Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #139

Frontier Status Report #139

February 26, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Two reported launches this week. After 11 attempts, the Delta 2 carrying the ARGOS satellite along with two smaller satellites was finally successfully launched. An Ariane 4 rocket launched two satellites. A Soyuz spacecraft docked with the Mir space station for what could be the last crew rotation. One of the Hubble Space telescope gyroscopes is on the blink and may require an early fix. And as usual, the launch of the Russian Service Module may be moved back a few months.

Highlights of the week of February 26 include:

  • Delta 2 finally launches ARGOS
  • Ariane 4 launches Arabsat 3A and Skynet 4E
  • Soyuz with last Mir crew docks with Mir
  • Russians admit additional slip of Service Module
  • Hubble Space Telescope is in trouble
  • X-34 shipped to Dryden Flight Research Center


The Shuttle Discovery is in Bay 1 of the Orbital Processing Facility. This past week technicians tested the robot arm. The orbiter's water spray boiler is the process of being replaced and drag chute instrumentation installation continues. The solid rocket boosters for the STS-96 mission to the International Space Station are being stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building high bay 3. The next major milestone will be the main engine installation on March 2 (KSC PR).


The International Space Station appears to be functioning normally with little change from previous weeks. The two modules of the space station are rotating slowly in a 257 x 243 statute mile orbit that takes 92 minutes and 24 seconds. The next visit to the station will occur in late May when the Shuttle Discovery delivers supplies and two external cranes (NASA PR).

Despite last week's assurances by the Russians to the contrary, NASA has admitted that the Service Module will be delayed once again. NASA associate administrator Joe Rothenberg admitted February 25 that the critical component would not be launched until September and possibly not until November. While Russia is working hard on the module, long delays in obtaining funds for equipment and testing has pushed much of the final assembly and testing to a point after the module's delivery to Baikonur in mid-April. Still to be delivered are the autonomous navigation equipment, Lira and Khurs hardware, the Service Module software and a "fixed" DMSR chip. While Russia essentially has little or no remaining internal budget for space flight, the US may be able to assist in the progress of the Service Module by buying a Soyuz rescue ship and a docking collar for a reported $100 million. Last year the US helped by buying Russian research time and stowage space. Until the Service Module with its crew quarters and propulsion system is in orbit attached to the space station, the US can only launch one more Shuttle mission to supply the station. A more clear idea of the real launch date for the module is expected after an April 15 general progress review (Flatoday; Houston Chronicle Space Forum; Reuters).

One of two Kennedy Space Center high altitude test chambers last used in the Apollo program has been reactivated for use in leak-detecting equipment to be flown in the ISS program. The chambers were last used in 1975 in support of the Apollo-Soyuz program and were partially dismantled in 1985. To increase the probability of successful missions on the ISS, NASA decided to recommission the "west" test chamber in 1997. The 33 foot diameter x 50 foot high stainless steel chambers was outfitted with new equipment and controls to become operational. After modules are lowered into the chamber and the lid secured, the chamber is pumped out to 1 x 10-1 Torr to determine if the module has any leaks and to determine usage rates of gas. This will allow mission planners to more closely provide the necessary additional gas instead of planning for worst case. The testing will take about two weeks for each module. The US Laboratory will be the first to be tested. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held February 25 and the facility will be turned over to ISS payload operations on March 1 (KSC PR).

The International Space Station has signed its first commercial client. The Colorado School of Mines has agreed to pay $5 million for use of a SpaceHab/Guigne Technologies furnace on the station to process exotic glasses and ceramic materials (SpaceNews).


Soyuz TM29 docked with Mir at 5:36 am UTC on February 22. The Soyuz used the Kurs automated docking system to connect without incident with the forward port. Soon after docking -- while the spacecraft was out of range of ground receivers -- the portal was opened and the Soyuz securely clamped to the station. Russian Viktor Afanasyev (50), French astronaut Jean-Pierre Heignere (50) and Slovak Ivan Bella then joined the crew of the Mir station. During his short stay on the station, Ivan Bella will perform the Slovak scientific program Stefanik. These consist of Dozimeter which tests radiation levels, Senso- asymmetrie (purpose not currently known), Endotest (hormone study?), Metabolism, Training and another try with Prepelic (Japanese quail). While these birds were featured in Mir experiments several years ago, none survived. Ivan Bella will leave Mir to return to Earth with current Mir commander Gennady Padalka on the evening of February 27 (Chris v.d. Berg).

