Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #147

Frontier Status Report #147

April 23, 1999

Dale M. Gray

After two weeks of frantic launch activity, this past week has been relatively quiet with only one launch -- that of a converted SS-18 missile carrying UoSat-12. Despite four attempts during two launch windows the Delta 3 rocket remained firmly on the ground. The wisdom of moving the Hubble servicing mission to October of this year was proven when the last extra gyroscope failed on the orbiting observatory. The Space Shuttle Discovery is being prepared for transfer to the launch pad for the first ISS mission of 1999. The world is being made a safer place by the GPS based BusCall system.

Highlights of the week of April 23 include:

  • Dnepr launches UoSAT-12
  • Delta 3 stays on pad after two launch attempts
  • Hubble gyroscope fails, only three remain
  • Kodiak Island schedules its first orbital launch


The planned April 23 roll-out of the Shuttle Discovery to Launch Pad 39B has been delayed two days due to an electrical problem. The Shuttle Interface Test detected a problem with an electric cable on the left solid rocket booster. The cable was not sending signals between the integrated electronic assembly boxes on the aft and forward segments. Engineers determined that one connector on the cable needed to be replaced. The problem is not expected to impact the May 20 launch date for the mission to the International Space Station. Discovery remains in Vehicle Assembly Building high bay 3 where it has been mated with the External Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters. The SpaceHab double module to be used in the flight is expected to be delivered to Kennedy Space Center on April 27 and installed in the payload bay the following day. Count down dress rehearsal is slated for April 29 ( Florida Today Article).


All systems on the orbiting space station are in good working order. A series of three power configuration tests has completed its second stage which tested the station's ability to produce adequate power while the station is parallel to the Earth's surface. Characterization testing is being conducted on the station's two high-gain antennas. A faulty command was accidentally sent to the station during the week. The command would have powered up a solar panel retraction motor, but would not have activated it. A computer system detected the discrepancy and automatically disregarded the command. A third power test will be conducted prior to the May arrival of the Shuttle Discovery. The station is in a 252 x 238 statute mile orbit with a period of 92 miles. As of April 22, the station had completed 2,382 orbits (NASA ISS Report #16).


A modified Russian R-36M2 ICBM missile launched the experimental UoSAT-12 from a silo (probably LC108) at GIK-5 at the Baikonur, Kazakstan Cosmodrome on April 21 at 1:00 am EDT. The missile, code-named the SS-18 mod 4 or Devil by NATO, has been renamed Dnepr. It is the first of its kind to be converted to peaceful use as a satellite launcher. The missile, once touted as the most powerful ICBM in the world, is capable of placing up to 4 tons into orbit. The rocket has been tested with 153 launches and at one time it was thought up to a 1000 of the rocket were in the Soviet nuclear arsenal. The system is now in the process of being withdrawn from service as part of the START treaty provisions which require the elimination of the SS-18 by 2007. The Moscow-based Kosmotras company acquired 160 of the SS-18 rockets for commercial launches. Russia is also converting the SS-19 Stiletto missile into commercial booster rockets. The 350 kg minibus platform satellite launched on the first Dnepr was built by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited. The satellite was successfully placed into a 638 x 652 km x 64.6 degree orbit where it will demonstrate a variety of instrumentation, attitude control and propulsion systems (Surry Satellite Technology PR; Jonathan's Space Report; AP Article;

Wired Article).


Twice this past week, the Boeing company attempted to launch its new Delta 3 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Station. The April 21 launch attempt was scrubbed when a circuit breaker tripped. The breaker controlled the flow of warming gas to the interstage. The rocket had to be emptied of cryogenic fuel in order to reset the breaker. On the April 22, four attempts were made during the 69 minute launch window. A procedural problem stopped the count originally, followed by two attempts where software detected transitional alarms that stopped the clock. On the fourth and last attempt, the count down proceeded normally to T-0, but the computer did not send a command to ignite the main engine of the rocket. No new launch date has been set. The payload on the Delta 3 is the $230 million Orion 3 satellite which will provide telecommunications for Asia. The satellite was built by Hughes Space and Communications, but is owned and will be operated by Loral Space & Communications (Boeing PR; Boeing Web-Cast; Boeing PR; Newswire).

