Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #136

Frontier Status Report #136

February 5, 1999

Dale M. Gray

No launches were reported for the week. NASA's proposed budget was released along with a new Shuttle schedule. There was plenty of activity among the satellites and robot explorers. Mir cosmonauts tried to deploy a space mirror, but the effort proved unsuccessful.

Highlights of the week of February 5 include:

  • Atlas launch of JCSat-6 delayed
  • SOHO returns to service
  • Chandra X-ray Observatory arrives at KSC
  • Delta launch of ARGOS delayed
  • Mir space mirror fails to deploy


Space Shuttle managers met this past week to set a new schedule for launches of the Space Shuttle fleet. While official launch dates are announced following Flight Readiness Reviews two weeks before the flights, the following dates were released for planning purposes:

May 20 -- Discovery (STS-96), ISS Assembly flight 2A.1

July 9 -- Columbia (STS-93), Chandra X-ray Observatory

September 16 -- Endeavor (STS-99), Shuttle Radar Topography Mapper

October 14 -- Atlantis (STS-101), ISS Assembly flight 2A.2

December 2 -- Discovery (STS-92), ISS Assembly flight 3A (NASA).


The International Space Station continues to circle the Earth every 92 minutes in a 259 x 245 statute mile orbit. The station continues its slow roll and controllers continue to deep-cycle its batteries. Controllers have been testing communications equipment installed on the outside of the Unity node and connected to the Zarya module during the STS-88 mission. This system allows the station to be monitored and controlled from centers in the US and Russia using NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellites. Controllers also continue contingency training. The next station flight will be May 20 when the Shuttle Discovery will deliver supplies and exterior cranes (NASA).


The 25 meter (83 foot) diameter Znamy-2.5 (Banner) mirror experiment has ended in failure. On Thursday, February 4, the Progress-40 on which the experiment was attached was ejected from the Mir space station. The mirror was slated to deploy by spinning the freighter about its axis around 5:00 am EST. However, during deployment of the flower-like structure a system of weights and strings jammed. The crew of Mir attempted to complete the deployment, even shaking it with repeated blasts of the Progress thrusters. Russian space officials were unable to determine why the mirror failed to deploy. A second attempt to deploy the mirror was tried on February 5. The panels of the mirror appeared to snag on the cargo ship's antenna -- leaving the structure stuck half-folded. The trash-filled Progress and the partially deployed mirror were later sent into reentry. The charred remains of the Progress later splashed harmlessly into the Pacific. While another mirror has been constructed, there is no room for it in future cargo manifests (AP; Chris v.d. Berg). Znamya-2.5 is developed by the Space Regatta Consortium (SRC), led by the RKK Energiya company. The mirror was delivered to the Mir space station by a Progress supply ship late last year. The folded membrane with a metallic coating was to unfurl as the Progress pulled away. By controlling the Progress, Mir crewmen Gennady Padalka and Sergei Avdeyev hoped to hold a steady illumination on cities below. A similar unguided experiment was successfully tried in 1993, but could barely be seen by observers who knew its position. The mirror experiment was to be precursor to a 650 foot mirror that could be used to illuminate Russian cities during the darkness of winter (Jonathan's Space Report; AP).

Between January 27 and February 2, three small corrections were made to the Mir orbit in which the velocity (and consequently the orbit) was increased by 2.64 meters per second by firings of the Progress-40 engines. Cosmonauts continue work on a variety of experiments such as "the French Fiziolab (medical), Ionozond (sensing the ionosphere for the benefit of the ionospheric stations in Narafominsk and Rostov), the Greenhouse, Portapress (blood circulation), Relaksatsiya (the study of the influence on molecules of products of combustion for which now and then small impulses of the engines were needed), Silay (the study of small particles from outer space resulting in minor flashes in the eyes of the cosmonauts)" and the German Titus experiment. The crew also conducted routine maintenance such as replacing a ventilator on the Gas Analyzer, mending a urine transfer system and installing and dismounting experimental equipment (Chris v.d. Berg).

