Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #141

Frontier Status Report #141

March 12, 1999

Dale M. Gray

A quiet week on the space frontier with no launches reported. Two satellites reported trouble: WIRE continues to spin and has vented all of its cryostat coolant; GE-3 goes off-line, but is back to work 3 hours later. Mars Global Surveyor has officially begun its mapping mission.

(Note: There will be no Frontier Status for the next two weeks: March 26 and April 2. The author will be attending the ProSpace March Storm in Washington DC.)

Highlights of the week of March 12 include:

  • NASA announces new Hubble mission
  • ISS occupation may be moved up
  • SeaLaunch ready for first launch
  • Atlas 3 delivered for launch
  • WIRE lost as coolant vented


NASA appears to be preparing for adding a new mission to the 1999 Shuttle manifest. The degradation of one of the Hubble Space Telescope's six gyroscopes is spurring the space agency to move a June 2000 mission to October 1999. Two gyroscopes have already failed and the loss of the ailing third is expected. Since this would leave the orbiting telescope with the minimum of three gyroscopes, any additional failure would render the facility inoperable. The telescope relies on the gyros to maintain lock on its viewing targets. Of the healthy gyroscopes, two are original equipment to the telescope which has been twice upgraded. The new mission would also upgrade several parts, but would probably not install new solar panels or the new planetary camera. Astronauts expected to conduct spacewalks, Steve Smith, John Grunsfeld, Michael Foale and Claude Nicollier (Swiss) have been in training since last August for the previously scheduled Hubble repair mission. Other members of the crew include Curtis Brown as commander, Scott Kelly as pilot, and ESA astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy who will operate the robot arm (Flatoday; Houston Chronicle Space Forum; ESA PR).

While the upcoming Shuttle mission to Mir is still listed with a launch date of May 20. The date may be pushed back to May 24-25 because of a range conflict and to allow time to train on the MIRT system which may be installed in the Zarya module this flight. This past week the STARSHINE secondary payload was installed in Discovery's cargo bay and the new drag chute system was installed. Booster stacking operations in the Vehicle Assembly Building are complete (Houston Chronicle Space Forum; NASA).


Following years of pushing schedules back on the International Space Station, planners are now considering moving the first occupation up three months from January 2000 to October of 1999. The new plan is the result of concerns over the docking of the Service module with the currently orbiting Zarya and Unity modules. Russia hopes to launch the Service Module in September -- followed soon- thereafter by a Soyuz launch of the first two crew. They will rendezvous with the Service Module to provide fall-back manual docking capability when the Service module connects with the Zarya module. The primary Kurs system has a high failure rate on first attempts to dock with the Mir space station. By putting a crew on the Service Module, the crew would have the option to take over with the manual TOUR system in the event of a Kurs failure. The Service Module, which is a sister-module to the currently orbiting Mir base-module, will provide both crew services and orbital maintenance. The first ISS crew will be completed when a third crewmember arrives on the next subsequent Shuttle mission. A decision on the new plan is expected to be reached at a joint Russian/American meeting in early April (Reuters; Houston Chronicle Space Forum).


The $54 million Wide-Field Infrared Explorer mission was lost this past week when its entire supply of frozen hydrogen coolant vented into space. The unplanned venting was thought to be the cause of the uncontrolled spinning detected on the craft's second pass over the Poker Flats, Alaska tracking center. Controllers believe that the telescope's cover was released about three days earlier than planned which caused internal temperatures to rise -- causing direct sun-light to fall on the hydrogen cryostat. Without the cryostat cooling the sensors to a -430 F, the telescope will not be able to peer through its own infra-red heat emissions. While controllers were able to slow the spin rate of the satellite to 60 rpm by Saturday, March 6, using the satellite's on-board magnetic attitude control system, progress was slow. The method required new code to be developed and uplinked and then reduced the spin by only 3 degrees per second per orbit. Using this method it is hoped that the spin will be reduced to the point where the spacecraft's normal systems can take over. The spacecraft was the first of NASA's Origins Program and would have studied processes of how suns and galaxies are formed. A smaller, salvage mission is now being considered where the spacecraft will be used as a testbed to evaluate advanced attitude control systems, communications and data handling characteristics. The 563 pound WIRE was successfully placed into orbit by an Orbital Sciences Pegasus Rocket based out of Vandenberg AFB on March 4 (NASA; Flatoday).


