloy used previously, but also reduces the weight of the external tank by 7,500 pounds. The tank features a redesign of the liquid hydrogen tank barrel panels with orthogrid structure and implementation of a variable thickness application of insulation. This is the second redesign of the External Tank. The initial redesign reduced the weight of the external tank by 10,000 pounds. This version first flew in April of 1983 on the sixth Shuttle mission (Flatoday; LockMart PR).

One of the test goals was to see how much the tank would shrink when filled with the -400 degrees F liquids. Of particular interest was the points where the tank connected with the Shuttle. Inspectors using portable infrared scanners checked the tank for leaks, but found none. The tank was drained of the liquids six hours after it was filled. While the tank passed with flying colors, the inspections revealed a small water leak coming from the Shuttle's fuel cell No. 3 relief valve. If the valve has to be replaced, it may delay the flight (Flatoday).

After the May 19 Flight Readiness review, the June 2 launch date for STS-91 was confirmed. At the completion of the SLWT test, the rotating service structure was moved back in place around the Orbiter. SpaceHab early stow is slated for May 23; closure of the payload doors and the beginning of aft compartment close-outs on May 26. Launch countdown begins May 30 at 9:00 p.m. EDT (NASA).


Having released the old Progress-M38 supply ship, the crew filmed and observed the old supply ship make four impulse burns. The ship will not be sent on to destruction until after the successful docking of the new supply ship. The crew also prepared for the new supply ship Progress-M39 by checking out the TORU remote control system and conducting some training on the system. On May 16, Progress-M39 successfully docked on the aft Kvant-1 docking port utilizing the Kurs automatic mode. The air seals were good and the crew opened the vehicle to the smell of apples and found the gift of a large guitar on top of the load. In the cargo are 80 snails and 15 newts which will be used as part of a motor skills and anatomy study. Newts are considered ideal since they eat very little and quickly adapt to microgravity (Chris v.d. Berg; AP).


At 5:16 p.m. EDT on May 17, 1998, a Delta 2 rocket launched from Vandenberg AFB SLC-2. The rocket carried five Iridium satellites -- the final components of the Iridium satellite constellation. The satellites were successfully deployed between 2 hours 2.5 minutes and 2 hours 25 minutes after launch. This mission completes 12 months of Iridium launches that have placed 66 satellites in orbit with 6 on-orbit spares. Due to five satellite failures, the number of operational satellites is now only 67. Additional satellites will be launched later this year on Long March Rockets to bolster the on-orbit spares. To serve the satellites, 12 gateways have been established around the globe. In testing, the system has already carried telephone calls. Cross-links have been validated with "some good, seamless handoffs". The Iridium satellites were constructed by Motorola Space and Systems Technology Group. Nine Delta rockets carried 45 of the satellites aloft -- including the first and last launches (Flatoday PR; Boeing PR).

The Delta 2 launch was delayed twice, on Friday for unfavorable winds in the SRB recovery area and on Saturday from a problem with the rocket's main engine control system. The next Delta launch will occur on June 9 when a Delta 2 will carry the Norwegian Thor- 3 into orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Station (Flatoday PR; Boeing PR).


The European Space Agency (ESA) switched off the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) on May 16. Prior to the event, the Observatory was directed into a new orbit that will bring it into contact with the atmosphere in 20-30 years. The move was to help preserve the space environment. In the last month, since the exhaustion of its supply of liquid helium, the ISO has been used to gather technical data on software and hardware systems to benefit future ESA missions. A few of the detectors in the Short Wavelength Spectometer were also found to be functional and the device was used to measure nearly 300 stars at wavelengths between 2.4 and 4 microns. The last observation of the ISO of eta Canis Majoris showed the hot supergiant star is probably surrounded by a disk of matter. The ISO was launched on an Ariane 44P from Kourou, French Guiana in November of 1995. It made over 26,000 observations before April 8, 1998 when it ran out of the liquid helium necessary to cool the telescope (ESA PR).


The first test flight from orbit for the X-38 prototype of the crew return vehicle (CRV) has been tentatively moved up in the schedule of International Space Station assembly flights. The X-38 is currently slated for a ride up to the the station on a February 2001 Shuttle flight. The $100 million prototype will return to Earth automatically shortly after its delivery. An open Shuttle flight in November of 2000 may be used to acquire more test data before NASA awards the contract for the construction of four operational CRVs (SpaceNews).


