Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #146

Frontier Status Report #146

April 16, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Highlights of the week of April 16 include:

  • Delta 2 rocket launches Landsat 7
  • Soyuz launches 4 Globalstar Satellites
  • Atlas 2 launches Eutelsat W3
  • Space walk on Mir space station
  • Three missile launches in India and Pakistan
  • Mars Global Surveyor goes into Contingency mode


The Space Shuttle Discovery was rolled from the Orbiter Processing Facility to the Vehicle Assembly Building on April 15. The transfer was delayed one day so that workers could remove the "D" hatch to the transfer tunnel adapter. The hatch was replaced with the D hatch from the Shuttle Endeavor. The Orbiter is now being mated to the External Fuel Tank / SRB stack. Interface testing is slated for April 19 and roll out to the launch pad on April 21. Launch preparations are on schedule for the May 20 mission to the International Space Station (NASA).


The roll-out for the Russian-made Service Module for the International Space Station is set for April 26 at RSC- Energia in Moscow. Following a news conference, the Service Module will be shipped by rail to Baikonur, Kazakstan to prepare for launch in late November. The new November date is the result of a recent Russian / US meeting. The Russians stated on April 9 that a September launch date can be met if they receive proper funding, but the US is dubious having heard many similar statements in the past. The initial occupation of the station is still officially slated for late January 2000 (NASANEWS; Florida Today; Houston Chronicle).

The second phase of the power tests have been completed on the orbiting elements of the International Space Station. The second test, completed on April 15, repositioned the station using the motion control system by sending signals from the Russian Mission Control Center. The test demonstrated the station's ability to deliver 1,500 watts of power while in an attitude required for docking with the Shuttle Discovery. While the station normally consumes only 600 watts of power, tests last month showed it could supply up to 900 watts of power in its normal orbiting configuration. The additional power is necessary to pre-heat the Unity Node shell to prepare it for docking with Discovery. The station is currently in a 251 x 239 statute mile orbit with a period of 92 minutes. As of April 15, the station had completed 2,257 orbits (NASA).


Russian cosmonaut Victor Afanasyev and French astronaut Jean-Pierre Heignere conducted a six hour spacewalk on April 16. The walk started off with a delay when one of the spacesuit's ventilation system malfunctioned. The pair then attempted to use experimental equipment to patch suspected holes on the Spektr module which was damaged in a docking mishap in June of 1997. Unfortunately, a canister of glue necessary for the patching experiment failed to open. The pair retrieved a French "meteor-trap" and set up various organic exposure experiments, but did not have enough time to set up the Russian "Sprut" experiment to test radiation levels despite an hour extension from the planned five hour walk (AP). AP Article

Before they returned to the interior of the spacecraft, the pair were reported to have released the RS-19 satellite. The satellite was built to measure the behavior of small objects in the presence of the station, but it will also broadcast 400 voice messages from French and Russian schoolchildren. The so called "Beatnik" satellite was sponsored by the Swiss SWATCH company. The name comes from the chronological "Beat" whimsically grafted to "Sputnik". The satellite became surprisingly controversial when amateur radio activists objected to its cluttering the 145.8 to 146.0 MHz amateur bandwidth with a commercial enterprise. SWATCH countered the negative publicity by announcing in several newspaper advertisements that they had donated the batteries from the satellite to the Mir Station to help restore function to a critical piece of communication gear used -- but this could not be confirmed or denied through official releases (AP; SpaceViews; Wired News).


A Lockheed-Martin Atlas 2AS launched the Eutelsat W3 on April 13 from Complex 36A at the Cape Canaveral Air Station at the opening of its launch window at 6:50 pm EDT. The Atlas rocket, configured with a Centaur upper stage and four strap-on solid rocket boosters, performed better than expected which will allow the spacecraft to use less propellant to achieve its final orbit at 7 degrees East Longitude. The 3,182 kg W-3 satellite was released about 28 minutes into the flight. It will carry a variety of television, Internet and other communications services for North Africa, parts of Europe and central Asia. The satellite is based on the Lockheed Martin Spacebus 3000 design (ILS PR).


