Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #113

Frontier Status Report #113

September 4, 1998

Dale M. Gray

A mixed week of activity on the frontier. The future for lunar settlements has been made brighter by the announced discovery of more ice on the Moon's poles. However, a North Korean rocket launch has made the world a little less stable. NASA continues to work through problems associated with the diminishing role of Russia in the International Space Station.

Headlines of the week of September 4 include:

  • Lunar Ice found in greater quantities.
  • North Korea launches ICBM/satellite
  • ILS Proton launches Astra 2A.
  • Delta 2 launches cleared
  • Delta 2 launch delayed by ground station problem
  • Titan 4A problem identified


The Lunar Prospector team led by Alan Binder announced September 4 that there appears to be 6 billion metric tons of frozen water on the poles of the Moon. This is 10 times the amount estimated from findings earlier this year. The amount of water is sufficient to operate a lunar colony and to provide fuel for spacecraft and space stations. Lunar Prospector was launched in January of 1998 and has been measuring the speed of neutrons from the Sun after they strike the lunar surface. The soil's chemistry affects the neutron's energy or speed. By measuring the ratio of intermediate-speed to fast speed neutrons, the Lunar Prospector team were able to determine the water content of the lunar poles. While the amount at both poles is significantly higher than early estimates, the north pole appears to have 50 percent more ice. Data suggests this ice has been deposited in layers covered by up to 18 inches of material. Additional ice could be buried below the 24 inch mark. It is thought that the ice came from comets smashing into the moon. The shaded craters at the lunar poles maintain temperatures at minus 250 degrees F which keeps the water in its solid form. The water would be relatively easy to harvest, by warming the lunar soil to above freezing. The Prospector instruments have also produced the first precise gravity map of the lunar surface. The new findings of the Lunar Prospector team are published in the September 4 issue of Science magazine (NASA; AP).


Following the departure of the Mir 25 crew in their Soyuz capsule, the new Mir crew redocked the Progress M-39 cargo ship on Tuesday, September 1. The vessel will continue to be a source of fuel and oxygen as it is filled with waste materials from the station. The vessel also acts as a sun shield for the station while protecting the docking port. When the craft's supplies are used up, the Progress will be detached to be burnt up on reentry (AP).

Flight commander Sergei Avdeyev and engineer Gennady Padalka will conduct an internal space walk into the damaged Spektr module on September 15 to repair a system that controls the module's solar panels. While the system that orients two of the solar panels was previously repaired, the cables have recently come loose and need to be readjusted (AP).


In an effort to pump money in the beleaguered Russian Space Program, NASA is considering the purchase of two Soyuz spacecraft and launch vehicles. The craft would be used as assured crew return vehicles for the International Space Station (ISS). The craft would give the station emergency return capability early in the construction schedule (LaunchSpace).

NASA is currently studying options to maintain the orbit of the ISS once it is assembled in orbit. Because of decreased Russian involvement, Russian Progress and Soyuz spacecraft will not be available to periodically boost the station to its proper orbit. Once solution under consideration is modification to the Shuttle fleet so that Shuttles can reboost the station while docked (SpaceNews).


An International Launch Services Proton rocket was launched at 8: 31 pm August 29 from Baikonur, Kazakstan. Six hours and 41 minutes into the flight, following two firings, the Astra 2A satellite was released from the Block DM upper stage into a 7932 x 35991 km transfer orbit. The satellite will be moved into the 28.2 degree East longitude orbital slot where it will serve the United Kingdom with digital television, radio and multimedia services. The Astra 2A on-board is a Hughes HS 601HP platform with 32 Ku-band transponders powered by 7 kW from gallium arsenide solar panels. The satellite has both chemical thrusters and xenon ion propulsion. This is the sixth satellite that Hughes has constructed for SES (Flatoday; Hughes).


Despite having the same guidance software that doomed the recent Delta 3 launch, the Delta 2 launch system was cleared for launch at Vandenberg AFB SLC-2 on September 4. It was determined that the problem with the Delta 3 was related to software specifically designed for the new vehicle. Problems with a monitoring station that had been struck by lightning, delayed Friday's launch until September 7. The rocket will carry five Iridium satellites to orbit on the 10th Iridium mission. Iridium continues toward a September 23 start of commercial service (Flatoday; LaunchSpace; SpaceNews).


Investigators of the August 12 failure of a Titan 4A rocket carrying a classified NRO payload have focused on a battery that powered the guidance system. The power from this battery was interrupted 39.4 seconds after the rocket lifted off. This likely caused the guidance computer to lose its sense of direction relative to the horizon. A split-second later, when power was restored, the guidance control computer sent commands that sent the rocket pitching down and to the right. Because the rocket was traveling 675 mph at an altitude of 17,000 feet at the time, the rocket was subject excessive aerodynamic forces that cause it to break up 41.3 seconds into the flight. The automatic destruct system was triggered which blew up the left-hand solid rocket booster, Titan core vehicle, right-hand booster and then the upper stage. Four seconds later the range safety officers sent destruct commands to assure the safety of the coastal population. All debris fell into the Atlantic. Investigators are now engaged in the difficult task of locating and recovering the guidance system of the rocket from an 18 square mile portion of ocean floor (Flatoday).


