Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #121

Frontier Status Report #121

October 30, 1998

Dale M. Gray

A very big week on the Frontier! Three expendable rocket launches and a high profile Shuttle launch. Meanwhile, things continue to degrade in Russia with the failure of a new missile and the near- collapse of the Glonass navigation system.

Headlines of the week of October 30 include:

  • John Glenn returns to orbit with Discovery and her crew.
  • Launch of Deep Space-1 with SEDsat-1 on Delta 2 rocket
  • Launch of Progress M40 on Soyuz-U
  • Launch of Ariane 4 with AfriStar
  • Russian missile failure.


After a short hold to recheck a pressure sensor and a second hold to clear an aircraft out of the launch zone, Discovery was launched from Launch Pad 39B on October 29 at 2:19 pm EST. The launch into a perfect Florida sky proceeded nominally -- placing the Orbiter into a 300 nautical mile orbit inclined 28.5 degrees. Remote cameras recorded a cover, thought to belong to the drag chute, falling to the ground soon after main engine start. The missing door will not impact the safety of the mission. Both SRBs were recovered intact and are being returned to port (NASA).

By launch time, media coverage included over 4000 accredited members of the media. Viewing of the launch by over a million people in Florida was comparable to that of the Apollo launches. Retired astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle program as well as active astronauts were pressed into service to provide expert information on almost every major network. Walter Cronkite provided a historic counterpoint for CNN viewers. In an era where Shuttle launches typically receive 15 second blurbs on the evening news. Network television provided coverage of the launch for over an hour. Schools, hospitals, and businesses across the nation were reported to have taken time off to view the launch (NASA; Flatoday; CNN).

While John Glenn and experiments on aging and sleep highlight the media coverage. The mission contains over 80 experiments and scientific investigations. Of these the microgravity production of the super insulator aerogel (astrogel) has the potential to revolutionize the way windows on Earth are made. Some of the other equipment and experiments flying on the Shuttle include:

  • SPARTAN-201 (Fifth flight)
  • Microgravity Glovebox
  • PCAM and APCF protein crystal growth units
  • STES vapor diffusion unit
  • UVSTAR, STAR-LITE, SEH and SOLCON astronomical telescopes
  • US Navy Postgraduate School PANSAT (Petite Amateur Navy Satellite)
  • European Space Agency's TPX II thermal control system experiment
  • Bellarmine College's 'Hearts in Space'experiment
  • ACVS (Autotrack Computer Vision System)
  • and several get-away specials. (Jonathan's Space Report)


The Unity connecting module was moved to the launch pad where it will be loaded into the Shuttle Endeavor. The first American-made component of the 16 nation International Space Station will be launched December 3 and connected to the previously launched Zarya control module in orbit. Installation of 25,000 pound Unity into the payload bay will begin on November 13. Unity features two conical connectors, six miles of electrical wiring, 216 fluid and gas lines and 50,000 mechanical items. More than half a dozen major components remain in the Space Station Processing Facility with up to half a million pounds of components expected to be completed by the end of the year (NASA).

Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space has delivered to Kennedy Space Center the first solar array flight wing and mast canister to Boeing, the ISS main contractor. The 108 x 38 -foot solar panel is the largest ever built for space flight and is the first of eight to be attached to the space station. Each wing is composed of two blankets with 84 panels -- 82 containing 200 solar cells each. When all eight solar wings are deployed, they will contain 262,400 solar cells. The advanced solar array technology has been flight tested in a solar array replacement placed on the Mir space station. The theoretical system maximum power output is 246 kilowatts -- enough to power 200 homes. After 15 years of service the system is expected to degrade to 75% of its peak power. The first solar wing is expected to be launched on the Shuttle in August of 1999. Lockheed is building the solar wings under $450 million contract (Lockheed Martin PR).


Sunday, October 25, a Soyuz-U rocket carrying the Progress M40 supply vessel was launched from Baikonur (4:14 UTC). The launch, to provide Mir with needed supplies and equipment was delayed for 10 days while the Russian government sought funds to pay for the booster. The craft carried food, fuel, New Year's gifts and an experimental space mirror. The 100 foot diameter experimental mirror, dubbed Znamya 2.5 or Banner, will be unfolded in February when the Progress is scheduled to pull away from the station. The Progress also contained experimental equipment for the French / Slovak visit to the station in February. Progress 39 was undocked from the station on October 25 (23:03 UTC) to create space for the new freighter. Progress M40 docked with the aft docking port of Mir without incident on October 27 (5: 43 UTC). After the docking of M40, instructions were sent to the nearby Progress M39 sending it into the atmosphere. This is the third and final Progress for this year (AP; Chris v.d. Berg).

During the course of the week prior to the arrival of Progress M40, a spent stage for the Lacrosse-2 mission passed within 4.6 Km of the station. The crew were informed, but appeared not too concerned.

The French experiment delivered on the Progress will be placed on the exterior of the station during a space walk on November 11. The walk was originally slated for November 15, but was moved up to minimize risk associated with the Leonid meteor shower. The crew will also retrieve Russian experiments during the 5 hour walk (Chris v.d. Berg).


A test of one of Russia's new intercontinental ballistic missiles at Plesetsk ended in failure last week. The Topol-M missile exploded during its first stage and fell to ground harmlessly nearby. The missile system, which features a single-warhead is expected to replace the RS-18 and RS-20 multiple warhead missiles which are to be deactivated by 2007 according to the yet-to-be-ratified START-II treaty. Russia hopes to replace 35 to 45 missiles per year with $30 million Topol Ms beginning in 2000. This was the 5th test launch of the new system (AP).

Russia's Glonass navigation system is in danger of collapse from lack of money. The fiscal problems are so sever that Russia has had to offer European nations co-ownership of the system and its segment of the radio frequency (SpaceNews).


