Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #137

Frontier Status Report #137

February 12, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Following weeks without a launch, this week marked the successful launches of the Stardust mission and four commercial communication satellites. The drop test of the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle was successfully completed. The thermal-protection system for the X-33 completes tests.

Highlights of the week of February 12 include:


The power-on testing of the Russian Service Module is reported to be 73 percent complete. There remains 144 test that were unable to be conducted or finished because of uninstalled components. Sixty-eight flight hardware units are still to be delivered (21 to Moscow and 47 to Baikonur). The Motion control System (MCS) testing was stopped due to software issues; a patch is expected to be delivered this week. Of a total of 508 checkouts, 357 are now completed (Houston Chronicle Space Forum).

The European Space Agency announced February 11 that Umberto Guidoni will be the first ESA astronaut to visit the International Space Station. This will be his second Shuttle flight, having previously flown on STS-75 which featured the Tethered Satellite System test. Guidoni is also the first astronaut to be assigned to STS-102 which is currently slated for launch in April of 2000. The shuttle will carry the Multipurpose Logistics Module (MPLM), named Leonardo, in its cargo bay. The MPLM was derived from the European-designed laboratory SpaceLab and built by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The Module, filled with up to 10 tons of equipment will be lifted out of the cargo bay and attached to one of the station's ports. The astronauts will then unload its contents directly into the station. It will then be loaded back into the cargo bay and returned to Earth (ESA).

On February 8, the ESA signed an agreement with Alenia Aeropazio of Italy for the construction of two windowed "Cupolas". The 2 meter observation domes will be mounted on node modules of the station and will be used for observation during external crane activities and for crew viewing. The six lateral windows and the skylight will be protected by shutters when not in use.. In exchange for the Cupolas, NASA will ferry ESA equipment and experiments to the space station on board the Shuttle (LaunchSpace).

The station continues to circle the globe every 92 minutes in a 259 x 245 statute mile orbit. The next ISS Shuttle mission is scheduled for May (NASA).


Having been unsuccessful in the deployment of the space-mirror, the crew of the Mir space station sent a reentry command to the Progress supply vessel to which it was attached. It was later determined that the Kurs docking antenna extended from a ground command as the mirror was unfolding and jammed the mechanism (Chris v.d. Berg).

Mir News

On February 8, the crew piloted their Soyuz TM-28 space capsule from the -X docking port to the +X Kvant port to make room for the Soyuz TM-29 capsule due to arrive on February 20. The crew left most of the station's system's powered down in the unlikely event that they could not redock and had to reenter. To effect the transfer, the cosmonauts pulled the Soyuz away from the port and allowed the station to rotate 180 degrees on the Z-axis before they redocked (AP; Jonathan's Space Report; Chris v.d. Berg).

Mir News

The clock is running again for the end of Mir. The investor which Russia counted on to pay $250 million per year to extend the life of the Russian Space Station has apparently backed out of the deal. If no new funds are forthcoming by April, the Russians will be forced to abandon the station in August or September -- bringing to a close ten years of continuous human occupation of the space station (AP).

Florida Today Article


The StarDust sample return mission to comet Wild-2 was successfully launched Sunday, February 7, at 16:04:15 EST from Cape Canaveral Air Station aboard a Boeing Delta 2. The 386 kg Stardust comet material return spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics. The first stage burned about four minutes with the solid rocket boosters being ejected simultaneously at T+66 seconds. The second stage burned twice, once for 5 minutes and 20 seconds and again 11 minutes later for 104 seconds. The third stage 65 second burn began at T+ 25 minutes. The spacecraft separated from the third stage at T+27 -- signal was acquired by the Canberra Deep Space Network at T+ 51 minutes. The solar panels had deployed about four minutes after separation and the spacecraft systems were reported to be nominal. The initial launch was so well-targeted that only a slight adjustment will need to be made at the first trajectory adjustment on February 22. By February 11, the spacecraft was nearly a million miles from Earth (1,608,00 km). The launch was delayed one day due to a problem with a C-band radar beacon on the spacecraft (Flatoday; Boeing PR; SpaceViews).