The Korean Central News Agency has broadcast a report that North Korea has successfully launched a satellite from Musudan-ri, Hwadee county, North Mamgyong Province. The launch of the rocket occurred at 12:07 local time on August 31. The three stage rocket placed the satellite into a 218.82 x 6,978.2 km orbit with a period of 165 minutes 6 seconds. The satellite launch was reported to be for the "peaceful use of outer space". The satellite said to be equipped with sounding instruments and is broadcasting several revolutionary songs at 27 MHz along with "Juche Korea" in Morse signals (KCNA).

US Officials countered this official news release by stating that the rocket was a two stage Taepo Dong 1 ballistic missile which flew over the northern Japanese island of Honshu before splashing harmlessly into the Pacific. The Taepo Dong 1 is a new Medium- Range ballistic missile also known as the Nodong 3. The missile is considered an intermediary step to the Nodong 4 which will have a 6,000 mile range capable of reaching the US. North Korea has previously exported its Nodong 2 to Pakistan and Iran. North Korea strenuously denies the flight was the Nodong 3. Japan warned North Korea that it has the right to strike back if there are further missile launches over its territory. The launch and first two stage impacts recorded by the US and Japan correspond to the flight of the first two stages reported by North Korea (AP; LaunchSpace).


The US Air Force is studying plans to use some the nation's 500 Minuteman missiles as conventional weapons to kill hard to destroy targets up to 6,000 miles away. Under the proposal, the nuclear weapons currently deployed on Minuteman 3 ICBMs would be replaced by high explosives. Since the missiles are hypersonic and accurate to within a few feet, the conventional warheads could be used to destroy difficult targets such as deep underground bunkers. The $7 million missiles can carry up to 5000 pounds of explosives. The non-nuclear missiles would not be flown from silos to prevent any confusion with the more deadly traditionally tipped Minuteman missiles. Instead, they would be launched from above ground from several launch towers at Cape Canaveral. The option is currently only a plan under consideration; it would be up to upper level Pentagon officials to implement it as a policy (Flatoday).


The US Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Defense Advanced Research Products Agency are funding research projects intended to develop and demonstrate nanosatellite technology. Nanosatellites are defined as between 1- 10 kg. Up to ten $50,000 per year for two years grants will be awarded to US institutions of higher learning to design, assemble and deliver satellites ready for launch by September 2000. Proposals are due by September 30, 1998 (LaunchSpace).


Plans for a second and third civilian satellite navigation signal have been held up due to funding and spectrum disputes. The US Department of Transportation has agreed to pay for the second signal as long as it receives an interference-free block of radio spectrum. This would require civilian use of frequencies previously used exclusively by military GPS signal. US government officials hope to resolve the problems by September 15 (SpaceNews).


Mars Global Surveyor: The Mars Global Surveyor flight team celebrated the 500th orbit of Mars on August 18. Since the end of May the craft has been producing 500 megabits of science date per day during the course of 200 orbits. Among the highlights are two successful observations of the Martian moon Phobos on orbits #476 and #501 with a third observation attempt on August 31. Images and data from the encounters are to be released on September 10. The flight team is now preparing for the resumption of aerobraking on September 14. At the end of five months, MGS will reach its final circular orbit with a period of two hours. The craft is currently orbiting Mars every 11.6 hours in a 173.8 x 17,861 km orbit. Global mapping operations will begin in April of 1999 at the end of the aerobraking (JPL).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • September 7 - Nine year anniversary of the reoccupation of Mir.
  • September 8 - Delta 2, Iridium Mission -10, SLC-2 Vandenberg AFB.
  • September 9 - NPO Yuzhnoya Zenit 2, Globalstar Mission 3 (12 comsats), Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • September 14 - Aerobraking resumes, Mars Global Surveyor.
  • September 15 - Ariane 44LP, Flight 110, PanAmSat-7, ELA-2 Kourou, French Guiana.
  • September 15 - Mir spacewalk
  • September 22 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM-3 (8 communications satellites), Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
  • September 23 - ILS Proton (Block DM), Nimiq-1, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • September 24 - Taurus, STEX & ATEx, Area 576 -East Vandenberg AFB.
  • September 26 - Galileo, Europa 17 Flyby.
  • October 5 - Ariane 44L, Flight 111, Sirius-3 & Afristar, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • October 6 - Atlas 2A, Flight 134, Hot Bird-5, pad 36B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • October 8 - ILS Proton (BlockDM), Telstar 6, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • October 13 - Ariane 503, MAQSAT 3, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • October 15 - Delta 2, Deep Space 1, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • October 19 - Delta 2, Iridium Mission -11, SLC-2 Vandenberg AFB.
  • October 19 - Atlas 2A, UHF Follow-On, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • October 26 - Pegasus XL, Brazil SCD-2/NASA Wing Glove, Skid Strip, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • October 29 - Shuttle Discovery, STA-95, Spartan 201, Hubble Orbital Systems Test, PanSat, pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.
  • November 19 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.


The current population of space is at the base-line of two - all Russians on the Mir space station. This marks the completion of 3273 days of continuous human habitation in space since the reoccupation of Mir on September 7, 1989. The first element of the International Space Station is slated for launch in 76 days.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

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