Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #130

Frontier Status Report #130

December 25, 1998

Dale M. Gray

An interesting week on the frontier. In an amazing turn of events, a private investor has stepped forward to save the Mir space station. Three launches of communications and navigation satellites were reported. Two Mars spacecraft conducted orbital corrections. NASA exercised options for an additional 25 flights of the X-34 and extends the Boeing ground services contract. At a critical moment, contact was lost with the NEAR spacecraft.

Highlights of the week of December 25 include:

  • Mir space station appears to have been saved
  • Long March rocket launches Iridium spares
  • Ariane 4 launches PAS-6B
  • Russian launch of a navigation satellite on Kosmos rocket
  • Contact lost with NEAR approaching asteroid Eros
  • Mars Climate Observer orbital correction


Yes, Russia, there is a Santa Claus! (sorry) A private investor has stepped forward to rescue the Mir Space Station from destruction in 1999. Yuri Semyonov, the chief of Russia's Energia space company, said the government is preparing a "document" that would guarantee the Mir investment. Russia is currently facing a fiscal squeeze in which it needs to spend about $250 million to keep Mir orbiting and $270 million for its contribution to the International Space Station while only $143 million was budgeted for the year. The deal with the private investor would extend the life of the station by three years. Russia declined to name the investor or the funding levels (AP; CNN).

The Mir complex is currently flying in a sun orbit with no eclipses. While this has created an extra burden for temperature regulation of the station, no problems have been reported. Fewer than normal repairs were reported. A repair was made to an Elektron system which corrected a high internal pressure reading. The crew also refueled the hydraulic thermoregulation system of the Kvant-2 module and repaired electronic components of experimental equipment. Experiments were conducted in plant growth, optical characteristics of the Earth's atmosphere, and in the high energy particles in space and the radiation belts (Chris v.d. Berg).


An Ariane 42L rocket with two liquid boosters was launched from Kourou, French Guiana at 8:08 EST on December 21. The 3475 kg PanAmSat 6B telecommunications satellite was released from the third stage 20 minutes and 40 seconds into the flight. PAS-6B will be placed into the 43 degrees West longitude orbital slot where it will provide direct to home television to Latin America. The HS-601HP satellite was built by Hughes Space and Communications and is equipped with 32 Ku-band transponders. With a lifespan of 15 years, PAS-6B will assure uninterrupted service to subscribers currently utilizing PAS-6 which was launched in August of 1997. PAS-6 has experienced several circuit failures in its solar arrays -- limiting the number of transponders it can use. The Ariane launch was the 10th and final for the year. Ariane flight 116 in February will carry the Arabsat-3A and Skynet-4E satellites (Flatoday; Jonathan's Space Report).


A Chinese Long March 2C/2D rocket was launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center about 6:30 am EST on December 19. The satellites were placed into a 623 x 656 km x 86.4 degree parking orbit. The Great Wall Industries rocket successfully placed two replacement Iridium satellites into orbit in Plane No. 2. The Iridium network utilizes 66 satellites in six orbital planes to provide wireless communications from nearly anywhere on Earth (Flatoday; Jonathan's Space Report).


On December 24, a Parus navigation satellite was launched from Plesetsk on a 11K65M Kosmos-3M launch vehicle. The satellite, named Kosmos-2361, was placed into a circular 969 x 1013 km x 82.9 degree orbit (Jonathan's Space Report).


NASA recently exercised an option on a contract with Orbital Science for 25 additional flights of the X-25 technology demonstration vehicle. As part of the option, NASA and Orbital have begun the planning process for mission and interaction with the New Mexico and Florida ranges where the tests will occur beginning in 2000. The first two flights will occur at test facilities at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Test flights will then be moved to Florida later in the year. Orbital Sciences was contracted to build the X-34 for NASA in 1996. The $10 million option brings the total value of the X-34 contract with Orbital up to $85 million with an additional $16.7 million committed for direct support by NASA Centers. The X-34 is a small winged rocket that is launched from an L-1011 aircraft like Orbital Science's Pegasus rocket. However, the X-34 is designed to return from space and land on a runway like an airplane. Early flights will test the new Fastrac engine at speeds up to Mach 2.5 with later flights pushing the speed up to Mach 8 and altitudes up to nearly 50 miles -- the lower verge of space. The X-34 is 58.3 feet long and 27.7 feet wide (Flatoday; Marshall Space Flight Center).

On Friday, December 18, NASA broke ground on an $8 million complex that will serve the X-34, VentureStar and commercial space enterprises. The complex at the Kennedy Space Center will include administrative offices, a large hanger and a satellite preparation building. Lockheed Martin is expected to pick three states as finalists for the VentureStar launch site next fall (Flatoday).


NASA has set a new launch date for the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF). The orbiting observatory will be shipped to Kennedy Space Center by January 28 and launched no earlier than April 8, 1999 by Columbia in STS-93. The actual launch date is subject to actual delivery of the satellite and an independent review in February. Its launch was delayed from October so that TRW, the Observatory's manufacturer, could complete testing of its software (NASA).

NASA also announced that it has renamed the satellite the Chandra X-ray Observatory in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel Laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. Chandrasekhar is widely considered one of the foremost astrophysicists of the 20th century. The name Chandra is a shortened version of Chandrasekhar's name and means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit. He won the Nobel Prize in 1983 for his theoretical studies of the physical processes in the structure and evolution of stars. He was on the faculty of the University of Chicago until his death in 1995. The name was selected in a contest -- the winning name and essay were submitted by Tyrel Johnson, a student at Priest River Lamanna High School in Priest River, Idaho and by Jatila van der Veen, a teacher at Adolfo Camarillo High School in Camarillo, California (NASA).



