Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #140

Frontier Status Report #140

March 5, 1999

Dale M. Gray

A week of progress on the frontier. Two successful launches occurred from Vandenberg and Baikonur. However, the American satellite malfunctioned upon reaching orbit. The second X-38 prototype was successfully drop tested. The privately funded Rotary Rocket launch vehicle was unveiled. The X-33 launch site was opened. However, US policies continue to threaten the progress of the frontier.

Frontier Corner this week discusses the US Government's techno-retentive policies and the damage they are doing to the space frontier and to American national security.

Highlights of the week of March 5 include:

  • WIRE mission launched on Pegasus XL
  • Raduga-1 launched on Proton rocket
  • WIRE satellite malfunctions
  • Soyuz lands in Khazakstan
  • Second X-38 vehicle drop tested
  • Rotory Rocket prototype rolled out.
  • X-33 launch facility completed


The Shuttle Discovery is in the Orbital Processing Facility bay 1 being prepared for its May 20 launch. The STS-96 mission features a SpaceHab Double Module which will carry supplies and equipment for the orbiting International Space Station. This past week workers checked the new docking mechanism, replaced the water spray boiler, and installed the integrated vehicle health monitoring systems for the orbiter's main propulsion system. The two solid rocket boosters to be used in the mission are being stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building high bay 3 (NASA).


Ground crews in both Houston and Moscow continue to practice communications with the orbiting space station via the Unity node's Early Communications System which is linked with NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellites. Little change has been reported from previous weeks with temperatures and battery conditions monitored. The Station is presently in a 256 x 242 nautical mile orbit that circles the Earth every 92 minutes and 24 seconds (NASA).


Mir 26 commander Gennady Padalka and Slovak Col. Ivan Bella (34) left the Mir space station in the Soyuz TM-28 capsule and landed safely three and a half hours later in northern Kazakstan at 9:15 pm EST, February 28. The two men were then taken directly to Star City near Moscow for medical tests. Padalka has been the commander of the Russian space station for a relatively trouble-free six months. Bella, a Slovenian, was guest on the station for a week to conduct experiments and as part of a Russian deal to erase a debt to Slovenia (AP; SpaceViews; Jonathan's Space Report).

The station is now crewed by commander Viktor Afanasyev, flight engineer Sergei Avdeyev (who has been on Mir since August of 1998) and guest cosmonaut Jean-Pierre Haignere from France. This crew will remain on Mir until August when the station will likely be abandoned (SpaceViews).


An Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket carrying the Wide-Field Infrared Explorer (WIRE) was launched from its L-1011 mother ship on March 1 at 6:57 pm PST (9:57 pm EST) from a point over the Pacific Ocean. The mission was based out of Vandenberg AFB. The first stage fired for 1 minute and 16 seconds and was jettisoned. The second stage burned until about T+ 3 minutes which was followed by a four minute coast. The second stage was jettisoned at T+7 minutes which was followed 30 seconds later by the 44 second burn of the third stage. At T+9 minutes, 30 seconds the WIRE satellite separated from the third stage and then autonomously deployed its solar arrays and activated its attitude control system. The satellite was placed into a circular 540 km (336 mile) polar orbit. The WIRE mission was first attempted on March 2, but was canceled in-flight when a rudder pin failed to retract 45 seconds before the Pegasus rocket was to be dropped from the carrier aircraft. The next Pegasus launch is of the TERRIERS satellite on April 8 (Flatoday; Orbital Sciences PR).

Following deployment, the WIRE satellite began an uncontrolled spin during the second pass over the Poker Flats, Alaska ground station. A spacecraft emergency was declared. It appears that the cover of the telescope ejected early. The spacecraft became warmer than expected resulting in hydrogen coolant being vented. This venting put appears to have put the spacecraft into a spin. Contact was maintained and a recovery team has begun efforts to cool and control the spacecraft. An investigation team has also been formed. It is not known if the mission will be salvage or what effect it will have on the life span of the telescope (NASA PR; Space Cast; Jonathan's Space Report).

