Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #122

Frontier Status Report #122

November 6, 1998

Dale M. Gray

Another remarkable week on the frontier with the continued flight of the Shuttle Discovery and its unprecedented media coverage. Two expendable launch vehicles delivered six communications satellites to orbit. Orbital Sciences made an inaugural sub-orbital flight from the new Kodiak launch facility.

Headlines of the week of November 6 include:

  • Shuttle Discovery in orbit
  • Delta 2 launches with 5 more Iridium satellites
  • Proton launches with PanAmSat 8.
  • Orbital launches sub-orbital rocket from Kodiak
  • President Clinton signs the Commercial Space Act


Orbiting the Earth at 300 nautical miles at an inclination of 28.45 degrees, the Shuttle Discovery continued with its science mission. Discovery is due to land at KSC on Saturday. First landing opportunity occurs at 12:04 pm EST with second opportunity at 1:47 pm. Because of the missing drag-chute door, the Orbiter will not attempt to utilize the chute to slow down.

The mission was heavily covered by the media with frequent updates on the medical experiments conducted by John Glenn. During the course of the flight, Glenn was required to swallow thermometer capsules, give blood and urine samples and be injected with amino acids. During the sleep cycle, Glenn was wired with a sophisticated harness to monitor breathing, snoring, eye and chin- muscle movements and brain waves. Japanese physician Chiaki Mukai also participated in sleep experiments by taking the hormone melatonin to see if it helps her sleep (AP).

While the astronauts kept themselves busy conducting science experiments, a new water purifier proved problematic by leaking and then made the water taste bad. The crew was advised to utilized an older system.


The International Launch Services Proton rocket that will carry the 24.2 ton Zarya module continues to be prepared. Launch is scheduled for November 20 at 1:40 EST (Launchspace).

Shuttle Endeavor is on Launch Pad 39A being prepared for its December 3 launch. The crew is currently at KSC for Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test which ended in a simulated main engine cut off at 11 am November 6. The crew then practiced emergency egress procedures. Endeavor's payload bay doors are open and payload testing is in work. The Unity connecting module will be installed in the payload bay on November 13 (NASA).


The Mir crew continues in its preparation for the Leonid meteor show in mid-November. While the station is not thought to be in physical danger from the micro-meteorites, the crew will retreat into the Soyuz capsule during the peak of the shower. In preparation, on November 11 the crew will conduct a spacewalk to place a French experiment on the station's exterior to study the micro-meteorites (AP).

Following last week's docking of the Progress-M40, the crew is busy unloading the vessel. Included in the manifest is the mini- sputnik (Spoutnik-41) and equipment for the Slow Scan TV. Spoutnik-41 (possibly will be designated RS-17-2 or RS-18) will be hand-released during the upcoming space walk while the SSTV system will probably be activated in December. During the past week the crew has been active with experiments. The air conditioner on the station continues to be problematic -- the unit has to be switched off soon after activation due to a failure relating to the pressure of the system activating alarms (Chris v. d. Berg).


A Boeing Delta 2 rocket carrying five Iridium satellites was launched from Vandenberg AFB during a 5 second launch window on November 6 at 5:37:52 am PST. By 85 minutes into the launch the five satellites were deployed into the Plane No. 5 of the six plane Iridium constellation. One satellite will replace a malfunctioning satellite while the remaining four will serve as on-orbit spares. Iridium began world-wide wireless telephone service November 1 through their fleet of 66 LEO satellites. Eleven Delta 2 rockets have launched and deployed 55 Iridium satellites successfully since May of 1997 (Boeing PR; Flatoday).

The Delta 2 rocket's main engines, the RS-27 are manufactured at Rocketdyne's Canoga Park facility, the rocket is manufactured at Boeing's Huntington Beach, California facility with final assembly at Boeing's facility at Pueblo, Colorado. The graphite epoxy solid rocket boosters are manufactured by Alliant Techsystms of Magna, Utah. The second stage engine is constructed by Aerojet, of Sacramento, California. The guidance and flight control system is produced by AlliedSignal of Teterboro, New Jersey. The next Delta 2 launch is planned for November 19 from Cape Canaveral Air Station. The rocket will be carrying the Russian Bonum-1 television satellite (Boeing PR; Flatoday).


