Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #126

Frontier Status Report #126

November 27, 1998

Dale M. Gray

Another quiet week on the frontier. The first module of the International Space Station successfully raised orbit while several minor technical issues were worked out. A Delta 2 rocket was the only reported launch. The Deep Space engineers successfully restarted the craft's ion engine. Flight tests of the scaled-down aerospike engine were concluded.

Headlines of the week of November 27 include:

  • Zarya finishes first week in orbit.
  • Delta 2 launches Bonum-1 TV satellite
  • Deep Space 1 ion engine successfully restarted
  • LASRE tests of aerospike engine concluded
  • Galileo safes during Europa fly-by


The first element of the International Space Station (ISS) has been orbit for one week. During the first day in orbit, one of the two main engines of the Zarya module was fired 1 minute, 40 seconds to raise its orbit from 225 x 114 miles to 226 x 156 miles. The black and white camera on-board the module was activated from the ground. Formerly known as the Funktional'no-Gruzovoy Blok (FGB) or Functional Energy Block, the Zarya module has a variety of rocket engines and thrusters to move and maintain orbit of the ISS during its early stages of construction (ISS Report #3; Jonathan's Space Report).

On Monday, the same main engine was fired twice (31 seconds and 120 seconds) changing the module's orbit to 248 x 194 miles. Systems continued to be checked out including the motion control system and atmospheric monitoring systems The on-board fire detection and suppression system was tested. The Gas Analyzer which was reporting slightly higher than expected humidity levels was deactivated while the manufacturer was contacted to determine if there was a calibration error. Checks on accumulator battery systems showed Battery 1 continued to have a higher charge than the other five batteries. There appears to have been a failure to deploy two small antennae for the Teleoperator Control System (TORU) manual docking system (ISS Report #5; AP).

A fifth engine firing of 115 seconds was conducted on Tuesday November 24. The firing successfully raised the orbit to 251 x 240 statute miles. Zarya orbits the Earth every 92 minutes. This orbit will gradually lower to a circular 242 statute mile orbit when it rendezvous with Endeavor on December 6. The multiplexer- demultiplexer system that will be used in connection with the backup communications system to be installed by Endeavor's crew was checked out on Wednesday. When the module was not engaged in systems checks and other operations, it was given a slow spin to maintain moderate temperatures (ISS #6).

By November 26, several of the minor problems had been further defined. It was determined that a vibrator on one of the TORU antennas did not deploy properly. Testing of the antenna later in the week resulted in signal strength indicative of a full deployment. Visual inspection and photo documentation of the antenna will be conducted during the upcoming Shuttle mission. The antenna problem affects a manual docking system that is only used when the Kurs automatic docking system has problems. The antenna can work without the vibrator, but is expected to be fixed by the first station crew long before it is needed. The accumulator battery that had been thought to be failing has since been determined to be operating nominally. The battery was charged and discharged manually. Associated electronic equipment that automatically charges and discharges the battery appears to be the source of the problem. Engineers are now considering changing out this equipment during the Endeavor missions. The apparent high humidity of the module was determined to be due to a problem with ground software which has been updated (AP; ISS #7; #8).

On Friday, November 27, engineers conducted a orbiter docking test to prepare for Endeavor. During the test the solar arrays were locked in a berthing position, an electrical checkout was conducted on the grapple fixture, specific thruster jets were inhibited from firing, three external cameras were activated and external lights were turned on. The module was maneuvered to the position planned for its capture by the Shuttle's robot arm (ISS #8).


The European Space Agency has signed a contract with Aerospatiale for the construction of an unmanned vehicle to resupply and reboost the International Space Station. Under terms of the $470 million (US) / 408 million ECU deal, Aerospatiale will develop a vehicle named the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) which would be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket to deliver up to 5.5 metric tons of dry cargo and up to 1 metric ton of water and fuel. It will attach to the Russian Service Module which is equipped with docking connections for the transfer of the liquid cargo. From the docked position, the ATV will be able to fire its engines to raise the orbit of the station -- compensating for the continued drag of the atmosphere. As with its counterpart the Russian Progress vessels, near the end of each of its mission the ATV would be filled with trash and then sent to fiery destruction in the atmosphere. The first of eight scheduled flights is slated for 2003 (SpaceView).


