Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #127

Frontier Status Report #127

December 4, 1998

Dale M. Gray

Frontier Historical Consultants An important week in the development of the space frontier. The second element of the International Space Station was launched. Other ISS activity includes the naming of the US Laboratory module, the delivery of the first solar wing, the addition of Ukraine into the ISS program, SpaceHab and Boeing receive additions to existing ISS related contracts, and work moves forward to commercialize the station.

Other news of note includes passage of a commercial space bill by the Australian Senate. Russia has asked NASA to consider a new mission to Mir to retreave equipment. Problems scrub both a Pegasus launch and an Ariane 4 launch. The Ikonos-1 launch on an Athena rocket has been postponed until June 1999. Rotary Rocket completes test of their revolutionary landing system.

Headlines of the week of December 4 include:

  • Shuttle Endeavor launched on first US space station mission
  • Pegasus launch delayed twice
  • Ariane 4 launch delayed
  • Australian Senate passes Space Activity Bill
  • NASA considers new mission to Mir


The Zarya module has completed two weeks in orbit with only minor technical issues. The second element, the Unity Node was launched on the Shuttle Endeavor on December 4 after a one day delay. The International Space Station program is now preparing for the joining of the orbiting Zarya module and the Unity node in the Shuttle cargo bay. While the first two elements orbit the globe, a number of ISS related events have occurred on the ground.


At a ceremony at KSC on December 2, NASA formally announced the name of the US Laboratory module as "Destiny". The advanced research module is slated for launch on STS-98 in February 2000 on the sixth ISS construction flight. At 28 foot long, 14,545 Kg, the module has pushed NASA to enhance the Shuttle's lifting capabilities. It will be fitted with 13 racks of science experiments and 11 racks of environmental system controls. As the third element of the International Space Station to be named, its name was chosen to symbolize humanity's quest to explore, discover and understand the universe (Flatoday; NASA).

Solar Panels

The first of eight solar array wings for the International Space station was delivered to Kennedy Space Center by its manufacturer Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space. The array wing when unfurled in space will measure 108 x 38 feet -- the largest ever built for space flight. Each solar wing consists of two solar blankets and a mast assembly. Each blanket consists of 82 solar cell panels -- each with 200 cells. Together the eight solar array wings are theoretically capable of generating 246 Kw, but will degrade over 15 years in orbit to 185 Kw. The solar array will be launched and delivered to the International Space Station in 1999. A prototype of the system was previously flown on the Mir space station. Lockheed is designing, building and testing the eight solar array wings under a $450 million contract with Boeing and NASA (Lockheed PR).


The Ukrainian National Space Agency is considering joining the International Space Station program. For the past year, a plan has been in the works for Ukraine to build one of two Russian science labs. In exchange for the $100 to $150 million module, Ukraine would be allowed to carry out science experiments and possibly send its own cosmonauts to the station. Like Brazil and Italy, Ukraine would be considered a participate rather than a full partner (Flatoday).


Exercising an option on their previous REALMS contract with SpaceHab, NASA has opted to utilize a SpaceHab Logistics Double Module and possibly a new Integrated Cargo Carrier for the new STS-98 supply mission to the International Space Station. Previously under the REALMS contract SpaceHab provided a Research Single Module for the October 29, 1998 flight best known for John Glenn's involvement. Under the same contract SpaceHab is preparing modules for STS-96, the ISS resupply mission in May of 1999, and STS-107 which is slated for 2000 which will debut SpaceHab's Research Double Module. The new mission is estimated to be worth $18 million for SpaceHab (SpaceHab PR).


NASA has signed a contract modification with Boeing to supply additional engineering and pre-launch testing for the International Space Station. Boeing currently holds the prime contract for the station which is valued at $7.1 billion, the new cost- plus-award-fee contract has a value of over $163 million (NASA).


