Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #114

Frontier Status Report #114

September 11, 1998

Dale M. Gray

A mixed week of frontier news. A successful launch of a Delta 2 rocket carrying five Iridium satellites to orbit is counterbalanced by the loss of a Zenit carrying 12 Globalstar satellites. There is news from GPS, Remote Sensing and the new DARS frontiers. An Indian firm has taken advantage of Thailand's economic problems to get a deal on a satellite. A Canadian satellite due to be launched on a Proton rocket later this month has been delayed.

Frontier Status will take a three week break so that the author can prepare for and attend the 49th International Astronautical Congress in Melbourne.

  • Headlines of the week of September 11 include:
  • Launch and failure of Zenit 2 rocket carrying 12 Globalstar satellites
  • Successful Delta 2 launch and deployment of 5 Iridium satellites
  • Cause of Delta 3 failure detailed.
  • X-43 engine delivered for ground tests.
  • No evidence seen of North Korea satellite


Shuttle Discovery is being prepared for Monday's transfer from the Orbiter Processing Facility bay 2 to the Vehicle Assembly Building where it will be mated with its external fuel tank and SRBs. Discovery most recently flew in June when it was the last Shuttle to dock with the Russian space Station Mir. Since that time the Orbiter has been upgraded with new logos, a better onboard communication system and an integrated vehicle health monitoring system. By monitoring various systems managers can assess the vehicle's health during the flight and shorten processing time on the ground. The new logos, affectionately known as "meatballs", are the spherical NASA insignia designed by James Modareli. A camera has been mounted on the left solid booster forward assembly to study how external tank foam debris contributes to the damage to shuttle tiles during launch. Discovery is scheduled to roll out of the VAB on September 21 and be launched from Pad 39B on October 29 (NASA).


NASA has officially accepted the first American-made element of the International Space Station. Node 1, renamed Unity, was officially handed-off to NASA last week during a ceremony at Kennedy Space Center. Unity and two conical mating adapters will be launched on the Shuttle Endeavor on December 3 and will be joined in orbit with the Russian-built Zarya module previously launched on a Proton rocket. The six-sided Unity connector has a berthing port on each side and so forms the cornerstone for the station. All of the American built modules will connect with Unity which will also serve as the connector with the Russian portions of the station (NASA).


A two-stage Ukrainian-built Zenit 2 rocket carrying 12 Globalstar satellites was launched from Baikonur, Kazakstan on Wednesday, September 9 at 4:29 pm EDT. Following a malfunction of the guidance system which sent the spacecraft out of control, the second stage of the Zenit rocket cut out at 272 seconds after launch. As a result, the payload of Globalstar satellites fell to Earth in remote southern Siberia 340 seconds after launch. The destroyed satellites were insured for $190 million. Controllers had initially thought that the satellites had been successfully deployed about 18 minutes into the flight, but could not confirm because the rocket was out of the range of the launch site and had not been picked up by the next ground station. Globalstar and news representatives were left with an impression that the launch had been a success because they had been fed details from a script prepared before the launch which assumed a successful deployment (Flatoday; LaunchSpace).

While this was the first commercial launch for NPO Yuzhnoye of Ukraine, it was the 31st flight for the Zenit rocket and the second Globalstar launch. Zenit has failed to deliver eight times out of 31 -- giving it the distinction of having the worst launch record for any rocket in the world. Eight Global star satellites were previously launched on a Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral. While not ruling out future Zenit launches, Globalstar is currently negotiating launches on Soyuz and the Delta 2 launch system. Thirty-six satellites had previously been slated to be launched on three Zenit rockets by the end of 1998 with additional satellites launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket in early 1999. The new schedule includes four Soyuz launches of four satellites each on November 5, December 11, January 31 and a final launch in May. Options for additional Soyuz launches were also negotiated. Delta 2 launches are slated for mid and late 1999. The $2.6 billion, 48 satellite Globalstar system which hoped to provide mobile telephone services world-wide, will now deploy in a 36 satellite configuration with eight spares. Start-up is now expected to be pushed back from mid- 1999 to late 1999. Globalstar Stock plummeted from nearly $18 to $10.75, a single-day loss of 40 percent (Flatoday).