For the third time this year an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket has been successfully launched. The rocket lifted off on schedule at the beginning of a 10 minute launch window at 12:12 am EST November 4 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. After 10 minutes of flight the Blok DM upper stage and the satellite payload were injected into a parking orbit. The Blok DM then fired twice to raise the orbit. After six hours, 40.5 minutes of nominal flight, PanAmSat-8 was ejected into its Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit. The satellite will use its own propulsion system to achieve its final position at 166 degrees East longitude where it will provide video and telecommunications services to the Asia Pacific region. ILS, a corporate endeavor between Lockheed Martin, Krunichev and RSC Energia to globally market the American Atlas and Russian Proton launchers, hopes to launch 11 Proton rockets in 1999. The Proton rocket is manufactured at the Krunichev State Research and Production Space Center near Moscow. The next Proton launch will be of the first element of the International Space Station on November 20 (Flatoday).

PanAmSat 8 was built by Space Systems/Loral and is based on their FS-1300 design. The 3,800 kg satellite is equipped with 24 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders. Its position at 166 degrees East is only three degrees west of PAS-2. The satellites will provide video, telecommunications and Internet-related services. During the upcoming 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, the satellite will be used for live worldwide transmission of events. PAS-8 is the 18th satellite to serve PanAmSat worldwide and is the fourth to serve Asia. PAS-6B is slated to be launched on an Ariane rocket next month. The PanAmSat system is expected to grow to 25 satellites in the next 18 months (PanAmSat PR).


Lockheed Martin conducted a third test firing of a Russian RD-180 rocket on November 4 at the Marshall Space Flight Center. The test included a 56 second firing of the engine at 90 percent power beginning at 6:27 pm EST. Previously the engine was fired for 10 seconds on July 29 and an abortive 2.7 seconds on October 14. The second firing came to an early end when a computer monitoring the test mis-read data coming from the 500 sensors attached to the engine. The next test of the engine, a 70 second firing will occur later this year. The engine is rated at 933,000 pounds of thrust -- a rating mid-way between the Shuttle Main Engine at 375,000 pounds and the Saturn 5 at 1.5 million pounds thrust. The American test of the Russian-made engine is to validate performance and to test the integration of American elements such as avionics, propellant tanks, feedlines, electronics, hydraulics and launch pad ground support. The engine has over 10,000 seconds of testing in Russian facilities. By utilizing the more powerful engine in the next-generation Atlas, the number of engines is reduced from nine to two and the number of parts by 15,000. The engine is also simpler and less costly to build and operate. The first launch of the Atlas 3A is slated for the second quarter of 1999. The Atlas 3 program is part of Lockheed Martin's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program sponsored by the USAF (Lockheed Martin PR; NASA PR).


The first test flight of the reusable X-33 rocket has been delayed from July 1999 to December 1999. Problems manufacturing the rocket engine have pushed back the schedule. The radically new linear aerospike is being created by Boeing's Rocketdyne unit. The prime contractor for the X-33, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and Rocketdyne are expected to absorb the $36 million of extra costs generated by the delay (SpaceNews).


Eurockot GmbH recently received permission from Russia to launch modified SS-19 missiles from a converted silo at Baikonur. Launches of the civilian-conversion ICBM, designated Rokot, could begin as early as 2000. Rokot launches from Plesetsk are expected to begin in October of next year. Use of the Baikonur facility will allow payloads to reach orbit with inclination as low as 51 degrees -- Plesetsk launches are inclined at 63 degrees or higher (Launchspace).


An investigation into the September failure of the Ukrainian-made Zenit rocket carrying 12 Globalstar satellites has been completed. Two computer errors made in rapid succession caused the failure of the rocket's regulatory system and the subsequent loss of the rocket. The faults reported to be of a random nature and not the direct result of design or construction defects or of human error in the launch process (AP).


