Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #144

Frontier Status Report #144

April 2, 1999

Dale M. Gray

A full week on the frontier with three launches representing the past, present and the future. A Progress supply vessel was launched to the aging space station Mir, which may, or may not have been given a new lease on life. An Ariane 4 rocket delivered an Indian satellite to orbit. Sea Launch, the joint venture involving four countries, has successfully launched its first rocket from its floating launch pad in the Pacific.

Highlights of the week of April 2 include:

  • Sea Launch successful maiden flight
  • Ariane 4 launches Insat-2E
  • Progress launches supplies to Mir
  • New Mir investors announced
  • Mars Global Surveyor antenna deployed

ISS - Controllers have entered into a new phase of operations on the orbiting elements of the International Space Station. Work has shifted from monitoring systems to testing. Power systems will be tested by gradually increasing the activity of heaters on the Unity Module. Controllers hope to gain an understanding of the best methods of heating the station prior to the May arrival of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Engineers are also working on an intermittent problem with one of the two communications antennas attached during the last Shuttle mission. The station is currently in a 251 x 241 statute mile orbit -- circling the globe every 92 minutes (NASA).

In a March 23 Congressional hearing NASA's Dan Goldin confirmed earlier rumors that it plans to buy $100 million in Russian equipment to assure the timely completion of the Service Module. The money would be used to finance a three man Soyuz capsule that will be used as an emergency crew return vehicle (CRV) until the NASA CRV based on the X-38 is operational. The money will also finance ground-based virtual reality training equipment for astronauts. NASA will meet with Russian ISS officials in the first week of April to address the design of the station and to obtain assurances that the Mir space station will be retired in the August/September time frame to allow Russia to concentrate on its ISS responsibilities. The Service Module is currently being prepared for rail shipment to Baikonur Cosmodrome where it will be delivered around May 1. Once the Module is delivered it will be fitted with additional equipment and will be subject to 30 additional tests (Houston Chronicle; SpaceViews).

MIR / PROGRESS - The Progress cargo ship No. 241 carrying 2,438 kg of supplies was launched from Baikonur, Kazakstan at 6:29 am EST on April 2. The Mir-bound capsule, designated M-41 after launch, contains the usual assortment of fuel, oxygen science equipment, clothing, spare parts and food. The Progress vessel will dock with Mir on Sunday around 7:50 am EDT (Flatoday; Jonathan's Space Report).

The roller-coaster saga of the final days of Mir continues. On Friday, Russian Space Agency Chief Yuri Koptev announced that a number of investors have stepped forward to help save the aging Russian space station. While no names were mentioned, Koptev did say a Canadian of Russian origin had donated $100,000. Others have donated money specifically for scientific research or to defray the $250 million required per year for station maintenance. Russian funding for the station ends in August, just shy of the 10th anniversary of continuous occupation. The Mir Space Station is the focus of considerable Russian pride, but the nation cannot afford to maintain it while participating in the new International Space Station (AP).

SEA LAUNCH - The first flight of the Sea Launch venture was a complete success. The Zenit-3SL was launched from the Sea Launch Odyssey at 8:30 pm EST on March 28. The first two stages, built by Yuhznoe in the Ukraine, were followed by a Blok DM-SL, built buy Energiya/Kaliningrad. The rocket carried a dummy satellite, dubbed DemoSat, that was equipped with sensors to provide telemetry for the flight. The 4,500 kg satellite is a dynamic model of the Hughes HS-702 satellite. The satellite was placed in a 638 x 36,064 km x 1.2 degree geostationary transfer orbit. The third stage completed a depletion burn following the release of the satellite to assure a relatively fast reentry. The flight occurred after a one day delay on March 27 from a point on the equator 1,400 miles south of Hawaii. The location on the equatorial Pacific has three advantages: it works with Earth rotation to give the greatest possible boost, it makes it easier to achieve geosynchronous orbits above the equator, and because of its remote location there are no down-range or population threat issues (Boeing PR; Jonathan's Space Report; Sea Launch Webcast; SpaceViews).

ARIANE 4 / INSAT-2E - An Arianespace 42P, the Ariane 4 variant with two solid propellant strap-on boosters was launched from Kourou, French Guiana at 6:02 EST on April 2. It marked the sixth Indian satellite launched by Arianespace. Flight 117 was the second Ariane launch of 1999. The next Ariane launch is scheduled for April 28 (Arianespace PR).

The 2,550 kg Insat-2E was built by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in Bangalore, India. It will be placed in the 83 degree East orbital slot where it will provide telecommunications and meteorological services. The spacecraft is equipped with 10 C-band transponders rated at 32 W operating at the 36 MHz bandwidth and 7 transponders rated at 60 W operating at the 36/72 MHz bandwidth. The platform is host to a charge coupled device camera operating in visible, near infrared and short wave infrared bands with a ground resolution of 1 km. It also has a very high resolution radiometer with a ground resolution of 2 square km in the visible and 8 square km in thermal and water vapor bands. The spacecraft has a design life of 12 years (Arianespace PR).

