Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #108

Frontier Status Report #108

July 31, 1998

Dale M. Gray

While there was only one recorded launch this week, the space frontier made a giant leap forward with the US Senate passing the Commercial Space Act. New launch complexes for the Atlas 2 and the Delta 4 are being prepared. Components of the International Space Station are beginning to pile up at the Kennedy Space Center in preparation for launch and assembly.

Headlines of the week of July 31 include:

  • Commercial Space Act passed by US Senate
  • X-34 wing assembly delivered
  • Russian RD-180 rocket engine tested by Lockheed Martin
  • Russia launches Cosmos 2360
  • Cronkite to cover Glenn Shuttle launch
  • SOHO found slowly tumbling at L-1


NASA recently announced that cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev will join the crew of STS-88 on the first American International Space Station assembly flight. Krikalev has previously been stationed twice on Mir and flew on the Shuttle during STS-60 in February 1994. During the upcoming 11 day mission, the US built Unity module will be taken out of the Shuttle Endeavor's cargo bay and attached to the Russian-built Zarya control module. The Zarya is expected to be launched on a Proton rocket from Baikonur in late November (NASA).


NASA plans to begin link space station components later this summer to test the integration of systems before they are launched. Because of delays to the launching of the International Space Station, components from the first six American launches will be at Kennedy Space Center at the same time. This has given NASA the opportunity to set up tests that will link the systems of the components on the ground to test connections and systems. Unity, the first American component to be launched will not be used in the test since it is being prepared for its December launch. In its place a "Unity Emulator" will mimic the function, if not the structure of the module. Following the systems check and evaluations, a second phase may physically connect the components. A third phase may include the Japanese lab module, advanced logistics module and other components (NASA).


On Wednesday, July 29, Lockheed Martin conducted the first test firing of the Russian RD-180 rocket engine. The tests at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama mark the first time a Russian engine has been tested in an American facility. The engine is in development to be used in the new Lockheed Martin Atlas III rocket and in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) being developed in cooperation with the USAF. The engine is capable of 860,000 pounds of thrust which compares favorably to the 1,500,000 pounds of thrust produced by the Saturn V rocket's F-1 engine and the 375,000 pounds of thrust produced by the Shuttle's Main Engine. Wednesday's test lasted 10 seconds. In the coming months to more tests of 70 seconds each will be conducted. (Lockheed Martin PR).

The first Atlas 3 launch is slated for early 1999. The 40 foot high 14 foot diameter payload fairing and 14.5 foot high and 10 foot diameter interstage adapter for this flight are being prepared to be shipped to Cape Canaveral. The 16 foot high 10 foot diameter thrust section that will house the RD-180 engine is being prepared to be shipped to Denver where final assembly of the rocket will be conducted at the Lockheed Martin Astronautics facility. (Lockheed Martin PR).

The Atlas 3 rockets will be launched from Cap Canaveral Space Complex 41 which will be subject to extensive remodeling tentatively scheduled to start October 1. The pad is one of two used for Titan rocket launches. Work on the pad is awaiting a final Titan launch that has been delayed to technical problems (Flatoday).


Space Complex 37 at the Cape Canaveral Air Station has been selected for a $250 million remodeling to accommodate the new Delta 4 family of rockets. Built in 1961 at a cost of $40 million, the launch complex was last used to send eight Saturn 1 and 1B rockets into space. Construction on the facility will begin in September with the first scheduled flight to occur in January of 2001. The 130 acre complex will be capable of as many as 18 launches per year. A 75,000 square foot Horizontal Integration Facility will be built nearby to process the rockets. The assembly of rockets on their sides is expected to cut assembly time from 24 to around 6 or 7 days. The construction is part of Boeing's work on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle contract with the USAF. The common boosters for the Delta 4 will be built in Decatur, Alabama (Flatoday).


A major milestone for the X-34 program has been reached with the shipping of the first wing assembly for use on the X-34 test article under construction at the Orbital Sciences facility in Dulles, Virginia. The full-scale test article will be used for verification and certification. The wing assembly will then be removed and used on one of two flight vehicles now under construction. The X-34 program will test and demonstrate key technologies for flight at high speeds and high altitudes (LaunchSpace).


At 5:15 am EDT on July 28, Russia launched an intelligence gathering satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Ukrainian Zenit 2 booster. Cosmos 2360 was placed into low earth orbit. The Tselina 2 class satellite is similar to one thought to have been destroyed in May 1997 on another Zenit 2 launch (LaunchSpace).

One of the stranger space-based projects has come to a halt due to lack of money. The Znamya 2.5 was to be a 100 foot space- mirror designed to reflect sunlight to sun-starved northern Russian cities. The mirror was to be attached to a Mir-bound cargo ship which would have released it after docking with the station. Economic dictates only the most essential supplies be transported to Mir. A similar mirror launched in 1993, Znamya 2, was barely visible from the ground. The new mirror would have been as bright as a shooting star (AP).