The $54 million WIRE mission will study the formation and evolution of the "starburst" galaxies to give astronomers a better understanding of the structure and evolution of the early universe. The 561 pound (254 kg) satellite is part of NASA's Small Explorer (SMEX) program and features the first solid hydrogen cryostat which will be used to cool a 30 centimeter aperture Cassegrain telescope that was built by the Utah State University Space Dynamics Lab. The telescope has no moving parts and no reimaging optics. The optics are surrounded by a 4.5 kg jacket of solid hydrogen that will keep focal planes cooled to 6.5 degrees Kelvin (-436 degrees F) and the optics cooled to less than 13 degrees Kelvin during the planned four month life of the telescope. The telescope must be cooled so that it does not have to look through self-emitted infrared radiation. The cryostat, which was built by Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space, cools by sublimation of the solid to gaseous hydrogen which is then vented. The telescope is so sensitive that it can detect the equivalent of a pin-head of dust from 1000 miles away. The mission was developed $9.4 million under budget and the money returned to NASA (Orbital Sciences PR; Lockheed Martin PR; NASA PR).

WIRE web page.


Russia launched a Proton K rocket carrying the Raduga-1 (Globus No. 14) military satellite from Baikonur on February 28 (11:00 pm EST February 27). The Krunichev Proton first stage was followed by an Energiya Blok DM-2 which burned twice to put the satellite into a geosynchronous orbit where it become part of the Russian government and military communications system. The satellite was built by NPO Prikladnoi Makhaniki in Zheleznogorsk. The satellite is an improved version of the old Raduga satellites first launched in 1975 (SpaceViews: Jonathan's Space Report).


After a one day delay, the second X-38 Crew Return Vehicle prototype successfully completed a drop test to the Rogers Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert on the morning of March 5. The prototype, designated vehicle 132, is a more advanced version of a similar CRV prototype drop-tested last month. The test vehicle was carried aloft by a B-52 which released the test vehicle at 26,000 feet. After a short free- flight a drogue chute was deployed which slowed the descent of the vehicle so that the giant parasail could be deployed. Unlike last month's test of a sister ship in which the parasail was deployed with a "twist" in the lines, this deployment was nominal. The flight was then remotely piloted to the 7,000 foot level where an automated landing system was activated. Following a hard right turn, the craft approached the designated runway and landed around 8:30 am PST. Because the craft flared as it landed, the descent rate at touch down was a mere 10 feet per second and the slide out was 50 feet. Last month's test resulted in a 20 foot per second descent rate at touchdown and a 10 foot slide out. While additional flights are planned at a rate of about one per month, the next flight is dependent on the development of a new high-dynamic drogue chute. The drogue chute employed in this test is at its operational limits. The X-38 program seeks to develop an emergency crew return system that will be deployed on the International Space Station. The vehicle, which was designed to be carried aloft in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle, may also be adapted for launches on other systems such as the Ariane 5 (AP; NASA: Dryden Press Conference).


On March 5, NASA and Lockheed Martin conducted a press conference where they announced the completion of the X-33 launch facilities. Construction on the 30-acre, $32 million X-33 Flight Operations center began in November of 1997 and was completed in a little over a year. The facility is located in a remote area of the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. The X-33 is a half-scale suborbital technology demonstrator that is to set the stage for the follow-on VentureStar single-stage to orbit launch vehicle. The X-33 will be launched at the new facility, but land in Utah and Montana. It will return via truck to Dryden for further test flights. Fifteen test flights are expected to begin by mid-2000. The craft is ultimately hoped to fly as fast as Mach 13 to 15 and as high as 60 miles. The press conference was broadcast via NASA Television (NASA PR; NASA TV).


