Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #107

Frontier Status Report #107

July 24, 1998

Dale M. Gray

As government space budgets shrink and programs are threatened, private industry continues to make rapid strides in the race to provide the first viable Cheap Access to Space (CATS). The week also marked the passing of Alan Shepard, America's first man in space.

Headlines of the week of July 24 include:

  • China launches Sinosat-1
  • Rotary Rocket starts work on Roton
  • Kislter Aerospace breaks ground in Australia
  • Titan 4A and Atlas 2A launches delayed.
  • Eutelsat orbital slot contested at UTC
  • Two Iridium satellites fail, stock drops.
  • America's first astronaut, Alan Shepard, dies.


The main engines for the Shuttle Discovery were removed from the Orbiter on July 10. Three Orbital Maneuvering System pod thrusters have been replaced. The main propulsion system liquid oxygen system was tested for leaks and function this past week. Discovery is slated for launch on October 29 for the Spacehab-SM, Spartan & Host mission. It is currently located in Orbiter Processing Facility bay 2 (NASA).


While America's House has shelved a vote on the International Space Station until next week (see below), the Russian Space Agency has reaffirmed its participation in the station. The state budget has allocated the first 1.1 billion rubles to the program, well under the 2.7 billion rubles needed for full year's funding. The allocation coincides with Vice President Gore's trip to Russia to meet Prime Minister Yuri Kiriyenko. The first element of the station, the Russian-built Functional Cargo Block which was built with American funding, will be launched in late November. Followed a few days later by Node 1 launched on a Shuttle (ITAR- TASS).


A Chinese Long March 3B was launched successfully from the Xichang Satellite Launching Center on Saturday, July 20, 1998. The rocket lifted Sinosat-1 which was built by Aerospatiale which will also monitor and control the satellite after launch. The satellite is the first European-built satellite to be launched on a Chinese rocket. Sinosat-1 will serve China's financial industry and Shanghai's information network (AP).


A classified Titan 4A launch slated for July 25 has been postponed after workers discovered a tear in a thermal blanket. The blanket covers the aft section of the Centaur upper stage motor. The tear was found during a pressurization test of the upper stage. The new launch date of the National Reconnaissance Office mission has not yet been announced (Flatoday).


Because of problems uncovered with Hughes HS601 series satellites, the launch of a similar satellite on an Atlas 2AS from Cape Canaveral Air Station has been delayed for one or two weeks. The launch of the JCSAT 6 was originally slated for July 29. The satellite will provide communications and broadcast services for Japan Satellite Systems of Tokyo. The delay will enable Hughes, the satellite's manufacturer, to investigate the recent processor failures in Galaxy 4 (May 19), Galaxy 7 (June 13) and DBS-1 (July 4). Back-up systems have allowed the Galaxy 7 and DBS-1 satellites to continue functioning, but a prior failure of the back-up system on the Galaxy 4 caused the satellite to lose primary spacecraft control. The loss of this satellite put 90% of pagers in the US temporarily off-line until other on-orbit satellites could utilized (Flatoday).


The SeaLaunch off-shore launch system appears to be moving toward operational status, but has suffered minor set- backs on two unrelated fronts. Because of problems with Hughes built HS 601 satellites, PanAmSat has announced that they will be delaying the launch of the HS702 Galaxy 11 satellite until the first quarter of 1999. The satellite was to be on the first Zenit 3 SL rocket launched by SeaLaunch in late 1998. While the HS 702 is not known to be problematic, the change of launch dates allows the satellite to be placed in a variety of orbital slots as needed. SeaLaunch's Assembly and Command Ship arrived at its home port on July 13 where it is being prepared for the company's first launch. The Odyssey launch platform passed through Gibraltar on July 17 and is on its way to California via Suez and Singapore (LaunchSpace).

The US Government recently prevented Ukrainian and Russian personnel from boarding the SeaLaunch command ship in Long Beach. The problem appears to be one of regulatory issues. The vehicle is based upon Ukrainian and Russian designs (SpaceNews).