On April 15, a Delta 2 (7920) rocket carrying the Landsat-7 satellite was launched from SLC-2 West, Vandenberg AFB. The count down for flight 268 of the Delta system proceeded nominally to launch at 2:32 pm EDT. Ninety seconds into the flight six of the nine strap-on solid rocket boosters (SRBs) completed their burns and fell away. The three remaining SRBs ignited and burned until T+2 minutes into the flight when they too completed their burn and were jettisoned leaving the rocket to continue on its liquid-fueled main engines. Five minutes into the flight the first stage finished its burn and separated from the second stage. The second stage ignited and burned until around T+11 minutes when it shut down leaving the second stage and attached payload in a 381 x 95 nautical mile parking orbit. At T+57 minutes the second stage gave a 14 second burn to deploy the satellite into a 377 x 364 nautical mile polar orbit inclined at 98.2 degrees. About 62 minutes into the flight the satellite separated from the upper stage at an altitude of 378 nautical miles. Two minutes later the solar panels were deployed and a procedure for Earth acquisition initiated. Two hours after deployment the satellite was announced to be healthy and ready to begin an extensive check-out period (Justin Ray, Florida Today). Florida Today coverage

LANDSAT-7 will observe global conditions from its 400 mile near-circular, sun-synchronous orbit. As its name implies, it is the seventh of a series of Earth observing satellites beginning with a modified Nimbus weather satellite launched in 1972. The satellite will gather images of the land surface and surrounding coastal regions of the Earth for global climate change studies, and other government and commercial purposes. The 2000 kg Landsat-7 was built by Lockheed Martin utilizing an Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus instrument built by Hughes Santa Barbara Remote Sensing. The Landsat system will feature 24 hour turn around time on raw data. The spacecraft control and data processing facility is at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The primary receiving station and data distribution center is the U.S. Geological Survey's EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.(Boeing PR) Boeing Press Release


At 8:46 pm EDT on Thursday, April 15, a Starsem Soyuz carrying four American Globalstar satellites was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan. The three stage Soyuz/ Ikar rocket delivered the satellites into orbit around 3 hours and 33 minutes into the launch. This is the third Globalstar delivery performed by the Russian system. Globalstar currently has 16 of its planned 48 Low Earth Orbit communications satellites in orbit. Globalstar will provide global telephone and paging services beginning in September of 1999 (Reuters; Florida Today). Reuter Article


The experimental UoSAT-12 built by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited has been integrated with the SS18/Dnepr launch vehicle in preparation for its April 21 launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. This is the first civilian satellite launch of the converted SS-18 ICBM system. Once touted as the worlds most powerful ICBM, the SS-18 is now being withdrawn from service as part of the START treaty provisions which require the elimination of the SS-18 by 2007. The 350 kg minisatellite will be placed into a 650 km x 65 degree orbit to demonstrate a variety of instrumentation, attitude control and propulsion systems (Surry Satellite Technology PR).


The Chandra X- Ray Observatory may be delayed once again. Problems with the Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) were recently revealed when the $250 million Defense Support Program -19 satellite was placed into the wrong orbit. The IUS used on the defense satellite is similar to the one to be used with the Chandra. The launch of the observatory may be delayed until the problem with the IUS is more fully understood and any problems corrected (SpaceViews).


Multiple Planet Stellar System

Three planets have been discovered orbiting the star Upsilon Andromedae. The discovery was confirmed by astronomers from four research institutions. The first planet was discovered by San Francisco State University Astronomers Geoffrey Marcy and R. Paul Butler in 1996. The discovery of two additional planets recently emerged from the data of 11 years of observations of the Lick Observatory near San Jose, California. The planets were deduced from wobbles in the star. The three massive planets are the first multi-planet stellar system to be confirmed outside our own. The discovery has broad implications for the number of multiple- planet stellar systems in the galaxy (San Francisco State University PR). San Francisco State University Press release