The first Lockheed Martin Atlas 3A rocket, designated AC-201, has been delivered to Cape Canaveral. The rocket features an American two-chamber derivative of the four-chamber Russian RD-170 rocket engine. Using the powerful hybrid-technology engine, the rocket can carry communication satellites weighing as much as 9,000 pounds -- 1000 pounds more than the most powerful variation of the Atlas 2. By reducing the number of rocket motors from nine to two, the new rocket is also cheaper to manufacture and has 15,000 fewer parts than its predecessors. The first launch, slated for May will carry the Telstar 7 satellite. While only one other Atlas 3 is on order, the rocket is seen as a necessary bridge for the development of the Atlas 5 which will utilize multiple RD-180 engines in a variety of configurations. The new rocket variation has been extensively tested at Energomash facilities in Russia and at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The rocket engine built by Pratt & Whitney/NPO Energomash delivers 933,400 pounds of thrust which is a ten percent performance increase over any operational US booster engine. The reusable RD-180 is only the second Russian rocket motor to be test fired in an American facility. The first Atlas 3A rocket is now being assembled at Cape Canaveral Air Station Launch Complex 36B which has been reinforced and raised 20 feet to accommodate the rocket which is heavier and taller than the Atlas 2 rockets previously launched from the pad (Flatoday; Lockheed Martin PR; Pratt & Whitney PR).


The Boeing/Kvaerner Maritime/RSC Energia/KB Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash joint venture has successfully completed its last integration/training test of their unique off-shore launcher last week. The 16 days of test operations were conducted about 50 miles southwest of their home port of Long Beach near San Clemente Island. The tests involved all aspects of the day-of-launch operations to the T-4 minute mark for flight systems and to the T+10 minutes of the ground systems.

The self-propelled Sea Launch Odyssey launch platform and Sea Launch Commander are now preparing for an 11 day cruise to a point on the equator 1,400 miles south of Hawaii. On March 26 at 2:18 pm PST, the joint venture expects to launch a dummy payload on a modified Zenit rocket (Boeing PR).


Mars Global Surveyor

Only a year behind schedule, the Mars Global Surveyor has finally begun its primary mission of mapping the surface of Mars. On Monday, March 8, a camera began taking wide and narrow angle images of the planet while a laser altimeter began measuring surface features. Among the first images to be released was the infamous "Happy Face Crater" (Galle Crater on the Argyre Planitia basin) which was first photographed by the Viking 1 mission to Mars in 1976. Other instruments include a spectrometer which will map mineral composition and a magnetometer which will provide information on the interior of Mars. Because of a possible problem with a dampening device, the complete deployment of the High Gain Antenna has been delayed until three complete data sets are completed. The craft is presently orbiting the planet every two hours. Nine orbits each day will be used to gather data while three orbits will be used to transmit the data to Earth (AP; NASA/JPL).


The Stardust mission launched on a Delta 2 rocket on February 7 continues on its cruise to comet Wild-2. The launch was deemed so precise that the first scheduled orbital correction was not needed. The spacecraft is now being monitored by two 4-hour passes per day on the Deep Space Network. The transition to the Medium Gain Antenna occurred during the week. The craft is being prepared for transfer from the Inertial Measurement Units to all stellar reference for attitude control for the next cruise configuration. On March 19, the navigation camera will be turned on. The camera helps target the spacecraft and will provide images of the Comet's nucleus. On March 5, the spacecraft was 10.6 million kilometers from Earth (AP; NASA/JPL).



Space Innovations Limited (SIL), a subsidiary of SpaceDev, announced March 9 that it had been awarded a multi-million dollar contract to build the Australian FedSat research satellite bus. The FedSat microsatellite is being procured by the Cooperative Research Centre on Satellite Systems (CRCSS), a collaborative effort by 12 Australian universities, companies and government agencies in six states and territories. The project is part of Australia's centenary celebration. The 58 kg spacecraft is slated for launch in late 2000. The satellite may "piggyback" on the second Japanese H2A rocket launch which will be carrying the Japanese Advanced Earth Observing Satellite-2 as a primary payload (SpaceDev PR; SpaceNews).


Hughes Space and Communications and DirecTV announced a contract for a new HS 601HP satellite to be launched this summer. The satellite will be placed at 101 degrees West longitude. Designated DirecTV 1-R, the satellite will carry 16 Ku-band transponders powered by 7.5 Kw of solar power (Hughes PR).



At 4:00 am EST on March 12, the GE-3 telecommunications satellite spun out of control after one of the on-board gyros failed. As a result, communication services for the Associated Press, Dow Jones, CNN and Fox network was disrupted. Controllers were able to reacquire the satellite, regain control at 8:00 am and restored full AP services by 9:00 am. GE-3 was placed into service in September of 1997 and is expected to have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years (AP;


The two docking demonstration satellites Orihime and Hikoboshi operated by the Japanese space agency will suspend activity by late November 1999. The end of tests is related to potential Y2K compliance problems in ground controlling computers. The testing of robot arms on the craft and a third docking attempt will be carried out by November and experiments involving the spacecraft will be halted. The program was designed to test technologies needed for Japan to help supply the International Space Station (AP).


