Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #103

Frontier Status Report #103

June 26, 1998

Dale M. Gray

While military launches dominated the space related activites, progress was made on the frontier with the issuance of the first remote sensing license by the US government. Private firms are also making progress with expansion of facilities, research and commercial services.

Highlights of the week of June 26 include:

  • Two Russian military satellite launches
  • Two American Minuteman 3 test launches
  • Lewis failure review board report
  • Kistler tests parachute recovery system for K-1
  • Beal tests scale engine for BA-2 rocket
  • Contact lost with SOHO research satellite


No further Shuttle launches are scheduled for this summer. The problems with the International Space Station has left the program with no manifests ready for launch. The next launch will be of Discovery on the STS-95 mission featuring SpaceHab- SM, Spartan and HOST. This mission is best know for the return of John Glenn to space. Launch is slated for October 29 (NASA).


With no fiscal support from the troubled Russian government, the future of the Mir space station appears bleak. In a recent meeting of the Russian space industry chiefs, discussion centered on "non-standard" ways of saving the station. RKK Energia Corporation, which built and operates the station, is still owed $70 million from last year's operations. With no money allocated for the coming years for the maintenance of Mir, further flights to the station are impossible. Further, the current crew must return to Earth on August 25 before their return capsule becomes outdated. The replacement crew of Gennadiy Padalka and Sergey Avdeev would have to arrive at the station 11 days before the current crew of Talgat Musabaev and Nikolai Budarin leaves. With no replacement crew, the 130 ton station would reenter the atmosphere on its own in about two years, but the impact of any surviving fragments would not be controlled. A controlled reentry would require the launch of several Progress flights to direct the lowering of the orbit (Itar-Tass; AP; Jonathan's Space Report).


The US Congress is taking a long, hard, look at the continuing problems with the development of the International Space Station. Problems with both NASA and the White House were recently discussed by the US House Science Committee in a meeting with Dan Golden, head of NASA. Current estimates place the cost overruns for the station at $600 million, but these could rise to as high as $800 million. During the meeting, Goldin admitted that the station is over budget, behind schedule and not being supported by the Russians. However, he added that the cancellation of the program would equate with canceling manned space flight. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., chairman of the committee, stated that the Administration has failed to take steps to correct the problems and as a result another House committee has cut $170 million from NASA's budget. Of the 16 countries participating in the program, all but Russia are fulfilling their obligations (AP).


Because of a failure in an orientation system, a Russian launch of a Zenit rocket was delayed from June 23 to June 24. The system was repaired, but failed again on June 24 during a second launch attempt. The Zenit-2 booster system has been involved with over six accidents and failures since 1985. The rocket is to deliver six satellites into orbit for Russia, Germany, Israel, Chile, Australia and Thailand. The commercial launch has not yet been rescheduled, but probably will not occur before September 15 (Itar-Tass; AP).


The Russian Strategic Missile Forces launched two Cosmos satellites from two locations this week. Cosmos 2358, a spy satellite, was launched on a Soyuz rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 2:30 pm EDT on June 24. The satellite was place into a 167 x 331 km orbit inclined 67.1 degrees with a period of 89 minutes (Itar-Tass; Flatoday; LaunchSpace).

A Soyuz-U rocket launched on Thursday, June 25, carried a Cosmos 2359 military satellite aloft for the Defence Ministry. The rocket lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 10:00 a.m. EDT. The photo reconnaissance satellite was placed into a 183 km x 275 km orbit inclined 64.9 degrees with a period of 89 minutes (Flatoday; LaunchSpace).


Two Minuteman 3 missiles were launched from Vandenberg AFB on June 24. The first was a test of the Minuteman 3 Guidance Replacement program. The second launch was part of the USAF Follow-on Test and Evaluation program to verify the reliability and accuracy of the missiles. The reentry vehicles from both missiles hit targets in the Kwajalein Missile Range 4,200 miles away. Neither of the missiles was armed (Vandenberg AFB PR)


The first flight test-firing of a linear aerospike rocket engine has been delayed to late July or early August. The smaller version of the engine that will someday propel the X-33 demonstrator is attached to a converted SR-71 spy plane. A NASA safety review recommended additional ground and air testing before ignition in flight (SpaceNews).

Views of the construction of the X-33 vehicle can be seen at Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks. Photos are updated every 15 minutes.


A board of review has concluded the failure of the Lewis spacecraft launched on August 23, 1997 was the results of a combination of a technically flawed attitude control system design and inadequate monitoring of the spacecraft during the critical early operations phase. Contact was lost with the satellite on August 26 which resulted in the destruction of the craft during reentry on September 28. The 405 kg satellite was designed and built by TRW Space and Electronics. The attitude control system was based upon the system used in the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer System (TOMS). The failure board found the adaptation was done without sufficient consideration of the different primary spacecraft spin-axis orientation used on Lewis. As a result, minor rotational perturbations caused the craft to enter a spin which eventually overloaded the craft's control system. The craft's safehold modes were also found to be inadequate since they did not anticipate this possibility. Total cost of the mission including a year of orbital operations was listed at $64.8 million (LaunchSpace).



RDL Space Corporation has been awarded America's first license to build and operate a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite. The license allows the company to sell images and services to government, commercial and private users both domestically and abroad. The satellite, which is capable of 1 meter resolution, will utilize SAR technology to obtain images around the clock in any weather. The Radar-1 satellite, to be launched in 2001, will be placed in a low-earth-orbit. As a condition of the license, the company will only be able to sell 5 meter resolution images, but can sell higher resolution images to customers on a case-by-case basis. The license signing ceremony took place June 17 in the Department of Commerce. The application was submitted February 1997 (RDL PR).