Boeing Press Release April 22

Boeing Press Release April 23


Arianespace announced April 22 that the first commercial flight of the Ariane 5 will be pushed back to July. The heavy-lift rocket will carry two commercial satellites: Telkom-1 of Indonesia and AsiaStar for WorldSpace. Telkom-1 is being built by Lockheed Martin. AsiaStar is being built by Alcatel. The launch was pushed back because the AsiaStar satellite is still being modified by Alcatel. Flight 504 will be the fourth flight of the Ariane 5 (Newswire; SpaceNews).


Gyroscope No. 3 on the orbiting Hubble telescope failed Tuesday. Controllers have been aware of the impending failure since the gyroscope was damaged in January. This failure leaves the telescope with only three remaining gyroscopes, the minimum necessary for operation. At the time of the failure, the gyroscope was no longer used in the guidance loop. Should one of the remaining gyroscopes fail, the telescope would have to cease observations until repaired by a Shuttle crew. A repair mission, STS-103, has been slated for October of 1999. This mission replaces a planned third upgrade mission scheduled for the spring of 2000. The mission objectives of the 2000 mission will be divided between STS-103 and a future Hubble servicing mission tentatively slated for late 2000 which will install a new camera, solar panels and a cooling system for an existing instrument. Several pieces of equipment to be installed on the second mission will not be completed in time for the October mission --necessitating the second mission (SpaceViews; NASA Press Release).


The launch date of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory may be delayed due to potential problems with the Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage (IUS). These problems were revealed on the recent Titan 4B launch 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. As a result, the IUS for the Chandra has been impounded by the USAF. The investigation in to the problem is focusing on the extendible nozzle on the IUS. It has not been determined whether the problem is mechanical or with some control systems. The launch of the Observatory may be delayed until the problem with the IUS is more fully understood and any problems corrected. The USAF must return the impounded IUS by late April for the Chandra launch to proceed on schedule. The Chandra X- Ray Observatory is currently slated for a July 9 launch and subsequent deployment from the Space Shuttle Columbia. The Observatory and its attached IUS will be released into low Earth orbit. The IUS will be used to push the Chandra into a 186,000 mile orbit (SpaceViews; AP; Aviation Week & Space Technology; SpaceViews; Florida Today Article).


NASA announced on April 22 that a Lockheed Martin Athena I rocket would be used to launch the Vegetation Canopy Lidar (VCL) satellite. The launch is slated for August 2000 from Kodiak Island, Alaska. This will be the first orbital launch from the Alaska Development Corporation's new launch facilities. The 924 pound satellite built by Orbital Sciences will use short laser pulses from a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) system from an orbital altitude of 261 miles to measure vegetation cover, vegetation depth and topography (KSC release).

SpaceCast Article


Mars Global Surveyor

The Mars Global Surveyor has been taken out of the "contingency" mode in which it placed itself on April 15. The mode was triggered when one of two hinges that control the main antenna stopped moving as planned during a post communications session retraction. On April 19, the craft was taken out of contingency mode and the spacecraft reoriented so that the main antenna could be used to communicate with Earth. A star scanner was utilized to orient the craft in space. Science instruments have not been brought back on-line as scientists attempt to determine the cause of the hinge problem. The suspect hinge controls side-to-side motion. On April 21, controllers conducted tests that determined that the problematic azimuth hinge could still move freely in one direction, but was obstructed in the opposite direction. Additional testing continues. The investigation is focusing on a gimbal that is related to, but separate from the azimuth hinge (SpaceViews; Mars Global Surveyor Website).