NASA is moving ahead with plans to increase commercial use of the International Space Station. KPMG Peat Marwick, a marketing firm, will conduct an initial market assessment. Two companies have already submitted proposals that are under consideration by NASA. One involves sending a corporate astronaut to the station to conduct experiments and another is seeking to enhance produce development by exploiting the microgravity and ultra-vacuum environments available at the station. NASA is also considering a policy change to allow "public service" sponsorship of flight equipment ranging from cameras to food and beverages. Another policy change under consideration is the creation of a "nongovernmental organization" which would conduct the day to day business of commercial operations (Flatoday).


The Shuttle Endeavor was launched from Kennedy Space center at 3:35 am EST on December 4. The Shuttle with her six member crew entered orbit safely eight minutes later. In the cargo bay of the Shuttle is the American-made Node 1, named Unity, which will be joined to the orbiting Zarya module on the third day of the 12 day flight. Astronaut Nancy Currie will grab the Zarya module with the Shuttle's arm and position it six inches from the US docking port. Commander Robert Bana will then use Shuttle thrusters to dock the two modules together (NASA; AP; Flatoday).

Three external spacewalks by astronauts Jerry Ross and Jim Newman will be necessary to make a variety of electrical and other service connections. A second walk will see the installation of two communications antennas which will help ground controllers send commands to the station through NASA's Tracking and Data Relay satellites. A third walk will be used to complete any work left unfinished during the first two walks, stow a tool box and install a handrail on the far end of Zarya. Both spacewalking astronauts will be wearing backpacks that have small thrusters that can return them to the station if accidentally set adrift. Ross will test the backpack system while remaining tethered to the station/Shuttle. Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev who was recently added to the flight will work inside the connected modules to help bring the station to life. Krikalev has previously flown on the Shuttle, been stationed on Mir and will be part of the first crew to man the station in early 2000 (NASA; Flatoday).

The launch of the Shuttle was delayed one day due to a hydraulic issue detected with only 4.5 minutes left in the countdown. Because of the narrow launch window, the problem could not be adequately addressed and the flight was recycled for the following morning. The problem was traced to a momentary dip in pressure in the hydraulic power unit No. 1 which dropped below red-line limit of 2400 psi to 1600 psi then returned to normal. The problem was discussed by launch controllers until T-19 seconds when the mission was scrubbed because the launch window had closed. Shortly after reaching orbit, the following day one of three hydraulic power units overheated, but the problem was not expected to have an impact on the mission. Thursday's scrub is the first in 19 missions, the last launch delay occurred on STS-74 at the T-5 minute mark because of a weather related issues (Flatoday).

The shuttle utilized three Block IIA engines. this is the first flight for ME-1, the second flight for ME-2 and the fifth flight for ME-3. The two solid rocket boosters have been assembled from a variety of previously flown components which have flown on missions ranging from an upper segment of the right booster that few on STS-1 to the C.F. Cylinder of the left booster which flew on STS- 78 (Thiokol Propulsion PR).


Russia has asked NASA to consider a final Shuttle mission to Mir. The mission would be used to retrieve equipment from the aging space station for future use in connection with the new International Space Station. While NASA is assessing the risks, costs and benefits of such a mission. Shuttle missions currently are estimated to cost $500 million. Should the decision be made to proceed, it would take a minimum of six months to plan and execute the mission (AP).


The scheduled launch of Ariane 4 rocket flight 114 carrying the Hughes-built SatMex-5 was postponed on December 4 due to a "anomalous reading" in the satellite. The launch was rescheduled for December 5 (Flatoday).


Orbital Sciences announced this week that it had successfully launched a suborbital rocket for the USAF Space and Missile Center. The launch, from the vicinity of Hawaii, was the 34th consecutive successful mission for the company and the seventh in the last four months. These launches occurred from six different locations, including: Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, California, Virginia and New Mexico. Orbital Sciences expects to launch a Pegasus carrying the Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS) from Vandenberg AFB on December 2. Weighing only 284 kg, the satellite which was built by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, is one of NASA's Small Explorers (SMEX) satellites. The satellite will be placed into a 370 mile orbit and will observe 3 - 5 astronomical objects per 97 minute orbit (NASA; PR Newswire).