Mir News Article


A Delta II 7920 rocket carrying the Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite (ARGOS) was launched on the 11th attempt on February 23 at 2:29 am PST from Vandenberg AFB. Also on board the rocket were the SUNSAT and Orsted satellites. The Delta rocket was powered by an RS-27A engine supplemented by six GEM solid rocket engines. The solid rocket motors burned out and were released at T+90 seconds. Three remaining solid rocket motors then ignited and burned until just after T+ 2 minutes and then were released. The first stage shutdown occurred at T+ 4.5 minutes -- followed by first and second stage separation and ignition of the second stage. The second stage fired until T+11 minutes. The rocket coasted for 40 minutes before igniting the second stage a second time for 20 seconds at T+51 seconds. ARGOS was released at T+58 minutes, 20 seconds into the flight. Following a retro maneuver and a depletion burn SUNSAT and Orsted simultaneous separated from the second stage at T+1 hour, 40 minutes in a 455 nautical mile orbit (Flatoday; Boeing PR).

The 5,500 pound ARGOS satellite carries nine scientific and technological demonstration experiments which cover 31 objectives over the three year life of the satellite. One of the primary experiments is the Electric Propulsion Space Experiment (ESEX). This 1,000 pound piece of technology built at a cost of $25 million will fire an arcjet ten times to slightly lower the spacecraft's orbit over a 50 day period. Other experiments include a space dust collector and a high temperature super conducting technology demonstration.

Orsted, the first Danish-built satellite will study the Earth's magnetic field in order to understand the processes in Earth's core that generate the field. It features the most accurate magnetic instruments to have flown in space. It will also collect atmospheric temperature and humidity information utilizing a JPL provided GPS receiver and magnetometer (Flatoday; Boeing PR).

SUNSAT, or the Stellenbosch University Satellite, is the first satellite to have been built in Africa. It will capture three-color stereo images of Earth. It also carries Amateur Radio equipment, school experiments and a JPL-sponsored GPS TurboRogue receiver and satellite laser tracking retroreflector to conduct atmospheric studies similar to those conducted by Orsted (Flatoday; Boeing PR).

The next slated Delta II launch is the April 15 launch of the Landsat-7 spacecraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Space Cast Article


At 5:44 pm EST on February 26, an Ariane 44L rocket was launched from Kourou, French Guiana on Flight 116. On board were the 2,708 kg Arabsat 3A and the 1490 kg Skynet 4E satellites which were deployed using the Ariane Dual Launch System. After launch, the four liquid rocket boosters (PAL) were jettisoned at T+ 2.5 minutes. First stage separation occurred at T+ 3.5 minutes and was immediately followed by second stage ignition. Second stage separation was at T+5.75 followed immediately by third stage ignition. The third stage burned for 13 minutes, rising to a 199 x 35,968 km supergeostationary transfer orbit. The Arabsat 3A was deployed at 19 minutes, 56 seconds into the flight. Skynet 4E was deployed 24 minutes 59 seconds into the launch. This was the first of nine Arianespace launches scheduled for 1999 (Arianespace PR).

The Arabsat 3a satellite was built by Alcatel Space on a Spacebus 3000 platform equipped with 20 active Ku-band transponders powered by solar panels extending 26 meters which provide 6,400 W of solar power. It will be placed at the 26 degree East longitude orbital slot over the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 3-axis stabilized communications satellite will provide TV broadcasting, telephone, fax and data transmission services to the Arab world as well as southern Europe. It is the fifth satellite that Arianespace has launched for the Arab League (Arianespace PR).

The Skynet 4E satellite was built by Matra Marconi Space for the British Ministry of Defence (BoD). The satellite has four SHF and two UHF transponders powered by 2,000 W of solar generated power. It will be placed in the 6 degrees East longitude orbital position where it is expected to serve for a design life of seven years. The 3-axis stabilized satellite will provide strategic and tactical communications for the British armed forces. It is the third satellite launched by Arianespace for the BoD (Arianespace PR).


The US State department recently rejected an export license to China for a $450 million Hughes satellite. The satellite, which contains some advanced eavesdropping equipment, is part of an over-all $640 million contract between Hughes and Asia Pacific Mobile Telecommunications Pte. Ltd. based out of Singapore. The deal included the satellite, a back-up satellite, five gateway stations a network operation center, a satellite operations center and 70,000 user terminals. The satellite would have been launched on a Chinese CZ-3B rocket in 2000. Hughes may be liable for a $100 million penalty for failure to deliver the spacecraft. The approval process involved five US agencies; only the US Commerce Department supported the sale. The decision can still be appealed at the Cabinet level (LaunchSpace; Reuters).


