Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #134

Frontier Status Report #134

January 22, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Delays seem to be the theme for the week's space activities. The International Space Station service module appears to be heading for one more delay. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory has electronics problems that will set it back. Unfavorable winds and weather continue to keep the Delta 2 with the ARGOS satellite on the ground. A problem with the hydrogen tank of the X-33 prototype has set the demonstrator's first flight back.

Not all the news was of delays. A sounding rocket was fired from Norway. Cassini recovered from save mode. It appears to be official now -- Mir will fly for another three years.

Highlights of the week of January 22 include:

  • Cassini recovers from safe mode
  • Service Module delayed
  • Delta / ARGOS launch delayed again and again.
  • Chandra X-Ray Observatory delayed
  • X-33 delayed


The International Space Station appears to be in good condition with no major mechanical problems. Controllers continue to deep-cycle every 3 days batteries that had previously proven problematic. The passive spin mode has also been reduced to optimize solar power generation. The station is in a 259 x 245 satute miles -- orbiting every 92 minutes. The next visit to the station will occur May 20 when the Shuttle Discovery will bring supplies, equipment and smaller structural components in a SpaceHab double module. While NASA is considering delaying the mission to accomodate the Chandra X-ray Observatory delay, the "beta angle" of the sun prevents a launch of Discovery after June 6 (NASA; Houston Chronicle Space Forum).

Despite Russia finally moving forward with work on the Service Module, one more delay of the beleaguered Module appears to be in the works. The July 17 launch will apparently be pushed back either two or four months -- political spin being one of the major considerations. Problems with the Complex Test Stand testing may push the shipment of the Service Module to Baikonur back from the late February target date. Once in Baikonur, there appears to be seven or eight months of work remaining to prepare the module for launch and its duties in space. Some of the factory work was moved to the launch site to meet the shipment date. However, only four and a half months separate the arrival at Baikonur and its July launch date (Houston Chronicle Space Forum; SpaceViews).


While promises have been made before, Russia has taken the first steps to save the Mir space station for three more years. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov signed a decree on January 22 to keep the 13 year old Russian station in orbit. Russian cosmonaut Viktor Afanasyev, French astronaut Jean-Pierre Heignere and Slovak Ivan Bella are set to be launched to the station on Feb 20 on a Soyuz rocket. After ten days on the station Bella and Gennady Padalka, the current Mir commander, will return to Earth. Heignere's stay on the station has been extended from three to six months. He will return to Earth with Sergei Avdeyev the remaining crew member and Afanasyev on August 21. Prior to the formalization of the extension of Mir's life, the trio were slated for a June 1 return from Mir (AP; Reuters).


The launch of the USAF ARGOS spacecraft on a Delta 2 rocket (flight 266) continues to be plagued by a series of technical and weather-related delays. The most recent, on January 22, was due to high winds aloft. Earlier in the week the launch was scrubbed because winds would have spread debris from a potential failure into a populated area. The launch was originally slated for January 14 ,but 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 will also carry the ěrsted spacecraft for Denmark and the SUNSAT for South Africa (Boeing; SpaceViews; Flatoday).


A problem with one of two hydrogen fuel tanks has set back the first flight of the X-33 technology demonstrator by seven months until the middle of 2000. On December 20, the inner wall of tank separated while being bonded at high temperature. Development and construction of the tanks which will hold liquid hydrogen was acknowledged by Lockheed Martin to be a major technical challenge. The tanks were built by Alliant Techsystems. The $1.2 billion NASA program was previously set-back by a five month delay in the delivery of the advanced linear aerospike engine which was developed and built by Rocketdyne. The 273,000 pound sub-orbital vehicle will be launched as many as 15 times from Edwards AFB and land in Utah and Montana. The follow-on program, VentureStar which will be capable of lifting over 22,500 kg into low Earth Orbit, appears to be on-schedule for the planned 2004 operational date (AP; SpaceViews).


A three stage NASA Black Brant 12 sounding rocket was launched from the Andoya Rocket Range in Norway on January 21 at 1:13 am EST. The Cleft Accelerated Plasma Experimental Rocket (CAPER) reached an altitude of 1360 km which was 20 km higher than expected. The rocket flew through the so-called "Cleft Ion Fountain -- several auroral arc regions with intense electric fields and highly accelerated ions. The rocket probably landed in the polar ice near the Longyearbyen tracking station in Norway. The CAPER team principle investigator was Dr. Paul Kintner of Cornell University with instruments provided by several other institutions including NASA/Marshall, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and the Southwest Research Institute. The rocket was launched in cooperation with the Norwegian Space Agency (SpaceScienceNews; LaunchSpace).