Aerial Images

Aerial Images is now offering commercial satellites imagery on the Internet. Files can be downloaded from Microsoft TerraServer for as little as $7.95 per image while high quality Kodak prints are available for prices between $12.95 - $39.95. Images can be found by browsing the web site either by city name or by latitude and longitude coordinates. The two-meter resolution photos are detail enough to distinguish objects such as cars or houses. Most of the images were gathered by the SPIN-2 Satellite launched in February, 1998. The enterprise is a unique combination of an American business plan and distribution system with Russian space technology. The web site is a joint project of Aerial Images, Compaq Computer, Kodak, Microsoft and SOVINFORMSPUTNIK (Aerial Images PR).


The US House Appropriations subcommittee with NASA oversight has cut NASA's 1999 budget request by $136.8 million. The cuts include a $170 million cut in the International Space Station budget and $32 million cut in Shuttle operations. With smaller increases in other programs, the NASA budget request is at $13.3 billion (SpaceNews).



Orbital Sciences Corp. has announced that it will embark on a $50 million, multi-year expansion of its satellite engineering, manufacturing and operations facilities in Dulles, Virginia. The new facilities will be constructed in two phases in 1998-1999 and 2000- 2001. The expansion is expected to increase staffing by 1500 employees. The move will increase satellite production rates while shortening manufacturing cycle times (Orbital PR; SpaceCast).



Kistler Aerospace has announced the completion of parachute drop test that will be key to the successful recovery of their K-1 launcher. The company successfully deployed a world- record cluster of six parachutes over a 40,000 pound instrument package that nearly equals the empty weight of the K-1 first stage. The six parachutes contained 2.6 acres of canopy material and 22.25 miles of extension lines. The drop occurred from 10,000 feet over the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. The parachutes deployed 12 seconds after release. The parachute landing tests for the second stage of the rocket were conducted in March. The parachute recovery systems were designed and manufactured by Irvin Aerospace Inc. (Kistler PR).


Primex Aerospace is developing a new electric propulsion system that seeks to extend the lifetime of satellites by five to 10 years. The Hall current thruster makes more effective use of fuel supplies. Alternately, fuel supplies could be reduced by 70%-- resulting in significant savings in launch charges (SpaceNews).


Beal Aerospace has announced that it will skip development of their BA-1 to work on their BA-2 rocket. A scaled-down stage-1 engine for the rocket has been test fired four times at Beal's McGregor test facility. Using hydrogen peroxide as fuel, the engine produced a reported combustion efficiency of 97 percent with a specific impulse of 261.7 seconds. The next engine to be tested is expected to produce 40,000 pounds of thrust with a specific impulse of 300 second in vacuum. The carbon-fiber and epoxy rocket will have high-tech overwrapped tanks and engines and an engine with twice the thrust of the Saturn V's F-1 engine. The three-stage Ariane 5 class launcher will be able to lift 5,000 pounds into geostationary transfer orbit. The rockets will be manufactured in a factory in Frisco, Texas. The first launch is scheduled for late 1999 (Beal PR).



Ground controllers lost contact with the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) at 7:16 pm EDT on June 24. The satellite, which is a joint effort between the ESA and NASA, has gone into its emergency sun reacquisition mode. Contact has not been reestablished even with the full utilization of the resources of the Deep Space Network. SOHO was launched on an Atlas 2AS on December 2, 1995 and placed in orbit around the first Lagrangian point (L-1) at 1,500,000 km in the sunward direction. The 1,850 kg craft completed its two-year mission to study the Sun's atmosphere, surface and interior in April of 1998. Along with a number of important discoveries about the Sun, data generated by the craft is being used in a variety of sun behavior models and has improved space weather prediction (NASA; LaunchSpace; ESA).

GE American

The launch of a GE American telecommunications satellite could be delayed as much as much as a year. The satellite was to have been launched on a Russian booster in July, but GE American informed its Russian partners that it wanted to install a new array on the satellite. It is speculated that the change could have been due to flaws in the old array or because GE wanted to modify the satellite for a different orbit. The Russian Proton-K slated to be used for the launch will now be used to launch Telstar-6 for AT&T Skynet in October (Interfax; AP).


New Planet

A planet twice the size of Jupiter has been detected orbiting a small star. The star, named Gleise 876, is about a third as big as the Sun and is located in our own backyard only 15 light years away. The planet was detected by a wobble in the motion of the star. This discovery was made by a team of San Francisco State University astronomers lead by Geoffrey Marcy utilizing observations from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Within hours of the announcement at a scientific symposium in Canada, the finding was confirmed by a separate team in Switzerland. While there have been 16 planets discovered outside our solar system to date, seven by Marcy's team, this discovery is the both the closest and the smallest star to be found with a planet (San Francisco Chronicle).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • July 4 - M-5, Planet-B Mars probe, Kagoshima Space Center, Japan.
  • July 8 (at earliest) - Zenit 2, Resurs-O remote sensing satellite with five international satellites, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • July 14 - Long March 3B, Sinosat-1, Xichang Satellite Launching Center, China.
  • 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 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.
  • August 13 - Pegasus XL, Brazil SCD-2/NASA Wing Glove, Skid Strip, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 20 - ILS Proton (Block DM), Astr-2A, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • August - Delta 2, Iridium Mission -10, SLC-2 Vandenberg AFB.
  • Sept 15 - NPO Yuzhnoya Zenit 2, Globalstar Mission 3 (12 comsats), Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.


The current population of space remains at the 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 3211 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 156 days.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

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