The Shuttle Endeavor is entering its last week prior to launch on the first US International Space Station mission. The crew's space suits have been installed and checked. Flight crew equipment has been stowed. Payload bay closeouts are underway and will conclude Sunday, November 29. The aft compartment closeouts have been completed with the installation of the aft compartment doors. The Flight Readiness Review was conducted on November 23 and 24 with December 3 selected as the official launch date. The crew of Cabana, Sturckow, Currie, Ross, Newman, and Krikalev will arrive on November 30. Countdown is set to begin at 7:00 am EST, November 30 (NASA).

The payload bay contains the following cargo:

  • Sill: RMS arm No. 303
  • Bay 1-2: Tunnel Adapter 002
  • Bay 3-4: Orbiter Docking System/External Airlock (Boeing/Palmdale)
  • Bay 7-13: Unity (Node 1) (Boeing/Huntsville)
  • PMA-1 docking adapter (Boeing/Huntingdon Beach),
  • PMA-2 docking adapter (Boeing/Huntingdon Beach)
  • Bay 2 Port: GABA adapter with SAC-A satellite
  • Bay 4 Port: Carrier with PFR spacewalk restraint
  • Bay 4 Starboard: Carrier with Cable Caddy for spacewalks
  • Bay 5? Starboard: Carrier with PFR spacewalk restraint
  • Bay 6 Port: GABA adapter with Mightysat
  • Bay 6? Starboard: Carrier with two TCS laser rendezvous sensors
  • Bay 13 Port: GABA adapter with SEM-7 and G-093 canisters
  • Bay 13 Starboard: GABA adapter with IMAX Cargo Bay Camera

(Jonathan's Space Report).

The 60 kg SAC-A satellite contains an experimental remote sensing camera and a marine life sciences experiment that will track a GPS signals from a receiver on a whale. The satellite was built by INVAP for the Argentine space agency (CONAE). It will be delivered to orbit by being ejected from its canister in the payload bay.

The 70 kg Mightysat contains a number of technology experiments. It was built by Orbital Sciences for the USAF Phillips Labs.

SEM-7 contains high school experiments.

G-093 contains a physics experiment for the University of Michigan (Jonathan's Space Report).


On the fourth try, the Delta 2 rocket carrying the American-made Direct-to-Home television satellite BONUM-1 was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station -- leaving the pad on November 22 at 6:54 EST . The Delta 7925-9.5 launch vehicle entered a 157 x 189 km by 29.2 degree parking orbit ten minutes after launch. Two burns of the second stage raised the orbit to 159 x 1304 km and then to 1228 x 1683 km. The Thiokol Star 48B third stage put the satellite into a 1285 x 36703 km by 19.5 degree geostationary transfer orbit. Following its separation from the third stage, the second stage completed a depletion burn to assure a rapid reentry (Flatoday; Jonathan's Space Report).

The first attempt to launch the Delta rocket on Thursday November 19 was delayed at the four minute hold when the rocket main engine nozzle could not swivel to its full extent. It was later determined that a safety rail had not been removed. On Friday the launch was again stopped when technicians had trouble receiving data from the payload. It was later determined that ground equipment was at fault. The third launch attempt on Saturday, November 21 was scrubbed when one of three fuel sensors on the first stage gave a false reading. The sensor, which tells the rocket engine to shut down when the tank is empty, was replaced. The next Delta launch will be of NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter on December 10 (Flatoday)

The 1409 kg BONUM-1 satellite was constructed by Hughes for the Russian television consortium Media Most which reportedly spent $150 million on the satellite and launch. The HS-376HP is relatively modest with only 8 Ku-band transponders. The satellite will be maneuvered into the 36 degrees East Longitude orbital slot where it will provide 50 channels of TV programming for western Russia, western Siberia and Eastern Europe (Jonathan's Space Report).