On December 20, NASA lost contact with the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft as it was preparing to go into orbit around the asteroid Eros. Contact was lost at 5:00 pm EST during an 18 minute firing of the spacecraft's engine. Controllers were able to briefly contact the spacecraft at 5:40 pm which indicated that the spacecraft was not destroyed and at least partially functional (AP).

At 8 pm EST on December 21, NASA's Deep Space Network reestablished positive lock on the radio signal from the NEAR spacecraft. Because the spacecraft had been out of contact for 27 hours, it missed engine firings necessary to put the spacecraft into orbit around the asteroid. Under a new mission plan, the spacecraft passed by the asteroid Wednesday December 23 and took photographs from a distance of 4,100 km. Instead of entering orbit around the asteroid on January 10, it will loop around and try again to orbit the asteroid in late 1999 or early 2000. NEAR was launched in 1996 and under the original mission plan hoped to orbit Eros for a year and possibly land on the asteroid (; AP).

Mars Global Observer

On Monday, December 21, the Mars Global Observer completed a planned trajectory correction maneuver. The 2.8 minute thruster firing was necessary to remove a designed trajectory flaw that keeps the Delta launcher's third stage from following the MGO to Mars. The maneuver also corrected a small launch injection error. Because of the accuracy of the launch, the correction was less than anticipated. The MGO is now on course for Mars orbital capture on September 23, 1999. On December 23, the Pressure Modulator Infrared Radiometer (PMIRR) and MARs Color Imager (MARCI) were powered up for the first time. Data was collected and transmitted back to Earth with one minor error that will be corrected with next week's playback. Twenty-four hour monitoring of the spacecraft ended December 17 -- MGO is now monitored three times a day. For the next four weeks, the spacecraft will utilize onboard housekeeping software for self-monitoring. The spacecraft is in excellent health with new software to regulate its thermal control (NASA/JPL).


The Japanese Nozomi Mars probe made a lunar flyby on December 18, passing within 2809 km of the surface. Two days later on December 20, the probe passed within 1003 km of Earth. Because the perigee burn produced an escape orbit with too little velocity, a correction burn on December 21 used more fuel than planned. The probe was launched in July of 1998. Six 700 x 480,000 km orbits were followed by a lunar flyby on September 24 which placed it in a loop orbit with an apogee of 1.6 million km which returned the craft to the lunar encounter of December 18 (Jonathan's Space Report).



After a second chance, the SOHO spacecraft has once again suspended its science mission. The loss of its last remaining gyroscope at 5:49 UT on December 21 caused the space craft to enter the safe mode. Earlier this year the spacecraft was lost on June 26, relocated July 27, contact reestablished August 4, properly oriented with the Sun on September 16, and science instruments put back on line subsequently. During the Leonid meteor shower the spacecraft was placed in safe mode as a precaution, but returned to service shortly thereafter. The craft will remain in safe mode as controllers work up new gyroless operation software for the spacecraft (SOHO Archives).

TOPEX/ Poseidon

An experiment involving the US/French TOPEX/Poseidon satellite was recently conducted in which the satellite completed an autonomous navigational maneuver. The experiments helps validate technology that will allow satellites to autonomously adjust their orbits. Software was uplinked that allowed the satellite to plan its actions and generate a series of commands to steer it. Ground control consisted of only changes in velocity and the time to execute the maneuver. The satellite then computed changes in orientation and the amount and timing of thruster burns. The experiment was conducted out of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The first mission to test complete autonomous navigation will be the Earth Orbiter 1 which will launch in late 1999 or 2000 (NASA).



By Royal assent, the Australian Space Activities Bill 1998 was placed into law. Formally known as the Space Activities Act 1998 (Act No. 123), the Act became law on December 21, 1998 (Michael Hettinger).



As part of their back-up launch plans, Globalstar recently awarded a launch contract for six satellites to Arianespace. The launch is slated for September 1999. Globalstar previously awarded launch contracts to Soyuz and Delta launch systems. These systems will place 32 satellites into Low Earth Orbit by the third quarter of 1999. Once functional, the system will be composed of 48 satellites with four orbiting spares. Globalstar has service provider agreements in more than 100 countries. If the Ariane launch is not needed, it will be reassigned to another Loral mission (Globalstar PR).


NASA has awarded The Boeing Company a fifth and final three year extension for payload ground operations services at Kennedy Space Center. The extension is effective from January 1999 to December 2001 and is valued at $1.8 billion. The original contract was awarded in 1987 to McDonnell Douglas Space and Defense Systems which was acquired by Boeing during the fourth extension of the contract (KSC).

Lockheed Martin

On December 23, Lockheed Martin issued a warning that its fourth quarter earnings would not meet analyst's expectations. The lowered earnings were reported to be the results of "weaker space-related sales and expenses associated with its CalComp Technology subidiary". Earnings are now expected to be $1.79 per share instead of the $2.06 formerly predicted by First Call Corp. As a result of the news, Lockheed Martin stock fell $10.50 to $84.50 on the NYSE. Company sales of products such as the F-16 fighter, Trident missile, and commercial space services topped $28 billion in 1997 (AP).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • January 3 - Delta 2, flight 265, Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 probe, pad 17B Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • January 13 - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • January 14 - Delta 2, flight 266, USAF ARGOS, SUNSAT & ORSTED, SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • 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.
  • February 3 - Ariane 44L, flight 116, Arabsat-3A & Skynet-4E, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • February 6 - Delta 2, Stardust, Cape Canaveral Air Station.


The current population of space remains at the baseline of two -- both Russian cosmonauts on the Mir space Station. This marks the completion of 3396 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 36 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is scheduled to begin in about 13 months.

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