Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #109

Frontier Status Report #109

August 7, 1998

Dale M. Gray

Financial problems dominated the news from the frontier. As equipment for the International Space Station begins to pile up at the Kennedy Space Center, Russia's chronic financial problems continue to be problematic. The US government has taken several steps is past week to adjust to the increasing commercialization of space. The only physical activity on the frontier was a Pegasus launch off the coast of Virginia an a failed docking attempt between two Japanese satellites.

Headlines of the week of August 7 include:

  • Pegasus XL launch of 8 Orbcomm satellites
  • Failed second docking attempt of Japanese satellites
  • US House passes NASA spending bill
  • Space Station program adjusting to Russin financial woes.
  • SpaceDev targeted by Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Contact with SOHO made, but control not established


The Shuttle Discovery continues to reside in the Orbiter Processing Facility bay 2. Tests of the fuel cell voltage have been completed. The forward reaction control system has been installed and interface verification testing is under way. The main landing gear wheel and tire installation is in process. Discovery is to be launched on October 29th as the last pre-ISS mission which will feature the SpaceHab-SM, Spartan and Host. Crew includes: Brown, Lindsey, Parazynski, Robinson, Duque, Mukai and Glenn (NASA).


Because Russia has not been able to pay Energia, the operator of Mir, the company has taken out a 200 million ruble loan to finance the August 13 crew launch to the station. Russia, despite numerous assurances, has yet to make good on the 800 million rubles owed the company. The Energia loan assures the timely launch of the replacement crew and more importantly a new Soyuz. The Soyuz capsule currently docked with the station is nearing the end of its life-cycle and must be used before it becomes outdated. The three man crew traveling to Mir includes politician and presidential advisor Yuri Baturin and Sergei Avdeyev who is slated to be the last man to be stationed on Mir. The February visit of two cosmonauts, from France and Slovenia, is the only remaining mission scheduled (AP).


With Russia's mounting financial problems, NASA is implementing a number of operational changes to take some of the pressure off of the Russian station connection. While Russia will continue to provide significant technical and engineering contributions, financial constrains have forced NASA to adopt an incremental program to diminish Russia's role in the station. At a time when the station construction schedule will require the doubling of Russian Soyuz and Progress missions, production of Soyuz and Progress vehicles has nearly ceased. Russia will not be able to complete the more than 40 reboost and resupply flights. To pick up the slack, the Shuttle fleet will be modified so that Shuttles can be used to boost the station when the Shuttle is connected to the station. This will require modifying the steering thrusters and increasing the fuel-carrying capacity of the dual maneuvering engines under the Shuttle's rear vertical stabilizer. NASA is also considering the construction of a new vehicle to serve as an on-board booster that would be used in addition to the Interim Control Module. Meanwhile the launch of the much-delayed Russian-built Service Module has been pushed back to March 1999 (Florida Today; Robert Oler).

Meanwhile, one of the Italian Space Agency's multi-purpose logistics modules dubbed "Leonardo" was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center on August 1. The 4.5 ton Leonardo will be launched on Endeavor (STS-100) in December 1999 and will serve as the primary delivery system for pressurized supply and return cargo for the station. The module is 21 feet long and 15 feet in diameter and is capable of carrying up to 10 tons of supplies. Once the Shuttle is docked with the station, Leonardo will be taken from the cargo bay and docked to the station by using the remote manipulator arm of either the station or the Shuttle. The module will be subject to a series of integrated electrical and software tests with both Shuttle and ISS components and systems. The module will also be outfitted with racks for carrying experiments and cargo on the way up and experiment results, trash and equipment on the way down. Leonardo will be followed by "Raffaello" next year and by "Donatello" in 2001" (NASA).


