Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #110

Frontier Status Report #110

August 14, 1998

Dale M. Gray

An interesting week on the frontier. The last crew to occupy Mir was launched. The US Government shut down Boeing's SeaLaunch venture while it investigates possible technology transfers. The USAF successfully concluded the first drop test of the X-40 Space Maneuver Vehicle prototype. Topping the news was the launch and destruction of a Titan 4a rocket carrying a classified NRO payload.

Headlines of the week of August 14 include:

  • Titan 4A explodes during launch
  • State Department shuts down SeaLaunch for investigation
  • Soyuz TM-38 launched with last Mir crew.
  • SeaLaunch shut down by Feds
  • X-40A successfully lands during drop test
  • SOHO responds to commands


In preparation for the August 15 arrival of a Soyuz capsule with the last Mir crew, the present Mir crew detached the Progress cargo vessel on August 13. The Soyuz TM-38 was successfully launched on Thursday, August 14 at 1:43 pm local time from Baikonur, Kazakstan. The Soyuz is commanded by Sergey Avdeev with engineer Gennadiy Padalka and former presidential security advisor Uri Baturin. It is hoped that the Soyuz will be able to dock with Mir using the intermittently operational Kurs automatic docking system. Although much has been made of the political connections of Baturin, 49, he is a space physicist by training. The launch was delayed by 10 days until Energia could obtain loans to pay the overdue power bills and have the power at the launch site restored. The power had been turned off for two weeks prior to obtaining the loan. The government is said to owe Energia $600 million (AP).

The present Mir crew of Talgat Muasbayev and Kikolai Budarin along with Uri Baturin will leave the station on August 25. Muasbayev and Budarin began their stay by conducting a series of space walks to stabilize the station and repair damage caused by the collision over a year ago. Their stay on Mir has been remarkably free of the failures that plagued previous crew. Padalka is to stay on Mir until February and return with visiting French and German cosmonauts. Sergey Avdeev may stay on the station alone until June when it is abandoned (AP).


In one of the stranger developments concerning the International Space Station, it has been reported that the Khrunichev space engineering company has built a second cargo module despite refusals from both the Russian and US governments to pay for it. Khrunichev built the original cargo module under a $190 million contract with NASA. The module, which contains fuel tanks and gyroscopes, will be attached to the station's solar batteries. As the first element of the station to be launched, it is now in Baikonur awaiting launch on a Proton rocket in November. The back-up module was built by Khrunichev as a back-up in case of failure. Since neither country offered to pay for the work, Khrunichev proceeded with the work on their own. The company also has the contract for the living quarters, but has not been paid by the Russian government. Khrunichev took out loans to complete the work on schedule. The living quarters are due to be launched in August of 1999, but some of the internal components furnished by Energia may not be done in time due to Russia's failure to pay Energia (AP).


On August 12, 42 seconds after launch from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41, a Lockheed Martin Titan 4A-20 rocket exploded -- destroying a classified National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload reported to be valued at $1 billion. The 5-ton satellite, designed and built by the NRO, was to be positioned in Geostationary Orbit as part of National Security Agency's space- based efforts. The 18 story rocket pitched over at an altitude of 3.4 miles and had to be destroyed by range safety officers. A guidance problem or a problem with the steering nozzle of a solid rocket booster could be possible causes. An accident investigation board was set up immediately after the accident by the USAF. An 18 square mile area in the Atlantic Ocean where the rocket and its payload splashed down has been placed off-limits to marine craft so that the remains of the satellite containing sensitive technology might be recovered (JSR; Flatoday).