After six days of operating in safe mode, the Cassini spacecraft has been restored to normal operations. On January 11 at 6:00 pm EST, the Cassini spacecraft entered "safe" mode while in the middle of an instrument checkout exercise in which a photo-mosaic was being produced of the region around Spica. Engineers determined that the shut-down of all but critical systems stemmed from a guide star remaining in the star-tracker's field of view for longer than expected. Following the restoration of functions on January 17, the instrument checkout exercise was continued. Cassini was launched in 1998 and will arrive at Saturn in July of 2004 after swinging by Venus twice, Earth and Jupiter (AP; Flatoday; JPL; SpaceViews).

Mars Polar Lander

On January 21, at 7:30 am EST the Mars Polar Lander (MPL) completed a three minute burn of four of its eight thrusters. This first trajectory correction maneuver (TCM-1) removed a designed flight error so that its trailing Delta 2 rocket upper stage would not follow it to Mars. Following the maneuver, the craft reoriented itself for cruise configuration which allows for both solar power generation and daily communications with Earth. Systems are in good health with the spacecraft 5.2 million km from Earth on January 21 (NASA/JPL).

Prior to TCM-1 on January 13, the star camera and the attitude determination software on the MPL were reactivated. It was determined that the lander's attitude knowledge which was based only on computations on data from the Honeywell ring-laser gyro had drifted only one degree. On January 14, the autopilot software patch was successfully loaded and the autopilot successfully restarted. On Friday January 12, MPL was ordered to slew 20 degrees to bring the medium-gain antenna in line with Earth. Utilizing the medium gain antenna, the software for the transition to early cruise configuration was loaded (NASA/JPL).

Mars Climate Observer

The Mars Climate Observe is now being monitored during a single tracking pass each day. On January 12 the spacecraft's second housekeeping sequence was loaded and is now operational. A thermal control configuration file for the Mars Polar Lander was also loaded to prevent an anomaly that occurred on the MPL. The next course correction (TCM-2) is slated for January 25, but may be moved by the flight team (NASA/JPL).

Mars Global Surveyor

The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) is in its final weeks of aerobraking. Controllers have moved aerobraking objectives from managing dynamic pressure to assessment of factors contributing to final orbit conditions. Current estimates indicate that walkout will begin on January 31 with termination slightly ahead of schedule on February 5th. On January 15, the spacecraft was in its 1079 orbit with a period of 2.85 hours. The Magnetometer / electron reflectometer instruments and radio science occultation data continue to be collected. Magnetometer data acquisition will continue until January 28 when the craft reaches the southern most progression of its periapsis (NASA/JPL).

Lunar Prospector

A planned orbit change to lower the Lunar Prospector as it circles the Moon has been delayed. A thruster firing slated for January 15 would have lowered the craft to 30 km. However, the maneuver would have put the lowest point of the orbit on the far side of the Moon. As a result, data on the Moon's gravitational field for the near side would have been lower in quality. Because of shifts in the present orbit, the Lunar Prospector will be in a position for a optimal thruster burn in about two weeks. Because of gravitational perturbations, the lower orbit will require more thruster firings to maintain. The mission will continue for about six months until the thrusters run out of fuel and impacts the lunar surface (SpaceViews).


Following the main engine firing on January 3 which salvaged the NEAR mission to the asteroid Eros, the NEAR spacecraft completed a small hydrazine engine burn on January 20. The burn increased the velocity of the spacecraft by 14 meters /second and fine-tuned the spacecraft's trajectory. The next hydrazine engine burn is scheduled for August 12 (JHU Applied Physics Laboratory PR).


Chandra Observatory

Just a week after a Redondo Beach roll-out ceremony on January 14, faulty circuit boards have caused NASA to announce a third delay for the Chandra X- ray telescope. Engineers discovered a problem with circuit boards in a different spacecraft under construction. The same boards -- 120 of them -- are used in the Chandra Telescope. Tests revealed two faulty boards in a system that allows the telescope to send and receive commands and send data back to Earth. It will take technicians a month to replace the two boards and 22 more boards need to be inspected. It is not clear if the repairs will be done at the TRW integration factory or at the Kennedy Space Center. The 45-foot-tall space telescope was to be delivered to orbit on the Shuttle Columbia in the spring of 1999. However, the delay puts the mission in conflict with Discovery's mission to the International Space Station. The five ton satellite will be the third of NASA's Great Observatories which include the Hubble Telescope and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (Flatoday; SpaceViews).