Mir New Main Index


The USAF has announced that the Titan 4 launch system is ready to resume flights. The Accident Investigation Board inquiry found electrical shorts in the Vehicle Power Supply wiring harness in the vehicle second stage caused a series of events that lead to the August 12, 1998 catastrophic failure of the last Titan 4A rocket 41 seconds into flight. A list of corrective measures has been compiled before future Titan 2 and 4 rockets can be cleared to fly. These measures include reinspection of all wiring harnesses in current Titan rockets, redesign or modification of vehicle power and guidance systems, and improvements to the vehicle inspection, protection and documentation procedures. A Titan 4B carrying an early detection satellite is expected to be launched from Cape Canaveral in late March or early April (Air Force Space Command PR; AP).


The cause of the January 28 T-0 scrub of the Delta 2 launch of the ARGOS satellite has been determined to be a propellant valve on the vernier engine number two. The valve failed to open on command a few moments before launch when the vernier engines were fired. When the number two vernier engine failed to ignite, the launch was automatically scrubbed. Both vernier engines have had their valves swapped out in preparation for another launch attempt on February 7 at 2:39 am PST (Boeing).


Cape Canaveral Air Station is preparing for a 4:06 pm EST February 7 launch of the 386 kg Stardust Comet material return mission. The Stardust spacecraft is designed to pass through the tail of comet Wild- 2 in January 2004. The armored spacecraft will take pictures and expose the sample-return payload. A return capsule filled with aerogel will be exposed and hopefully collect debris from the comet. The $200 million mission will return to Earth in 2006. The 32 inch diameter return capsule will then make a fiery reentry through Earth's atmosphere at a speed 4000 mph faster than the Apollo reentries. The mission hopes one milligram of material will be preserved in the aerogel to be studied at the Johnson Space center. At $200 million per milligram, comet dust easily exceeds Apollo moon rocks as the most expensive substance known to man (Flatoday).

NASA headline

NASA headline


Weather and technical issues have repeatedly delayed the launch of an Atlas 2AS rocket carrying the Japanese JCSAT- 6 from Cape Canaveral Air Station. On Sunday January 31, the evening launch was scrubbed due to poor launch weather predictions. The launch was recycled for Monday, February 1. Despite a problem retracting the launch tower and weather concerns the launch countdown proceeded until Lockheed Martin identified a technical issue with the Centaur upper stage. The launch was again postponed so that engineers could inspect actuators that control the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuel supplies. A similar unit still at the factory was found to be incorrectly assembled. A new launch date was set for February 10 (Flatoday).


Testing of the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) prototype (vehicle 131) slated to resume on February 5 was canceled. The prototype was to be carried to 22,000 feet by a modified B-52. There it was to be released, fly free for ten seconds and then deploy a steerable parafoil. The parafoil will then be used to make a controlled landing on a nearby airfield. This was to be the second and final flight for the test vehicle. No new date has been announced for the drop test. Following a successful landing vehicle 131 will be cut in half and redesigned into an 80 percent scale model of the final CRV. In its final form, the CRV will serve as a lifeboat to assure the safe return of the future crew of the International Space Station (NASA-Dryden Flight Research Center; Houston Chronicle Space Forum).


A full-scale demonstrator version of the Roton-rocket will be rolled out during a ceremony on March 1 in Mojave, California. Rotary Rocket expects to begin delivery of satellites to orbit beginning early next year utilizing its reusable spacecraft that controls its landing with helicopter- style rotors (Rotary Rocket PR).


