Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #101

Frontier Status Report #101

June 12, 1998

Dale M. Gray

A week of endings on the Frontier. The last American has left Mir. The NASA Bantam program has ended. The first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite has failed. But several advances occurred with a Delta 2 launch of Thor-3 and the beginning of the most comprehensive catalogue of the northern skies ever attempted. The HGS-1 satellite is now on its second lap around the Moon on its way to rebirth as a commercial satellite.

Highlights of the week of June 12 include:

  • Shuttle Discovery undocks from Mir and lands.
  • Delta 2 launches Thor-3.
  • X-33 engines delivery delay
  • Bantam project ends.
  • Sloan Digital Sky Survey begins.
  • HGS-1 back to the Moon.


At 12:01 p.m. EDT on June 8, the Shuttle undocked from Mir, officially ending 27 months of continuous American presence on the Mir station. During this time the American Shuttles carried 58,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to and from the station. A total of 10 Shuttle missions visited the station. The first in February 1995 came within 37 feet of the station as a practice for the future dockings. The first docking -- of Shuttle Atlantis -- occurred in June of 1995. Shannon Lucid, the second American to stay on the station, began the continuous American presence on the Mir in March on 1996. Together seven American astronauts spent 907 days as crew aboard Mir. At touchdown, Australian-born Andrew Thomas ended 141 days in space; 130 days as a Mir crewmember (Flatoday; AP).

On Saturday and again on Monday as the Shuttle backed away from the station, the remaining Mir crew pumped florescent green gas into the damaged Spektr module. The efforts were aimed at locating leaks in the module created when a Progress supply vessel skipped off of the station last June. The leaks are thought to be at the base of the damaged solar array. While it is unlikely that the Russians would try to repair the module this late in the program, the experiment was conducted as practice for the International Space Station. No gas was detected escaping from the module (AP).

Called the "last moving van" to visit Mir, the Shuttle Discovery may well have been the last chance for experimental results and momentos of a decade of occupation to return safely back to Earth. In addition, the personal effects of Andrew Thomas and a laundry list of NASA equipment were stowed. From this point onward, the station will be supplied only by Progress vessels which are filled with garbage and allowed to burn up on reentry. The only viable method of return to Earth are the Soyuz capsules which are for crew use and have very little room for cargoes. Despite the best efforts to rid the station of garbage, Valery Ryumin, who took advantage of the last Shuttle ride to Mir to inspect the orbiting station, was surprised at the clutter that had accumulated on the station in 12 years (AP; NASA; Flatoday).

While scientists could not be sure because of the data link problems, the $33 million physics experiment housed in the cargo bay appeared to have worked as expected. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which featured a three-ton magnet, was used to search for exotic anti-matter particles. Scientists on the ground were unable to receive a continuous feed, but did obtain intermittent data- links. The data from the experiment is being recorded on the Shuttle and will be available for the scientists to examine after the landing (Flatoday)

The Shuttle landed at Kennedy Space Center at 2:00 pm on Friday, June 12. The mission was hailed as a success, though several problems cropped up during the flight. The high-gain antenna that the Shuttle uses for video feed malfunctioned early in the mission and the historic parting of ways had to be televised utilizing the Russian's equipment. An external water valve was also found to be leaking. The water is a by-product of the fuel cells. The crew examined the leak to determine if the ice forming would pose a threat during the reentry (NASA; Flatoday).


After two delays, one to avoid a possible collision with Mir and another to resolve a problem with the gaseous nitrogen purge system, the Norwegian Telenor satellite Thor-3 was successfully launched on a Boeing Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Station LC-17A on June 9 at 8:35 p.m. EDT. The $75 million communications satellite separated from the third stage of the rocket 75 minutes into the flight. The HS 376 satellite, built by Hughes, will be tested for the next few weeks and will be turned over to Telenor on August 1. The satellite will take its place at the 1 degree West longitude orbital slot where it will provide direct-to- home television to the Nordic countries and central and eastern Europe. Thor-3 has the capacity to provide 70 channels of television, radio and other communications services. It is expected to have a working life of 11.5 years. The satellite joins Thor-1 and Thor-2 which are also HS 376 satellites built by Hughes (Flatoday; Boeing PR; Hughes PR).