Space Systems / Loral announced that it is developing a new satellite that will be launched in the year 2002. The new generation 20.20 satellite will be the most powerful communications satellite available with 25 kw of power and more than 150 transponders or its equivalent in on-board digital signal processing equipment. In an environment of increasingly rare orbital slots, the new satellite will be capable of doing the work of two of today's satellites. The satellite will feature new, larger and more efficient solar arrays with collectors and improved mechanisms; better power-control and delivery units; improved batteries; a more efficient means of heat dissipation; ion propulsion thrusters; and advanced command and control systems. The craft's modular design will reduce the number of parts which will increase its reliability while reducing its cost. Space Systems / Loral has a current backlog of more than 60 spacecraft orders (Space Systems / Loral PR).


The 14 year old NASA Earth Radiation Budget Satellite declared a spacecraft emergency over the week-end of January 15 - 16. The spacecraft went into an unstable power condition and experienced "controlled tumbling". The spacecraft is controlled by Goddard Space Flight center (GSFC) of Greenbelt, Maryland (LaunchSpace).



The Satellite Monitoring and Remote Tracking System (SMART) developed by Pro Tech Monitoring, Inc. and offered through SecurityLink from Ameritech utilizes GPS technology to track the location of convicted offenders 24 hours a day. Because of rising prison costs, alternative programs have rapidly expanded. These programs include home incarceration or work release. The device gives correction agencies the flexibility to restrict offenders to specific geographic areas and to declare other areas off- limits.


The US Government has approved two additional frequencies for the civilian Global Positioning System. The second signal will be located at 1,227.6 megahertz along with a coded military GPS signal. A civilian aviation signal will be at 1,176.45 megahertz which is in the Aeronautical Radionavigation System portion of the spectrum. This band is currently being used by the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System which will have to modify its hardware to prevent interference. Funding for the aviation signal has not yet been resolved (SpaceNews).



OrbImage recently signed a contract with the Canadian Space Agency for worldwide sales and distribution rights for the advanced radar imagery of the RadarSat-2. The 1,650 kg satellite is set to be launched in late 2001 and will be placed in a polar, sun-synchronous orbit of 800 km. The satellite, which is being built by MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates of Richmond, British Columbia, will provide all-weather ground images from a swath ranging from 20 to 500 km with a resolution of 3 to 100 meters. The contract includes a pre-launch purchase commitment valued at $140 million. The RadarSat-2 data will be used to supplement OrbImage's basic constellation of two orbiting satellites and two satellites in construction. OrbImage maintains an integrated image receiving, processing and distribution system with 14 active regional ground stations worldwide (; SpaceNews).



The USAF Space Battlelab has been evaluating the use of Iridium phones as a supplement to current military communications systems. In the tests 130 phones were sent to all the "warfighting commanders-in-chiefs" to be evaluated. The phones have been used as far north as the Arctic circle, in a plane at 30,000 feet and despite assurances to the contrary, have been found to be usable in some buildings. While at $3400 per phone and $5.00 per minute seems at first glance to be expensive, compared with the billions of dollars necessary for the military to develop and deploy a comparable system, its costs are seen as a great savings considering the potential utility of the system. For example, a commander anywhere in the world could talk directly to a pilot on a mission utilizing the system. The phones or Iridium pagers could also replace the suitcase- sized satellite phones used by special forces. The Battlelab does not make recommendations for purchase, but does report capabilities of new technologies and systems (


TRW and Raytheon Systems have recently completed fabrication and assembly of six payload sensors for the USAF Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-Low Flight Demonstration System (FDS) program. The manufacturing and assembly was accomplished in only 23 months after completion of the paper design. The sensors will be part of a demonstrator for the next-generation space- based surveillance and early-warning systems. The satellite is slated for launch on a Delta 2 rocket later this year (TRW PR).