Mars Global Surveyor

At 12:11 am PST on Thursday, February 4, the Mars Global Surveyor fired its main engine and raised its orbit completely out of the Martian atmosphere -- completing the extended aerobraking phase of the mission. The burn coincided with the point when flight controllers determined that the furthest point of the orbit had dropped to 450 km (279 miles) above Mars. For the next two weeks, the closest orbital approach to the surface will drift south until it enters a circular Sun-synchronous orbit which crosses the Martian equator at 2 am local solar time. The use of aerobraking was a breakthrough technology for the Mars Global Surveyor, but the process of slowing the spacecraft through atmospheric friction was slowed when a structural problem was encountered with one of the spacecraft's solar panels. As a result, the mapping mission which will begin in about two weeks is about a year behind schedule. However, the extended aerobraking program was utilized to gather "bonus" data on the planet's northern icecap and the residual magnetic field (NASA/JPL).


Shortly after its recent encounter with Europa, the Galileo spacecraft entered safe mode. Europa is interesting to scientists because of mounting evidence of liquid water under its frozen surface. About four hours after the craft passed within 894 miles of the surface of Europa and within 360,000 miles of Jupiter's atmosphere a protective software program detected the spacecraft was taking too long to complete a turn and triggered the safe mode. Controllers found the spacecraft to be stable after the event and think the data from the encounter is intact (NASA; AP).

NASA headline

The February 5 issue of the journal Science announced findings from the September 1997 Galileo encounter with Calisto during the spacecraft's 10th orbit of Jupiter. The spacecraft detected a tenuous carbon dioxide atmosphere. Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory determined that the satellite appears to have a carbon dioxide surface. The finding of an atmosphere was surprising since in such a thin atmosphere the ultraviolet radiation from the sun tends to break molecules into ions which are then swept away by Jupiter's magnetic field. The presence of an atmosphere implies a renewing source of carbon dioxide. Galileo images show surface erosion suggesting carbon dioxide outgassing (NASA/JPL).

Galileo Website


The Cassini space craft competed its sixth trajectory adjustment on February 4. The two minute burn produced a 11.5 km/ second change in the craft's speed to fine tune its trajectory for its June 24 gravity-assist flyby of Venus. The spacecraft is in good condition. Last month all of the scientific instruments were briefly brought on line and tested. Cassini will reach Saturn in 2004 (NASA/JPL).

NASA press release


Chandra Observatory

Despite problems with at least two circuit boards, the Chandra Observatory arrived at Kennedy Space Center on February 4 to begin preparations for its launch. The $1.5 billion X-ray observatory which was built by a team led by TRW was shipped from Los Angeles International Airport to KSC on an USAF C5 Galaxy aircraft. Because of the circuitry problems, STS-93, the Columbia Shuttle flight to launch the observatory, was recently rescheduled to July to avoid conflict with the May International Space Station flight. While the interface unit was removed so that two circuit boards could be replaced, rigorous testing on the remaining systems by TRW found no other faulty boards. As a result, the decision to ship the observatory to KSC was made. The repaired interface unit will be replaced on the Chandra Observatory while it is in the Vertical Processing Facility being prepared for launch. The satellite will be mated with a Boeing Inertial Upper Stage (Flatoday; NASAMarshall Space Flight Center; TRW).


The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is back on line despite the loss of its third gyroscope on December 21. This triggered an Emergency Sun Reacquisition (ESR). The solar observatory's problem stems from a June 1998 event when the spacecraft began to spin out of control and contact was lost as batteries drained. While contact was eventually made, sun orientation reestablished and systems brought back on-line, two of the craft's three gyroscopes were damaged by freezing. The spacecraft returned to service utilizing the remaining gyroscope. After the last gyro failed, the craft has attempted to retain orientation utilizing thrusters which is depleting fuel supplies. Engineers have subsequently been able to bypass the gyroscopes and utilize the craft's star-tracker to establish orientation. Information from the star-track is now being directed to three momentum wheels to keep the craft properly oriented. This is the first time a spacecraft with gyroscopes has been programmed to work without them. SOHO was maneuvered into a new position on Monday and Tuesday, February 1 and 2 to resume its science mission (ESA; AP).