Following a year of planning and gathering permits, Kistler Aerospace broke ground on their Woomera spaceport in South Australia. The multi-million dollar facility will be completed in late 1998 with the first commercial space flight of the Kistler K-1 rocket in 1999. A second spaceport is slated for construction in Nevada between 1999 and 2000. Kistler is a US company operating out of Kirkland, Washington. Australian operations will be conducted by Kistler Woomera Pty. Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary (Kistler PR).

A set of five fourth generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) Telemetry, Tracking, and Control transponders has been ordered from Electromagnetic Science's Space Division for the Kistler reusable spacecraft. The state-of-the-art, high performance, dual-standards S-Band transponders will be part of avionic suites supplied to Kistler by Allied Signal. The system will be used for spacecraft control and telemetry (LaunchSpace).


Construction has begun on Roton, the world's first piloted fully reusable space vehicle. The first fuel tank sections are now coming off molds at Scaled Composites in Mojave, California. Tooling for the oxygen tank is also now underway. The 64 foot high demonstrator is expected to fly in early 1999 and a propulsion flight test vehicle to fly in late 1999. Rotary Rocket Company hopes to begin commercial service world-wide in early 2000. Instead of using super-cooled liquids for fuel, the spaceship will utilize kerosene which is cheaper, denser and easier to handle. The craft will utilize a RocketJet (TM) rotary, altitude compensating engine which uses centrifugal force to spin fuel and oxidizer out of dozens of small combustors arranged in a ring pattern. Returning to ground, the vehicle uses rotors on the top of the vehicle to control descent and to land (Rotary Rocket PR; LaunchSpace).


Iran recently tested a medium-range missile with an estimated range of 800 miles. US officials are unsure of the success of the test since it either exploded or was detonated 100 seconds into the flight. Once operational the Shahab-3 (Meteor) would have the range to reach Israel or Saudi Arabia. While Iran has been helped in their missile program by both Russia and China, the missile was likely to have been purchased from North Korea. The missile appears to be a version of the "Scud" missile utilized by Iraq in the Gulf War (AP).


ISS Vote

The US House is once again arguing over the International Space Station. A debate on the space station occurred late on July 24, but was unresolved. An amendment to cancel the project has been attached to the annual spending bill for the veterans, housing and independent agencies. The station which is presently over-budget and behind schedule has found its support eroding. Detractors such as Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind who sponsored the amendment, are seeking to end the program. However, supporters of the program state that the station has been manufactured and it has only to be launched. The station is seen as a stepping stone for future space endeavors such as a manned mission to Mars (Flatoday).


In an effort to promote space-based activities, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher R-California is developing legislation to create a tax- free zone in space. While the bill would have no effect on current telecommunications, weather, remote sensing and other currently active space-based industries, it would provide tax-breaks for manufacturing or new services based in space. The incentives would be phased out beginning in 2025 in one version of the proposal. The proposal is currently being "scored" with the Joint Committee on Taxation. Assessment of the potential impact is necessary before it can go before the House Ways and Means Committee for possible attachment to tax legislation later this year. (Flatoday).



Aerospatiale, France's largest aerospace group and the main contractor for Ariane launches, appears to be on its way to privatization. Aerospatiale will acquire Lagardere's Matra Hautes Technologies in return for 30 to 33 percent of ownership in the company. Matra Hautes Technologies is a holding company for defense and space interests. The move will create the fourth largest aerospace company in the world with more than $13 billion in annual sales and a work force of 56,000 employees. Previously France has been reluctant to part with its majority ownership even though the ownership has caused problems with raising money through stock issues for Airbus, Aerospatiale's partner. After the deal takes effect on January 1, 1999, France will hold less than 50 percent of Aerospatiale. The remainder of the stock will be held by Great Britain's GEC group (AP; LaunchSpace).


