Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #129

Frontier Status Report #129

December 18, 1998

Dale M. Gray

Following the intense activity of last week, the space community is winding down for the Christmas break. The crew of the Shuttle Endeavor completed a final spacewalk, launched two satellites and touched down in Florida on Tuesday. While there were no reported launches, NASA spacecraft continue exploring technology and the solar system.

Highlights of the week of December 18 include:

  • Shuttle Endeavor completes historic construction mission to the International Space Station.
  • Mars Climate Observer on its way to Mars
  • Lunar Prospector orbit lowered
  • Deep Space 1 tests systems and instruments
  • NEAR approaches asteroid Eros.


On Saturday, December 12, Shuttle Endeavor astronauts Jerry Ross and James Newman completed the third and final spacewalk on their historic International Space Station construction flight. The walk began at 3:33 pm EST and lasted almost seven hours. During the walk the pair placed a 2 x 2 foot tool box containing an assortment of wrenches, ratchets, clamps, bars, foot loops, tethers and other tools on top of the Unity module. Ross, standing on the end of the Shuttle arm utilized a 10 foot pole to prod the remaining stuck docking antenna. After a few minutes of jiggling the roll-out antenna, it unfurled to its full four foot extension. A photo survey of the exterior of the station was then completed. A test of the astronauts emergency jet packs was successfully conducted while the spacewalkers were tethered in the Shuttle cargo bay. The $7 million backpack is equipped with 24 nitrogen thrusters to enable accidentally adrift astronauts to return safely to the ISS/Shuttle. When the Shuttle is docked to the Station, it is unable to fly free and retrieve any astronaut that might get separated from the station during space walks. As a result of the test, it was determined that the safety system worked well, but used gas at a higher rate than during simulations. With seven space walks, Ross holds the record for American astronauts. Together Ross and Newman logged 21 hours and 22 minutes during their three space walks (Flatoday).

On Sunday, December 13, the Shuttle Endeavor undocked from the International Space Station at about 3:30 pm EST. After releasing from the station, the Shuttle circled at 450 feet to conduct a photo survey. Late in the evening, the Argentinean satellite SAC-A was released. After 47 orbits the Argentinean satellite SAC-A fell silent On Monday at 7:09 pm EST, astronauts released the 318 kg USAF MightySat. The satellite seeks to study the effect of space on advanced solar cells and composite materials. It will also test a microparticle impact detector, advanced electronics and a shock device. Although weather in Florida was a concern on Monday, the shuttle was able to deorbit on Tuesday evening on orbit 185. After 11 days, 19 hours and 18 minutes, the Shuttle Endeavor touched down on the Kennedy Space Center runway 15 at 10:55 pm EST, Tuesday, December 15 -- completing the historic first ISS construction mission. Inspection of the Orbiter revealed 70 debris hits with 21 larger than one inch. Endeavor will next fly in September 1999 (Flatoday; AP; LaunchSpace NASA).


The US and Russia continue to negotiate a final Shuttle visit to the Mir space station. In an unusual turn of events the Shuttle would be used to salvage useful items from the aging station for possible use in the International Space Station. The three year old docking module was removed from the list of possible salvage items when it was determined that a new one could be fabricated for less than the cost of the salvage (SpaceNews).


Even while Russia plans eleven commercial launches in 1999, the US has moved to cap American satellite launches on Russian rockets. The US State Department has warned Russia that its collaboration with Iran's ballistic missile program has endangered US commercial launches. Seven US satellites are now scheduled for Russian launch under prior agreements until the end of 2000. The first launch will be the US Telestar 6 satellite scheduled for January 30. Last year only six of 12 scheduled commercial launches occurred. In 1997, US companies paid between $60 to $100 million each for 18 commercial Russian launches (AP).

On Wednesday, December 16, the Russian Space Agency Director Yuri Koptev stated in a news conference that his agency could commit resources to keep Mir in orbit and contribute to the International Space Station only if it can find new funding. Russia will have to spend $270 million next year to provide the long- delayed Service Module and two cargo ships. Koptev stated that Russia will raise additional funds by selling more hardware to NASA such as an escape capsule. It has already sold its early research time to NASA in exchange for $60 million to be used to complete the Service Module -- to be launched in the summer of 1999 (AP).


In light of safety issues raised by the 1997 collision of the Progress supply ship with the Mir space station, NASA has requested changes to the Japanese Experiment Module and the H2A Transfer Vehicle. The on-orbit construction of the Japanese Experimental Module is set to begin in September 2002 (SpaceNews).


While the Brazilian space budget faces as much as a 50 percent cut in its proposed $50 million budget, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) remains committed to its International Space Station contribution. The INPE has contracted with Boeing North American to provide oversight of the design and integration of hardware produced by Brazilian companies such as Embraer Air and Sao Joe dos Campos (SpaceNews).


Lunar Prospector

On December 19, the Lunar Prospector was commanded to begin lowering its orbit from 100 km to 40 km. This marks the end of the primary mission and the transition to the extended mission. In about four weeks the craft will be lowered to a 25 - 30 km orbit. These lower orbits will allow additional science data to be gathered at significantly higher resolution. This will allow scientists to refine their estimates of the concentration of hydrogen at the Lunar poles. The hydrogen has been interpreted as water ice (NASA Ames).