In typical frontier fashion, litigation has increasingly become a factor in the high frontier. Most recently Primestar has had its plans thwarted to place a direct-to-home television satellite in one of the orbital slots assigned to United States at 110 degrees West. The company hoped to place a high power direct broadcasting satellite in the slot so as to provide television signal to homes utilizing 18 inch satellite dishes. The US Justice Department hit Primestar with a lawsuit to prevent the company from continuing with their plans (SpaceNews).



The US House of Representatives voted 417 to 4 to put sharp limits on future exports to China. The vote was part of an amendment to the $270 billion defense bill. The measure would ban President Clinton from making any new agreements with China during his up coming trip. Another measure coming up to vote will ban the sale of commercial satellites to China. The legislation comes on the heels of criticism of President Clinton's policy to allow US companies to export satellites and related technology to China. The controversy stems from an incident in which American companies Loral/Space Systems and Hughes Space were involved in a failed satellite launch from China. As a result of their own investigations into the cause of the problem, they were able to advise the Chinese on how to correct the problem. While the launch was a commercial one, the technology "fix" involved navigation which has ramifications in the military use of rockets (AP).


India: In the wake of the recent nuclear tests in India, the U. S. is considering sanctions against the country. At risk are Lockheed Martin's $600 million deal with ASC Enterprises of Bombay. Under this contract LockMart would provide a number of telecommunications services utilizing a satellite named "Agrani". Also at risk is Globalstar's plans to include India in their satellite- based global telephone network. Both activities would require sophisticated equipment on the ground which would be barred under the terms of the sanctions (SpaceNews).


Space Day

On May 21, students gathered outside the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum on the national Mall were linked to schools throughout the nation and world to celebrate Space Day. They were greeted by Senator John Glenn and Dan Goldin, NASA Administrator. Other guest speakers included Russian Cosmonaut Sergei Krekalev; Barbara Morgan, NASA's educator mission specialist and teacher from McCall, Idaho; Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Wally Schirra; and Jennifer A. Harris, Flight Director of the Mars Pathfinder Project. Astronaut Andy Thomas also addressed the students from the Russian Space Station Mir. The "Electronic Field Trip" went out to more than 4 million students in 10,000 elementary schools with more than 500,000 students in the US and abroad participating in the "Student Signatures in Space" program. The Project Dream Mission, a 63- foot long interactive replica of the Space Shuttle made its debut during Space Day (Space Day PR).



Motorola has scrapped its plans for its own its Celestri network of 66 Low-orbiting Internet satellites and has opted to join forces with the 288 satellite Teledesic system. For a reported $750 million in cash and assets Motorola purchased a 26 percent stake in the company which is held by Craig McCaw (30 percent) and Bill Gates (30 percent) and Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin AbdulAziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia (14 percent). With a price tag of $12.9 billion for the Celestri system, Motorola has had to bow to financial pressures wrought by a year of sluggish chip and cellular phone sales. Motorola will now receive a share of any profits the Teledesic system generates. Motorola will be the prime contractor for the Teledesic global technology team. The purchase will have no effect on Motorola's Iridium venture which was designed to carry voice and pager messages. With the Motorola purchase of ownership, Teledesic is funded at $2.9 billion. The first of its Internet satellites will be launched in 2003. (Teledesic PR; AP; LaunchSpace).


The Near Earth Asteroid Prospector (NEAP) recently became eligible for funding in NASA's Mid-Sized Explorer (MIDEX) program. Previously MIDEX consisted solely of $140 million missions launched by NASA. Under the new structure, institutions can take part in the NEAP program for a fraction of a whole mission cost. NEAP previously qualified for funding under NASA's Discovery program (LaunchSpace).

Space Imaging

A group of Greek financiers recently invested more than $200 million in the Space Imaging's high-resolution observation satellite system (SpaceNews).


