Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #128

Frontier Status Report #128

December 11, 1998

Dale M. Gray

This week was perhaps the busiest in the history of the space frontier with activity on all fronts. The first elements of the International space station were joined in orbit. One commercial and three governmental launches occurred from four sites around the world. TRW opened a new solar panel factory while Intel gave Sandia Labs rights to develop radiation hardened versions of the powerful Pentium processor. Orbital Sciences and Boeing both received contract awards from the government.

Highlights of the week of December 11 include:

  • Zarya and Unity space station modules joined in orbit
  • Delta 2 launch of the Mars Climate Observer
  • Pegasus launch of SWAS
  • Ariane 4 launch of Satmex -5
  • Russian Kosmos-3M launch of navigation satellite


It has been an eventful week for the Shuttle Endeavor and the International Space Station. On Sunday, December 6, the astronauts on Shuttle Endeavor successfully captured the previously-launched Zarya module. Nancy Curry, using the 50 foot shuttle arm brought the module within inches of the Unity node. Unity had previously been unstowed and had been placed on the Shuttle's docking mechanism. To complicate matters, no direct observation of the docking could be made. The astronauts utilized a computerized vision system and cameras for the maneuver. Once the module and node were closely aligned, Robert Cabana fired the Shuttle's thrusters to lock the two together. The connection did not occur on the first attempt, it took several tries. Finally the problem was successfully analyzed, the shuttle arm released the module prior to the thruster firing and the first two pieces of the International Space Station were joined (AP).

At 5:10 pm on Monday, December 7, astronauts Jerry Ross and James Newman conducted the first of three space walks. During the 7 hour 21 minute walk Ross made 44 electrical connections of power and data cables. Because the pair finished the assigned tasks well ahead of schedule, they attached safety wires and hand rails on the Zarya module -- a task slated for the third spacewalk. They also inspected the problematic docking antennas that will be used on the backup docking system. Before the astronauts returned to the Shuttle, flight controllers were able to turn on the power in the Unity module. The module has no power source of its own, the connections made during the space walk allowed power from the Zarya module's solar panels to flow into Unity. During the walk, Ross assumed the mantel of having the most EVA time for American astronauts (AP; Flatoday).

On Tuesday, as Ross and Newman recuperated from their spacewalk, the Shuttle was used to boost the station to a higher orbit. With the two modules towering 70 feet above the Shuttle, thruster firings had to be timed to minimize swaying of the structure. While a 2.5 mile increase was planned, the Shuttle was able to raise the orbit by five miles.

On Wednesday, December 9, Ross and Newman again ventured out of the Shuttle to continue external work on the station. Because Unity was such a close fit in the Shuttle cargo bay, several pieces of externally mounted equipment could not be attached on the ground. The pair attached two 100 pound antennas to either side of the Unity Module. The antennas provide a link with NASAs Tracking and Data Relay satellite system. This enables ground controllers to have continuous contact with the station. Once the antennas were installed, Newman managed to unjam one of the two stuck docking antennas using a ten-foot pole with a hook on the end. The pair also installed sunshades over a computer mounted on the outside of the module. During this operation, one of the four shades managed to escape its tether and drift free of the station (AP; Flatoday).

Thursday marked the grand opening of the International Space Station. Having successfully unbolted the three doors that separate the Shuttle from the Station, Shuttle Commander Robert Cabana and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev floated side-by side through the open doorway to enter into the Unity Node for the first time. The first official act in the new station was to turn on the lights. Astronauts and cosmonaut then went to work installing air ducts and fans. They wired the communications system that will allow the station crew to hold video conferences with the ground. They also brought aboard laptop control computers, food and other supplies that will be used by the first crew -- which will include Krikalev -- in early 2000. In addition to preparations for occupation, astronauts also removed braces that supported Unity during the rigors of launch. The three hatches separating Unity from Zarya were also unbolted. Krikalev then replaced faulty electrical components associated with the charging of one of Zarya's storage batteries (AP).

On Saturday, Ross and Newman will once again venture out of the Shuttle. During their last spacewalk for this mission, the pair will try to unfurl the second stuck docking radar, test a $7 million jet backpack and inspect the Russian docking port. Next week, after the Shuttle undocks from the station, the crew will launch two small science satellites. The Shuttle is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center at 10:56 pm EST Tuesday (Flatoday).

On the ground, both of Endeavor's solid rocket boosters have now been recovered and inspected. They are both in good condition. The pad inspection has also been completed with less than usual damage recorded. Pad 39A will now undergo an eight month modification and upgrade period which will be completed by August of 1999 (NASA).