At 8:08 am EDT, Saturday, a Delta 2 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station. The launch was delayed briefly from an extended T-4 minute hold due an electrical issue. The launch then progressed normally. On-board was the innovative Deep Space-1 (DS-1) NASA spacecraft and a small student satellite, SEDsat-1, equipped with cameras and amateur radio equipment. SEDsat-1 was deployed from the side of the second stage of the Delta rocket 88 minutes after launch. The first of the new Millennium Program, DS-1 was given its final boost from the Delta about 50 minutes after the launch. The third stage burn of the Delta pushed the vehicle to an initial velocity of 39,600 kph relative to the Earth.

Deep Space-1 is a technology demonstrator that will test 12 new systems including a fuel efficient ion engine. This is the first time such an engine has been used for main propulsion for an exploration mission. It is currently in use by a few commercial satellites for station-keeping. Early in the flight two other of the technologies, the 3600 cell solar concentrator arrays and a small deep-space transponder have already been validated. The craft's star-tracker is operational but appears to occasionally fail for 1-2 seconds. The intermittent problem is under investigation. A 13 minute delay was experienced in acquiring telemetry from the spacecraft from an instrumented aircraft. Controllers were then able to acquire telemetry from the ground station in Australia. The craft is expected to fly 120 million miles over the next nine months to pass within 6 miles of asteroid 1992 KD (Flatoday; NASA; JPL).


An Ariane 44L was launched from Kourou, French Guiana at 5:16 pm EST on Wednesday, October 28. With four liquid strap-on boosters, this is the most powerful of the Ariane 4 configurations. The upper stage of the rocket was equipped with the SOELDA dual launch system. Carrying both Afristar and GE-5, flight 113 boosted a combined 4946 kg into orbit -- a record for the Ariane 4 system. Afristar was released 20 minutes and 21 seconds after launch. GE-3 was released 23 minutes 30 seconds into the flight (Arianespace PR; Flatoday).

Afristar was built by Matra Marconi Space / Alcatel Space Industries to provide digital radio broadcasts in Africa for WorldSpace. The 2739 kg spacecraft is stabilized on three-axis, has 5,500 watts of power, and is expected to have a lifetime of 12 years. The satellite will be placed at 21 degrees East Longitude where it will provide digital radio, video and text signal across the African continent. The craft has three down link beams with time division multiplexing. Afristar is the first of three planned satellites (ArianeSpace PR).

GE-5, built by Alcatel Space Industries, is a 1698 kg telecommunications satellite with 16 k-band transponders. The spin-stabilized craft has 3,150 watts of power and is expected to have a life-time of 12 years. It will be placed at 79 degrees West longitude. The spacecraft will provide telecommunications service for GE American Communications. This launch completes GE American Communication's coverage of the United States. GE American is now negotiating with Lockheed Martin for the procurement of two small satellites designated GE-7 and GE-8. They will be launched on Ariane vehicles in 2000 and 2001 (Arianespace PR; LaunchSpace).



Problems with an attitude sensor caused the GEOS-8 weather satellite to enter a "safe hold" at about 4 am October 27. The duties of monitoring Hurricane Mitch were transferred to GEOS-10 which was switched to Full Disk Imaging Mode. This mode covers a broader area, but provides images every 30 minutes instead of 15 minutes. After a series of tests on the Earth sensor and attitude control, the GEOS-8 was placed back in service (AP; NOAA).


The environmental weather satellite NOAA-15 has completed testing and calibration. Launched on May 13, the satellite will replace NOAA-12 which was launched in 1991 (NOAA PR; LaunchSpace)



Motorola Announced October 30 that they have completed testing and system readiness of the Iridium communications system. Commercial service of the global, digital wireless communications system is set to begin on November 1. To complete the network of 66 active satellites, Motorola had to achieve a number of "first". This includes the creation of a digital packetized communications network, inter-satellite crosslinks, hand-off satellite signals without voice link interruptions, launch of 72 satellites on 15 rockets, assembly line mass production of satellites, assembled and installed 12 gateways in 11 countries in 18 months, and integrated and tested the digital wireless communications system in only 6 months (Motorola PR).

Orbital Sciences

NASA announced the awarding of a Small Expendable Launch Vehicle Services (SELVS) contract for small- class payloads. The contract is for NASA and NASA-sponsored small-class payloads. The awards went to Orbital Sciences and Coleman Research Corp (LaunchSpace).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • November 4 - ILS Proton, PanAmSat-8, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • November 6 - Delta 2, Iridium Mission -11, SLC-2 Vandenberg AFB.
  • November 7 - Shuttle Discovery lands, Kennedy Space Center.
  • November 11 - Russian spacewalk to install external experiments, Mir Space Station.
  • November 19 - Delta 2, flight 263, Russian Bonum-1 comsat, pad 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • November 20 - Russian Proton, ZARYA CONTROL MODULE, first ISS element, Baikonur Kazakstan.
  • November 24 Ariane 42L, Flight 114, Satmex comsat, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • November 25 - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • November 27 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • December 2 - Pegasus XL, SWAS, Vandenberg AFB
  • December 3 - Shuttle Endeavor, STS-88, UNITY NODE 1 Assembly flight for the INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION, Pad 39A, KSC.
  • December 10 - Delta 2, Flight 264, Mars Climate Orbiter, Cape Canaveral.
  • December 14 - Shuttle Endeavor lands at KSC.


With the launch of the Shuttle Discovery, the current population of space has risen from the base-line of two - all Russians on the Mir space station to nine -- including five American astronauts, one Spanish astronaut and one Japanese astronaut. This marks the completion of 3337 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 20 days.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

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