Galaxy 4

The Americans awoke Wednesday, May 20, to find that space-based communications had become an integral part of the structure of their lives. The awareness came with the cessation of communications traffic from just one satellite. An onboard control system and a back-up switch on the Galaxy 4 telecommunications satellite failed at 6:18 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, May 19. Because of the breakdown, the satellite rotated out of position and technicians were unable to restore it to proper orientation. It now appears that the $250 million satellite is beyond repair. The effects of the lost satellite rippled through America as pager traffic, credit card transactions and some TV and radio signals could no longer get through. Since that time, customer traffic in the C-band has been rerouted to the nearby Galaxy 6 satellite which is being moved to the Galaxy 4 orbital slot at 99 degrees West. Ku-band customers were rerouted to the nearby Galaxy II-R satellite. Up to 90 percent of the 45 million pagers in America lost service with 60 percent of the service restored the next day and 90 percent restored by May 22. Other service losses included Chevron credit card transactions; Powerball officials had to scramble to broadcast their jack-pot drawing to the 88 local TV stations; news from stock and futures markets was delayed; and some radio stations lost the feed from the Bulls / Pacers basketball game. Galaxy 4 is owned by PanAmSat which is 81 percent owned by Hughes Communications Inc. PanAmSat currently operates a network of 17 telecommunications satellites that provide global service (Gannett; AP; PanAmSat PR; LaunchSpace)


Having successfully rounded the moon on May 13 and returned to Earth on May 16, the wandering HGS-1 satellite is slated for yet another trip around the moon. While the original plan was for a retro-burn at 8:00 p.m. PDT, the controllers instead fired the motor for a shorter time to send the satellite once again around the moon. While the first lunar loop accomplished all the goals, one additional loop will provide a more optimal final orbit for the satellite. The second lunar loop will take 15 days and reach an apogee of about 293,000 miles (488,000 km). The craft will pass behind the moon on June 6 and come within 27,000 miles (43,000 km) of the lunar surface. Several burns on the way to and from the moon will place the satellite into geosynchronous orbit on June 13 after a final burn. A consortium of 27 insurers came into possession of the satellite after its launch left it in an unusable orbit. They in turn gave title to Hughes when it agreed to find a usable orbit for the satellite and find new paying customers. Should the satellite become revenue producing, Hughes will share any profits with the consortium of insurers. (GMH PR; SpaceCast).


The EchoStar-4 placed into orbit on May 8 by an ILS Proton rocket is experiencing anomalies in connection with its solar panels. Destined for 119 degrees West Longitude, the Lockheed Martin A2100AX will be put through a series of maneuvers and tests to try to correct the malfunction. EchoStar Communications at this point does not know how many transponders will be affected. The company has about $220 million in insurance on the satellite that would cover any loss of capacity on the satellite (EchoStar PR).


The NOAA-15 craft launched May 13 on a refurbished Titan 2 rocket is being activated and evaluated. An anomaly has been detected on the VHF Real-Time Antenna on which the APT data is transmitted. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) along with NASA and Lockheed Martin are conducting an engineering analysis on the anomaly. The AMSU-A2 has been successfully activated with other systems and instruments being turned on as the on-orbit check-out continues (NOAA PR).


The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) is beginning to return "unprecedented insights into rainfall producing cloud systems over tropical land masses and oceans". The satellite is the first space-based rain radar. It is being used to study world- wide precipitation over both land and sea. The data is used to measure energy conversion and will be input into hurricane forecast models. Since its launch the satellite has already discovered that 90 percent of the world's lightning strikes occur over land (NASA).


EutelSat W1, which was slated for the next Ariane launch was damaged at the Aerospatiale facility when a fire broke out in the microwave test facility. Damage to the spacecraft due to smoke and water from the fire extinguishing system is being assessed. The launch of the spacecraft was to have been on July 10, but will probably be pushed back (LaunchSpace).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • May 24 - 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 12 - Shuttle Discovery Landing, STS-91, Kennedy Space Center.
  • 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.
  • June 23 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • July /Aug - Ariane 44L, Flight 109, Eutelsat 3-F1 and Sirius-3, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • July 10 - Delta 3, Galaxy 10, pad 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.


The current population of space is at baseline of 3 - all on board the Mir space station. The Mir crews include 1 Kazakh, 1 Russian and one Australian-born astronaut. This marks the completion of 3180 days of continuous human presence in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 8, 1989. The first element of the International Space Station is likely to be launched in late August.

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