A Wednesday, December 2 launch attempt of NASA's Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite on a Pegasus rocket was canceled after the L-1011 jet left the ground. A problem with range software produced unreliable vehicle tracking data. The jet returned to Vandenberg AFB and the launch was recycled for Friday. On Friday, December 4, excessive tail winds in the launch area again scrubbed the mission. The launch was rescheduled for Saturday, December 5 with a launch window between 7:51 and 9:15 pm EST (Orbital Sciences PR; Flatoday).


Rotary Rocket has successfully completed ground tests of its "whirl tower". The tests are part of the qualifying program for the innovative rotary landing system that will be employed by the Roton reusable launch vehicle. During the ground tests the four bladed rotor was found to be controllable and responsive up to a predetermined shut-off of 75 rpm. The rotors are powered by tip thrusters fueled by hydrogen peroxide and are continuously throttleable up to a maximum of 350 lbs. The thrusters previously were subject to extensive static testing. The Atmospheric Test Vehicle (ATV) now under construction is slated for testing in the second quarter of 1999. The vehicle uses the latest advanced composite fuel tanks, innovative engines and streamlined operations. Engines have completed final firing tests. The rotor system will be used to bring the returning vehicle to a stop as it touches down. Roton hopes to place a two person reusable spacecraft in commercial service in 2000. The primary contractor for the project is Scaled Composites which was founded by Burt Rutan, who designed the first round-the-world aircraft Voyager (; Rotary Rocket).


In an effort to stave off a financial crisis, the Brazilian government is cutting key projects as much as 50 percent. Included in these cuts is the $110 million budget for the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) which is a participating member of the International Space Station. The INPE director Marcio Nogueira Barbosa hopes that his Institute will have part of their money restored (SpaceNews)


Deep Space 1

The Deep Space 1 technology demonstrator as of December 2 had fired its ion thruster at a variety of levels for 190 hours. This sets a new record for the longest uninterrupted thrust for any deep space probe. The ion engine with a throttle rating between 0 and 111 was run at levels up to 90 which drew approximately 2.4 kW which is near the maximum electrical power available from the solar panels. Like the ion engine, the twin solar panels are also cutting edge technology. A series of 720 lenses concentrate sunlight on high-efficiency solar cells. During the week the camera/imaging spectrometer was uncovered and will remain uncovered for the remainder of the mission -- images have already been recovered. The craft is now 15 times further than the Moon and a signal takes 40 seconds to make the round trip (NASA/JPL).


On December 3 at 10:06 pm PST, the Saturn mission spacecraft Cassini fired its engine for 90 minutes during a planned "deep space maneuver". The maneuver slowed Cassini's speed by 450 kph from 67,860 kph to 66,240 kph. The maneuver is one of two long burns over the course of the mission. The burn adjusts the craft's course to intersect Venus for a gravity boost fly-by in June of 1999. All spacecraft systems are reported to be in excellent condition. Cassini will reach Saturn in July of 2004 (NASA/JPL).



The launch of IKONOS 1 has been delayed from December to June 1999. A problem was been discovered with a subsystem of the one-meter resolution satellite during final verification testing. The satellite was built by Lockheed Martin for Space Imaging. It will be launched from Vandenberg AFB on a Lockheed Martin Athena II rocket. Space Imaging currently provides space imaging services utilizing the Indian Remote Sensing Satellites, US Landsat, Canada's RADARSAT and the European Space Agencies ERS satellites as well as aerial-derived information products (Space Imaging PR).


North Korea

US Reconnaissance satellites have detected activity in North Korea indicating that the country is preparing for another rocket launch with international ramifications. Since November 20, North Koreans have been seen moving parts of their new Taepo Dong missile to the launch pad. North Korea previously attempted to orbit a satellite from a similar rocket system on August 31. Since the flight of the rocket passed over Japan, the Japanese government protested and has since proposed a joint missile defense plan with the United States (AP).