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 as it makes a low speed pass within 93 miles of the comet. An impact mass spectrometer will analyze cometary and interstellar dust in flight. 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. It is hoped the material will provide clues on the formation of the solar system (Flatoday; Boeing PR).

Florida Today Article

On board the Stardust spacecraft are two microchips inscribed with the names of more than one million people who signed up over the Internet. Also included are the 58,214 names listed on the Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington D.C. After the spacecraft drops off the reentry capsule in 2006, the spacecraft containing the chips will either exit the solar system or go into a long period orbit. The spacecraft and the millions of names inscribed are expected to survive for billions of years (Flatoday).

Florida Today Article


A Russian Soyuz-Ikar rocket launched four American Globalstar telecommunications satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan on February 8 at 10:54 pm EST. The Blok 1 third stage ignited at 4 minutes 43 seconds and separated at 8 minute 48 seconds. The Ikar payload stage, which was derived from the Yantar reconnaissance satellite's propulsion module, burned at apogee to circularize the orbit. The four satellites were released 3.5 hours after launch at an altitude of around 920 km inclined 52 degrees. Over the next few weeks the satellites will be raised to operational orbits of 1,414 km. The launch had been delayed one day due to a minor problem with one of the satellites. Six Globalstar gateways are being used to control and test the satellite system. The Soyuz-Ikar rocket is manufactured by Starsem -- a joint effort of Aerospatiale, the Russian Space Agency and the TsSkB-Progress Soyuz. The launch was the first for the Starsem Soyuz-Ikar configuration (Globalstar PR; Jonathan's Space Report).

The Globalstar satellite system will eventually be composed of 48 satellites in low Earth orbit. Globalstar previously launched eight satellites on two Delta rockets, but was set back when 12 satellites were lost in a Zenit rocket failure in September of 1998. Since that time the company has had problems with an American moratorium on Russian launches stemming from the transfer of rocket technology to Iran. The US and Russia recently signed an agreement to enact measures to prevent unauthorized technology transfers. Globalstar will now complete their constellation with a series of Soyuz and Delta launches with a possible Ariane launch to provide replacement satellites. The Globalstar system hopes to activate its global mobile satellite phone system by the fall of 1999 (AP; Globalstar PR).

Florida Today Article

Space Cast Article


Boeing may soon need to hire accountants to track the number of scrubs for the Delta 2 launch of the ARGOS satellite. On Sunday, February 7, the string remained unbroken when the launch was canceled due to a range constraint when a computer model indicated that upper winds would blow the solid rocket motor nozzle covers into a populated area. With this scrub, and the successful launch of the Stardust mission, the ARGOS mission was redesignated Delta 267 (Flatoday).

On Friday, winds aloft caused scrub #9. During the T-4 minute hold, upper level winds exceeded the Delta 2's control system's ability to compensate. Attempt number 10 will be tried on February 13 (Flatoday).


Testing of the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) prototype (vehicle 131) resumed on February 6 after a one day postponement. The prototype was to be carried to 22,000 feet (6,700 meters) by a modified B-52. There it was released, flew free for ten seconds and then deployed a 110 x 50 foot steerable parafoil. The parafoil has the same wing area as a Boeing 747. The CRV made a controlled landing on a nearby airfield 1,200 feet from target. This was to be the second and final flight for the test vehicle. The next drop test will be conducted on February 26 of another prototype with flight control surfaces and more instrumentation. Test drops will then be conducted every six weeks from progressively higher altitudes. Vehicle 131 will now now 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. A drop-test from orbit is slated for January 2001. A highlights video can be seen at droptest02.ram (NASA - Dryden Flight Research Center; Houston Chronicle Space Forum).

Houston Chronicle Space Forum

NASA Press release


The Lockheed Martin Corp has announced that its new generation of rockets will bear the designation of Atlas 5. The family of rockets will share the new Common Core Booster stage currently under development. The rockets are being developed as part of the USAF Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) program. In addition to military and government payloads, the rockets will also serve to launch commercial LEO constellations or heavy Geostationary Orbit Satellites. The various configurations of the rocket are expected to fit the needs of a broad range of projected satellite requirements. The launch system is expected to launch by late 2001. One of two EELV contracts was awarded to Lockheed Martin in October of 1998.