X-33 / LASRE

The tests of a sub-scale aerospike engine on a SR- 71 aircraft have been halted by NASA and Lockheed Martin. The Linear Aerospike SR-71 Experiment (LASRE) placed the aerospike engine on top of a SR-71 which is the fastest aircraft available for the tests up to speeds of 750 mph. A total of seven flights were made. Two initial flights determined the aerodynamic characteristics. Two flights were used to cycle gaseous helium and liquid nitrogen through the engine and to check operational characteristics. The final three tests cycled liquid oxygen through the engine. Two static test firings of the engine were conducted on the ground. The lessons learned from the hot firing and aerodynamic tests allowed engineers to predict the hot gas effects of an aerospike engine firing during flight -- specifically how the engine plume interacts with the aerodynamic flow. This knowledge will be used to refine and enhance predictive tools used to minimize the interaction of the plume and the aerodynamic flow in finalized designs of the half-scale X-33 and the follow-on full-scale VentureStar reusable spacecraft (LaunchSpace; LASRE homepage).


The Leonids Sample Return payload which was launched on a weather balloon from Marshall Space Flight Center on November 17 was recovered from a briar patch behind Homer's Yarn and Textile Sales six miles out of Chatsworth, Georgia on November 18. The mission carried a "Comet Catcher" consisting of aerogel wells up to an altitude of 100,000 feet during the two hour flight. The payload was returned to Earth via parachute and found intact by Melody Johnson, amateur balloon tracker, who tracked it using a ham radio unit borrowed from the local Dalton Junior High School. The payload was recovered intact and will be examined by scientists using an environmental scanning electron microscope for evidence of micro-meteoroids (Marshall Space Flight Center; Bill Brown; NASA).


The E'Prime Aerospace company of Titusville is seeking a license from the FAA to launch its proposed Eagle rocket from three potential locations. The rocket would be used for rapid deployment of satellites. Its market niche would be cellular phone and television satellite companies that needed to put replacement satellites in orbit on short notice. The company, formed in 1987, originally intended to base their rocket on the US Peacekeeper missile. The end of the Cold War and treaties curtailing Peacekeeper production resulted in E'Prime developing their own rocket design. The first flight of the solid fuel rocket is expected for the spring of 2000. The rocket will be able to carry payloads between 1,300 and 10,000 pounds depending on the orbit. The company is looking at an unused site at Kennedy Space Center, Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as possible launch sites (Robyn Suriano - Flatoday).


In the wake of the continued investigations into transfers of sensitive technology, American satellite manufacturing firms have bowed out of the bidding process for a Chinese communication satellite deal. As a result, China has turned to European satellite makers for a joint venture with China Aerospace Corp. The four major European Satellite manufacturers appear to be willing to enter into a 49/51 ownership relationship in which the Chinese retain the controlling interest (SpaceNews).

Tighter US restrictions could result in China losing four to five launch contracts in the next five years. Delays in US licensing have already caused Hughes to miss a contractual milestone in a $450 million satellite contract with Asia-Pacific Mobile Telecommunications (APMT) based in Singapore. Hughes could not get governmental approval for a design review scheduled in October. If Hughes does not get the necessary export licenses by February 15, 1999, APMT would have the right to terminate the deal --resulting in a significant loss for Hughes (SpaceNews).


Deep Space 1

On Tuesday, November 24 at 5:53 pm EST, controllers started the Deep Space 1 ion engine to test the cause of the November 10 engine shut down. Instead of repeating the shut down the engine continued to fire and continues to date. The project engineers suspect that a piece of metallic grit or other contamination between two high-voltage grids was knocked loose and the powered-up thruster vaporized any remaining contamination. The problem of shut-downs from contamination has been seen before on other ion engines during initial activation. After running the engine at low thrust over night, controllers moved the power to higher settings on Wednesday. At 2,500 watts --full throttle--the engine produces 90 millinewtons of thrust (1/50 of a pound), but can run continuously for long periods and is 10 times more efficient than conventional chemical rockets. The ion engine was built by Hughes Electron Dynamics Division. The Deep Space 1 is a technology testing and validating mission (NASA).