Mars Global Surveyor

The Mars Global Surveyor placed itself in "contingency" mode on April 15 when one of the hinges that control the main antenna stopped moving as planned. Under the mode, science instruments were shut down and communications with Earth was transferred to the low-gain antenna. The condition is considered intermediary to the better known "safe" mode. The problem arose when the azimuth hinge on the high-gain antenna which moves the antenna from side to side stopped moving between the parked position and the "Earth-tracking" position. Controllers are assessing the situation (NASA/JPL). NASA Press Release

Mars Polar Lander

Controllers successfully conducted the first test of the instruments on the Mars Polar Lander. During the operation, five of the science instruments on- board were turned on and successfully calibrated. The lander will arrive on Mars in December of 1999. The space craft was 21 million km from Earth on April 13 (NASA/JPL).



While Iridium is not celebrating the war in Yugoslavia, the company is getting increased business and exposure as a result of the conflict. In an area where land- based communications are not assured, news networks have brought along Iridium phones, so that they can establish communications on demand using the orbiting satellite telecommunications network. Aide groups such as the Red Cross are also using the Iridium phones. In an effort to help, Iridium has already sent 12 phones to refugee camps to provide free calls with an additional 50 phones on the way. At $3,000 per phone, Iridium phones do not lend themselves to casual use. The company hopes to have 500,000 phones in use by year's end, but currently has only 3,000 subscribers (USA Today).


Boeing's earnings, depressed from a slump of aircraft sales in the Pacific Rim, have rebounded in the first quarter of 1999. The company reported $469 million in earnings or $.50 per share which exceeds analyst's estimates. Last year during the same period, the company reported earnings of only $0.05 per share. The news was greeted on Wall Street with an 11 percent jump in share prices -- closing at $40.87 1/2 per share. Total revenues for the quarter were reported at $14.39 billion compared to $12.95 billion last year. While airplanes dominated the bottom line with $9.8 billion in revenue, space and communications posted $1.5 billion in revenues (AP). AP Article


SpaceDev, the commercial space exploration company, announced that its subsidiary Space Innovations Limited has signed a contract with Orbital Science to build X-band and S-band receivers and transmitters for the GALEX mission. The Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) is a NASA space ultraviolet Small Explorer mission being developed by Orbital Sciences for CalTech. The mission will map the history and probe the causes of star formation over 80 percent of the life of the Universe. The satellite is expected to be launched in 2001 and operate for 28 months (SpaceDev PR). SpaceDev Press Release


Lockheed Martin has awarded a contract to TecStar for the delivery of 161 kilowatts of triple-junction solar cells through December 2000. These cells were developed in conjunction with NASA and the USAF and are currently in use in technological demonstrator spacecraft Deep Space 1, as well as the TRACE and Mightysat 1 satellites. The company, under its original name of Hoffman Electronics Corp. has been producing solar cells since 1954, supplied the first solar cells to power a US satellite and provided the solar cells for the Mars Pathfinder mission ( Space Cast Article


India /Pakistan

On Sunday, April 11, India launched a Agni-II missile. As per a February accord, India notified Pakistan of its intentions to avoid an escalation of responses.

Following the firing of the India's Agni-II missile, Pakistan has rattled its own saber by test launching two missiles in two days. A medium-range (2000 km), liquid-fueled, surface-to-surface Ghauri-II missile was launched from an undisclosed location on Wednesday, April 14. A short- range (600 km) Shaheen missile was fired on Thursday. This was the first public test of the Shaheen missile. The Shaheen is a 13 m solid fuel missile capable of carrying a 1000 kg payload. It was launched from the a naval base near Karachi (Reuters; Florida Today). Reuter Article


Orbital Imaging

The Orbital Imaging Corp. announced on April 7 that it had signed a multi-year contract with GTT NetCorp worth up to $32 million. Under terms of the contract Orbital Imaging gives GTT NetCorp the exclusive rights to distribute high-resolution and multispectral imagery from the OrbView-3 and OrbView-4 satellites in 30 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Orbital Imaging has similar agreements in place world-wide. The OrbView-3 high-resolution optical imaging satellite is expected to launch later this year with OrbView-4 high-resolution/hyperspectral imaging satellite to launch in 2000 (Orbital Sciences PR).


