Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #133

Frontier Status Report #133

January 15, 1999

Dale M. Gray

The winter lull continues with a relatively quiet week on the frontier. A launch of a Delta rocket was twice delayed due to technical and weather issues. Cassini entered safe mode due to a problem with the star tracker. The USAF has released the results of its investigation into the failure of their Titan 4A carrying a classified NRO payload.

Highlights of the week of January 15 include:

  • Cassini enters safe mode
  • Titan 4A failure cause released
  • Delta / ARGOS launch delayed
  • Chandra X-Ray Observatory roll out


Controllers of the International Space Station noted a gradual decrease in the voltage of the Zarya module's batteries last week. Several non-critical heaters were switched off in the mating adapter as a precaution. Deep-cycling procedures were instituted to improve the batteries' performance. This procedure was planned for once every two weeks, but the schedule has been moved up to once every few days (NASA).

The station is currently in a 256 x 248 statute mile orbit circling the Earth once every 92 minutes. The station is in a slow spin that allows the conservation of propellant and promotes a moderate temperature (NASA).

The design of the ISS lifeboat has been set by NASA officials. While the contract has yet to be awarded, NASA has decided that the four Crew Return Vehicles (CRVs) will adhere to some basic design guidelines developed during the X-38 program. The decision to build upon the X-38 design is hoped to assure the emergency return vehicles will be delivered on time and on budget (SpaceNews).


It has been a quiet but productive period on the Mir space station. Experiments continue in the geophysical, biological, astrophysical, technological and medical fields. Because of power limitations, the Electron oxygen generator in the D Module had to be switched off when the Titus oven was used. In addition to routine maintenance, a unit in the Antares communication system was replaced (Chris v.d. Berg).

The launch of the next Mir crew (M-27) is slated for February 20 on Soyuz TM29. Prior to this launch the Progress M40 cargo vessel will pull away from the station to open up a docking port for the Soyuz crew vessel. As the Progress pulls away it will deploy a solar reflector experiment. While documents have not yet been signed that will provide the additional funding to extend the station's life, the Russian space agency is beginning to line up a new crew to begin their stay at the station beginning in June 1999. Additionally, the French mission may be extended from three to six months (Chris v.d. Berg).


The launch of the USAF ARGOS spacecraft on a Delta 2 rocket (flight 266) slated for January 14 was delayed to test the link between the spacecraft and the ground telemetry station. Noise intrusion was observed in the telemetry signal during final testing and launch preparations. The rocket was again delayed on January 15 because unfavorable winds. The rocket will also carry the ěrsted spacecraft for Denmark and the SUNSAT for South Africa (Boeing; SpaceViews).

The 6,000 pound Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite (ARGOS), built by Boeing, will serve as a platform to test leading-edge technology. The satellite is the largest and most advanced satellite it has ever built for the Air Force. On-board are an array of nine experiments that will demonstrate next-generation satellite technology and address more than 30 research objectives. Placed in a 450 nautical mile sun-synchronous orbit inclined at 98.7 degrees, the satellite is capable of generating 2,200 watts of power from its solar panels and can downlink up to five megabits of data per second -- twice the capacity of current satellite systems. Among the goals of the program is to space-qualify superconducting digital subsystems that could offer a factor of 100 to 1000 in power reduction while operating more than 10 times faster. The satellite will test the feasibility of using X-ray pulsars in place of GPS system timing and navigation signals. The Electric Propulsion Space Experiment (ESEX) will demonstrate reliable arc-jet thrusters in space. The spacecraft will make environmental observations over its three year design life (Boeing; SpaceNews).

SUNSAT will be used for remote sensing and amateur radio communications. The micro-satellite was built by the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. One of the primary objectives of the mission is the training of graduate students (Boeing PR).

The ěrsted satellite, built by Denmark, will be placed in a near sun- synchronous orbit where it will study the Earth's magnetic fields and electrical properties. The semiautonomous satellite is controlled by its on-board computer (Boeing PR).


The catastrophic failure of a Titan 4A rocket carrying a classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite has been identified by the USAF accident investigation board. The cause was listed as "electrical shorts in the vehicle power supply ... wiring harness most likely caused the vehicle to catastrophically fail 41 seconds into powered flight". Clear evidence was found that wire insulation damage existed in the wiring harness. After launch of the rocket as vibration increased, the wire intermittently shorted. This caused the Titan rocket to pitch downward and explode from aerodynamic forces. Destruction was completed by a self-destruct command two seconds later. The loss of rocket and payload was estimated at over $1 billion and has been called the most costly unmanned rocket failure in history (AP).