Boeing launch services recorded a successful launch on Tuesday, September 8 with the successful deployment of five Iridium rockets from a Delta 2 rocket. The Delta 2 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg AFB at 5:13 pm EDT. This was the 260th Delta launch and the 10th Delta launch for Iridium. The next Delta 2 launch is scheduled for October 15 from Cape Canaveral (Flatoday; LaunchSpace).

Iridium has announced that the debut of full commercial services of their global telecommunications system has been delayed until November 1, 1998. Delays in software delivery by Motorola and difficulty in integrating space and ground elements of the system were cited as the cause of the delay. Two thousand handsets will be delivered beginning on the original debut date of September 23. This limited distribution will allow the service to refine system performance and quality. In the past month, two launches have filled gaps in the constellation while placing four spares into orbit. Eleven of twelve Iridium gateways are now operational with China's gateway expected to be on-line by October. Iridium phones are being manufactured by Motorola and Kyocera with volumes expected to reach 100,000 for 1998. More than 295 distribution agreements have been negotiated with service providers. Iridium has service authorization in 100 countries and territories and expects to have authorization in 150 countries by year's end (Iridium; AP; LaunchSpace).


Boeing has released further details concerning the failure of their new Delta 3 rocket. The rocket's control system apparently recognized and tried to correct a slow oscillating roll during the first minute of flight. The control system apparently contributed to the roll and ended up expending all of its hydraulic fluid to gimbal the thrust-vector controls of the solid rocket motors. With the thrust vector system out of operation the oscillation smoothed out. Unfortunately, the system was frozen in a position that caused the rocket to overturn and be destroyed by aerodynamic forces and a subsequent destruct signal from the ground. Once this was understood, last week's Delta 2 system was cleared for launch. The investigation is expected to be completed by the end of September with lessons learned being applied to both the Delta 2 and Delta 3 programs. The next Delta 3 launch is expected in early 1999. It will carry the Orion 3 communications satellite built by Hughes for Loral Orion (Boeing; SpaceNews).


On September 10, Boeing unveiled three commercial derivatives of its new Delta 4 family of launch vehicles. The Delta 4 Medium-plus vehicles are distinguished by the number of Alliant Techsystems solid rocket motors strapped on the booster core and by the size of the upper stages and payload fairings. The Delta 4 Medium-plus (4,2) which will have two solid rocket motors and a 13 foot fairing will be able to lift 12,700 pounds to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). The Delta 4 Medium-plus (5,2) which will have two solid rocket motors and a 16 foot fairing will be able to carry 10,700 pounds to GTO. The Delta 4 Medium-plus (5,4) which will have four solid rocket motors and a 16 foot fairing will be able to carry 14,700 pounds to GTO. Alliant Techsystems was recently selected to provide GEM 60 solid rocket motors for the three commercial variants of the Delta 4. The GEM 60 is 60 inches in diameter and is the largest booster of the GEM family. The rocket's first stage core will be powered by the RS-68 engine which will provide 50% more thrust than the Shuttle Main Engine. Delta 4 launch vehicles are being developed as part of the USAF Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program (Boeing; LaunchSpace).


The Russian RD-180 engine being tested by Lockheed for use in the Atlas 3 rocket, has failed during tests. During a test firing in Russia on August 27, an RD-180 suffered damage that forced premature shutdown. The failure could delay delivery of the first flight model engine to Lockheed Martin (SpaceNews).