Magellan / NEC

The Magellan Corp, the makers of Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and NEC, the computer chip giant, have forged a partnership to develop GPS semiconductor and system products for high-volume, low- cost consumer market applications. Primarily focused on System-On-a-Chip (SOC) devices, the goal is to place GPS capability in a variety of electronic devices. While car navigation applications are expected to lead the market, NEC expects a rapid rise of GPS function in Personal Communications Devices with up to 15% of such devices containing GPS functions by 2002 (Magellan PR).


Titan 4B/ B-27

On April 9 a Titan 4B launched a missile warning satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida. While the first two stages of the $432 million rocket performed flawlessly, the $250 million Defense Support Program -19 satellite was placed into the wrong orbit by the Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage (IUS). Apparently the IUS completed its first 142 second burn but failed to successfully complete a second two minute burn. As a result, the spacecraft is in a useless 20,000 mile orbit instead of the circular 22,300 mile geostationary orbit needed to complete its mission. Controllers, who managed partial contact with the spacecraft, at first thought there was a chance to use the satellite's thrusters to put it into the proper orbit. Unfortunately, the satellite was in a rapid spin that prevented the 4,500 pound spacecraft from extending its solar arrays. By Thursday, April 15, there was little remaining power in the satellite's batteries. (Reuters; Flatoday; Lockheed Martin PR; Boeing PR).


On April 12, a team of European Space Agency staff announced the successful completion of tests involving a robot arm on the Japanese Engineering Test Satellite-7 (ETS-VII). The two meter arm was programmed to complete a set of tasks testing its capabilities on a task board and in the removal and replacement of an Orbital Replacement Unit. A second set of experiments concerned vision based robot control. The funding for the experiments was provided by Belgium and the ESA General Support Technology Program. ETS-VII was launch in November of 1997 and has since conducted a range of experiments including remote docking (ESA PR).



The Florida State Senate passed a package of space- related bills on April 12 that would expand the spaceport territory to include several military bases and would make the private space projects more lucrative for the state. Key provisions include the development of a space research facility using sales taxes from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex -- the facility to be managed by Florida institutions of higher learning. The bill would also provide property tax incentives and sales tax incentives to space related businesses. The package also creates a Florida Commercial Space Financing Corporation to provide loans to launch companies and their customers that conduct business in Florida (Florida Today).


Liberty Bell 7

A salvage expedition is set to sail April 17 or 18 to try to recover the Liberty Bell 7 capsule off of the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. America's second manned space flight came to a near tragic end on July 21, 1961. A hatch door blew off prematurely after the craft had successful splashed down. While astronaut Gus Grissom was able to escape the flooded capsule, the spacecraft was lost and sank in 15,000 feet of water. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to locate and recover the capsule. The current salvage attempt is lead by Curt Newport of Virginia, an underwater salvage expert, who used advanced technology to narrow the field of search for the capsule. Should Newport be successful, the capsule will be partially restored and then displayed at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center near Wichita. The salvage effort is being filmed for a Discovery Channel special. Gus Grissom's widow, when asked about the recovery effort, disapproved. She stated that if the capsule was recovered, that it not be restored or displayed with other space craft (Florida Today; Reuters).


Having successfully completed 22 trips into space the European Space Agency has retired its Spacelab science module. Two Spacelab flight units began service on the Shuttle's second flight in 1983 and concluded service on the April 1998 Neurolab mission. On April 16 Dan Goldin officially returned the second flight unit to the ESA at the Bremen airport. The flight units were constructed by ERNO (now a part of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace) in Bremen. The Spacelab will be displayed at the airport at a special exhibit hall. The other flight unit has been retired to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D. C. The Spacelab program inspired the Columbus laboratory, ESA's contribution to the International Space Station which is slated to fly in 2003 (ESA PR).