Space laser

The Pentagon has chosen to slow the development of the Space Based Laser demonstration program to allow more time for the development of the necessary technology. The USAF had planned to award a contract for the experimental satellite in 1998, but has decided to concentrate on incremental development technology. The demonstration satellite was to be launched in 2008, but no new date has been established (SpaceNews).



Russia has authorized the conversion to peaceful usage of a ballistic missile launch facility at the Svobodny Cosmodrome. The project is part of Russia's plans to utilize former ICBMs to launch satellites for profit. If not used in peaceful satellite launches, the silo-launched SS-19 Stiletto missiles and mobile carrier-launched SS-20 Start space rockets would have to be scrapped as part of the 1993 START II treaty (Space News).


The Australian Federal Government is considering Christmas Island for launch facilities for the Asia-Pacific Space Centre. An environmental impact study is being considered for the facility. Alternative sites at Gunn Point and north Queensland do not appear to be viable at this point. The way for the proposed Christmas Island facility was cleared by the passage of the Space Activities Act late last year (ABC News Online).



The Naval Research Laboratory Advanced Tether Experiment (ATEx) failed on January 16 after deploying only 21 meters of its 6,050 meter tether. When the departure angle of the tether exceeded tolerance levels, the tether spool was ejected from the satellite (LaunchSpace; SpaceViews; ATEx web site).

NASA recently announced the Propulsive Small Expendable Deployer System (ProSEDS) to develop tether technology with an eye for using it as a propellant-free propulsion system. The system is being developed under the Future-X space technology development program. ProSEDS will be attached to the second stage of a Delta 2 rocket carrying two USAF navigation satellites. The experiment is hoped to demonstrate the use of the tether as an electromagnetic brake to speed the reentry of the second stage. Instead of using propellant to force reentry or waiting half a year for natural reentry, an operational tether is expected to bring the spent stage down in about two weeks. A more resilient 10 km tether could one day be used to boost the International Space Station (NASA/Marshall SFC).

Mario Grossi, the radio physicist who helped develop the concept of the tethered satellite, recently died of vascular disease. Grossi was born in Giuncarico, Italy, but moved to the US in 1958 where he was affiliated with the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Grossi and Giuseppe Colombo developed the concept for the tethered satellite in the early 1970s. Among the applications are assisted orbital plane changes and power generation. Grossi was 74 (AP).


John Glenn

The John Glenn international victory tour continues with the crew of STS-95 being honored at ESA centers in Fascati, Italy (January 18), Cologne, Germany (January 19) and Paris, France (January 20). Glenn and fellow crew members were honored by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Bonn, Germany. They also met with German science and research minister Christine Bergman to discuss European involvement in the ISS. Following the meetings the astronauts toured a German space research center near Colgne. On Wednesday, Glenn spoke before the National Assembly in Paris -- explaining that the international space program will create jobs and pointed out that it has already created excitement (ESA PR; AP).

Golden Globe Awards

Tom Hanks' "From the Earth to the Moon" a mini-series recreating the space race to the Moon was honored on Sunday January 24, by winning the Golden Globe award for a TV mini-series. On accepting the award, Hanks said that "we have sent robots to explore, now it is time to send humans" (NBC).



Two groups in the International Astronomical Union will meet later this month to consider reclassifying our solar system's ninth planet. The more astronomers learn of Pluto, the less it fits into the ranks of the other eight planets. Differences cited include: Pluto is the only non-gaseous giant planet in the outer solar system. With a diameter of only 1,440 miles, Pluto is more than two times smaller than any other planet -- even smaller than the Earth's moon. Pluto's orbit is the most inclined and the most eccentric. Pluto is the only planet whose path crosses another's (Neptune). Charon, Pluto's moon, is larger in proportion to its planet than any other in our solar system. Pluto appears to belong to a group of objects that was first discovered in 1992 called the Kuiper Belt -- many of which orbit in 3:2 resonance with Neptune as does Pluto. Astronomers have discovered nearly 10,000 of the "minor planets" and estimate that there are at least 35,000 objects in the Kuiper Belt that are greater than 100 km in diameter (NASA; AP).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • January 26 - 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 31 - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • 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 20 - Soyuz TM-29, Mir-27 crew rotation, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • February 21 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Asiasat-3S, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • February 26 - Pegasus XL, flight 26, WIRE, Vandenberg AFB.
  • March 1 - Delta 2, flight 268, Iridium Mission-12, SLC-2 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 3424 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 64 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is scheduled to begin in about 12 months.

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