The National Security Agency late last year discovered that China has been sharing space technology with North Korea and that the two countries are working together to develop satellites. Pentagon officials are concerned that information allegedly supplied to China by Hughes and Loral in 1995 and 1996 has been transferred to North Korea and has been utilized in that countries recent rocket development program. The information on the sharing of technology was recently revealed by senior Clinton administration officials (Bill Gertz, Washington Times).


NPO Yuzhnoye, a Ukrainian aerospace company, and an Italian company are working with the Brazilian Space Agency to develop a launch site in Brazil. The launch site will feature Tsiklon boosters. Brazil's only previous launch attempt, that of the VLS-1, ended in failure after only one minute of flight (SpaceViews).


Problems with the gyroscopes of the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope may require NASA to move up a June 2000 Hubble servicing mission. While the telescope has six gyroscopes, two have failed and a third recently became problematic and is considered lost. The telescope requires at least three gyroscopes to operate its pointing control system -- essential for the astronomical observations. Should any of the remaining gyroscopes fail, the telescope would have to be shut down until the repairs could be made. Of the remaining gyros, two were launched with the telescope in April of 1990 while the third was installed during the 1993 Hubble repair mission. Whether or not the Shuttle repair mission to Hubble is moved up, astronauts will replace the three failed gyros in addition to replacing the flight computer, an advanced data recorder and a refurbished guidance unit. If the repair mission is moved up, the installation of an advanced camera and new solar panels would require either a second repair mission in late 2000 or early 2001. A third alternative is to speed the development of the advanced camera so that it is ready for the rescheduled flight. A final servicing mission is slated for 2003. The Hubble telescope was designed to remain in service until 2010. While NASA has a team of astronauts training for the scheduled June 2000 mission, a Florida Today editorial suggested that Story Musgrave be called out of retirement if the mission schedule is moved up. Musgrave lead the repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope in 1993 when the telescope's mirror problem was corrected and the observatory finally made operational (Flatoday; AP).


The first X-34 has been shipped by Orbital Sciences from its Dulles Virginia assembly plant to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. The craft and its two sister ships still under construction will be used for 27 unpowered and powered flights -- also contracted with Orbital. The X-34 flight vehicles will be used to validate and expand high- speed and high-altitude flight research that was last conducted by the X-15 program. The vehicle is 58 feet long with a 28 foot wing span and will be launched in a manner similar to Orbital's Pegasus rocket. The craft will be dropped at altitude by the Orbital Science L-1011 carrier craft and remotely controlled by a team of 15 Orbital engineers and technicians. The vehicle itself will test technologies including an all-composite airframe structure, composite fuel tanks, state-of-the-art thermal protection materials and autonomous control and landing systems. Flights will also feature a variety of payload instruments to conduct tests in high-speed and microgravity conditions. Orbital's contract with NASA for the X-34 program is valued at about $85 million.

Both the X-34 and its L-1011 launch vehicle will be subject to ground vibration tests prior to the first flight. Once these tests are complete the X-34 will make up to seven captive carry flights aboard the L-1011 to confirm the modifications made to the plane. The X-34 is larger than the Pegasus rockets that the L-1011 has launched previously. Once certified, a separate X-34 flight vehicle will be delivered to White Sands for the first portion of up to 27 flight tests. The rocket will fly up to Mach 8 at altitudes of up to 250,000 feet. The Fastrac rocket engine, currently under development at the Marshall Space Flight Center will burn a mixture of kerosene and oxygen (Orbital PR; DFRC PR).

Space Cast Article


The Chandra X-ray Telescope is moving ahead on its revised schedule which will culminate with its launch on the Shuttle Columbia on July 9. The Command and Telemetry Unit (CTU) which was removed on February 14 for rework, will be reinstalled on March 7 and tested the following week. A full state-of- health test is expected to occur on March 18. The solar arrays will arrive at the Shuttle Landing Facility on March 9 and will be fully deployed for testing on March 27. Loading of the bi-propellants is slated to begin on April 5. Batteries will be installed on April 17 as the last step before Chandra will be moved to the Vehicle Processing Facility to be installed on the Inertial Upper Stage. Astronomers hope the Chandra facility will open a new window on the history of the universe (NASA).