On January 11 at 6:00 pm EST, the Cassini spacecraft entered "safe" mode while in the middle of an instrument checkout exercise. As a result, the on-board computer ordered the craft to minimal power levels and positioned the 12 foot antenna between the craft and the sun. Contact was maintained through the safing via the low-gain antenna. Engineers suspect that the event was caused when the star tracker viewed a section of sky with no bright stars. Cassini was launched on October 15, 1997. Since that time the $2 billion craft has passed by Venus once and will swing by Venus again later this year - followed by a gravitational boost by Earth in August. Cassini will reach Saturn in July 2004 (AP; Flatoday; JPL).


The Japanese probe Nozomi (Hope) will not be arriving at Mars in October of this year as planned. Officials at the Institute of Space and Aeronautical Sciences (ISAS) announced that a course correction December 21 took more fuel than expected, the probe will not go into orbit around the red planet until late 2003. The change will allow the craft to reach Mars at a lower relative velocity so that less fuel will be needed to go into orbit. The half-ton vehicle will enter a 96 x 27,000 mile elliptical orbit where it will beam back data and photographs. The $80 million mission was launched from Japan on July 4, 1998. Japan is only the third country to attempt an interplanetary space mission (SpaceViews; AP).


The Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS) launched on a Pegasus rocket December 5 has begun to return scientific data. Scientist using the data have found that water is relatively common in interstellar gas clouds while molecular oxygen is yet to be found. Water had previously only been observed in hot clouds. The lack of oxygen may help astronomers determine the age of interstellar gas clouds (SpaceViews).


Chandra Observatory

At a Redondo Beach roll-out ceremony on January 14, TRW announced that the production, integration and testing of the Chandra X-ray Observatory have been completed. In late January, the 45-foot-tall space telescope will be flown to Kennedy Space Center. The satellite, which will be delivered to orbit on the Shuttle Columbia in the Spring of 1999, is the third of NASA's Great Observatories which include the Hubble Telescope and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. The X-ray telescope, built by Eastman Kodak weighs more than five tons and will have a solar wing span of 64 feet. The mirrors for the facility were built by Raytheon Optical Systems Inc., and coated by Optical Coating Laboratories with instrument integration by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. (TRW PR; LaunchSpace).



The International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat) has announced that it has chosen Loral Space & Communications to build the fifth in a series of 9th generation satellites (LaunchSpace).


Boeing has been selected by Space Systems/Loral to launch 28 Globalstar satellites on seven Delta 2 rockets in two configurations. Six launches will occur in 1999 and one in 2000. In February and April of 1998, two Delta rockets launched eight Globalstar satellites. Globalstar plans to offer global mobile and fixed telecommunications through 48 satellites with eight in-orbit spares (Boeing PR; LaunchSpace).


Motorola Satellite Communications Group has announced it has signed an agreement with Eurockot Launch Services GmbH of Bremen, Germany for the launches associated with support of the Operations and maintenance phase of the Iridium system (LaunchSpace).

Final Analysis Inc

Preparations are underway for the launch of a network of up to 38 LEO communications satellites for Final Analysis Inc. The company recently signed a $20 million deal making General Dynamics Corp. an equity partner. General Dynamics will supply its newly developed space processors for installation in satellites. In exchange for the money and undisclosed vendor financing, General Dynamics will obtain a minority interest in the Communication Services division of Final Analysis (Space News).

Soyuz / Arianespace

Arianespace is currently considering upgrades to facilities at Kourou to accommodate Russian Soyuz rockets. Arianespace is a 15 percent shareholder in Starsem -- a joint French- Russian venture that markets commercial Soyuz rocket launches from Russia. Estimated costs for the Kourou modifications run between $100 and $300 million (SpaceNews).



There appears to be some confusion on who will launch the 5,250 kg Thuraya mobile communications satellite in 2000. Hughes Space and Communications cites a billion-dollar contract signed in 1996 that includes launch services. Boeing plans to launch the satellite on a Sea Launch vehicle. Arianespace announced on January 6 that it had a firm deal to launch the satellite next year (SpaceNews).


Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act of 1999

There is some concern in the US Congress that the White House will seek to soften the satellite export-related provisions in the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act of 1999. These concerns are mitigated to some degree by a State Department export regime approved by Congress last year. Under this regime the US Department of Commerce will have a greatly reduced role in approval of US satellite export licensing (SpaceNews).


The Justice Department has urged the FCC to approve EchoStar's acquisition of a orbital slot license currently owned by News Corp and MCI WorldCom. Included in the deal between EchoStar and News Corp/MCI are two satellites currently under construction. EchoStar will pay for the assets with $1.25 billion in EchoStar stock -- 37 percent of the company and 8.5 percent of the voting rights. The deal will enable EchoStar to provide direct-to- home television programming for views with pizza-sized dishes with local broadcast channels. The Justice department earlier blocked a potential merger between News Corp and Primestar on the grounds that it would blunt competition (AP).

March Storm

The Citizen's Space Lobby, ProSpace, has announced its annual March Storm lobbying event in Washington D. C. The "grass-roots" lobbying effort will focus on Cheap Access to Space issues including the Future-X program, Zero Gravity - Zero Tax, and Investment Tax Credit. Other issues include Solar Power research and the introduction of legislation to privatize the International Space Station. To learn more about ProSpace and March Storm, go to (ProSpace; SpaceViews).



The Naval Research Laboratory attempted to deploy the 6,050 meter Advanced Tether Experiment on Thursday, January 14th. However, due to pre-deployment irregularities, the deployment was delayed until January 16. Operations proceeded normally through several early steps. On the third step, when the tether supply reel pin-puller was activated to release the reel, telemetry on the pin-puller toggled between "enabled" and "not enabled". Because the problem was not fully understood, the deployment was postponed two days. Backup commands for the tether reel pin puller were uplinked on January 15 which resulted in the end of the toggling. The experiment is part of the STEX spacecraft launched on the third Taurus flight of October 3, 1998. The experiment was powered up on January 9 for hardware and software tests including the local angle sensor which monitors the angle of the tether and ejects the ATEx if angles exceed specifications. (ATEx Mission Flight Report; LaunchSpace).


Work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory has shown that enlarging the ends of the short fibers used in composite materials substantially increases the overall strength and toughness of the material. The problem of brittle composite materials has been around for decades. Standard fibers can pull free of the matrix material if they have bonded weakly with the matrix. Alternately, fibers that bond strongly with the matrix can snap under high stresses. The bone-shaped fibers connect mechanically predominantly at their ends. They have a week interface and as a result don't experience extreme stress -- instead remaining anchored at their ends, helping to carry the load felt by the composite. When put to the test the bone-shaped fibers significantly outperformed straight fiber composites in both strength and toughness. Previously, manufacturers utilized long fibers to increase strength and toughness, but the long fibers required special care in manufacturing (

Deep Space 1

On January 10, Deep Space 1 took part in an experiment utilizing a very lightweight amplifier built by Lockheed Martin. The transmitter produced radio signals on the "Ka-band" which is four times higher than the current standard frequency used in deep space missions. The lightweight transmitter will provide significant savings for future space missions. The Deep Space 1 spacecraft is currently 17 million kilometers away from Earth (JPL).


John Glenn

The John Glenn victory tour continues with the crew of STS-95 being honored in Spain and various ESA centers in Europe. >From January 11 through 15, the crew visited Madrid (the Palacio de Congresos), Granada, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca. Pedro Duque, one of the Shuttle Discovery astronauts, is from Spain. The tour will continue through Fascati, Italy (January 18), Cologne, Germany (January 19) and Paris, France (January 20) (ESA PR).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • January 19 - Delta 2, flight 266, USAF ARGOS, SUNSAT & ORSTED, SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • January 26 - Athena 1, ROCSAT, Complex 46, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • January 29 - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • January 30, ILS Proton (Block DM), Telesar 6, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • 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.
  • February 26 - Pegasus XL, flight 26, WIRE, Vandenberg AFB.
  • March 21 - 26 - ProSpace, March Storm, Washington DC.


The current population of space remains at the baseline of two -- both Russian cosmonauts on the Mir space Station. This marks the completion of 3417 days of continuous human habitation in space since the reoccupation of Mir on September 15, 1989. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 57 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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