DELTA 3 / ORION 3 - A Boeing Delta 3 rocket is slated for launch on April 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Station Space Launch Complex 17. The rocket, only the second Delta 3 launch to be attempted, will carry the Orion 3 satellite. At 4,300 kg, this will be the largest payload ever placed into geosynchronous orbit by a Delta launch vehicle. The first Delta 3 launch on August 28, 1998 ended in failure due to an unforeseen roll mode that the control system was unprepared to handle. The Orion 3 satellite was built for Loral Space & Communications by Hughes. The satellite is an HS 602HP model with 10 kW powering 43 Ku and C band transponders. The satellite also utilizes a xenon ion propulsion system. Boeing has 12 firm contracts for launches on the Delta 3 (Boeing PR; Business Wire).

CHANDRA X-RAY OBSERVATORY - The Chandra X-ray Observatory is in the Vertical Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center being prepared for its launch on the Space Shuttle Columbia. The advanced telescope passed an over- all health test on March 17. Solar arrays were installed on March 26. On March 31, Chandra was moved from its test stand to a fueling stand. the hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide necessary to propel the craft to its final orbit will begin to be loaded on April 5 -- taking about 10 days. Batteries will be installed on April 17 which will allow the Observatory to be joined to the Inertial Upper Stage Booster (NASA).

INDIA - India is preparing to enter the commercial launch business with the May launch of its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The PSLV rocket will launch India's Oceansat along with two other satellites: Kitsat-3 for the Republic of Korea and DLR-Rubsat for Germany. The rocket will be launched from Sriharikota, an island 100 kilometers north of Madras (SpaceNews).


Mars Global Surveyor: The Mars Global Surveyor, having survived an extended aerobraking due to a weakened solar panel joint, has now completed its high-gain antenna deployment. A suspect dampening device (hinge damper) on the 2 meter boom prompted the delay of the deployment of the 1.5 meter antenna until several data sets could be gathered as insurance. Having completed this preliminary work, scientists crossed their fingers and deployed the antenna at 9:30 pm PST on March 28. Following the successful deployment, scientists performed several calibration activities to assure the gimbals will point the antenna accurately. Previously, when the antenna was in the stored position, the entire spacecraft had to be moved to aim the antenna at Earth. The deployed antenna can now be aimed independent of the orientation of the spacecraft and will allow data to flow to Earth even as it is being collected. When the spacecraft is out of contact with the Deep Space Network, it stores data on solid state recorders which are then dumped during the next 10 hour tracking pass. The trickle of information that characterized the previous operation will be replaced by a torrent of between 40,000 and 80,000 bits per second. The spacecraft will now begin its two year mission to map the Martian surface and to prospect for minerals. The orbiting space craft is expected to collect more information than all previous Mars probes combined and will serve as a communications link for the Mars Polar Lander mission (Flatoday; NASA/JPL).

Mars Polar Lander - The Mars Polar Lander remains in excellent health following the Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-2) last week. Subsequent navigation data indicates the arrival coordinates are close to target values (NASA/JPL).


Hughes: Hughes Space and Communications Company (HSC) recently inked a deal with DirecTV for a new high- power satellite which is to be launched in the coming summer. The deal revolves around an HS 601HP model satellite to be placed at 101 degrees West longitude where it will provide Direct-to-home television utilizing 16 Ku-band transponders. Rated at 7.5 Kw, the satellite will deliver 50 percent more power than its predecessor a HS 601 satellite and will allow DirecTV to add 20 channels to its programming service. Both HSC and DirecTV are units of Hughes Electronics Corporation (Hughes PR).

DirecTV: The Federal Communications Commission has put a stamp of approval on the DirecTV merger of the United States Satellite Broadcasting Co. The $1.3 billion deal was announced last December -- contingent on the FCC approval. The announcement came on the same day that deregulation of the cable industry took effect. The FCC views direct-to-home satellite services as competition to cable services and has concluded the satellite merger would foster increased competition with cable companies (AP).

PanAmSat: As a result of announced plans to change the PanAmSat satellite fleet, shares in the company fell $6.25. PanAmSat announced March 31 that it would launch six satellites by the end of 2000, but that some of the satellites would be used as on-orbit spares. The move was prompted by problems on five of the company's satellites: one lost in orbit and one lost during launch. This new plan lowered expected revenues for the year from $1.25 billion to $1.15 billion. The company currently operates 19 satellites and expects to expand its fleet to 24 satellites. The company is controlled by Hughes Electronics (Reuters).

Orbcomm: Orbcomm, a partnership between Orbital Sciences and Teleglobe Inc. announced the launching of commercial services of Orbcomm Japan Ltd. on March 31. The Japanese service distribution partner has completed the testing of its gateway Earth station and gateway control center and has been granted a license from Japan's Kanto Bureau of Telecommunications for its ground infrastructure and a radio license for its subscriber communicators. Among the applications are tracking and two-way communications with mobile assets and monitoring remote environmental sites and industrial equipment (Orbcomm PR).