The rocket was the last of the Titan 4As to be launched and the last usage of the UTC/CSD solid rocket boosters. The launch was delayed by three weeks to replace a torn thermal blanket on the Centaur upper stage. The Titan system has recorded 17 consecutive successful launches prior to the August 12 launch. The last Titan failure was in 1993 when a $800 million ocean surveillance satellite was lost. The Titan 4A was designed to launch heavy spy satellites that were previously flown on the Shuttle. Future Titan launches will be of the newer Titan 4B with Alliant SRMU solid rocket boosters. The new rocket is both more powerful and more reliable (JSR; Flatoday)


In the wake of the controversy over technology transfers involving American companies utilizing Chinese launch services, Boeing's SeaLaunch has come under scrutiny. The international effort led by Boeing involves Norway, Russia and Ukraine. Because the $2 billion effort involves the combination of Russian and Ukrainian rockets with American systems, Boeing notified the government when it became aware of the issue. The State Department ordered a halt to the project on July 27 so that it could investigate possible breaches by Boeing of rules on technological transfer. Except for routine maintenance, work on the 200 meter assembly and command ship has been suspended during the investigation. Work is expected to resume once security concerns are met. It is unclear if the investigation will affect the first planned satellite launch scheduled for early 1999 (Flatoday; Reuters, Washington Post).


The USAF successfully drop tested the X-40A flight test vehicle on August 11. A UH-60 Black Hawk carried the Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV) prototype to 9,000 feet above Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico. After the SMV was released, on-board systems took over and successfully guided the vehicle to a safe landing. The 90 percent scale test article is 22 feet long with a wing span of 12 feet -- weighing 2,600 pounds. The vehicle validates low-speed handling qualities and demonstrates autonomous approach and landing capability. The Space Maneuver Vehicle is designed for rapid turn around while being able to remain on station for up to a year. The vehicle is being developed at the Boeing Phantom Works (Boeing PR)


GE/Lockheed Martin

The GE American Communications and Lockheed Martin Global Telecommunications have formed a joint venture to deploy a satellite to provide communication services to the Asian Pacific region. The satellite, based on LockMart's A2100 bus, will have 28 Ku-transponders. It will be positioned at 97 degrees East longitude where it will communications services to users who will be able to receive signals from dishes as small as 65 cm. The satellite, dubbed GE-1A, will be launched in July 1999 (LaunchSpace).


While the "world's first commercial space exploration and development company " is contesting a Security and Exchange administrative proceeding filed on Thursday, August 6, the company is actively acquiring the means to implement its plans. This past week SpaceDev announced that it had acquired rights to the American Rocket Company's (Amroc) hybrid rocket technology. In addition to the intellectual property such as engineering documents, plans, designs, test results, manufacturing data, the company also obtained the right to three Amroc hybrid rocket motor patents. The acquisition is the result of a several month study by Integrated Space Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of SpaceDev. SpaceDev has purchased rights to the technology for a minimum of five years and may purchase the ownership of the technology during that time period through discounted warrants for SpaceDev stock. If no commercially viable products are produced in that time, the rights revert to Amroc (SpaceDev).



The August 9 launch attempt of the Hughes-built JCSAT-6 satellite on a Lockheed Martin Atlas rocket has been delayed due to problems with the satellite. The problem is believed to be connected with a lightning strike outside the processing building where the satellite was being prepared. During functional tests of the satellite, both the telemetry encoding units (TEUs) began to performing erratically. The TEUs collect information on the satellite's health and prepare the data for transmission to the ground. The suspect units will be removed this week and a decision will be made whether they can be repaired or must be replaced. Work is also underway to determine if any other components of the satellite were damaged by the power surge. The 32 transponder satellite based on the popular HS 601 platform will be used to relay communications and broadcast services for Japan Satellite Systems Inc. of Tokyo (Hughes PR; Flatoday; LaunchSpace).

The satellite was originally to be launched on July 29, but was delayed due to an investigation of similar Hughes satellites which were experiencing problems in orbit. The problem was traced to tin- plated relay switches that have already been replaced with improved models in subsequent satellites (Hughes PR).