The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has selected a Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A to carry a classified payload into orbit. The first launch of the new rocket system is scheduled for early 1999 with assembly of the first Atlas 3 rocket begun in mid-March of this year. The Atlas 3 vehicles will use the Russian RD-180 for the booster. The Atlas 3A will use a Pratt & Whitney RL-10A for the Centaur upper stage. It will be able to place 5,174 kg payloads into geostationary orbit. The RD-180 engine is currently being tested at NPO Energomash in Khimky, Russia where it has logged more than 9,000 seconds, the equal to 48 flights. In late June the engine will be test fired at the Marshall Space Flight Center -- the first time a Russian-built engine will be tested in America. The NRO selection is the first time the Atlas 3A and the Delta 3 have directly competed (Lockheed Martin PR).


Aerojet: The Jet Propulsion Lab awarded a contract to Aerojet for the design and testing of a "high performance/high technology rocket injector". Under this $485,000 contract, Aerojet will prepare a rocket injector utilizing MON-25/Monomethylhydrazin propellants that will be used in the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS) Attitude Control Thruster Initial Phase Development Program. The system using low freezing-point propellants will be used in the Mars Sample Return Vehicle, but will have other potential applications. Aerojet is a segment of GenCorp (GenCorp PR).


In a reversal of earlier policy, NASA apparently will not follow up on its Bantam program. While four studies have been completed, none of them meet NASA's goal of development of a launcher that costs about $1.5 million per flight for small University-class payloads. On June 4, Dan Goldin directed officials at Marshall Space Flight Center to come up with a new plan to meet the goals of the Bantam program. The Bantam Program has come under criticism for undercutting the incentive for private industry to develop low-cost launch systems (SpaceNews; ProSpace).


The development of the linear aerospike engines that will power the X-33 is behind schedule. The reusable launch vehicle (RLV) demonstrator prototype is being developed by Lockheed Martin Skunk works while the engines are being developed by Boeing Space Systems. While the engines will be delivered three months late, the delay is not expected to delay the summer 1999 target date for the first lift-off. LockMart expects that the delay will be absorbed by adjustments in the assembly schedule (SpaceNews).


Sloan Digital Sky Survey

A $77 million survey of the heavens has begun at the observatory at Apache Point, New Mexico. Using a 2.5 meter telescope connected to the "most complicated camera ever built", the system will detect objects as far as 2 billion light years and is expected to create a 3 dimensional map of the heavens in five colors. The project will catalogue 100 million galaxies and 100,000 quasars. The camera contains 54 light amplifiers and will capture images on a 1 foot square silicon sensor. The system will send information into a computer system at a rate of 8.5 million bytes a second. With two spectrographs, the instrument is expected to collect more spectra in the first two weeks of operations than all previous surveys. The information content will occupy 10 terabytes -- more than is currently housed in the Library of Congress. The images will be available to professionals, amateurs, and students via computer. The final catalogue will be available on 200 CD ROM disks or at The first light of the telescope, in the form of a 35 foot long photo swatch representing only 1 percent of one second of operation, was unveiled at the national meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AP).

Deep Space 1

NASA planners recently announced that the Deep Space 1 mission has selected near-Earth asteroid 1992 KD as a flyby destination on its way to Comet Borrelly. The mission will be launched between July 21 and October 30. The fly by of the three km 1992 KD will occur on July 28, 1999. The mission previously was to fly by asteroid McAuliffe, but a launch delay required the new selection. The mission is the first of NASA's new Millennium Program. In addition to its study of solar system objects, the Deep Space 1 program will validate 12 new technologies including a Xenon ion engine as the primary propulsion (NASA/JPL PR).



Kistler Aerospace announced June 8 that Donald Fagan will oversee launch operations at Woomera Rocket Range in South Australia. Fagan, a veteran of 40 years in the aerospace industry, will manage the first flights of the K-1 vehicle. Orbital test flights are planned for the end of 1998 with commercial operations beginning next year. The K-1 is a fully reusable aerospace vehicle designed to deliver satellites to low-earth orbit at a relatively low cost (Kistler PR).


Orbital Sciences Corp. announced June 8 that it has been awarded a contract by VisionStar for the manufacture and launch of two geostationary communications satellites. The contract is valued at about $260 million. The satellites will be placed at 113 degrees West longitude and will be able to cover the central US as well as Alaska and Hawaii. Vision Star plans to provide high-speed Internet connections, data transmissions, video conferencing and broadcast programming. The 3,000 kg satellites will have 30 Ka- band transponders. The contract covers the design and manufacture of the first satellite, early work on the second satellite platform and procuring launch services from either Ariane as a shared launch or from a Delta III rocket (Orbital PR).