While overshadowed by events on the International Space Station, the Russian space station continues operations. The station survived the Leonid meteor shower without incident or comment. Cosmonauts continue to study gamma radiation along their orbital path, neutron streams and the Earth's ionosphere. The Lidar Alisa was used for remote sensing of remote Siberia. The Optizon furnace was used for melting experiments. Routine maintenance was conducted without incident. The station is in a gradually decreasing 358 x 347 km orbit -- losing about 100 meters per day (Chris v. d. Berg).


At 7:43 pm EST on Saturday December 5, an Ariane 42L rocket was launched on Flight 114 from the Kourou, French Guiana launch complex. The Ariane 4 rocket was configured with two liquid-propellant strap-on boosters. The 4,135 kg Hughes-built Satmex-5 was deployed into a 200 x 21,607 km x 6.99 degree inclination geostationary transfer orbit 19 minutes 37 seconds after launch. By utilizing the third-stage performance reserve, the satellite exceeded minimum transfer orbit requirements by over 2000 km. The launch was delayed one day due to an "anomalous reading" in the Satmex-5 telemetry. The next Ariane launch, Flight 115 of PAS 6B, is scheduled for December 21 (Flatoday; Arianespace PR)

Satmex-5 will be deployed in the 116.8 degree West longitude orbital slot where it will deliver Spanish language direct-to-home television, rural telephony, distance learning, telemedicine and other communications services to Mexico, North America and Latin America. The satellite is a Hughes HS 601 HP satellite which features 24 C-band transponders and 24 Ku-band transponders both operating at 36 MHz. The 3-axis stabilized satellite will be capable of producing 8.4 kW of power at the beginning of its 15 year service life. Innovations incorporated into the satellite include dual-junction gallium arsenide solar cells, radiation-cooled traveling wave tube amplifiers, advanced battery technology and xenon ion propulsion system. The satellite replaces the Moralos 2 satellite. SatMex is 75 percent owned and managed by Loral Space and Telefonica Autrey (Flatoday; Loral PR).


At 1:45:51 pm December 11, a Delta 2 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station pad 17A. The launch of the Mars Climate Orbiter was delayed two days due to a software issue. During the first three minutes of the launch, the four solid rockets performed nominally and were then jettisoned -- two at a time. Between four and five minutes after launch, the first stage separated and the payload fairing was jettisoned. The first burn of the second stage lasted 11minutes and 22 seconds and placed the rocket into a 189 km orbit. At T+39 minutes the second stage completed a second burn of half a minute and then separated from the second stage. Third stage burn lasted 88 seconds -- taking the spacecraft out of Earth orbit. The Mars Climate Orbiter separated from the third stage 47 minutes after launch. Solar arrays deployed and signal was acquired by NASA's Deep Space Network near Canberra at 2:45 pm EST (Flatoday; NASA).

The Boeing Delta 2 rocket is powered by a Rocketdyne RS-27 main engines and four solid rocket engines. The main engine utilizes RP- 1, a highly refined form of kerosene, and liquid oxygen (LOX). The RS-27 provides 200,000 pounds of thrust. The graphite epoxy solid rocket boosters were built by Alliant Techsystems. This was the 76th science mission to be launched on the Delta system since 1961 with an overall success rate of 98% (Flatoday; NASA; Boeing PR).

The 634 kg Mars Climate Observer was built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics and is managed by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It will arrive at Mars in October of 1999 where it will go into a near- circular, sun-synchronous orbit. It is equipped with a pressure modulator infrared radiometer (PMIRR), a Mars color imager (MARCI), along with support systems which include a solar array, a high gain antenna and UHF antennas. It will observe seasonal change and map resources over the course of a Mars year (687 Earth Days). It will also serve as an orbital relay for the Mars Polar Lander mission which will be launched in January of 1999 and follow-on missions through 2002 (Boeing PR).


A Pegasus XL rocket was dropped from an L- 1011 aircraft at 7:58 pm EST December 5 from a location 100 miles off the coast of California near Vandenberg AFB. The satellite was released into orbit after 11.5 minutes of flight. The flight was twice delayed. The first launch attempt on December 2 was scrubbed due to unreliable vehicle tracking data. The second attempt on December 4 was delayed due to strong tail winds in the drop zone. The 284 kg Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS) will make first- time observations relating to the creation of stars. During the two year, $64 million mission the spacecraft will study the chemistry of interstellar clouds and collect data relating to the process by which gravity collapses massive interstellar clouds in the formation of stars. SWAS will focus on the submillimeter band which is rich in spectral lines from molecular clouds-- measuring the lines of oxygen and water to study the cooling of molecular cloud cores. The satellite contains a 0.6 m telescope with a 490-550 GHz submillimeter receiver and an acousto-optical spectrometer. SWAS will begin its sky survey in about two weeks. It is the fourth of the five initial missions of the NASA Small Explorer program (Flatoday; NASA; Jonathan's Space Report)..