NASA Press Release


The Roton rocket prototype will be rolled out March 1 at the Mojave Spaceport, north of Lancaster, California. The event will be attended by such notables as Tom Clancy, Space Frontier Foundation President Rick Tumlinson, FAA officials and NASA representatives. The event can be viewed on line at http://ROLLOUT.ORG. (Space Frontier Foundation PR).


Mars Global Surveyor

On February 19, the Mars Global Surveyor fired its main engine to fine tune its orbital path around Mars. The burn lowered the orbit from 405 km to 367 km and place the craft in its Sun-synchronous mapping orbit. The craft will pass over a given part of Mars at the same local time each orbit -- passing over the equator at 2 am and 2 pm Mars time. Controllers will activated, focus and calibrate the camera and power up several other science instruments later in the week. The first three one-week mapping cycles will be conducted with the high gain antenna stowed. There is some risk with the deployment of the antenna on its 6.6 foot long boom, as a result the deployment has been delayed until several data sets have been obtained. Since its launch, NASA has become aware of a potential problem with the damper mechanism that cushions the force of the antenna release spring (NASA PR).

NASA Website

Deep Space 1

On February 23, during a test of the miniature integrated camera spectrometer, the Deep Space 1 went into safe mode. The event was triggered from a software change associated with the ultraviolet imaging spectrometer one of the four components of the craft's spectrometer. The problem was duplicated on the ground the same afternoon and controllers were able to return the craft to normal flight configuration soon thereafter. On February 25, three new technologies were tested for the first time. These include low power electronics, power activation and switching module and the multifunctional structure. These devices are designed to reduce power consumption and the volume of electronics on future space missions (NASA PR).

Mars Climate Orbiter

Noise in the data from the ring-laser gyro control loops that has been detected in the Mars Climate Orbiter has been duplicated on the ground with a similar unit, a flight spare for the Stardust mission. This indicates that the noise is a design characteristic. Further testing of the on-ground unit is being conducted to determine the circumstances in which the noise is produced and to pin- point the source. The craft is being tested and housekeeping chores performed. On February 16, the UHF transceiver was tested by producing a series of "ping" waveforms. The Stanford University 46 meter radio astronomy station attempted to detect the "pings" but was unsuccessful. The test did detect an unpredicted quasi-cyclic noise spikes in components located near the UHF antenna. When the test was concluded, telemetry returned to normal and the spikes disappeared (NASA PR).


The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence was recently given a boost with the announcement by the SETI Institute that they will be utilizing 1000 small satellite TV antennas to aid their search. The $25 million project will combine the numerous small antennas to create a large sensitive receiver. The project is expected to be completed by 2004 (Reuters).

For a more complete article on the current status of the search, see a recently published article by Larry Klaes, the Northeastern U.S. Regional Coordinator for the SETI League and coordinator for the Columbus Optical SETI (COSETI) Observatory. The article was published in three installments in SpaceViews.



EchoStar Communications Corp stated February 26 that it has made a $600 million offer for a part of PrimeStar Inc's satellite assets. The offer is specifically tendered toward the purchase of two high-powered Tempo direct broadcast satellites and the rights to their orbital slots. Last month DirecTV offered $35 million in cash and $465 million in assumption of debts with a separate deal for the PrimeStar subscriber TV business. The two deals together were worth $1.82 billion. The money offered for repayment of debts was not sufficient for repayment of PrimeStar's $730 in debt (Reuters).


The USAF has awarded TRW Inc a $10.5 million contract for the initial demonstration phase of the Discoverer 2 space-based radar technology program. The program seeks to provide ground moving target indication and high resolution terrain mapping with direct tasking and downlink to tactical users. The government plans on deploying a constellation of as many as 24 low-Earth orbiting satellites in 2008. During the initial phase of the program, TRW will conduct trade studies and develop system designs. A mid- 2000 contract will produce two demonstration satellites to be launched in 2003. The USAF also awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin Astronautics and Spectrum Astro as part of the $29 million initial phase of the program (TRW PR; LaunchSpace).

Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences was awarded a $22.8 million contract by the University of Colorado at Boulder for the development and construction of the Total Solar Irradiance Mission (TSIM) satellite. The satellite program is part of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise program for which Orbital has already built two satellites. The satellite, based on the proven MicroStar platform, is expected to be completed by 2001. Orbital is also expected to be contracted to launch the satellite on an Orbital Pegasus rocket (Orbital PR).