The world's first commercial space exploration company, SpaceDev, announced that it has hired Tony Spear and a team of seven experts to design an alternative mission and spacecraft. Spear is best known for the Mars Pathfinder mission which placed a lander and rover on Mars and was the least expensive mission of its kind. Spear and his team will explore the possibility of retargeting SpaceDev's Near Earth Asteroid Prospector (NEAP) to a new and better target: the asteroid Nereus which is a type C asteroid. In 2002, Nereus will fly within 3 million miles of Earth -- about 10 times the distance to the Moon. The craft will carry instruments of science teams that have purchased insured rides to the carbonaceous asteroid. In the words of Jim Benson "We are flying a bus, selling rides to scientists". One of the instruments, a neutron spectrometer similar to that used by Lunar Prospector to confirm the presence of water on the Moon, will inspect the asteroid for water. Benson's ultimate goal is to claim the asteroid with the possibility of exploiting its wealth of water (SpaceDev; Boston Globe).



After salvaging the HGS-1 satellite using an unusual technique to slingshot the telecommunications satellite around the Moon, Hughes decided to send the craft on a second lunar fly-by to further tune its orbit. On Monday, June 8, 5 pound thrusters on the craft fired for half an hour to change the satellite's velocity. A second burn occurred June 11. HGS-1 will pass behind the Moon for a second time on June 13. The first pass around the moon on May 13 came within 4000 miles of the lunar surface, the second pass was much further out at 21,300 miles. On June 14, 16 and 17 retroburns of the rocket motor will slow the craft to place it into geosynchronous orbit, 22,300 (35,000 km) above the Pacific Ocean. Its final orbital slot will not be determined until Hughes finds a customer for the satellite. Any profits from the satellite will be split between Hughes and a consortium of 27 insurers (Hughes PR).

Eutelsat W1

A fire in an antenna compact range facility on May 18 has resulted in a domino-effect string of losses in the European aerospace industry. The Eutelsat W1 damaged by the fire suppression system at the Aerospatiale facility in Cannes has been declared a total loss. The damage to the satellite occurred after a fire broke out in the antenna compact range facility. The satellite was to have been delivered to Eutelsat the next day. As a result of this loss, Aerospatiale has filed a $50 million claim and Eutelsat has decided not to fly the follow-on Eutelsat W2 satellite ion the third Ariane 5 flight. Arianespace now has no payload for the flight. By selling space for a commercial payload on the 3rd qualifying flight, ESA had hoped to recoup some of the losses it incurred from the extension of the Ariane 5 test program (LaunchSpace).


A NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-1) experienced an attitude control failure on June 10 which has taken the satellite off-line. At 15 years, the satellite is the oldest of the constellation. It has recently begun experiencing attitude control problems every 3-5 months. The TDRS system of six satellites provides support for a number of different orbiting vehicles, satellites and facilities. The satellite was replaced in 1989 by TDRS- 4 and has since been serving as an on-orbit spare; used primarily for tracking support for unmanned launches from Cape Canaveral (LaunchSpace).


Space Solar Power

Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-Fla) and Bud Cramer (D-Ala) are asking NASA to increase funding to study the feasibility of beaming solar power from space to Earth. The study is currently funded at $5 million. The Congressmen are advocating an increase to $25 million and are circulating a letter to their colleagues to support the increase (ProSpace; SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • June 18 - Atlas 2AS, AC-153, Intelsat 805, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • June 23 - Zenit, Resurs-O (plus 5 satellites), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • July 4 - M-5, Planet-B Mars probe, Kagoshima Space Center, Japan.
  • July 15 - NPO Yuzhnoya Zenit 2, Globalstar Mission 3 (12 comsats), Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • July - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 communications satellites), Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
  • July 20 - Great Wall Industry Long March 2C/SD, Iridium maintenance flight (two comsats), Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China.
  • July 25 - USAF Titan 4A, Mission A-20 (classified), Centaur upper stage, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • July 26 - Delta 2, Iridium Mission -10, SLC-2 Vandenberg AFB.
  • July 29 - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, Pad 36 Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 2 - Soyuz TM-28, Mir-26 crew, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • August 3 - Delta 3, Galaxy 10, pad 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 12 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.


With the completion of the American program on Mir and the landing of the Shuttle Discovery, the current population of space dropped to a new low baseline of two - both on board the docked Mir space station. The Mir crew include 1 Kazakh and 1 Russian. This marks the completion of 3197 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 slated for launch in 170 days.

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