Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #135

Frontier Status Report #135

January 29, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Another mixed week on the high frontier. While the existing robotic explorers are doing well, three launches were delayed for technical reasons. Russia continues to assure the world that the Service Module is on schedule. NASA has announced that the Service Module launch will be delayed by at least three months. Direct-to-home TV was given a boost in the US by the introduction of legislation to allow transmission of local programming. The US, Russia and Kazakstan signed an agreement that shields sensitive technology and allows for future Russian launches of American satellites. Hughes developed a new triple junction gallium arsenide solar cells with 25.8% efficiency.

Highlights of the week of January 29 include:

  • Athena launch of ROCSAT-1
  • Service Module launch delayed three months
  • TOMS saved with unique solution
  • Proton, Ariane and Delta launches delayed
  • Mars Global Surveyor walk-out begun


Konstantin Kreidenko, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency denied that new problems with the Service Module will delay its launch by three months. Last week rumors circulated that the beleaguered module was having test stand problems and faced excessive fitting work at the launch site. Russian officials were reported to have quietly informed NASA that the module would not be ready to launch until September. Russia has committed to the International Space Station as its number one priority, but financial problems continue to plague their space program (Flatoday; Gannett).

Despite Russian assurances to the contrary, NASA has formally announced that the Service Module will not be launched until September. While the May Shuttle launch to deliver supplies and construction cranes will not be affected, the following Shuttle missions are dependent on the Service Module being connected to the station. The portions of the station now orbiting are capable of maintaining their orbit for 500 days without the help of the Service Module (Flatoday).

Florida Today Article 1

Florida Today Article 2


The launch date of the Mir-27 crew rotation launch from Baikonur has been officially set for February 20. On board will be Russian cosmonaut Viktor Afanasyev, French astronaut Jean-Pierre Haignere and Slovak Ivan Bella. They will arrive on Mir on February 22. After a week on the station Bella will return home with Mir's current commander, Gennady Padalka in the Soyuz capsule used to deliver the Mir-26 crew. The Russian / French crew will stay on board Mir until July as part of the recent life- extension given official approval by the Russian government (AP).

While Mir's life appears to have been extended, ITAR-Tass reported January 27 that the funding was not yet guaranteed. Russian officials are hoping the Energiya rocket corporation which owns Mir will find private financing. Yuri Grigoryev, Energiya's deputy chief designer, said of the effort to raise funding. "You could probably call it capitalism ... And not just capitalism, but rich man's capitalism." He confirmed that Energiya had found a foreign sponsor -- possibly a research institute that is willing in principle to invest the $750 million required to keep Mir in orbit for the next three years. However, the contract has not been signed and there are some details to iron out. Past Russian commercial efforts include hawking space pens on the shopping channel, Israeli milk commercials and renting living space to the US and France. The space agency is currently allowing the Entertainment Group to sell cosmonaut training to 6 to 10 individuals each month for $15,000 per person. While NASA has repeatedly asked Russia to deorbit Mir so that resources can be concentrated on the International Space Station, other groups such as the Space Frontier Foundation are urging the preservation of the aging space station (AP; Reuters; Yahoo).

Florida Today Article

Space Frontier Society


A Lockheed Martin three-stage Athena rocket was launched on Tuesday, January 26 at 7:34 pm EST from Spaceport Florida Authority's new launch complex. The $18 million rocket, featured a Thiokol Propulsion Castor 120(R) first stage motor that successfully fired for 1 minute and 40 seconds. The second-stage, a Pratt & Whitney Orbus 21D burned for 2 minutes, 30 seconds. The third stage, the Orbital Adjust Module, fired briefly at separation then two minutes beginning around six minutes into the flight. A third burn of the OAM at apogee lasted two and half minutes some 52 minutes into the flight. At the end of the burn the OAM successfully released ROCSAT-1 into orbit after 1 hour and 5 minutes of flight. The $83 million satellite is the Republic of China National Space Program Office's (NSPO's) first civil spacecraft and also their first scientific satellite. The modular spacecraft houses three experiments studying ionospheric plasma, electrodynamics and Ka-band communications. It will also conduct color imaging of the ocean near Taiwan. This is the first Athena launch since Lunar Prospector over a year ago (Flatoday; Thiokol Propulsion PR).

Florida Today Article

Thiokol Press Release


A problem with the digital computer in the fourth stage of the ILS Proton rocket has delayed the January 30 launch of the Telstar 6 satellite. Krunichev, which makes the Proton rocket, informed Loral Skynet that the rocket must be removed from the pad and the fourth stage demated to change-out the digital computer. Telstar 6 is owned by Loral Skynet and was manufactured by Space Systems/Loral. The satellite features 24 C-band and 28 Ku-band transponders. It will provide telecommunication services throughout North America. No new launch date has been announced (Loral Space & Communications PR).