Commercial Space Act

The Commercial Space Act (HR 1702) was passed by unanimous consent on July 30. One of the more important aspects of the bill gives the US Department of Transportation the authority to authorize the re-entry of private reusable launch vehicles. Other provisions require the government to procure launch services and space science data from private domestic sources in most cases; streamline the permitting process for remote sensing satellites; and it also requires NASA to study commercial possibilities for the International Space Station (ProSpace, LaunchSpace).


The US Government has placed tighter restrictions on the sale of satellite images of Israel. On July 22, the US Departments of State and Commerce barred private companies from providing images with a resolution of less than 2 meters. The move caught industry leaders off-guard since they had assumed that they would be given the ability to sell 1 meter resolution images (SpaceNews).


When Senator John Glenn returns to space on October 29, the event will be narrated by Walter Cronkite. CNN has enticed Cronkite to return from retirement to work with CNN space correspondent John Holliman for the nine-day Shuttle mission. Cronkite, who covered the early space program from Mercury to Apollo while working for CBS, retired from the CBS Evening News in 1981. Cronkite and Holliman will cover the Discovery launch and flight from NASA mission control in Houston (Variety).


Intelsat 805

The Intelsat 805 launched on an Atlas 2AS on June 18, 1998 has taken its place in the 304.5 degrees east Longitude orbital slot and has begun service. The satellite has 28 C-band transponders and three Ku-band transponders. Several Intelsat customers have already leased transponders on the satellite, primarily for Internet traffic. The satellite has an expected service life of 15 years (Intelsat PR).


Hubble Space Telescope

The crew for the STS-104 mission to upgrade and install new instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope are set to begin training. The crew includes: Seven L. Smith, C. Michael Foale, Claude Nicollier, and John Gunsfeld. The May 2000 mission of the Shuttle Columbia will feature six space walks. Among the new instruments will be the Advanced Camera for Surveys which will replace the Faint Object Camera. Other primary tasks include the replacement of the Fine Guidance Sensor #2, replacement of a tape recorder with a solid state recorder and the upgrade of solar arrays with rigid, high efficiency arrays. Secondary objectives include a number of tasks to improve the cooling and thermal protection of the telescope (NASA).


The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) which stopped operations on June 24 and was subsequently lost, was relocated on July 23. SOHO was found by beaming signals from the 990 foot radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico and receiving the echo at the Deep Space Network at Goldstone, California . The signals bounced off the Observatory 1.5 million miles away where it was found to be still near its original position at the L-1 Lagrangian point. Analysis suggests that the satellite is no longer oriented with its solar panels toward the sun and is rotating at one revolution per minute. The cause of this change in orientation is not at present known. It is believed that in 90 days, the orbit of the Earth around the Sun will have changed enough for the solar panels on SOHO to recharge its one-hour batteries. Once recharged, the craft will be able to respond to radio control commands and hopefully resume its mission to study the Sun. SOHO was launched on December 2, 1995 and has already completed its primary mission.(AP; NASA; ESA).


Lockheed Martin in a proposal to NASA seeks to design, build and launch the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM). The space craft would be a major observatory in the Space Interferometry Mission. For the first time an optical interferometer would be placed in orbit to precisely measure the position of the nearest 100 stars. The devise would utilize light waves from two sets of four one-foot diameter telescopes arrayed on a 33 foot boom. The system would have the effective resolution approaching that of a 33 foot diameter telescope. The information gathered by the telescopes would allow scientists to measure the "wobble" of stars -- a system that would detect planets as small as Uranus. The system would also be used to measure distances to nearby galaxies and conduct other studies in astometry. The mission will revolutionize the field of astometry by achieving positional accuracy 250 times greater than the best available star charts. The development portion of the project is capped at $480 million with launch on an EELV rocket in 2005. The SIM will operate from a Sun-centered Earth-trailing orbit during its seven year mission (LockMart PR).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • August 2 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-2 (8 communications satellites), Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
  • August 12 - USAF Titan 4A, Mission A-20 (classified), Centaur upper stage, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 13 - Soyuz TM-28, Mir-26 crew, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • August 16 - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, Pad 36 Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 19 - Great Wall Industry Long March 2C/SD, Iridium maintenance flight (two comsats), Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China.
  • 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 27 - Pegasus XL, Brazil SCD-2/NASA Wing Glove, Skid Strip, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • September 2 - Delta 2, Iridium Mission -10, SLC-2 Vandenberg AFB.
  • September - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-3 (8 communications satellites), Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
  • October 7 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • October 13 - Ariane 503, MAQSAT 3, Kourou, French Guiana.


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 3246 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 121 days.

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