In the week and a half following the August 31 announcement that North Korea had orbited a satellite, no nation has yet to confirm the satellite's presence. US Space Command, which tracks objects in space, could find no new object in the orbital path described by the North Koreans. The satellite was said to be broadcasting propaganda at 27 MHz - a band normally used by CB radio, but to date, there is no confirmed reception of the revolutionary music. The US, Japan and South Korea suspect the launch to be a test of a new missile system, the Taepo Dong 1 with a range of 1,250 miles. In response, South Korea has announced that it will speed up its own rocket development program. South Korea had expected to place a satellite in orbit by 2010, it will now accelerate the program to orbit by 2005. South Korea currently has four satellites in orbit, but all were launched by foreign systems. South Korea is currently bound by a 1979 agreement with the United States not to develop its own missiles with ranges beyond 112 miles. In 1997, South Korea tested its first locally developed guided missile with a range of only six miles (AP; LaunchSpace).


The revolutionary new scramjet engine to be used in NASA's Hyper-X program has been delivered by GASL, Inc. The 30 inch long scam jet will be used in ground tests at the Langley Research Center. A twin to the engine is being mated to a flight vehicle to be delivered to Dryden Flight Research Center for first flight in early 2000. Flight and ground hardware will be provided by Boeing while Orbital Sciences will provide the rocket boost to push the vehicle to test altitude and speeds. The $170 million program will hopefully include three flights off the coast of southern California, two at Mach 7 and one at Mach 10. The Hyper-X program seeks to demonstrate air-breathing technologies for application ranging from hypersonic vehicles to reusable space launchers. Because the engines utilize oxygen from the atmosphere, they can carry more cargo than rockets which must carry their own oxidizer. The SR-71 with speeds of Mach 3+ is currently the fastest air-breathing airplane. In a scramjet the forward speed of the aircraft is used to compress air as opposed to the use of fan blades to compress air in conventional jet engines. The Russians have previously demonstrated scramjet technology in the Mach 5 to 6 range utilizing rocket boosters (NASA).


The Commercial Remote Sensing program at Stennis Space Center has selected ten projects for the Earth Observations Commercial Applications Program- Hyperspectral (EOCAP-Hyperspectral). The program is designed to increase the use of NASA remote sensing information and to identify technological gaps that inhibit its use. Projects support technical, market and business innovation. This year's winners include: Eastman Kodak - Rochester, NY; United States Department of Agriculture - Beltsville, MD; Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies - Bozeman, MT; Applied Analysis - Billerica, MA; Cal State-Monterey Bay - Seaside, CA; Boeing Information, Space & Defense Systems - Seattle, WA; GDE Systems, Inc. - San Diego, CA; MTL Systems, Inc. - Beavercreek, OH; Opto Knowledge Systems, Inc. (OKSI) - Torrance, CA; and Spectral International - Arvada, CO (NASA).


In an unexpected development, Global Positioning Satellites are now being used to provide super-accurate timing signals to cellular telephone companies. The time signal is being used to synchronize internal clocks to an accuracy of microseconds. This allows the systems to switch calls from one base station to another and to pack calls tightly on frequency so that portions of the radio frequency can be reused. The cellular telephone companies now comprise the fastest growing market segment for GPS manufacturers (SpaceNews).


The US and Canada have resolved technical issues relating to satellite-based Digital Audio Radio Services (DARS) interfering with Canadian terrestrial digital radio broadcasts. American Mobile Radio Corp and CD Radio currently hold licenses for DARS systems (SpaceNews).



The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) appears to be on the brink of recovery. The space craft stopped operations on June 24, was subsequently lost, and was subsequently relocated on July 23. The craft was found to be slowly spinning with drained batteries and frozen fuel tank and lines. As control was reestablished, careful management and improving orientation to the sun has allowed managers to slowly raise battery charge to capacity while thawing fuel, lines and thrusters. Two attitude recovery scenarios were considered to optimize remaining resources. Operations to stop the spin and reorient the craft will begin next week so that the extended science mission might continue (NASCOM).

A joint ESA/NASA investigation into the cause of the initial shutdown of SOHO has been focused upon mistakes made by the flight operations team at Goddard Space Flight Center on the night of June 24. These mistakes caused the $1.3 billion spacecraft to spin out of control (SpaceNews).