Loral Press Release


The launch of the USAF ARGOS spacecraft on a Delta 2 rocket (flight 266) has suffered a third week of weather-related and technical delays. The Vandenberg AFB launch attempt on January 27 was halted due to unfavorable winds aloft. On Thursday, January 28 the launch proceeded normally until T-2 seconds when one of two vernier engines did not ignite. Normally, the main engine then ignites and is followed by the lighting of the six solid rocket motors. When control computers did not detect a successful vernier engine start, the launch was scrubbed at T-0. The small vernier rockets are used to steer the rocket during flight. In the past, four Deltas have suffered late count down scrubs which took about 10 days to recycle. The rocket will also carry the ěrsted spacecraft for Denmark and the SUNSAT for South Africa. Another Delta 2 launch in Florida slated for February 6 will carry the Stardust mission (Boeing PR; SpaceViews; Flatoday).


Flight 116 of the 44L configured rocket has been rescheduled from February 3 to February 26, 1999. During regular testing of the servoactuator production line, certain position sensors did not meet specification. The linear transducer is placed in the hydraulic cylinder of the servoactuator. As a result of Arianespace policy, the Ariane 4 flight in the last stages of preparation was put on hold until a new set of six servoactuator position sensors could be retrofitted on the servoactuator control nozzles on the first and second stages. The servoactuators require disassembly for inspection. The rocket will carry two satellites, Arabsat 3A and Skynet 4E. These satellites will be placed in geostationary orbits (Arianespace PR).

Arianespace Press Release 1

Arianespace Press Release 2


Mars Global Surveyor

The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) walkout began slightly ahead of schedule on January 28 at 8:34 am PST. During this final stage of aerobraking, the craft will "walk out" in four steps. In the first step, the craft's closet approach to the Mars surface was raised from 100 km to 103 km. The furthest point or apoasis will continue to diminish until the craft is in a two-hour polar orbit. Aerobraking sequences will be uploaded to the craft twice a day for the next 12 days. During this period the periapsis will slowly drift south until it is in the desired Sun- synchronous orbit -- crossing the equator at 2 am local solar time on Mars on each orbit. Aerobraking will terminate ahead of schedule on February 4th when a main engine firing will raise the orbit completely out of the Martian atmosphere and lower the apoasis from the current 1000 km to 450 km. A final main engine burn is slated for February 18 to transfer the craft in to a mapping orbit -- lowering the periapsis from 405 km to 379 km. The magnetometer was turned off at the end of the aerobraking phase and will be next activated on February 10. Calibration tests of the six scientific instruments will begin February 25. The first complete map of Mars is expected to be obtained from March 8 -28 as part of the pre-mapping phase (NASA/JPL).

NASA Press Release

Lunar Prospector

On January 28, the orbit of the Lunar Prospector was lowered to 30 km (19 miles). Lunar Prospector has completed its one-year primary mission orbiting at 100 km and orbiting at 40 km since December 19. The maneuver was originally scheduled for January 15, but 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. The two week delay has allowed the low point of the orbit to shift to the near side of the Moon. Because of gravitational perturbations, the lower orbit will require more thruster firings to maintain. The new lower orbit is expected to provide data at higher resolutions and confirm previous observations. The mission will continue for about six months until the thrusters run out of fuel and the craft impacts the lunar surface. The spacecraft was launched on January 6, 1998 (NASA).

Florida Today Article

Lunar Prospector Website

NASA Ames Communication Web Page


The decade old spacecraft Galileo entered into the final phase of its mission on Sunday, January 24. During the course of this last tour of the Jovian moons the spacecraft will be used to try to determine whether Europa and Callisto have oceans under their icecaps. The first encounter will be Europa on January 31. The final destination will be volcanically active Io. At the end of the year, the craft will be retired either in a wide orbit or by crashing it into Jupiter or one of its moons (Flatoday; JPL).

Jet Propulsion Laboratory Website


Chandra Observatory

A week after faulty circuit boards were found on the Chandra X-ray telescope, engineers removed the command and telemetry unit from the spacecraft and have shipped it to BF Goodrich Aerospace so that two faulty circuit boards could be replaced. The same boards are also found in the five remote command and telemetry units. These are being tested by TRW which will continue tests until next week to assure no faulty boards remain in the spacecraft. The problem was traced to poor conductivity between different layers of the boards. Technicians have begun to prepare the satellite for shipment to Kennedy Space Center -- pending the results of the tests. Until the testing is concluded, it will not be known when the 45-foot-tall space telescope will be delivered to orbit on the Shuttle Columbia The five ton satellite will be the third of NASA's Great Observatories which include the Hubble Telescope and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (NASA Marshall SFC PR).