Orbital Sciences, a satellite imaging affiliate of Orbital Sciences has been selected by the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) to provide the US Government with commercial high-resolution space imagery. Terms of the contract allow NIMA to order up to $100 million in imagery and includes funds to enhance Orbimage ground infrastructure to assure timely processing of images. High resolution satellite imagery services will begin next year with the launch of OrbView-3 and with the launch of OrbView-5 in 2000. OrbView-1, an atmospheric imaging satellite was launched in 1995. OrbView-2, an ocean and land multispectral imaging satellite was launched in 1997. A system of 14 ground stations was established around the world to receive, process and distribute images from these satellites (Orbital Imaging Corp PR).


Kodiak Launch Complex

On November 5, Orbital Sciences successfully launched an atmospheric interceptor technology (AIT) suborbital rocket for the USAF from the new Kodiak Launch Complex (KLC). The rocket reached an altitude of 450 miles and traveled 1000 miles downrange during its 16 minute flight. The launch tested early-warning radar command and control systems. The rocket consisted of deactivated Minuteman II second and third stages. This was Orbital Sciences' 101st suborbital flight (Orbital Sciences).


In response to the August 31 launch of a North Korean rocket that flew over Japan, Japan is considering a four satellite system to provide missile detection by 2002. While the North Korean launch of the three stage Taepo Dong 1 was for the peaceful purpose of placing a satellite into space, the satellite apparently failed to make orbit. The test did, however, prove the North Korean capability to launch a rocket with a 1250 mile range. Japan did not know of the launch until informed by the US military. The proposed Japanese "spy satellite" system would cost $1.3 billion. It is yet to be approved by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to be placed on the national budget (AP citing Asahi newspaper).


China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been reported to be working on developing jammers that can be used against US Global Positioning System receivers. The PLA appears to also be working on laser radars, advanced radar systems and high-energy laser equipment to track satellites in low Earth orbit (SpaceNews).



The Spartan 201 solar science satellite was released on November 1 at 2:00 pm EST from the robot arm of the Shuttle Discovery. The $9 million satellite studied the sun for two days before the Shuttle returned and recaptured the 1364 kg satellite. Astronaut Stephen Robinson extended the 50 foot robot arm and clamped onto the satellite at 3:45 pm EST Tuesday. During its free- flight, Spartan collected 900 pictures of the sun's corona. This is the fifth and last flight for Spartan. The last flight in November of 1997, a mistake was made during deployment and an emergency space-walk had to be conducted to recapture the tumbling inert satellite (Flatoday).


Produced by Naval students, Pansat was deployed by the crew of the Shuttle Discovery on October 30 into a 550 x 561 x 28.5 degree orbit (Jonathan's Space Report).


On November 3, Mariner 10 celebrated its 25th birthday. The highly successful mission was launched from Cape Kennedy on an Atlas Centaur-34 rocket. The mission established several firsts: the first to visit Mercury and the first to visit two planets as it used Venus for a gravity-assist -- also a first. Arriving at Mercury, the spacecraft made three approaches to the planet, the closest a mere 200 miles. The mission started at the opening of its launch window and was memorable only in that no major problems occurred during the mission (Milt Salamon, Flatoday).


Aerogel: During his flight on the Shuttle Discovery, John Glenn activated an experiment that could have profound impact on material science and commercial industry. The "aero-gel" experiment automatically produced 80 two by one-half inch samples. It is hoped that the samples will not have the non-uniform air bubbles that produce a haze in the material on Earth. Because aero-gel is both the lightest known solid and is an extremely effective insulator of heat, sound and electricity, over 800 commercial applications have been identified. With insulation properties 10 times greater than double pane glass at a fraction of the weight, similar thickness clear sheets would revolutionize the window industry. While the material is brittle and fragile, a block the size of a human -- weighing less than a pound -- can support the weight of a subcompact car. The material was used as insulation on the successful Mars Pathfinder mission. Aero-gel was discovered in the 1930s by a Stanford University researcher. The substance starts as an alcohol- based gel with silica particles that is soaked in liquid carbon dioxide and then evaporated at high pressure. The gel then dries without collapsing. Because there is so little mass in the substance it is sometimes called "frozen smoke" or "pet cloud". The vast distances between the remaining silica molecules prevent the transfer of energy. It is hoped that when the samples created on Discovery are dried back on Earth they will produce bubbles of uniform size and clear "astro-gel"(Gannett).


