Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #132

Frontier Status Report #132

January 8, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Another relatively slow week on the frontier. The launch of the Mars Polar Lander and its successful injection into a flight path to Mars leads the news. The commercial launch of the JCSAT-6 on an Atlas rocket was delayed -- apparently for reasons relating to the payload. The salvaged mission of the NEAR spacecraft was put on a path towards rendezvous with the asteroid Eros by a successful burn of its engine.

Highlights of the week of January 8 include:

  • Delta rocket launches Mars Polar Lander
  • JCSAT-6 delayed by telemetry glitch
  • Testing of Deep Space 1 ion engine completed
  • NEAR engine fires.


A Delta 2 rocket carrying the Mars Polar Lander was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Station Launch pad 17B on January 3 at 3:21:10 pm EST. The rocket's first stage featured four Alliant solid rocket motors in addition to the RS-27A main engine. The solid rocket engines were ejected 66 seconds after launch. The main engine fired for 4 minutes and 24 seconds. The second stage Aerojet AJ10-118K engine performed nominally with two burns -- one of 6 minutes, 44 seconds and the second for less than half a minute. The third stage fired for 88 seconds to push the spacecraft out of Earth's gravity. The Mars Polar Lander was ejected five minutes later at 4:03 pm EST -- the solar panels were then deployed. A camera mounted on the rocket provided a view of the early portion of the flight. The signal from the spacecraft was acquired at T+58 by the Deep Space Network antenna in Canberra, Australia. The launch, which occurred precisely on time, was threatened by weather earlier in the week (Flatoday; Reuters; Boeing; NASA).

The Mars Polar Lander is due to set down on the south pole of Mars on December 3, 1999. There it will serve as a weather station and will search for evidence of life with the help of a camera and a robot arm that will scoop soil samples and place them in a laboratory in the lander. The lander also features a microphone designed to return the first sounds from the surface of Mars. The Lander was constructed by Lockheed Martin Astronautics (Flatoday; Reuters).

Being transported with the MPL are the twin Deep Space 2 payloads -- two smaller probes designed to hit the surface of Mars at 644 kph. The probes will burrow into the Martian soil to test for signs of water and carbon dioxide (Reuters).

While the MPL was successfully placed on a route to Mars, the on- board star-tracker failed to set itself in the post-launch cruise configuration. Analysis of the problem revealed that light reflected off the back-shield was the source of the problem. The spacecraft was then reoriented from the ground to put surfaces near the instrument into shadow. The system was then reset and the craft was then able to orient itself using the star camera. Tracking of the craft will be reduced from 24 hours to three 4 hour passes. The Mars Polar Lander is functioning nominally and on January 8 was reported to be 810,000 kilometers from Earth on a Type 2 Trajectory. A correction maneuver is scheduled for January 18 to remove a trajectory error designed so that the trailing third stage will not follow the spacecraft to Mars (NASA).


The launch of the JCSAT-6 television satellite has been delayed from the scheduled January 13 launch on an Atlas 2AS rocket. An apparent telemetry problem has resulted in the satellite being removed from the rocket and returned to the Titusville processing center. The satellite was built by Hughes Space and Communications for Japan Satellite Systems. The satellite launch was previously delayed from the summer of 1998 when a lightning strike-caused power surge damaged the satellite (Flatoday).


DeepSpace 1

The ion engine on the New Millennium Deep Space 1 has completed 500 hours of operations since its successful start-up on November 24. The spacecraft has completed acceptance testing and is now ready to serve as the primary method of propulsion. The 180 pounds of Xenon on board the spacecraft is capable of increasing the speed of the spacecraft by 10,000 mph. Unlike its commercial cousins now in use, the Deep Space 1 ion engine is designed to operate with diminished exposure to solar energy and is remotely programmable. The ion engine was built by Hughes Electron Dynamics (Hughes PR).


On January 3, the NEAR spacecraft successfully completed a two-part 24 minute bi-propellant burn. An initial 3-minute small hydrazine settling burn that changed the velocity of the spacecraft by 11 mph. The second 21-minute burn increased the spacecraft's speed by 2,100 mph. The increase in speed will allow the craft to rendezvous with Eros in February 2000. Because of a problem at the end of the originally scheduled settling burn on December 20, the main burn was aborted. As a result, the craft overshot Eros on December 23. The January 3 burn is the result of a new mission plan that will salvage the mission's objectives albeit over a year later than originally planned (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory PR).



An experiment involving the US/French TOPEX/Poseidon satellite has demonstrated technology that will allow satellites to autonomously adjust their orbits. Flight controllers at JPL uplinked software that planned the satellite's actions and generated commands to steer the satellite. The software required minimal input from the ground -- changes in velocity and the time to execute the command. The TOPEX/Poseidon satellite was selected because it requires a precise ground-track and has an on-board computer that could be used without affecting normal satellite operations. The computer is part of an experimental Global Positioning System receiver that is normally used for precise orbit determination. The first satellite scheduled to test complete autonomous navigation is the New Millennium Program's Earth Orbiter 1 planned for launch in late 1999 or early 2000 (NASA/JPL).


The Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) has been delayed from its planned February 18 launch until May or June 1999. The delay will allow the testing and reworking of one of three attitude gyros constructed by Allied Signal Technical Services Corp. The satellite will be launched on a Delta 2 rocket (SpaceNews).



A funding problem has caused Kistler Aerospace to delay plans to build an Australian launch site. Kistler officials stated in the Adelaide newspaper "The Advertiser" on January 5 that no work has been done on the Woomera launch site since the July ground breaking. At that time, Dan Brandenstein, executive vice president of Kistler, stated that the K-1 would launch from Woomera in mid- 1999 provided an additional $300 million could be raised. The company's situation is related to the Asian financial crisis and the resultant weak bond market in the second half of 1998. Australia has pledged financial support, but the funds will not be available until the project begins. The launch site development is expected to cost around $45 million (US). The facility was expected to be completed by the end of 1998 with first flight of the K-1 reusable rocket in early 1999. With the current delays it is now unlikely that the first launch will occur before 2000 (SpaceViews; SpaceNews).


Trade Limits

Trade limits imposed on Russian launches will have an impact on the joint Russian/American business International Launch Services (ILS) which is based in San Diego. The firm which markets Russia's Proton rocket has more payloads to launch this year than are allowed under the US - Russian space launch accord. While the accord does allow an expansion of launches if market conditions warrant, US government officials have capped the number of launches until Russia does more to stem the transfer of missile technology to Iran. ILS is composed of Lockheed Martin, Rocket Space Corp. Energia of Korolev, Russia and the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow (Space News).



In the light of the recent failures on Hughes Space and Communications satellites, the company has decided to return to a standardized satellite manufacturing policy that resulted in a nearly flawless 35 year satellite production record. In recent years, Hughes tried to custom-build satellites to fit customer's needs. The results will be a nearly generic HS 601 satellite (SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • 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 - Long March 3B, ChinaSat-8, Xichang Satellite Launching Center China.
  • February 2 (tentative) - 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.
  • February 21 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Asiasat-3S, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • February 22 - Soyuz TM-29, Mir-27 crew, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • Delayed - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, pad 36A, 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 3410 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 50 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is scheduled to begin in about 12 months.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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