SOHO Website


Hughes Space and Communications has completed the on-orbit testing of the SatMex-5 satellite. The HS 601 was launched on and Ariane 4 rocket on December 5, 1998. It will replace the Morelos II satellite at 116.8 degrees West. The satellite has 7 kW of power to supply 48 transponders and the ion station keeping engine (XIPS). This is the fourth HS 601 HP commercial satellite to use the fuel efficient XIPS system. The satellite has been turned over to SatMex of Mexico which will provide business communications, television distribution and educational programming to receivers ranging from Canada to Patagonia (



The Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California has recently tested a new insulating foam for use on the Shuttle external fuel tank (ET). A F-15B jet flew a series of six missions to mimic the conditions of the first 65 seconds of shuttle flight. The tests were part of an effort to determine why small particles of the spray-on foam flaked off of the inter-tank section on shuttle flight STS-87. The new foam insulation was developed as part of a program to meet an EPA mandate to reduced ozone-depleting chemicals released into the atmosphere. Samples of the new foam were mounted on the left side of the Flight Test Fixture (FTF) carried under the jet's fuselage. Panels mounted on the FTF were configured to simulate a variety of locations on the ET as the jet completed maneuvers designed to match the dynamic pressures of the first minute of shuttle flight. The data collected will be used to improve the ET insulating foam (NASA Dryden PR).


Orbital Sciences

A subsidiary of Orbital Sciences, Transportation Management Systems Division (TMS), recently was selected by Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, California. TMS will provide its automatic vehicle location system to manage a fleet of 600 mass transit vehicles. The SmartTrack satellite system will provide real-time information utilizing Global Positioning System data. The contract is valued at $14.2 million (

Two one time accounting charges have caused Orbital Sciences quarterly profits to under perform market expectations. MacDonald, Dettwiler & Associates (MDA) unit, a wholly owned subsidiary based in Vancouver, Canada, reported a Canadian government contract had been increased by $130 million and as a result $5 million in 1998 profits were moved to 1999 to be added to the profits from the expanded contract. Magellan, a majority-owned subsidiary reported $6 million additional charges as a result of development of several new product lines introduced in late 1998 and early 1999. As a result of the perceived drop in expected earnings, Orbital stock tumbled nearly 8 points or 20 percent in less than a week. Orbital's backlog of orders, standing contracts and ability to achieve future profits are unaffected by the accounting charges. During the fourth quarter, Orbital was awarded over $750 million in new contracts bringing its back-log of firm orders to $1.8 billion with total backlog with options at $4.0 billion (Orbital PR).


The results of its first quarter of commercial activity have been reported by Iridium. Telecommunication sales injected the first $186,000 of revenues into the company coffers. The revenues reflect a five-week delay in inaugural services for the quarter ending December 31, 1998. The company also reported two rocket launches for the quarter to assure a full constellation of 66 LEO satellites: two on a Chinese Long March rocket and five on a Delta 2 rocket. While delay in the start of services impacted income, problems were also overcome in production delays. Motorola had by year's end shipped 35,000 phones and 3,500 pagers and had stepped up production to 1,000 phones a day and 8,000 pagers a month. Motorola also began production of its DCMA/AMPS and GSM cellular cassettes which enable Iridium phones to also work on terrestrial cellular networks worldwide. However, Iridium phones built by Kyocera of Japan have a software problem that have kept them off the market. These phones account for half the 18,000 orders for Iridium phones. In late December Iridium announced the purchase of Claircom Communications Group from AT&T and Rogers Cantel for $65 million. Claircom provides digital air-to-ground and in- flight telephone services for more than 1,400 commercial jets and 350 executive aircraft. As a result, Claircom seat-back telephones will carry the Iridium brand and will be integrated into the Iridium network (Iridium PR; SpaceNews).

Iridium recently notified Inmarsat that it would be seeking a portion of the radio spectrum now reserved for the International treaty organization. The additional bandwidth is sought to accommodate Iridium's second-generation system. Inmarsat responded that they too were looking for additional bandwidth for their plans (SpaceNews).

Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin Commercial Space System recently was awarded an order from GE American for four A2100 satellites. The satellites will be used to provide telecommunication services to the US market (LaunchSpace).