Turning back the clock 36 years, the city of Perth, Australia left the lights on to honor John Glenn. The 77 year old astronaut was reported to have admired the view of the city from his vantage point 350 miles above the city streets -- twice the altitude of his last space view of the city in 1962. The city was in view for about 5 minutes as the Orbiter passed well to the north. Glenn promised to send photographs taken by the crew to the city. Perth officials knew in advance that the orbital path of the Shuttle might take it too far north to view the city, but lit up the city, just in case. Perth Mayor Peter Natrass stated that "It's captured the imagination of everyone in Perth." (AP).

On Wednesday, John Glenn was featured in a 10 minute interview with Jay Leno on the Tonite Show. The comedian and astronaut/Senator/astronaut exchanged punchlines and observations on his second flight. Jokes ranged from Metamucil to republican thoughts on leaving him in orbit. Commander Curtis Brown was also in the interview and managed to zing the comedian by observing that they could see large landmarks on Earth -- every time they passed over California they could see Leno's chin. Glenn also was able to chat with Walter Cronkite on Wednesday to wish him a happy 82nd birthday (NBC; AP).

Japanese physician-astronaut Chiaki Mukai seemed to be missed by early video transmissions from the Shuttle. A Japanese newscaster noted that millions of viewers on the island nation were eagerly awaiting any glimpse of their own national hero and asked why she was being avoided. While NASA did not admit to changing policy on who appeared on video from the Orbiter, it was noted that Mukai appeared shortly after and has subsequently appeared often (NBC).


Lockheed / Tonga

In an effort to break into the lucrative international satellite services business, Lockheed Martin Global Telecommunications has announced plans to utilize two orbital slots owned by the Kingdom of Tonga. Two Russian communications satellites, which could enter service as early as 1999, will provide a link between Hawaii and Asia (SpaceNews)


Unresolved issues pertaining to the unauthorized transfer of technology is proving problematic to the deployment of Globalstar satellites on Russian Soyuz rockets. The US State Department has halted approvals for US satellite launches on Russian rockets until a new launch technical safeguards agreement is signed. These negotiations are proceeding slowly. Loral had hoped to quickly launch 24 Globalstar satellites on six Soyuz rockets beginning this November. The mobile telephone system hopes to compete with Iridium beginning in the third quarter of 1999. The program was set back in September when 12 Globalstar satellites were destroyed in a failed Zenit launch (SpaceNews).


The French space agency (CNES) has agreed to increase its investment in SkyBridge from $10 to $13 million. The increase is part of an agreement of first-round investors to increase their equity shares to pay for increases in the cost of the SkyBridge system. Last May projections for the capital cost of the system increased to $4.2 billion when the number of satellites in the system was raised from 64 to 80. The program is being led by Alcatel (SpaceNews).

Sea Launch

Delays in the inaugural flight of the SeaLaunch system were given as a reason for ICO Global Communications dropping two of three planned launches from SeaLaunch. The company has chosen instead to launch its mobile telephone satellite on an Atlas 2AS and a Proton rocket. While the launches are more expensive, the company has recouped some of the costs through a unique insurance policy which will not pay for losses for two of the constellation's 12 satellites (SpaceNews).


As if to prepare for witnessing Senator John Glenn's return to space on the Shuttle Discovery, President Clinton signed the Commercial Space Act ( HR 1702) on October 28. The Act was advocated by both space industry and grass roots activist groups such a ProSpace. Among its provisions, the act allows for the FAA to permit reusable launch vehicles to re-enter Earth's atmosphere. Clinton watched the launch of the Shuttle with his wife Hillary (SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke


  • 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, Mission 1A/R, first ISS element, Baikonur Kazakstan.
  • November 24 Ariane 42L, Flight 114, Satmex comsat, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • November 27 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • December - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • 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.
  • December 15 - Ariane 42L, fight 115, PanAmSat-6B, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.


Including the orbiting Shuttle Discovery, the current International population of space remains at nine. In addition to the base-line crew of two Russians on the Mir space station the Shuttle has added five American astronauts, one Spanish astronaut and one Japanese astronaut. This marks the completion of 3344 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 14 days.

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