The US State Department has continued its war on American commerce this past week by attacking two major American space businesses: Lockheed Martin and Hughes Space and Communications. The State Department was given the power to impede commerce by a little publicized provision in the 1999 Defense bill. Under terms of the bill, satellites were reclassified as "munitions" and as such their export approval was moved from the Commerce Department to the State Department. The change stems from concerns over technology transfer. Both Loral and Hughes are under investigation for technology transfer after failed launches on Chinese rockets. The Chinese may have lied about the destruction of the Loral satellites and extensively studied the remains of the American satellites. The US has tried to stop this flow of satellite and launcher technology, but the enabling legislation has up till now only hurt American companies and has imperiled America's lead in satellite manufacture and is threatening our very launch infrastructure. This legislation was poorly written and needs to be repealed, rewritten, or removed as soon as possible before it can do further harm to the very things it seeks to protect (

Hughes lost a $450 million satellite deal with Asia-Pacific Mobile Telecommunications Pt. Ltd. (APMT) this past week. The deal was finalized in May of 1998, but in the interim the US State Department and other agencies have hindered Hughes in obtaining an export license. The deal would have included on geosynchronous mobile communications satellite, one spare satellite, five gateways, one network operations center, one satellite operations center and an initial purchase of 70,000 user terminals. The first satellite was to have been launched in 2000. While Hughes remains in discussions with APMT, it is very likely that APMT will obtain the system that they want from non- American sources (Hughes NR).

Lockheed Martin is currently developing the new Atlas 5 generation of rockets based upon a two chamber variation of the Russian RD-170 rocket engine. The Atlas 5 is being developed under the USAF Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program. The engine, dubbed the RD-180, is cheaper to make and more efficient than its American counter-parts. The US State Department has stalled this effort as it decides if the deal between Lockheed Martin and Russia "enhances Russia's military industrial capability". The problem is not specifically buying the Russian technology, rather in Lockheed Martin's plans to spend $25 million to upgrade the factories where NPO Energomash will build the commercial version of the RD-180. Lockheed Martin plans a second manufacturing facility in America to build the RD-180 rocket engines to be used in US military applications. By law, any rockets used for military launches must be manufactured in the United States (Space News; S paceViews).

Perhaps I missed something. Russia is selling Lockheed Martin one of their best rocket engine designs. The US Air Force has placed its stamp of approval on the sale by selecting it for its EELV program. The technology is being sold for a fraction of what it would take to develop a comparable engine. Russia is pouring their technology into American systems at a torrential rate just to keep their economy from total collapse and to keep their space technologies viable. Yet our State Department is worried about a commercial investment in a rocket factory in Russia. It is suspicious that Russia might benefit from America buying Russian technological secrets on the open market. Of course they will, that is how capitalism works! What has this country come to? Are we now the totalitarian government and the Russians the free-market capitalists?

A big mistake was made and it wasn't by American companies, nor perhaps even in the State Department. The mistake was poorly crafted legislation putting the power over industry in the wrong hands. Balancing national security issues with the Freedoms assured by the Constitution and Bill of Rights is a delicate thing. But the balance has been tipped and Freedom has lost. It is time to get the State Department out of the commercial space sector.

Editorial by Dale M. Gray on the subject is available at


Courtesy J. Ray and Ron Baalke

  • April 21 - Dnepr (Russian), Inaugural flight, UoSAT 12, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan
  • April 21 - Delta 3, flight 268, Orion-F3, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • April 23 - Pegasus XL, TERRIERS/MUBLCOM, Vandenberg AFB.
  • April - Long March 3B, ChinaSat-8, Xichang Satellite Launching 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.
  • May 4 - Delta 2 (7925), flight 270, NAVSTAR GPS 2R-3 spacecraft, pad 17A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • May 7 - Titan 4B, Classified DOD Mission (B-12), SLC-4 Vandenberg AFB.
  • May 20 - Shuttle Discovery, STS-96, 2nd American ISS flight, double SpaceHab module, Kennedy Space Center.


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 3508 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 148 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 8 to 10 months.

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