The TOPEX/Poseidon appears to be ready for a renewed mission. After the primary altimeter of the satellite began showing signs of age last month, the unit was switched off and commands given to activate the back- up unit. Calibration tests indicate that the "side-B" unit is functioning correctly and the satellite will be capable of continuing its collection of global ocean topography data. The satellite has been in a 1,336 km orbit mapping sea surface heights since 1992 and has an accuracy of about 3 centimeters. Data from the craft has given scientists the ability to study and model global climate change and phenomena such as the El Nino warming pattern in the Pacific (NASA/JPL).


Space Telescope

Technology developed by the USAF for high power space-based lasers is part of a collaboration between the USAF, NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office to produce light weight mirrors for space telescopes. The post-Hubble space telescopes will require mirrors between 16 to 52 feet across (Hubble is 7 feet, 9 inches). The new technology will drop the weight of the mirror from the 50 pounds per square foot of Hubble's mirror to less than 3 pounds per square foot. Because of cargo bay size limitations, the mirrors must be able to be assembled in space. Under the Advanced Mirror System Demonstrator Program, three phases of development will be overseen by Goddard Space Flight Center. Under the first phase, between five and seven awards worth around $300,000 each will be issued to develop mirror designs. In the second phase three to five $2.7 to $3.7 million contracts will be issued to construct a prototype "petal" mirror section. In a final phase, NASA will add money to the program to select one contractor to construct the actual flight petals for the space mirror. Phase one contracts are expected to be issued on May 1, 1999 (Space Cast).


Space Week

This past week was the annual Space Week celebration in over 150 cities across America. Space week was founded in the early 1970s at the end of the Apollo missions. The popularity of the event was such that Space Week International was founded in 1981 and events began to occur world-wide. After the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11, Space Week was moved from its original July date to the first full week in March so that school students might participate in classrooms. This past week hundreds of organizations from NASA to the National Space Society to local schools celebrated with talks, demonstrations, contests and other events. This year's theme was "Your Place in Space". If you wish to help with next year's Space Week, contact: (NSS; Space Week Guidebook).



Recent proposed cuts to the German government's space budget appear to be endangering their participation in planned Ariane 5 rocket upgrades or the proposed European satellite navigation system. The budget would make it impossible for Germany to participate in future European Space Agency rocket technology programs. The budget also cuts Germany's investment in experiments on the International Space Station -- a cause that it had championed in the past (SpaceNews).


The battle over broadcast rights between DirecTV and National Association of Broadcasters has apparently reached a resolution. Under the terms of a judicial ruling, 700,000 DirecTV viewers lost their CBS and Fox network feeds with an additional 1.5 million to lose network feed on April 30. Angered customers have flooded congressional offices with letters demanding their services restored. In the past weeks, legislation in both the House Judiciary subcommittee and Senate Commerce Committee (S. 303) concerning limiting direct-to-home satellite network transmission have advanced. Under the terms of the recent agreement, DirecTV customers would still have to switch to local broadcast antennas to receive CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC signals, but time-lines would be pushed back to June 30. DirecTV has promised to provide discounts on the antennas. Customers out of broadcast range, so-called white areas, would still be able to get network satellite feed (AP; Reuters).

Direct-to-home competitors DirecTV and EchoStar both posted record new sales for the month of February. DirecTV recorded 93,000 new customers while EchoStar topped 100,000 for the fifth straight month. The third major American player in the field, Primestar which is owned by a consortium of cable companies, recently announced that it would be selling its direct-to-home assets including satellites and customer base. DirecTV and EchoStar have both tendered offers for PrimeStar's assets and 2.3 million customers (Stock Watch).


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 26 - SeaLaunch Zenit - Inaugural flight, dummy payload, equatorial Pacific.
  • March - Long March SC/SD, Iridium (2 comsats), Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China.
  • April 2 - Ariane 42P, flight 117, Insat-2E, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • April 2 - Soyuz-U, Progress-M41 to Mir, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • April 4 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1, SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • April 5 - Delta 3, flight 268, Orion-F3, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • April 9 - Pegasus XL, TERRIERS/MUBLCOM, Vandenberg AFB.
  • April 9 - Titan 4B, B-27 missile warning satellite, Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida.
  • April 12 - Atlas 2AS, AC-154, W3 (Eutelsat), Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida.
  • April 15 - Delta 2 (7920), Landsat-7, SLC-2 West, Vandenberg AFB.
  • April 21 - Titan 4B, classified payload, SLC-4 East, Vandenberg AFB.
  • April - Long March 3B, ChinaSat-8, Xichang Satellite Launching Center, China.


The population of space remains at the baseline of 3 -- all on the Mir Space Station. The station contains one French cosmonaut and two Russians. This marks the completion of 3473 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 113 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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