The Galileo spacecraft orbiting Jupiter went into safe mode twice over the week-end. The first on November 21 occurred about six hours before swinging by Europa. As a result the spacecraft was only able to collect limited radio science data. Engineers think the safe mode was triggered by resets of portions of the data and control subsystems for the non-spinning portion of the spacecraft which handles communications with Earth. The second time the craft entered safe mode occurred Sunday night just as the craft was recovering from the Saturday safing. At the time, the semi- redundant halves of the control and data subsystems reset simultaneously. This was the 10th time Galileo has swung by Europa in its three years of Primary and extended mission. The craft, now operating under the Galileo Europa Mission, a two-year extension, will pass by Europa again on January 31, 1999 (JPL).



The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) has completed its first year of observations, having provided a new insight into cloud and precipitation systems over the tropics. The satellite was launched on November 27, 1997 by NASDA from Tanegashima Space Center, Japan. In the year since its launch it has reduced uncertainties of measurements in global rainfall by 50 percent. It is expected with the data generated by TRMM that new and improved rainfall models will be developed. Another surprise was the measurement of cumulonimbus cloud associated with Hurricane Bonnie towering 59,000 feet from the storm's eyewall. The craft has also given new understanding to the El Nino and La Nina events (NASA).


Hughes The cause of the September failures of Hughes- manufactured batteries in two PanAmSat owned HS-601 HP satellites has been determined. The batteries were determined to have been over-filled with electrolytes. The problem is corrected and will have no impact on the SatMex-5 satellite, the next HS 601 to be launched (SpaceNews).



While engineers installed thermal tape, heaters, thermostats and the reworked solar array switching unit into the Stardust comet sample return spacecraft, the mission is already reaping benefits by raising public awareness and understanding of the emerging space frontier. The Educational Management Group has conducted its final production of the Stardust educational series. One of the four programs in the series featured questions from students from 27 schools throughout the United States. It is estimated that over 1.2 million students viewed one or more of the programs. Recently, members of the Stardust team attended the grand opening of the Stardust Cafe and Stardust Planetarium show in Oklahoma City (NASA/JPL).



Hughes Space and Communications will be building a backup satellite for Asiasat 3S. Contract negotiations between Hughes and Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co. are expected to be completed in early 1999. Under terms of the contract, Hughes would provide a replacement for AsiaSat 3S if it suffers a launch failure -- the satellite is slated for launch in the first quarter of 1999. The replacement satellite, designated AsiaSat 3SB, is a duplicate of AsiaSat 3S and would be delivered for launch on an AsiaSat launch designated launch provider by the end of 1999. Should it not be needed, the replacement order would be altered for a future AsiaSat satellite. AsiaSat 3SB will be a 9,900 watt HS 601 satellite with 44 active transponders and have a 15 year design life. This is the fourth satellite that Asia Satellite Telecommunications has contracted with Hughes (Hughes PR).


The US Federal Communications Commission on November 19 proposed a rule that would allow SkyBridge to operate non-geostationary satellites in the Ku-band radio spectrum used by geostationary spacecraft. SkyBridge was able to demonstrate that their system could be operated without interfering with the established GEO systems. A final ruling is expected in mid to late 1999. SkyBridge hopes to begin construction on their 80 satellite LEO constellation in early 1999 (SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • December 2 - Pegasus XL, SWAS, Vandenberg AFB
  • December 3 - Shuttle Endeavor, STS-88, UNITY NODE 1 Assembly flight for the INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION, ISS-01-2A, Pad 39A, KSC.
  • December 4 - Ariane 42L, Flight 114, Satmex comsat, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • December 10 - Delta 2, Flight 264, Mars Climate Orbiter, Cape Canaveral.
  • December - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • December 14 - Shuttle Endeavor lands at KSC.
  • December 15 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1 (CRSS), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • December 22 - Ariane 42L, fight 115, PanAmSat-6B, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • January 3 - Delta 2, flight 265, Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 probe, pad 17B Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • January 8 - Delta 2, flight 266, USAF ARGOS, SUNSAT & ORSTED, SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • January 13 -Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.


The current population of space returns is at the base- line of two Russians on the Mir space station. This marks the completion of 3365 days of continuous human habitation in space since the reoccupation of Mir on September 7, 1989. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for eight days.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1998

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