NASA Marshall SFC Press Release


TRW engineers and their counter parts at the Goddard Space Flight Center have managed to find a solution to a "near-fatal" emergency on the Total Ozone Mapping Satellite (TOMS). The 650 pound satellite which had exceeded its two year design life by six months had run out of fuel. In December a single event upset (SEU) disrupted the spacecraft's computer operations. The craft went into safe mode with the solar panels facing the sun. The spacecraft was designed to rotate at a rate of three degrees per second. When the spacecraft began this rotation with thruster firings, unexpected residual gyroscopic forces of the spacecraft caused it to wobble. TOMS then exhausted its supply of fuel attempting to compensate for the wobble with continuous thruster firings. Engineers devised a plan to use the satellites torque rods to restore the craft to normal Earth-pointing orientation. The complex problem resulted in a simple solution that required only a one byte patch in the software code. The alteration allowed the satellite to recognize that the torque rods used to balance out the small disturbances in the attitude of the spacecraft could be used to re-establish the orientation. Because the rods exert such small torques, it required three days to reorient the spacecraft. TOMS is NASA's only satellite dedicated to ozone mapping (LaunchSpace).



The nation's largest Direct-to-home satellite television service announced on January 22 that they have acquired their main competitor in the North American market. In a $1.82 billion deal, DirecTV will purchase Primestar -- including its satellite infrastructure and 2.3 million subscribers. DirecTV's pending $1.3 billion purchase of United States Satellite Broadcasting narrows the playing field to just two players -- DirecTV with 7.6 million viewers and EchoStar with 2 million viewers. According to the National Cable Television Association, cable still is supreme with 67.4 percent of US households while satellite broadcast is in only 10 percent of US households. Primestar, previously owned by five cable companies including Time Warner, MediaOne Group, Comcast Corp, Cox Enterprises and Tele-Communications, was created to provide 130 channels to rural customers that cable TV could not reach. DirecTV, which is a profitable subsidiary of Hughes Electronics, will be able to offer 370 channels to customers using a pizza size dish (AP).


A subsidiary of SpaceDev, Integrated Space Systems (ISSYS), has won a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) contract to study the feasibility of and concepts for low-cost micro spacecraft bus that could provide scientific, probe-carrying, telecommunications and navigation services for future NASA missions to Mars. The two month contract was awarded in a competition involving nine companies. ISSYS has formed a small business alliance with Utah State's Space Dynamics Laboratory, (Logan UT), Alliance SpaceSystems Inc., (Pasadena, CA), Advanced Computational Intelligent Systems (San Diego, CA) and Fortune Eight Aerospace Industries, (Boulder, CO).

SpaceDev Website

SpaceCast Article


Following the signing of the Technology Safeguards Agreement between the US, Russia and Kazakstan, Globalstar announced that four Globalstar satellites will be launched on a Soyuz rocket by mid- February. The company hopes to launch four satellites every 30 days until summer when 32 satellites will be in orbit. The company will utilize four Soyuz launches followed by three Delta II launches between May and August. Two additional Soyuz launches in September and October will be followed by two final Delta II rockets in November and December -- bringing the total to 52 communication satellites in orbit. Arianespace has been contracted for the launch of six Globalstar satellites in September of 1999 if needed to complete the constellation of 48 satellites with four orbiting spares. Globalstar has service provider agreements in place in over 100 countries covering 90 percent of the glob. Five gateways are being used to control and test the satellite system with 20 more under construction around the world. The Globalstar network will provide fixed and hand-held phone services along with a variety of other data transmission services (Loral PR;

Loral Press Release

SpaceCast Article


US Senate

A bill introduced in the US Senate on January 15 will allow satellite TV companies to provide local TV programming. The bill, sponsored by Senators John McCain, R-Ariz and Senator Conrad Burns, D-Mont, is designed to help Direct-to home digital broadcasting companies compete with cable television. It will dovetail with another measure introduced last week that will provide DBS companies with copyright licenses needed to carry local TV stations. This bill was offered by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah (AP).

AP Article


In an agreement announced January 26, Russia and the US have lined-out tighter controls on American technology in US satellites launched from Kazakstan on Russian rockets. Under terms of a previous agreement, seven US satellites are to be launched by Russia by the end of 2000. The Clinton administration threatened to end US satellite launches on Russian systems when it concluded that three Russian companies provided Iran with sensitive satellite technology. During two days of talks between Madeleine Albright and Russian officials, Russia denied the charges while the US insisted there is no doubt. The US retains the right to cut-off any new launches in coming years if the Iranian problem persists. Satellite launches were suspended in September 1998 pending the resolution of the issue. The Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA), signed January 28, includes specific procedures that will assure the Defense Department can monitor US technology in Russia and at the Kazakstan launch site (AP).