The White House released a fiscal year 2000 proposed budget for NASA on Monday, February 1. While NASA funding levels remain level at $13.57 billion, the administration seeks to spend an additional $2 billion on the International Space Station over the next five years. Of this $800 million is designated for a "Russian contingency fund". The $800 million would be used to create a permanent propulsion system for the station, an emergency crew escape ship, and for modifications to the Shuttle fleet to allow the Orbiters to nudge the station into higher orbits. Most of the money comes from canceling programs such as human space flight research ($200 million) and a high speed aeronautics research program ($600 million) an additional $200 million comes from changes to the shuttle launch schedule. The plan to drop the high speed aeronautics research came after Boeing decided to drop out of the program -- opting not to try to build a supersonic passenger airplane until after 2020 (Flatoday; SpaceNews).

NASA has also earmarked funds for a $50 million high-tech, pre-programmed airplane that will fly Martian skies. The project would be a project demonstrator launched on an Ariane 5 rocket in 2003. The Martian flyer's launch would mark the centennial of the Wright Brothers first flights at Kitty Hawk. The project engineers are faced with designing a folding airplane that weighs less than 200 kg (with container) and can fly in an atmosphere 1/100th as dense as Earth' but with a gravity only one third Earth's. Another project, Triana, is earmarked for $75 million. The Triana would be positioned between the Earth and the Sun where it could send back constant views of the illuminated Earth (Gannett; Flatoday).


Jonathan's Space Report

This week marks the tenth anniversary of Jonathan McDowell's Space Report. During this period, his weekly report on launches and satellites has grown from distribution to a few friends to over 2800 on direct e-mail and many, many more via the WWW. Congratulations Jonathan and thank you for 387 interesting and informing issues of your Report!



On Wednesday, February 3, the International Astronautical Union announced that Pluto would not be reclassified as a "minor planet". While Pluto fits into a class of objects known as the Trans-Neptunian Objects. While Pluto is the most atypical of the planets, its status as a planet holds great public support and its change of status found little favor among planetary scientists meeting at the American Astronomical Society. Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. It was one of the biggest science stories of the year and was immortalized in popular culture when Walt Disney named Mickey Mouse's dog in its honor (Reuters).



A lost navigation satellite launched by Russia on December 30 appears to have been found. Contact with the $12 million Glonass satellite was lost im mediately after launch. The Russian Strategic Missile Forces developed an "unique technique to retrieve" the satellite and successfully established contact on January 12 (SpaceNews).

North Korea

Despite a national famine, North Korea continues to invest heavily in rocket technology. Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "North Korea remains the country most likely to involve the United States in a large-scale regional war" during the next five years. The two-stage, Taepo Dong-2 rocket under development is thought to be able to deliver small payloads as far away as the United States with larger payloads to Hawaii and Alaska. North Korea is known to have chemical and biological weapons and might even have nuclear warheads (Gannett).


In the wake of North Korea's unsuccessful attempt to launch a satellite, Japan has determined to obtain satellite technology to detect future launches. The North Korea launch passed over a northern Japanese Island before splashing into the Pacific 1,600 km from the launch site. Japan has set aside 200 billion yen for a constellation of spy satellites to bolster its national security. Four LEO Information Gathering Satellites weighing in at 1.5 metric tons are expected to be launched by early 2003. Two will carry synthetic aperture radar instruments with three meter resolution and two will carry one meter resolution optical sensors. The contracts for the construction and launch of these satellites have not yet been awarded (SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • February 6 - Delta 2, Stardust, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • February 7- Delta 2, flight 266, USAF ARGOS, SUNSAT & ORSTED, SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • February 9 - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 comsats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • February 10 - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, pad 36A, 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 14 - SeaLaunch Zenit - Inaugural flight, equatorial Pacific.
  • March 21 - 26 - ProSpace, March Storm, Washington DC.
  • March 27 - Delta 3, flight 268, Orion-F3, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • 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 3438 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 78 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 11 to 14 months.

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