SpaceHab: A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between SpaceHab and OHB-System GmbH to jointly provide a commercial life-sciences space flight service. SpaceHab will work to establish a biotechnology business enterprise and operate and upgrade the Commercial Biological Research Unit (CBRU) for use on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. The OHB- System, originally developed under contract with the German Space Agency, comprises a habitat for aquatic organisms. The companies hope to fly the CBRU in a SpaceHab double research module on STS-107 in September of 2000. The facility, a commercial research enterprise, is hailed as an important step in the commercialization of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station (SpaceHab PR).

Vozdushnyi Start Corp: The Russian company Vozdushnyi Start Co. is seeking western investors for its air-launched rocket project. If the company realizes its investment goal, it will proceed with the $750 million project to develop a rocket that will be launched from the Ukrainian An-124-100 cargo plane (SpaceNews).


North Korea: A two day series of talks between North Korean and American officials ended March 30 with little progress. During the talks, US officials attempted to convince the North Koreans to stop developing and exporting missiles. This is the fifth set of talks since 1996 with at least another set of talks agreed upon. North Korea is reportedly the world's leading exporter of missile equipment and technology with sales to Pakistan and Iran. While the US sees North Korea's export policy as a threat to world peace, North Korea maintains that it has a "legitimate right of self-defense to develop, test and produce missiles by its own efforts to defend the security of the country because the U. S. is posing constant threats to it with enormous nuclear missiles and weapons of mass destruction." Another statement from the same source indicated that North Korea might consider suspending its exports if the U. S. were to tender a bribe of $1 billion annually for three years (AP).

US Army: On Monday, March 29, the US Army's Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile program failed in its sixth test. The weapon is designed to destroy enemy missiles from ranges as far as 800 miles away. The system, which has a development cost of $50 billion to-date, is designed to defend against missiles being developed in North Korea, Pakistan and Iran. While an Army spokesman could not say what caused the miss, all targeting, radar and launch systems worked well together for the first time. During the Monday test, the system came within 10 - 30 yards of hitting its modified Minuteman 2 missile target. Lockheed Martin, which is developing the system was levied a $15 million fine for not achieving a direct hit. The next THAAD test is in May. Assuming a successful completion of development, deployment is not expected until 2005 (AP).

US Pentagon: On March 1, the US quietly ended the practice of releasing satellite tracking information. The information was previously released to NASA's Orbital Information Group Web site. Under the new system, information will be released only to select parties on a case- by-case basis -- citing the need to avoid orbital collision as one approved case. The US is currently operating about 100 military satellites for a variety of communications, reconnaissance and navigation applications. The Pentagon is concerned about providing information to adversaries who could damage or interfere with the function of the satellites (Washington Post; SpaceNews).


Mars Fuel: NASA engineers announced that they have successfully derived oxygen from a simulated Martian atmosphere consisting of 95 percent carbon dioxide. The demonstration, conducted at NASA's Johnson Space Center, is the initial test of a technology slated to fly on the Mars Surveyor 2001 mission which will be launched April 10, 2001. During the test the device was placed in a chamber filled with a thin carbon dioxide atmosphere cooled to -75 degrees centigrade -- approximating Martian conditions at the landing site. The device features two platinum electrodes separated by a thin zirconia disk. When the system is heated to 750 degrees Centigrade the zirconia cell "cracks" carbon dioxide passing through it allowing only oxygen to pass on to the other side of the disk. The 2001 mission would set the stage for future missions that would utilize local resources. Though not currently approved, the In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) program is one possible source of return-flight fuel for the 2005 Mars Sample return mission (; ProSpace).

ESEX: An electric propulsion space experiment (ESEX) on- board the Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite (ARGOS) spacecraft was successfully demonstrated on March 15. The 26 kilowatt ammonia-fueled arcjet was fired for 141 seconds and was shut down as it passed out of range of Vandenberg AFB. The firing generated about a third pound of thrust and changed the orbit of the ARGOS spacecraft by 215 meters. The experiment consumed four times less propellant than the best chemical rocket in use. The firing of the high-power thruster created a directed plasma, yet did not affect other equipment on the spacecraft. ARGOS was built by Boeing and launched from Vandenberg AFB on a Boeing Delta 2 rocket on February 23 (

COMING EVENTS - Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke

April 5 - Delta 3, flight 268, Orion-F3, Cape Canaveral Air Station.

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 13 - Pegasus XL, TERRIERS/MUBLCOM, Vandenberg AFB.

April 15 - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 comsats), Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.

April 22 - Delta 2 (7920), Landsat-7, SLC-2 West, Vandenberg AFB.

April - Long March 3B, ChinaSat-8, Xichang Satellite Launching Center, China.

Delayed - Long March SC/SD, Iridium (2 comsats), Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China.

April 27 - Athena 2, Ikonos-1, SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.

April 28 - Kosmos (Russian), ABRIXAS (German), Kapustyn Yar, Russia.

April 28 - Arianespace Ariane 44P (flight 118), New Skies K-TV, Kourou, French Guiana.

April 30 - Titan 4B, Milstar (B-32), Cape Canaveral Air Station.

CENSUS - 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 3494 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 134 days. Because of uncertainties connected to the docking of the Service Module to the orbiting elements of the station, occupation could occur as early as October of 1999, failing that, the occupation of the International Space Station but will probably begin in about 10 to 13 months.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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