Three science teams have filed Notices of Intent with NASA for funding under the Medium-class Explorers (MIDEX) to purchase space on the SpaceDev Near Earth Asteroid Program (NEAP). The teams are from the University of Iowa (Dr. Louis A. Frank), the University of California at Berkeley (Dr. Kevin C. Hurley) and Southwest Research Institute (Dr. S. Alan Stern). The teams will study a variety of areas including ambient plasma environment of the asteroid, gamma-ray bursts, solar wind interactions with the asteroid and lunar ice.

In addition to the institutions filing for space on the NEAP mission under the MIDEX program, two institutions have submitted proposals under NASA's Discovery program to participate in NEAP as Mission of Opportunity (MO investigations. Utah State University and the Carnegie Mellon University's Field Robotics Center expect a decision on their proposal by late fall. The Utah State team will use laser to study the asteroid's size and shape. The Carnegie Mellon team plans to study the composition of the asteroid using a nano-rover provided by JPL. The privately developed asteroid explorer is slated for launch in October 2000 (SpaceDev PR).

Ball Aerospace

EarthWatch Inc. has awarded a contract for their QuickBird I to Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. The satellite will be based upon the Ball Global Imaging System 2000 design which will incorporate both the Ball Commercial Platform and the Ball High Resolution Camera which has a resolution of 0.82 meters panchromatic and 3.2 meters multispectral. The satellite will be launched in the fourth quarter of 1999 on a Russian Cosmos rocket. A second satellite will be launched a year later. This is the fourth BCP 2000 ordered from Ball in the last six months (LaunchSpace).


Orbcomm Global has announced that Omnisat, its service licensee in Argentina, has signed an agreement with the Argentine government to provide communications services. As a result, Omnisat will have exclusive right to market to Argentina's 35 million residents. Omnisat is owned by BGH of Argentina. Two- way monitoring, tracking and messaging services are expected to begin in early 1999 (SpaceCast).


Eutelsat's claim of the 29 degrees East geostationary orbital slot has been contested to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The ITU, upon request of the Societe Europeenne des Satellites (SES), determined that Eutelsat has not set up a satellite system in the slot in time to maintain its rights. In March, Eutelsat used the slot for the testing of Hot Bird 4 which was later moved to 13 degrees East where it was put into service. Europesat 1B has been ordered from Matra Marconi Space to be placed in the slot in 2000. As such, Eutelsat considers its Europesat system to have been placed in service and plans to appeal the ITU judgment (LaunchSpace).



The US Air Force Research Laboratory is preparing for the August 1998 flight of the Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV) or X-40A technology demonstrator at Holloman Air Force Base in Southern New Mexico. During the test, the demonstrator will be dropped from beneath an Army UH-60 at an altitude of 9,000 feet. The on- board systems will then guide the craft to a runway landing. The X- 40A, if fully developed, could be the second stage of a two-stage to orbit system. The SMV could be used to deploy or retrieve satellites, surveillance or logistic missions. The flight test vehicle was designed and built by Boeing at Seal Beach, California (SpaceCast).


From the Earth to the Moon

Tom Hank's epic space history recently aired on HBO has garnered 17 Emmy nominations. The series was nominated as best miniseries, writing, special effects, cinematography and a variety of other categories. While Hanks was nominated for best directing, no actors were nominated. The awards program will be aired September 13 (Flatoday).



The failure of two additional satellites, SV 44 and SV 71, in the orbiting Iridium telecommunications constellation has caused the company to alter its plans for the July launch of two spare satellites on a Long March 2C/SD rocket. Because of the failure, the launch will be delayed until August so that the satellites will be available for plane No. 2 which has two open position. The Iridium constellation consists of 72 satellites in six planes. Each plain has 11 satellites and one spare. A Delta 2 launch following the Chinese Long March launch will place five satellites in to plane No. 6 which has three openings. The Delta launch was originally to be on a stripped-down Delta 2 with only four strap on solid rocket motors carrying three satellites. The recent failure has changed the Delta configuration to the standard Delta 2 with nine strap-on motors capable of lifting five satellites. Although the network has lost seven satellites, the company expects the system to debut on schedule on September 23 (Flatoday).