The 3.8 meter diameter, 27 meter tall rocket will feature the Common Core Booster which is based on the RD-180 engine. The common Centaur upper stage will use either one or two RL10 engines. A larger payload fairing is in the works for the larger payloads in the Heavy configuration. The base-line intermediate configuration will be able to lift more than 5,000 kg to GEO transfer orbit. The Heavy configuration, which uses three coupled Common Core Boosters will be able to lift more than 13,000 kg to GEO transfer orbit. New on-ground processes will provide increased efficiency with less time needed to prepare the rockets for launch while providing a greater flexibility for launch manifesting (Lockheed Martin PR).


Chinese launch provider Great Walls Industry Corp has admitted that it is developing a new heavy-lift launch vehicle. The CZ-3B(A), a derivative of the CZ-3B, will be able to compete with European and US launchers by lofting 6,000 kg to geostationary transfer orbit. The rocket will use the new stretched strap-on boosters created in 1998 for the CZ-2E(A) as part of China's manned space program. The CZ-3B(A) is expected to first fly in 2002 (LaunchSpace).


Mars Global Surveyor

While the Mars Global Surveyor successfully completed aerobraking on February 4, controllers in Denver were scrambling to maintain contact with the explorer. On February 2, a water main broke in the building housing mission support at Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver. All data and voice communications between the facility and JPL were lost. As part of the contingency plan, two team engineers were flown to JPL. Limited capability was reestablished within 12 hours with voice communications through cell phones and data transfer through the commercial internet. Despite the problems, no spacecraft operations were compromised, and no scheduled events missed (NASA/JPL).

Florida Today Article


Photographs of the asteroid 433 Eros taken by the NEAR spacecraft as it flew past on December 23, 1998. The 222 photographs taken by the spacecraft revealed that the asteroid is slightly smaller than expected and has at least two medium-sized craters (8.5 and 6.5 km diameter) and a 20 km surface ridge. Other instruments including the multispectral imager, infrared spectrometer and radio science experiment revealed that the asteroid has a density similar to Earth's crust. The spacecraft passed within 3,830 km of the asteroid when the spacecraft malfunctioned prior to a final speed-matching burn. While the mission has been salvaged, the spacecraft will not rendezvous with the asteroid for another year (NASA;

Space Cast Article


Chandra X-ray Observatory

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory has been installed in a clean room at the Kennedy Space Station.

NASA Press release



One of three critical technological advances necessary for the first flight of the X-33 prototype has been declared "ready for flight". Metallic thermal-protection panels were tested with sessions in high-speed, high temperature wind tunnels and placed on a test platform on a NASA F-15 jet which flight-tested the panels at Mach 1.5. The laboratory testing duplicated the environment that the X-33 will experience while flying at an altitude of 60 miles at Mach 13. The tests verified the metallic thermal-protection system will protect up to nearly 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. A fit test also demonstrated the ease of panel installation and removal. The new system will provide a rugged, light-weight all-weather alternative to traditional tile systems (NASA PR).



Orbcomm Global, a partnership between Orbital Sciences and Teleglobe of Canada, has signed a service license agreement with Transexpo Corp to provide Orbcomm services in the Urkraine. Transexpo will receive a gateway earth station and gateway control center in 1999 which will route messages to and from Orbcomm satellites and their ground destinations in the Kiev region. Full service in Europe's second largest nation will begin in the second half of 1999 The service will allow private and public organizations to monitor and control remote assets in areas where communications infrastructure does not exist (Orbcomm PR).