AP Article


Solar cells

A unit of Hughes Electronics, Spectrolab Inc., has achieved a new record for solar cell efficiency. Utilizing triple-junction gallium arsenide solar cells, Spectrolab has been able to convert 25.8 percent of the sun's rays into power. In 1997, dual-junction solar cells achieved 21.6 percent efficiency. The dual-junction cells were first used on PanAmSat PAS-5 satellite, a Hughes-built HS 601 communications satellite. The increase in efficiency will allow smaller, more powerful solar panels on future satellites produced by Hughes. Triple junction solar cells rated at 23 percent have previously flown only demonstrator satellites and are currently performing better than expected on the Deep Space 1 mission. These solar cells were manufactured by TechStar and developed in conjuction with NASA Lewis Research Center and the U.S.A.F. ManTech (Hughes Space and Communications PR;

Hughes Press Release

Hughes Press Release


John Glenn

John Glenn's international victory tour continues with the crew of STS-95 arriving in Japan on January 24. Glenn and five crew members were joined by Chiaki Mukai, at the Narita airport near Tokyo. Mukai became Japan's first female astronaut when she flew on the Discovery STS-95 mission. The crew held a press conference Monday at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. Glenn, at one point pointed out that when he first flew in 1962, the US and USSR were engaged in a fierce battle for space supremacy, but now 36 years later they are joined by 14 other nations in a combined effort to build the International Space Station. On Wednesday, the crew toured the Tsukuba space center. The team concluded their week in Japan by touring the ancient capital of Kyoto. The round- the-world tour will conclude at the end of January when the crew leaves Japan (Houston Chronicle; AP).

AP Article


Astronomers have for the first time recorded visible light from a gamma ray burst. The event was detected at 4:47 am EST Saturday January 23. While the source of the gamma ray bursts are not know, they appear to release the energy of "10 million billion stars" or one followed by 16 zeros. The radiation is powerful enough to sterilize all life from planets in its galactic vicinity. The light was captured by astronomers around the world in the after glow of the 110 second burst peak. The burst occurred about 10 billion light years away. The first such event was detected in 1967 and are now recorded at a rate of several hundred a year. The burst was detected by NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and by the Italian-Dutch BeppoSAX. News of the event was then transferred to other observers

NASA Headlines


Trident 2

The US Navy has awarded Northrop Grumman Corp Marine Systems a $62.8 million contract to upgrade the submarine USS Nevada to accommodate the new larger D-5 Trident 2 ballistic missiles. The Nevada will be fitted with new launch tubes and subsystems. The submarine is the second of four Trident 1 nuclear submarines to be fitted for the missiles. The US Alaska was fitted for the missiles in 1998. The contract also includes fitting the Bangor, Washington strategic weapons facility to handle the missiles (Northrop Grumman PR).

Northrop Grummon Press Release


It seems the US military is not the only one evaluating new commercial satellite networks. China is apparently very interested in the Teledesic satellite constellation as part of their "next-generation" military force. China is interested in increasing the bandwidth for their military operations and see purchased Teledesic services as a possible tool in achieving their goals (SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • January January 31 - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • January 31 - Galileo flyby of Europa.
  • February - Delta 2, flight 266, USAF ARGOS, SUNSAT & ORSTED, SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • February (tentative) - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • February 4 - End of Mars Global Surveyor aerobraking.
  • February 6 - Delta 2, Stardust, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • February 17 - ILS Proton (Block DM), Telestar 6, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • February 18 - Final main engine burn, Mars Global Surveyor, to establish mapping orbit.
  • February 19 - Soyuz TM-29, Mir-27 crew rotation, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • February 26 - Pegasus XL, flight 26, WIRE, Vandenberg AFB.
  • February 26 - Ariane 44L, flight 116, Arabsat-3A & Skynet- 4E, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • March 1 - Delta 2, flight 268, Iridium Mission-12, SLC-2 Vandenberg AFB.
  • March 14 - SeaLaunch Zenit - Inaugural flight, equatorial Pacific.
  • March 21 - 26 - ProSpace, March Storm, Washington DC.
  • Unknown - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Asiasat-3S, Baikonur, Kazakstan.


The current population of space remains at the baseline of two -- both Russian cosmonauts on the Mir space Station. This marks the completion of 3431 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 71 days. Because of continued delays to the Service Module, the occupation of the International Space Station is once again uncertain, but will probably begin in about 12 to 15 months.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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