A Kosmos-3M rocket was launched on December 10 from Plesetsk. The rocket placed a Nadehzda navigation/search satellite into a 987 x 1045 km x 83 degree orbit. Attached to the satellite was the Swedish Space Corporation's microsatellite Astrid- 2. The 30 kg satellite was released orbit where it will measure auroral electromagnetic fields and particle environments (Jonathan's Space Report).


Mars Global Surveyor

Data received from the laser altimeter in the Mars Global Surveyor show the northern ice cap to be the size of Texas -- deeper, but much smaller than previously thought. The ice cap measures 750 miles across and is 1.8 miles deep. The amount of water calculated to be contained in the cap is not sufficient to have carved the deep gullies observed on the planet and is about 10 times less than that required to fill an ancient ocean whose basin is observed on the red planet. The ice cap rests in a deep basin that may have been created by an asteroid impact. About 2.6 million laser pulse measurements were assembled into a topographic grid with a spatial resolution of .6 miles. The data was collected during the spring and summer of 1998. The Mars Global Surveyor Mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA; AP).



The failure of a battery cell caused NASA's Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBS) to be placed in a spacecraft emergency in the morning of December 7. The 14 year old spacecraft is controlled by the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland (LaunchSpace).


The Intelsat Board of Governors during a meeting on December 3 - 8 has decided to deregister a number of orbital slot registrations with the International Telecommunications Union (LaunchSpace).



Boeing was recently selected by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center for a four-year program to develop the $150 million Future-X Pathfinder flight demonstrator program. The program will produce the Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV) -- an autonomous reusable spaceplane which will fly both private and governmental experiments. The first flight is slated for the second quarter of 2001 with a space Shuttle flight in early 2002. In addition three other companies and three NASA Centers were selected for seven Future- X flight experiments with a value of about $24 million. The Future- X program will produce a continuous series of advanced technology flight demonstrators that will test 29 separate space transportation technologies on the ATV testbed (NASA PR).


TRW Inc. has opened a new solar array production factory at the company's Space Park facility. The 100,000 square foot Space Power Production Facility will utilize state-of-the-arts technologies to produce both silicon and gallium arcinide solar cells. Using TRW developed software to control manufacture and testing, the plant will utilize automated equipment to assemble solar panels, solar arrays, electrical cables, harnesses and batteries. In the coming months, TRW will also add a production line for processing amorphous silicon chips (TRW PR;


The US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory and Intel Corp. have reached an agreement in which Intel will provide royalty-free license for its Pentium processor design. The agreement will save the government hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs and provide a 10-fold increase in computing power of radiation-hardened microchips. Intel reportedly spent $1 billion in developing the commercial version of the Pentium chip. Sandia will produce a radiation-hardened version of the Pentium processor for use in space and defense electronics. In the 1980s Intel provided similar rights to Sandia for the Intel 8085 and 8051 microcontrollers. It also produced a teraflop computer based on the 9,200 Intel Pentium Pro processor for Sandia under contract in 1995. A number of governmental agencies have already lined up to receive Sandia's radiation-hardened Pentium chip (; JPL).



On December 3, the Australian House of Representatives passed the Space Activities Bill of 1998. The bill was passed by the Senate on November 30. The bill now lacks only Royal Assent before it becomes law (Michael Hettinger).

White House

The US White House appears to be ready to soften its stance on the issue of arms export licensing process. The issue revolves around the 1999 National Defense Authorization Act which transferred authority for satellite and related exports from the Commerce to State Departments as a result of the controversy surrounding the charges that US technology was inappropriately transferred to China. An Executive Order would give Commerce officials the right to appeal State Department decisions governing the export of satellites and other items appearing on the "Munitions List" -- a catalog of sensitive technologies (SpaceNews).

A classified Pentagon report completed this week has found that Hughes officials helped China improve their ability to launch satellites and therefore long-range missiles. In a Reuters interview, unnamed officials stated that the report was prepared for the USAF intelligence and the Defense Technology Security Administration at the request of two congressional committees. The report states that the transfer of technology occurred when Hughes scientists helped investigate a failed launch of one of their satellites in 1995. With this help, the Chinese were able to improve the sophisticated mathematical models necessary to predict the effects of wind, atmospheric buffeting and other forces acting on accelerating rockets. Both Hughes and Loral are under investigations by the Justice Department for technology transfers. China recently denied any technology transfer occurred (Reuters).