A Pegasus XL rocket was released from its L-1011 carrier aircraft at an altitude of 40,000 feet and successfully launched 100 nautical miles off the coast of Virginia on Sunday, August 2 at 12:24 pm. Approximately 75 minutes later eight Orbcomm satellites were released into a circular orbit of 825 km with an inclination of 25 degrees. Early reports showed all eight satellites to be generating full power levels which indicates properly deployed solar arrays. Once operational tests are completed, the new satellites will be placed into commercial service -- bringing the Orbcomm constellation to 20 satellites which will increase global availability of the service from 9 hours per day to 17 hours per day. This was the third Pegasus launch this year and the system's 22nd mission since inception (Orbital Sciences PR).


The National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) is planning the development of a small launcher utilizing elements of both Russian and American rocket technology. American components will be imported and modified for the kerosene-fueled first stage. The design study contract was awarded to Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) of Tokyo and Nissan Motors, Tomioka on June 30. Due to budget constraints it is uncertain if or when the design will fly (SpaceNews).

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has ordered Japan Satellite Systems and Space Communications Corp to share a satellite placed in the 110 degree east longitude orbital slot. Both Tokyo companies filed for the last Japanese-registered slot available in the Ku-band on the same day, August 5, 1997 and have been in contention since (SpaceNews).


Because of sanctions imposed on India by the US because of recent nuclear tests, the Indian Space Research Organization has had to find new, non-American parts for their launch program. Delays for three Indian government satellite launches have been delayed. The affected satellites include: Insat-2E (to be launched in early 1999), IRS-P4 (to be launched in early 1999) and Insat 3C (to be launched in late 1999) (SpaceNews).


U.S. Senate

Senator Conrad Burns (D-Mont) recently introduced a bill that would push Inmarsat and Intelsat to privatize. In the legislation, a 1962 law that established Comsat Corp would be updated to create a "level playing field". All commercial satellite companies would be classified as common carriers which would open them to the rate oversight that Comsat currently operates under (SpaceNews).

U.S. House

The 13.3 billion NASA spending bill for 1999 was approved by the US House of Representatives on July 29. The bill trimmed $59.4 million from the $1.37 billion Earth Science program because NASA habitually asks for more than it can spend in a year. Other cuts include $170 million for the International Space Station and prohibits funding for Triana, an Earth-observing satellite program advanced by Vice President Al Gore (SpaceNews).



The Boeing Corp has awarded a long-term contract to Standex International Corporation's Spincraft Division for the production of 5-meter fuel tank domes for the Delta 4 rocket. The estimated $147 million contract including options is an expansion of existing Boeing /Spincraft orders for fuel tank domes (LaunchSpace).


Starsem has signed a $69 million contract with the European Space Agency for the launch of the Cluster 2 satellites in July 2000. Two pairs of plasma science satellites will be launched on Soyuz 2 vehicles with Fregat upper stages from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The original Cluster mission was destroyed on the ill-fated maiden flight of the Ariane 5 rocket on June 4,1996. The Cluster mission is designed to study the 3-dimensional structure of the Earth's magnetosphere. Starsem, a joint venture of Aerospatiale, the Russian Space Agency, the Samara Space Center and Arianspace, was incorporated in 1996. The company previously was selected by Loral to launch three clusters of four Globalstar satellites -- the first of these launches is slated for November of this year (LaunchSpace).


The American Securities and Exchange Commission announced on August 6 that SpaceDev had violated federal securities laws. The SEC is seeking an order to compel SpaceDev to refrain from future violations and has asked for a public hearing before an administrative judge. The announcement was based upon the SEC perception that SpaceDev's president Jim Benson had made "false and misleading" statements to the public during a public offering of stock this past spring. The controversy centers on SpaceDev's projections of $10 million for 1998 revenues with $2 million in earnings. Projected revenues were based upon sale of space on- board SpaceDev's Near Earth Asteroid Prospector mission and the sale of data from the asteroid. The SEC found fault with a failure to disclose the need for NASA approval for the projects placed on NEAP and statements concerning the use the Deep Space Network. Jim Benson has disputed the SEC allegations stating that SpaceDev is a legitimate business hat has received serious expressions of interest from NASA and from several scientific institutions outside the government. NASA is currently reviewing a number of proposals to fly on NEAP (AP).