As a result of the loss of the two satellites, Iridium World Communications Ltd. stock dropped 8 11/16 points on Thursday, July 23. Merrill Lynch downgraded the stock from Accumulate to Neutral citing concerns of whether the loss will slow subscriber ramp up until the service quality has been confirmed. At noon on Thursday Iridium stock was trading at 45 4/16 (LaunchSpace).


The Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) has gone on-line on the Internet. The satellite is generating 30 -60 Gb of data per day. This information is then distributed within 24- 48 hours in the public domain Hierarchical Data Format (HDF). This assures the accessibility of the data for scientists world-wide on a variety of computer systems. Software such as Fortner's Noesys can then used on both Windows and Mac computers to easily access, manipulate, and visualize the data. Among the uses for the data are studies of cloud patterns, sea surface temperatures, ozone concentrations, forest growth, crop productivity, and fish concentrations (Fortner Software LLC PR).


EchoStar IV has completed primary testing and is being moved into its final orbital location at 148 degrees West Longitude. It is expected to begin service to the western United States around September 1, 1998. The satellite was originally slated to operate at 119 degrees West Longitude, but has been relocated because of diminished capacity . The south solar array did not deploy properly and a recent anomaly resulted in the loss of a primary and spare transponder. As a result EchoStar I and EchoStar II will continue to provide 200 channels at 119 West Longitude while EchoStar IV will provide 150 channels in its new location. EchoStar will approach its insurance providers to recoup losses of revenue from the diminished capacity (SpaceCast).



On Monday, July 20, a subsystem on the spacecraft Galileo shut itself off and went into safe mode. At the time, the craft was passing within 1,141 miles of Europa's surface. While a backup system remained in operation, it sent only basic information. All information from the pass of Europa was lost. The subsystem was successfully restarted on Wednesday, July 22. It is believed that the shut down occurred when debris short-circuited a signal line, causing a computer re-set. Galileo will make three more passes of Europa--the next on September 26 (NASA; AP).


On Tuesday, July 21, 1998, Alan Shepard died in a California hospital at an age of 74. Shepard joined the pantheon of American heroes on May 5, 1961 when he was launched into space on a 10-story Mercury Redstone rocket. The flight reached an altitude of 115 miles and achieved speeds of 5,100 mph. The capsule carrying Shepard splashed-down safely 302 miles down range after 15 minutes and 28 seconds of flight. Though of less duration than Gagarin's earlier orbital flight, Shepard was the pilot of his craft -- Gagarin was merely a passenger during his flight.

Although honored by the nation, Shepard was grounded through the Gemini program because of nausea and dizziness caused by an ear problem. Shepard continued to serve NASA as Chief of the Astronaut Office for the next six years until an operation correcting his ear problem put him back into flight rotation. On January 31, 1971, Shepard returned to space as the commander of Apollo 14. At an age of 47, Shepard was the oldest of the Apollo astronauts to walk the moon. Following his second journey into space, Shepard left NASA in 1994 to pursue a career in the private sector, but continued to promote America's space programs.


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • July 28 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 communications satellites), Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
  • August 4 (at earliest) - USAF Titan 4A, Mission A-20 (classified), Centaur upper stage, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 8 - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, Pad 36 Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 13 - Soyuz TM-28, Mir-26 crew, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • August 13 - Pegasus XL, Brazil SCD-2/NASA Wing Glove, Skid Strip, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 24 - Delta 3 (Maiden flight), Galaxy 10, pad 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • Aug 24 - NPO Yuzhnoya Zenit 2, Globalstar Mission 3 (12 comsats), Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • August 25 - ILS Proton (Block DM), Astr-2A, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • August 25 - Arianespace Ariane 44P, Flight 109, ST-1 (comsat), ELA-1 Kourou, French Guiana.
  • August 31 - Delta 2, Iridium Mission -10, SLC-2 Vandenberg AFB.
  • August (late) - Great Wall Industry Long March 2C/SD, Iridium maintenance flight (two comsats), Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China.
  • August - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-3 (8 communications satellites), Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
  • October 7 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.


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 3239 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 128 days.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

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