The September 23 launch of the DBS Satellite, Nimiq, on an ILS Proton has been delayed. The satellite was supplied to ExpressVu by Telesat Canada and manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The providers disclosed that they did not have full confidence that the satellite would perform as specified. The satellite is based on the Lockheed Martin A2100 satellite bus and weighs 2,900 kg. The satellite was to go on-line this fall to expand ExpressVu's DBS services from 130 to 300 channels. The cause of the delay was not disclosed (LaunchSpace).


EchoStar Communications has announced that it will be filing an insurance claim on its EchoStar IV satellite. While the satellite was successfully launched on May 8, 1998, the south solar array did not properly deploy. Lockheed Martin has determined that protective snubbers which protect the folded solar array during launch formed a kind of glue that prevented the array from deploying. The snubbers used in the EchoStar launch were from a new supplier. The resulting reduction in power has left the satellite unable to function at full capacity. An unrelated problem resulted in the loss of four primary transponders and two spares. Only 22 of 36 transponders are functional with further degradation down to 16 transponders expected. The claim of $219,250,000 was filed through J & H Marsh & McLennan. Echostar expects to use the insurance money with other funds to launch a new DBS satellite to the 119 degrees West longitude orbital slot and then move EchoStar I and II which currently reside at the orbital slot to other locations to serve as back-ups. EchoStar currently has four operational DBS satellites providing 300 digital video and audio services to 1.5 million DISH Network customers (LaunchSpace; SpaceNews).



Astronomers utilizing data from Galileo have apparently discovered the origin of Jupiter's rings. In a news conference at noon on September 15, team leader Dr. Mike Belton and team members Dr. Joseph Burns and Dr. Joseph Veverka will announce their discovery from Cornell. Images and animation will be transmitted on NASA TV at 3 pm, 6 pm, 9 pm and midnight EDT (Cornell; JPL).


Continued Japanese budget problems have resulted in a one-year delay in the deployment of the sun X-ray observing satellite Solar-B. The development plan released in early August expected to have enough cash to move from research to development, but on August 28 the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science withdrew its application. Under the revised schedule Solar-B will be launched in 2004 (SpaceNews).



SkyBridge has formed a partnership with COM DEV and its affiliated COM DEV Satellite Communications Ld. of Canada. COM DEV is a manufacturer of space and ground-based communications products. COM DEV equipment was present in 67 of 81 commercial satellite launches in the past year. Alcatel Espace plans to create an 80 communication satellite constellation in low Earth orbit. The $4.2 billion system known as SkyBridge would provide telecommunication services ranging from Internet access to high-speed data communication. Atcatel Espace has filed an application with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to operate the system beginning in 2001. COM DEV joins with Alcatel (General Partner and architect), Loral Space & Communications, Mitsubishi Electric, Sharp, Toshiba, SRIW and CNES -- COM in the satellite program (AW&ST; LaunchSpace; SpaceNews).

Thaicom 4

In the wake of continued economic problems in Thailand, Hindustan Technologies of India has negotiated the purchase of Thaicom 4. The nearly complete satellite being built by Alcatel is lined up for a mid 1999 launch. The satellite, the first privately owned Indian satellite, has been renamed Hindsat and will be given reconfigured antennas. The satellite will carry C and Ku band transponders for rural telephone and television services. The satellite, valued at $90 million, was to serve as a ground spare for Thailand's Shinawatra Satellite Public Co. (SpaceNews)


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • September 14 - Aerobraking resumes, Mars Global Surveyor.
  • September 16 - 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 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 (no earlier than October 22).
  • October 29 - Shuttle Discovery, STA-95, Spartan 201, Hubble Orbital Systems Test, PanSat, pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.
  • October 29 - ILS Proton, PanAmSat-8, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • November 5 - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • November 19 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • November 20 - Russian Proton, Zarya Control Module, first ISS element, Baikonur Kazakstan.
  • Delayed
  • September 23 - ILS Proton (Block DM), Nimiq-1, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.


The current population of space is at the base-line of two - all Russians on the Mir space station. This marks the completion of 3280 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 69 days.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

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