CD Radio

Because of the unavailability of Proton rockets and delays in the delivery of critical chips, the CD Radio launches will be delayed. Launches slated for November 1999, December 1999 and January 2000 will now be scheduled for January, March and May of 2000. Three satellites plus one on-ground spare are being built by Space Systems/Loral. The addition of the spare satellite will add $80 million to the pre-operational costs. The digital radio chip sets are being supplied by Lucent Technologies, but the $27 million required is three times original estimate because the technology turned to be more complex than expected. The 100 station digital radio service will be offered to US motorists for a fee of $9.95 per month. CD Radio stock prices plunged 20% upon news that the company planned to increase its pre-operational cash needs by $175 million to $1.14 billion.
(LaunchSpace; Motley Fool)


Hughes Global Services, Inc. (HGS) has been awarded an Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract to supply satellite services by the US General Services Administration. The two-year contract, if all options are exercised as a $100 million ceiling. This is the first multiagency contract to be awarded by the GSA in its attempts to streamline telecommunication services for the Federal government. The contract covers all types of commercial fixed, broadcast and mobile satellite services and associated equipment. It may also add new commercial services as they become available (; Hughes PR).

Space Cast Article

Hughes subsidiary Primestar received notice from the federal government that it will terminate early the waiting period for the acquisition of the company by Hughes Electronics. The waiting period is required by antitrust legislation. Hughes will now buy Primestar's businesses and rights to two high power satellites built for Tempo Satellite by Space Systems/Loral. The sale is still contingent upon approval of certain Primestar lenders (Hughes PR)

Hughes also recently announced that it will increase its holding in DirecTV Japan to about 40 percent. By purchasing the shares of Culture Convenience Club Co, Hughes will become the top shareholder in the company. DirecTV Japan is behind Sky PerfecTV in the Japanese direct-to-home market share (Hughes PR).



A week after Pluto had its planet status confirmed by the International Astronomical Union, the tiny planet passed beyond the orbit of Neptune at 5:08 am EST February 11, 1999 to resume the title of the furthest planet from the sun. Pluto's eccentric orbit took it inside Neptune's orbit on February 7, 1979. It will remain the most distant planet for another 228 years (AP).



The Iranian defense minister's recently announced that the Shahab-4 long range rocket now under development will be used to launch satellites and will not be used for military purposes. In November, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, stated that Iran was developing a missile with a range of 800 miles which is capable of reaching Israel and Saudi Arabia. On Sunday, February 7, he stated that the Shahab-3 would be the last military missile that his country would produce. The US believes that the Shahab-4 could be deployed in two to five years. Iran is believed to have received missile technology from Russia, China and North Korea. The Shahab-3 is believed to be based upon North Korea's No Dong ballistic missile (AP).

Florida Today Article


The USAF and Pentagon announced the award of the first portion of a $3 billion research contract. The first $125 million contract was awarded to Boeing to research the feasibility of a space-based laser system, develop ground, flight, and space technologies and then conduct a demonstration. The contract seeks to test technologies that would be required to develop a system could be used as a defense against long-range missiles. Since it will not be used to develop a national space-based missile defense system, it does not violate the US/Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (AP).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • February 13 - Delta 2, flight 266, USAF ARGOS, SUNSAT & ORSTED, SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • February 14 - Atlas 2AS, AC-152, JCSAT-6, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • February 15 - 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 - Ariane 44L, flight 116, Arabsat-3A & Skynet- 4E, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • March 1 - Pegasus XL, flight 26, WIRE, Vandenberg AFB.
  • March 14 - SeaLaunch Zenit - Inaugural flight, dummy payload, equatorial Pacific.
  • March 21 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Astra-1H, Baikonur, Kazakstan
  • 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 3445 days of continuous human habitation in space since the reoccupation of Mir on September 8, 1989. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 85 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.


On February 6, 1959, the first Titan Intercontinental Missile (ICBM) was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 15. The 10 foot diameter Titan 1 rocket had two liquid-fueled stages, but may have had water in the second stage tanks for the first flight. During a period of five weeks, the rocket passed through four scrubs before it finally left the pad. As the rocket engine ignited, a discharge line in the engine from the liquid oxy gen tank came out and spewed on the engine and launch stand. As a result, hydraulic lines on the launch stand burst mixing liquid oxygen with hydraulic fuel. While the mixture was a formula for an explosion, the rocket left the stand, cleared the tower and when on to successfully accomplish the mission objectives. While the Atlas and the Titan were the first deployed US ICBMs, they also both served to transport men to space in the Mercury (Atlas) and Gemini (Titan) programs (Flatoday).

Florida Today Article

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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