Plastic muscles

A type of plastic that expands and contracts with the application of an electric current will get its first space mission on a palm-sized NASA rover hitching a ride on the Japanese asteroid sample return mission Mu Space Engineering Spacecraft (Muses-CN). The electroactive polymer, which has been called an artificial muscle, will be used to power miniature wipers on the lenses of optical and infrared views. The mission is slated to launch in 2002. Electroactive polymers are expected to radically decrease the number of moving parts necessary in future space missions and to simplify terrestrial robot applications. Dr. Yoseph Bar-Cohen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA is leading an effort to develop applications for the new plastic (Space Cast; NASA PR).

Space Cast Article

Mars Fuel

A small chemical extraction device will be placed on the Mars Surveyor 2001 mission. The extractor will be designed to convert local Martian carbon dioxide into usable oxygen (SpaceCast).



The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to submit a protection plan for communications equipment that would allow US companies to obtain permission to use their equipment from the FCC without having to obtain similar permission from other countries. This would protect mobile satellite phone users from having their equipment confiscated or subject to heavy duties when entering other countries. The plan is under consideration by 50 countries including all of the countries in the European Union, Japan and Canada. The FCC also proposed rules to assure that mobile satellite phones do not interfere with the operation of airplane communications equipment (AP).

US House

A bill sponsored by Representative Billy Tauzin, R-La would make it a crime to intercept and disclose private wireless telephone communications. Currently, it is only a crime if a person discloses a wireless communication after its interception. The bill also restricts the manufacture of scanners that can be easily altered to receive cellular frequencies. The House passed the bill, HR 514 on February 26 with a vote of 403-3. The bill now moves to the Senate for vote (AP).


Mission to Mars

The Disney Hollywood Pictures movie "Mission to Mars" finally has a director. After months of negotiation, Brian De Palma has agreed to direct the film which will star Gary Sinise (Forest Gump) and Don Cheadle. De Palma previously directed "Mission Impossible", "Bonfire of the Vanities", "Snake Eyes" and "The Untouchables" (Variety / Reuters).


Orbital Sciences

A class-action law suit was filed against Orbital Sciences on February 23, for allegedly producing false and misleading financial statements and failing to reveal fraudulent accounting methods which artificially inflated Orbital's earnings. Orbital recently announced that due to improper accounting treatment of certain items, it would have to retreat its 3rd quarter 1998 earnings. The complaint alleges that inside information was used to make a $3 million profit off of the sale of stock. The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of shareholders who purchased stock between April 21, 1998 to February 16, 1999 (Business Wire).

CD Radio

A suit filed in the Southern District of New York seeks an injunction to prevent XM Satellite from constructing its satellite-to-car system. The suit states that the XM system will infringe on three of CD Radio's eight patents (#5592471, #5485485, and #5319673) critical to the development of CD Radio's digital satellite audio system set for launch in late 2000 (SkyReport).


American Millennium Corp

The American Millennium Corp (AMC) announced on February 23 that it will be marketing the new GSC 100 from Magellan. The handheld device can both compute location and act as a receiver/transmitter for e- mail -- allowing the unit to send its position via e-mail to any of 150 stored addresses. The system utilizes the Orbcomm satellite constellation for the transmittal of the messages. The device lets field personnel be in touch when in remote areas not served by traditional communications services. The units will sell for under $1000 with a minimum monthly access fee of $29.95 (Business Wire).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • March 1 - Pegasus XL, flight 26, WIRE, Vandenberg AFB.
  • March 1 - Rotary Rocket Company rolls out Roton Atmospheric Test Vehicle, 11:00 am, Mojave, California.
  • Mid-March - Starsem Soyuz, 4 Globalstar satellites, Baikonur Cosmodrome.
  • March 18 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Asiasat-3S, Baikonur, Kazakstan
  • March 21 - 26 - ProSpace, March Storm, Washington DC.
  • March 22 - SeaLaunch Zenit - Inaugural flight, dummy payload, equatorial Pacific.
  • March 31 - Pegasus XL, TERRIERS/MUBLCOM, Vandenberg AFB.
  • April 2 - Ariane 4, flight 117, Insat-2E, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • April 4 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1, SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • April 9 - Titan 4B, B-27 missile warning satellite, Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida.
  • April 21 - Titan 4B, classified payload, SLC-4 East, Vandenberg AFB.
  • May 1 - Delta 3, flight 268, Orion-F3, Cape Canaveral Air Station.


With the recent docking of the Soyuz containing the Mir-27 crew with the Mir space station, the population of space has risen to 5. The station contains one Slovenian cosmonaut, one French cosmonaut and three Russians. This marks the completion of 3459 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 99 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.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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