The Roton rocket prototype was rolled out March 1 at the Mojave Spaceport, north of Lancaster, California. The event was attended by such notables as Tom Clancy, Space Frontier Foundation President Rick Tumlinson, FAA officials and NASA representatives. The prototype, touted variously as a miracle of modern science and as a traffic cone with propeller blades was developed for a mere $2.8 million -- half of the budgeted cost. The six-story tall test vehicle will begin manned test flights this spring (Roton Web-cast; SpaceNews).


Even as the people of North Korea suffer under a famine, the government continues to pour money into its military space program. In the most recent development, North Korea has deployed medium-range Rodong missiles along its Chinese border. The missile has been deployed at Yongodong near the missile factory. Last tested in 1993, the Rodong is capable of carrying a 450 pound warhead up to 620 miles -- an area that includes both Japan and South Korea. About 30 of the missiles have been deployed around the country. Another five underground launch sites were reported to be under construction for the long-range Taepodong missile. North Korea is reportedly working on an advanced version of the Rodong missile with a range of 940 miles (AP).


Mars Climate Orbiter

On March 4, the Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) conducted its second course correction (TCM-2). The correction required a 8.2 second firing of the maneuvering engine -- changing the velocity of the craft by just 0.86 meters per second. MCO continues to function well and small anomalies in the Inertial Measurement Units and the UHF transceiver are being investigated and are not considered significant (NASA).

Mars Polar Lander

The Mars Polar Lander continues to fly trouble-free toward Mars. This past week, valves were opened in the descent engines to vent the propellant lines to space. This will allow controllers two weeks to determine if the venting produced any course changes for the craft prior to correction maneuver TCM-2 which is scheduled for March 15 (NASA).


Eutelsat is being urged by the French government to sue the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) because it was denied a coveted orbital slot. The suit alleges that Eutelsat has suffered damages because it has been prevented from starting its Europesat direct- broadcast service (SpaceNews).


US Senate

The US Senate Commerce Committee unanimously passed a bill that would allow satellite television providers to retransmit local television signals. The Satellite Home Viewer Improvements Act will also remove copyright fees and detailed eligibility rules now in place. The Act was spurred by a recent court injunction that cut off major American network signals to direct-to-home satellite television viewers. The ruling took effect just prior to the airing of Barbara Walters interview with Monica Lewinski -- cutting off 700,000 DirecTV viewers from the historic interview and provoking a storm of outraged messages to Congress. If the bill is not passed, another 1 million viewers will be cut off on April 1. The House is simultaneously working on a similar bill (SpaceNews).


American Support

Apparently Americans support the space program far more than previously suspected. In a recent poll, it was found that three-quarters of those surveyed responded that space technology and research be used for educational purposed in the classroom. Three-quarters (74 percent) also stated the space research should be used to protect the environment with four-fifths (79 percent) of people under 35 supporting such a belief. Nearly three- quarters (73 percent) of those polled also stated that medical research should be a prime beneficiary of the space program. A slightly lower 67 percent believed that the space program spinoffs become available to the consumer. The survey was conduced between January 19 and February 1 and has a three percent margin of error (Flatoday).

John Glenn

On March 1, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin paid tribute to America's first orbital astronaut and holder of the record for oldest human to enter space by officially renaming the Lewis Research Center the John H. Glenn Research Center. The Research Center at Lewis Field near Cleveland, Ohio was built in 1941 and has evolved to meet the needs of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and its successor the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). As a Mercury astronaut, Glenn trained at the Multiple Axis Space Test Inertia Facility at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory. The Research Center employs 2100 civil service employees and 1500 on- site support-service contractors at the 350 acre Cleveland site and the 6400 acre Plum Brook Station at Sandusky, Ohio. The name change is officially the result of legislation in the FY 1999 VA-HUD Appropriations Bill that honored John Glenn for his contribution to science and space and for his service to the State of Ohio as its Senator (NASA).