A Pentagon study reported by the Los Angeles Times is warning that China may be developing a ground-based anti-satellite capability. The technology would involve high powered lasers fired at spy satellites. China, having witnessed the effectiveness of US satellite imaging and mapping during the Gulf War has apparently embarked on the technological program as a way to off-set US superior technology. The $1 billion-plus Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser program produced a similar laser in the mid-1980s. The Miracl laser burns chemicals to create a one million watt energy stream focused into a six foot diameter beam. China was earlier reported to be working on methods for jamming GPS signals (AP).



On November 30, the Australian Senate passed the Space Activities Bill. The bill establishes a legislative and regulatory framework that provides appropriate regulation (including licensing, safety and liability) for Australian space launch activities. The bill also seeks an appropriation of $1.3 million (Au) in the 1998-99 budget to establish a Space Licensing and Safety Office to administer the Act. The Office would employ a staff of five, one of which would be present at any launch (Michael Hettinger; ).



The Nestle Chocolate company has created nine Nestle Crunch candy bars to commemorate America's great moments in space. Scenes appearing on the bar include: First American In Space, 1961; Space Walk, 1965; First Man on the Moon, 1969; Lunar Rover, 1971; Space Shuttle Columbia, 1981; Hubble Space Telescope, 1994; Mars Pathfinder, 1997; International Space Station, 1998; and Stardust Mission, 1999 (NASA/JPL).



Orbcomm Global has announced the inauguration of full commercial service of its global data communications network. The service based upon a constellation of 28 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and 14 (active or under construction) gateway earth stations on five continents. Services provided include fixed-site monitoring, mobile asset tracking and two-way messaging/wireless e-mail services world-wide. Applications include extension of corporate IT systems, e-mail links to anywhere on the Earth, GPS locate anything anywhere capability. Tests have shown message delivery reliability exceeding 99.99%. Subscriber equipment offered by five manufactures in 11 product types and application software packages cover over 25 specific uses. The LEO network includes 28 satellites in five orbital planes with 10 ground "spare" satellites. Orbcomm has full or provisional operating licenses in 21 countries with regional service providers who plan to distribute its services in 80 to 90 countries by the end of 1999 (Orbcomm PR).


MCI Telecommunications and News Corporation Limited announced an agreement in which the license to operate a high- powered DBS business at the 110 degrees West Longitude orbital slot will be transferred to EchoStar. Other assets transferred to EchoStar include two Loral-built satellites to be launched in 1999; a new direct broadcast uplink center at Gilbert, Arizona; a world-wide license agreement to manufacture and distribute set-top boxes using NDS encryption./decoding technology; and a three-year retransmission consent agreement for DISH Network (TM) to rebroadcast FOX Network owned-and-operated local station signals to their respective markets. In exchange for these assets, News Corporation will receive 24,030,000 newly-issued shares of Class A Common Stock; MCI will receive 5,970,000 similar shares which represent 37 percent of EchoStar's full-diluted equity and 8.5 percent of the total voting powers. With the closing of the transaction, all litigation between EchoStar and News Corporation will end with some conditions. Approval by regulatory agencies and EchoStar share holders is still pending (EchoStar PR).


Under an agreement with ISC Kosmotras, a Russian/Ukrainian consortium, Thiokol Propulsion will market launches on converted SS-18 ballistic missiles. The new rocket, named "Dnepr", will make its first launch in April of 1999 (SpaceNews).


The 84-nation Inmarsat consortium expects to post 30 percent increase in satellite telephone sales for the year and an 18 percent increase in telephone use. Most of the increase was due to usage of the Mini-M phone, a notebook computer-size satellite phone which appears to have benefited from public interest derived from the introduction of the Iridium system (SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • December 5 - Pegasus XL, SWAS, Vandenberg AFB.
  • December 5 - Ariane 42L, Flight 114, Satmex comsat, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • December 6 - Shuttle Endeavor rendezvous with Zarya module in orbit.
  • December 10 - Delta 2, Flight 264, Mars Climate Orbiter, Cape Canaveral.
  • December - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • December 15 - Shuttle Endeavor lands at KSC.
  • 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 has risen to eight from the base-line of two Russians on the Mir space station. The increase includes five American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut on the Shuttle Endeavor. This marks the completion of 3377 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 15 days.

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