Hikoboshi / Orihime

On its third attempt, the Japanese National Space Development Agency once again failed in its attempt at a remote linking of the Hikoboshi "Chaser" and Orihime "Target" satellites. On the August 13 attempt, the satellites moved to within 145 meters of each other before the Hikoboshi experienced an attitude anomaly and moved into the safety mode. The satellites are now 1.2 kilometers apart while the problem is being investigated. The next attempt at a rendezvous-docking will be after August 18. The satellites had previously achieved the first remote linkage on July 7. A second linkage attempt on August 7 was not successful (NASDA PR).



Concern over the deployment of the high-gain communications antenna of the Mars Global Surveyor has NASA managers considering a nine month postponement from the current March 1999 date. The antenna is currently being used, but in the undeployed state the entire space craft must be turned toward Earth for communications. The antenna is stowed to protect it from contamination from the exhaust plume of the main engine. After the final use of the engine, the boom will be deployed on a two meter boom by a spring whose motion is limited by a damper similar to a shock absorber. Gimbals would then allow the craft to collect data and send data to Earth at the same time. New data suggests that air bubbles could form in the fluid in the shock absorber allowing excessive motion from the spring. Engineers have observed such behavior on other space-deployed structures using similar damper devices. In a worse-case scenario damper failure could leave MGS without the means to communicate with the Earth. The NASA engineers are considering the delay so that science can be collected using the present method of storing data as it is received and then later turning the craft to point toward Earth to transmit the data. While the antenna is likely to be deployed successfully, engineers would like to collect data under the present system to assure some return from the mission before they try extending the boom (NASA).

MGS was launched in November of 1996. After launch, it was determined that one of the two solar panels had not deployed properly. While still functional, the panel has caused an extension of the aerobraking portion of the mission so that lower stresses would be experienced. The spacecraft arrived in Mars orbit in September of 1997. Aerobraking was suspended this spring so that the craft would be in proper orbital position when the aerobraking concluded. During the hiatus, the craft has been collecting science and conducting photography utilizing the low point of its current elliptical orbit. When aerobraking concludes, the craft will be in a circular orbit at a slightly higher altitude (NASA).


The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory satellite, which ceased communications with Earth on June 24 and was recently relocated and recontacted is now responding to commands. The $1 billion craft was found to be rotating at one revolution per minute and as a result, its solar panels have only limited exposure to the sun. After contact was reestablished on August 2, controllers signaled the craft to use the limited charging power of the arrays to recharge the batteries. After 10 hours of charging, on August 8 the craft was commanded to send internal diagnostic data. Seven sets of temperature and electrical measurements were immediately sent back. Additional data was received on the following days -- followed by a full 24 hours of battery charging. It was discovered that the hydrazine propellant was frozen at 32 degrees F. Procedures for thawing the propellant are being established so that the thrusters may be used to stabilize the spacecraft and lock the power array on the Sun. Once the craft has been reoriented with full power, assessment of damage caused by exposure to cold will occur as instruments are turned back on. Hopefully, SOHO will then be able to continue its extended mission to study the Sun, hopefully through 2001 when a cycle of maximum solar activity peaks. SOHO is a joint U.S. and European project which completed its primary mission in April of 1998 and is now in an extended mission which is hoped to last until 2003 (AP).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • 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 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.
  • August 31 - Delta 2, Iridium Mission -10, SLC-2 Vandenberg AFB.
  • September 7 - NPO Yuzhnoya Zenit 2, Globalstar Mission 3 (12 comsats), Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • 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 20 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-3 (8 communications satellites), Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
  • September 20 - Taurus, STEX & ATEx, Area 576 -East Vandenberg AFB.
  • October 3 - Ariane 44L, Flight 111, Sirius-3 & Afristar, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • October 13 - Ariane 503, MAQSAT 3, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • November 11 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Delayed - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, Pad 36 Cape Canaveral Air Station.


The current population of space has risen to five - all Russians. Three in a Soyuz capsule enroute to Mir and two on board the Mir space station. This marks the completion of 3252 days of continuous human habitation in space since the reoccupation of Mir on Sept 7, 1989. The first element of the International Space Station is slated for launch in 97 days.

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