The StarDust cometary mission which is set to be launched in February of 1999 has reached a unique milestone in its development. On August 6 the Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported that more than 1 million people had signed up to have their names electronically engraved on an electronic microchip that will fly on the craft. This is the second microchip, the first containing 160,000 names has already been installed on the spacecraft at the Lockheed Martin construction facility in Denver. The free service is available on-line at or Signatures will be collected until August 15, 1998. The StarDust mission will take 100 high resolution photos of the comet and return to Earth with a sample of comet dust in 2006 (LaunchSpace).


Hikoboshi / Orihime

The Japanese National Space Development Agency failed in its attempt at a second remote linking of the Hikoboshi "Chaser" and Orihime "Target" satellites on August 7. The satellites had previously achieved the first remote linkage on July 7. Although the two satellites were brought to within 1,700 feet where the Hikoboshi laser guidance system was activated, the radar response was lost. Hikoboshi went into an automatic safety mode to avoid a collision and moved to a relative distance of about a mile. The linkage is expected to be tried again on Saturday August 8. The two satellites were launched together from Japan in November 1997 as part of the Engineering Test Satellite-7 mission. The system is a prototype for remote-controlled docking systems expected to be used to ferry supplies to future space stations (AP; LaunchSpace).


The September 15 launch of the Navy's UHF F9 satellite has been delayed so that Hughes, the satellite's maker, might change-out a suspect electronic part and conduct additional testing. Hughes determined that the workmanship on the installation of a capacitor in the communications payload was substandard and as a result the component is being replaced to assure the full mission life success. All eight previously launched UHF satellites are functional except for F1 which was placed in a useless orbit by a launch failure. The next three units in the constellation F8, F9, and F10 will carry Global Broadcast Service (GBS) payloads. GBS will proved high-speed, wide band, simplex broadcast to the warfighter (Hughes PR).


The satellite salvaged by the innovative lunar fly by is now set up for business in the Asian Pacific. Hughes Global Services (HGS)is seeking companies and governments interested in leasing capacity on the satellite and Leasat 5 which are positioned over the Pacific. The company's new salvage business appears to have already had some success in finding prospective customers (SpaceNews).



That sturdy explorer of the solar system and beyond continues to confound experts by completing the fourth precession maneuver in the past year. The risky cycling of the transmitter off and on was necessary to continue pointing the craft's antenna toward Earth. While the craft's mission officially ended March 31, 1997, it has continued to operate as part of the Lunar Prospector controller's training program. Although the 6.6 billion mile distant craft is operating on minimal battery levels, it is still providing useful science with the low-power Geiger-Tube-Telescope instrument and sends information for a few hours each week from the Charged Particle Instrument. Pioneer lost the title of the most remote human-made object earlier this year when Voyager 1's mileage in the opposite direction surpassed it. Pioneer 10 is heading out into interstellar space in the direction of Aldebaran and is expected to arrive in star's vicinity in about 2 million years (NASA).


After six weeks of silence, contact has been reestablished with the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Signal was lost with the craft at the L-1 Lagrangian point on June 24 and it was not known where the craft was until it 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. Utilizing this same system, controllers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center reestablished contact with the craft at 6:51 pm EDT on August 4. Bursts of carrier signal from two to ten seconds have been recorded. While there is no information content in the signal, it indicates that the craft is functional and capable of sending and receiving ground commands. The intermittent nature of the signal corresponds to the solar panels passing in and out of sunlight as the craft spins. The signal bursts are too brief for ground station receivers to "lock-on" the signal. Recovery is expected to be a long and careful process. 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. (Flatoday; NASA; ESA).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • 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.
  • August 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 15 - Ariane 44LP, Flight 110, PanAmSat-7, ELA-2 Kourou, French Guiana.
  • September 16 - ILS Proton (Block DM), Nimiq-1, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • 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 3253 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 114 days.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

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