Mars Climate Observer

By December 13, the Mars Climate Observer had been in space for 53 hours. The spacecraft was slewed to the desired attitude on December 12 to achieve the proper solar panel position. Thereafter undesirable temperatures were measured in some propulsion system components. After discussions, the craft was returned to the original post-launch attitude and the abnormal temperatures quickly dropped. Around the clock monitoring of the spacecraft ended December 17. The craft will continue to be contacted three times a day until the launch of the Mars Polar Lander on January 3. The first Trajectory Correction Maneuver is slated for December 21. The magnitude of this maneuver is only 20 meters per second which is 20 percent less than the predicted value. After the correction, the initial check-out of the spacecraft's two science instruments will be conducted (NASA/JPL).


NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft is approaching a 25 mile long asteroid known as Eros. A series of rocket firings on December 20 will place the spacecraft into orbit around Eros. After orbit is achieved, the NEAR will spend the next three years studying the asteroid with six science instruments to determine its chemistry, mineral content, mass and density. After one year the craft will lower its orbit to within nine miles of the asteroid's surface. NEAR may be lowered to orbit as low as 390 feet above the surface. With 99 percent of the mission complete, the controllers may try to hover or even land the small craft on the surface of the asteroid. NEAR was launched in early 1996. As the first low-cost NASA mission, the spacecraft cost only $129 million to build and $211.5 million for its entire budge (AP).



The PanAmSat PAS-6B satellite has been delivered to French Guiana in preparation for its December 21 launch on a Ariane 42L rocket. The satellite, built by Hughes Space and Communications, is a HS 601 HP satellite which will be placed in the 43 degrees West Longitude orbital slot (PanAmSat PR).


The ROSAT X-ray telescope utilized the last of its reserved gas on December 8 while making observations with its last functional instrument, the Position Sensitive Proportional Counters (PSPC). The PSPC was last used in 1994 when it exhausted its supply of Xenon gas. Among the final observations was Supernova 1987a which was ROSAT's first observation in 1990. The satellite was instrumental in detecting the hidden world of pulsars, supernova remnants and galaxy clusters. Its long list of credits includes the discovery of more than 150,000 X-ray sources -- a 20 fold increase in the number of such sources known. It also assisted in theoretical work by providing information on collapsed stars and on dark matter. In September, the on-board X-ray camera was damaged when it scanned too close to the sun. Careful and creative management by the satellite's controllers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) near Munich extended the mission far beyond its original design life. The satellite is named after Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (NASA Goddard PR).


Deep Space 1

The Deep Space 1 spacecraft tested its Plasma Experiment for Planetary Exploration (PEPE) on December 8 through 10. The instrument was developed by the SouthWest Research Institute to measure electrons and ions of the solar wind. The instrument is both lighter and uses less power than instruments used on previous spacecraft. On December 11 the Miniature Integrated Camera Spectrometer (MICAS) was activated to take black and white photographs, infrared and ultraviolet measurements. The ion engine, which was turned off on December 8 so power could be utilized by the other instruments, was reactivated on December 11. The engine was then tested for maximum power output. At level 85, the engine began drawing more power than the solar panels could provide. An engine cut-off command was given when a predefined battery power level was reached. On December 14 the engine was again activated and operated at a lower level. On December 17, the spacecraft was 22 times farther away than the Moon (; JPL).


Having completed the manufacture of the 72 satellites in the Iridium fleet, Motorola is now gearing up for production of the Teledesic constellation. Because of advances and improvements in the assembly process, the Teledesic satellites will be produced at a rate of a new satellite every two days. Previously, the Iridium satellites were produced at a rate of one every four days (SpaceNews).



NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been contracted by SpaceDev to provide various analysis and planning services for the Near Earth Asteroid Prospector (NEAP). Launched in 2001, the spacecraft is slated to reach asteroid 4550 Nerius by mid-2002 for a two month mission. The JPL contract is part of preparations to utilize the 34 meter Deep Space Network (DSN) dishes to communicate with NEAP. This the first time a commercial enterprise has attempted a deep-space science mission. JPL is assessing NEAP's telecommunication design for compatibility with the DSN and will assist SpaceDev with defining and pricing JPL- provided mission-operations services, software and other engineering support. The demands placed on the DSN by NEAP are expected to be relatively modest (Spacer.Com).

Orbital Sciences

The University of Colorado at Boulder has selected Orbital Sciences Corporation to develop and build the Solar- Stellar InterComparison Experiment/Solar Atmospheric Variability Explorer (SOLSTICE/SAVE) satellite. The design, manufacturing and testing of the satellite is to be completed by 2002. While the satellite is slated for launch on a Orbital Sciences Pegasus rocket, the launch contract has not yet been awarded. The new satellite will utilize many of the technologies currently employed by the OrbView-4 high-resolution satellite now under construction. The five year contract is valued at $26 million (


Technical problems and increased government requirements have been cited as the cause of cost hundreds of millions in overruns in a billion dollar satellite contract. The news was revealed by Lockheed Martin in their contract with the National Reconnaissance Office. Lockheed-Martin was awarded the satellite contract after a 1994 award protest decision involving TRW Inc (SpaceNews).


SES, Luxembourg recently purchased 34.1 percent of Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co. Ltd. (AsiaSat). The move will allow SES access and position to take advantage of the emerging China market. The purchase takes advantage of Asia's continued economic downturn. Experts are warning that this could be the start of a wave of foreign acquisitions of Asian space companies (SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • December - Long March, Iridium replacement flight.
  • December 21 - Ariane 42L, flight 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 has dropped to the baseline of two -- both Russian cosmonauts on the Mir space Station. This marks the completion of 3389 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 29 days. Permanent habitation of the station will begin in approximately 13 months.

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