John Glenn

Despite predictions that public interest in John Glenn would rapidly fade, honors and parades continue to be focused on the astronaut/Senator/astronaut. On Friday, December 4, John and Annie Glenn were honored in an elaborate military ceremony. John Glenn was awarded the Defense Department's highest civilian award, the Medal for Distinguished Public Service. Anne Glenn, who has been married to John for 56 years, was honored with the medal for Outstanding Public Service. During the ceremony, the Glenns and Defense Secretary William Cohen inspected troops from every branch of the service. John Glenn, who served in the Marines for 23 years, flew 149 combat missions. This month marks the end of Glenn's 24 year career in the US Senate (AP).

On Friday, December 11, Cocoa Beach, Florida, honored Glenn and his fellow crew members with a parade. While local officials preferred to honor the returning astronaut with a Saturday parade, scheduling concerns pushed the parade to Friday afternoon. Following the parade Glenn was honored at the DoubleTree hotel during a short reception. Glenn's next parade will occur in Columbus, Ohio on December 16 where he will be honored during a special joint session of the legislature. The next day Glenn will be honored in Akron and then Dayton where he will return a piece of the 1903 Wright Flyer that he carried with him into space. On Friday, Glenn will speak in Cleveland -- followed by a final parade on Saturday down the Main Street of New Concord where both John Glenn and his wife Annie grew up. After the holidays, Glenn will continue the victory tour in Japan and Spain with fellow Discovery astronauts (Flatoday).

Space Toys

Uncle Milton Industries Inc. of Westlake Village, California has introduced an educational product line named "Mars and Beyond Science Exploration System". Licensed by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the kit features a domed tent, a drink dispenser, walkie-talkies and a robotic arm that extends to collect rocks. The toys will eventually be joined by other sampling test kits. The product reached specialty stores in time for the Christmas season. The company received permission to use the JPL logo and received technical advice through the JPL Technology Affiliates Program (JPL)



The American International Underwriters Overseas Ltd. (AIUO) has announced that they will acquire approximately 4 million Class 1 interests in Iridium LLC. AIUO is a wholly-owned subsidiary of American International Group, Inc. The company joins 19 other strategic investors in Iridium (LaunchSpace).

Orbital Sciences

NASA announced that the Orbital Sciences Corporation's Pegasus rocket has been issued a task order to launch the High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (HESSI). The award was part of NASA's KSC Small Expendable Launch Vehicle Services (SELVS-KSC) contracts in which NASA expects to award 16 launch contracts in the next five years. Minimum value for each contract is $100,000. The HESSI will record both images and energy spectra of solar flare X-rays and gamma rays. Launch of the spacecraft is expected to occur in July of 2000 to concur with the next Solar Maximum (KSC PR).

Orbital Sciences announced on December 9 that it had reached an agreement to acquire Transportation Management Solutions (TMS) from Raytheon for about $21 million in cash. TMS produces satellite-aided automatic vehicle location systems for public transit fleets. The acquisition is compatible with Orbital's own Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Division which produces the OrbTrac AVL systems for utilities and other companies to track service vehicles and for mass transit bus and rail systems to improve service. The closing of the deal in late December is conditional on several conditions including the US Hart-Scott-Rodino regulations. TMS has about 75 employees at their facilities in Linthicum, Maryland and State College, Pennsylvania (


The European Regulatory Commission announced that it has adopted two decisions that are preliminary for the authorization of commercial Orbcomm services across Europe. The first decision allows the introduction of satellite communication systems into the 43 member nations of the Council of European Posts and Telecommunications (CEPT). Only Orbcomm's LEO mobile data and messaging services has satisfied all of the conditions for license under the first decision. The second decision provides for individual subscriber communicator units to be licensed for free circulation and use across national borders. Orbcomm is a partnership between Orbital Sciences ad Teleglobe (Business Wire).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • December 12 - 3rd ISS spacewalk.
  • December 15 - Shuttle Endeavor lands at KSC.
  • December 21 - 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.
  • January 26 - Athena 1, ROCSAT, Complex 46, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • January 30, ILS Proton (Block DM), Telesar 6, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • January - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.


The current population of space remains at eight. The population includes five American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut on the Shuttle Endeavor and two Russians on the Mir space station. This marks the completion of 3382 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 22 days.

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