The US government's continued hard-line stance on technology export concerns has once again hit the Globalstar venture and not the third-world countries for which it was intended. The deployment of the Globalstar constellation has been repeatedly delayed when launches on Russian rockets have been denied. This has been due to issues concerning Russian rocket technology transfers to Iran. Only recently has a satellite technology agreement been signed with Russia that will allow the resumption of launching Globalstar satellites on Russian rockets. Now apparently, the issue has been transferred to the European space community. Globalstar has until the end of March to get technical assistance agreements with Arianespace approved. Failing to do so would force the cancellation of a possible launch of six replacement Globalstar satellites later this year (Reuters).

This is but the latest round of an increasingly pointless governmental attempt to replace capitalism with some sort of totalitarian control of all space-related technological resources. Meanwhile the former Communists are busy selling Pepsi, milk, and ball-point pins from orbit and have financed the past three years of Mir operation by selling tickets to the station to the US, France and other countries. In the past few years, Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly sold advanced rocket engine technology to American firms. The new generation of Atlas rockets will be based upon Soviet technology.

In contrast, the capitalistic United States continues to put road blocks in the course of private space development. The US has slapped injunctions on foreign workers trying to report to work on Boeing's SeaLaunch venture featuring Ukrainian Zenit rockets. A grand jury in Seattle is investigating whether Boeing violated criminal law by sharing sensitive rocketry data in the SeaLaunch venture even now as the first launch is being prepared.

Those accused of this pointless demonstration of xenophobia are among America's leading space companies: Boeing, Hughes, Loral and its subsidiary Globalstar. Each is guilty of trying to find a commercial edge for their space products and nothing more. As usual, "National Security" is evoked -- the same "National Security" that brought us many of the more ludicrous moments of the Cold War. Yet while the war is over, the farce continues. Just last week America turned down a Canadian launch request for a remote sensing satellite for fear the information would fall into the "wrong" hands. Since when did Canada, another partner in the International Space Station become one of the enemies of the US? What possible information could be revealed that isn't available from a thousand sources on the Internet? America claims to be an open society, but in this our behavior comes across more like that of selfish children.

Other countries are advancing their space programs -- many of them America's professed enemies. We are currently afraid of 30 missiles in famine-ridden North Korea. The country is trying to develop orbital capability -- demonstrating like Sputnik an ability to strike anywhere in the world. We have similar fears of Iran and Iraq. These fears are not without foundation. It is natural to want to protect a technological edge, but American society is strong because it is constantly advancing to new frontiers of science and technology. However, it must be understood that this techno-retentive attitude is not harming our enemies. It instead is hurting our own cause as it dampens the fires of technical innovation and application that keep us far ahead of unstable third-world powers.

Perhaps it is time to sweep out the paranoid policy makers that are trying to kill the space frontier while living in their own Cold-War haze. They fear that someone is out to get them. It turns out they are correct. From this point onward that someone will be me and every US Senator and Representative I can convince. I will lobby and do anything and everything legally entitled to me as a Citizen to end this internal threat to the United States of America. End it before it grinds our space-based innovation to a stop. End it before it gives the edge to our external enemies (Dale M. Gray opinion based on information from Florida Today; Space News; Business Wire).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • March 14 - Starsem Soyuz, 4 Globalstar satellites, Baikonur Cosmodrome.
  • March 17 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Asiasat-3S, Baikonur, Kazakstan
  • March 22 - 26 - ProSpace, March Storm, Washington DC.
  • March 22 - SeaLaunch Zenit - Inaugural flight, dummy payload, equatorial Pacific.
  • March - Long March SC/SD, Iridium (2 comsats), Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China.
  • March - Long March 3B, Chinasat-8, Xichang Satellite Launching Center, China.
  • April 2 - Ariane 42P, flight 117, Insat-2E, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • April 4 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1, SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • April 5 - Delta 3, flight 268, Orion-F3, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • April 8 - Pegasus XL, TERRIERS/MUBLCOM, 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.


With the landing of the Soyuz containing the Mir-26 commander and the Slovenian guest cosmonaut, the population of space has dropped to 3. The station contains one French cosmonaut and two Russians. This marks the completion of 3466 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 106 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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