Deep Space 1

Beginning on April 12 the AutoNav system on the DeepSpace 1 spacecraft has been generating plans to fire the ion engine with minimal reporting to controllers of 12 hours each week. The system will control both the level and direction of thrusting of the advanced ion engine. While over half the technologies on-board the craft have been validated and are ready for use on other missions, the ultraviolet detector for the combination camera and imaging spectrometer is not functioning correctly. A team is now testing the instrument to diagnose the problem. The technology demonstration spacecraft is expected to fly-by asteroid 1992 KD in late July (NASA Press Release).



As the West moves toward a totalitarian stance on satellite and rocket launch technology, three member states of the former USSR have are moving toward a more open market economy for their launch services. Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Russia have announced plans to sell launches of the Zenit rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The move also relieves Russia of part of the annual rental fee it owes to Kazakstan for the use of the Baikonur. The venture is aimed at selling satellite launch services to Western companies (SpaceNews).


The London-based Inmarsat officially became a private company on April 15. The inter-governmental organization was created in 1979 to serve the maritime community. Since that time it has evolved into a global mobile satellite communications provider. The first official act of the new company was to elect 12 members to the board of directors and select a chairman and vice chairman (SpaceNews).

CD Radio

CD Radio was dealt an expected blow this week when General Motors announced plans to utilize XM Satellite Radio in new cars. XM Satellites is partially owned by GMC subsidiary Hughes Electronics. Hughes will also be supplying XM's satellites. Both CD Radio and XM plan to produce a wide range of CD quality radio anywhere in North America from satellites (SpaceNews).



The Pentagon is in the process of hiring 39 employees to help review satellite export license requests. The new personnel, mostly engineers, will also monitor foreign launches of American satellites. The Space Launch Monitoring Division at the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency expects to be at full strength at year's end. The positions will be funded by the companies seeking approval. The DTRA assists the State Department in the process of reviewing license applications for satellites and satellite components. The process has been subject to intense international debate in the last few weeks as Allies such as the European Space Agency and Canada are treated with the same stringent licensing processes as countries such as China from which the problem stems. Britain, France, Germany and Italy sent a written statement to representatives of the White House National Security Council expressing concerns that the ESA will be locked out of future contracts to launch American-made satellites. A final ruling published April 12 strips away unrestricted cross-border defense trade with Canada (SpaceNews).



The GPS system has been put to work protecting America's school children. A system developed by Kelly Jones in association with Global Research Systems and LaBarge Inc. has placed lunch-box sized GPS units on school buses to link them via a low-cost cellular service with a remote call-up service based at local schools. As school buses approach student's homes, the service calls the homes to give the students a five minute warning for the arrival of the bus. The system was inspired when Jones saw a young girl waiting in the rain over 20 minutes waiting for her bus. The service allows schools to minimize the student's exposure to the weather, traffic hazards and "stranger danger". The system has been successfully tested in Marshall, Minnesota, Bangor, Maine and Pensacola, Florida. In addition to notifying students, the system allows school officials to monitor the progress of buses and an emergency call button on the GPS unit allows bus drivers to signal their location in case of an emergency. The monthly service is currently priced between $5 and $20 (AP Article).



After a week in orbit, the Landsat-7 is progressing with no reported problems. The first engineering images were taken on April 18, only three days after launch. The images recorded a corridor from the Dakotas to the Texas panhandle. The spacecraft is currently undergoing performance characteristic testing. The satellite will underfly Landsat-5 in order to cross calibrate instruments. The main instrument, the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus is currently undergoing a three week planned outgassing which will be followed by a cooling of the cold focal plane to make the satellite operational. Images from Landsat-7 are available on the web. Landsat 7 is part of global program known as NASA's Earth Science Enterprise (Goddard Space Flight Press Release).

ChinaSat 8

The ChinaSat 9 telecommunications satellite has been completed by Space Systems/Loral. Chinasat officials have visited the factory and have approved the satellite. The launch is now pending the issuance of an export license from the US State Department (SpaceNews).


The power of space to inspire has once again been demonstrated. This week Stephen Coyle, 9, visited the Kennedy Space Center for a special tour and got to meet astronauts Rick Linnehan and David Brown. What makes this visit remarkable is that last year the Coyle family was caught in a car-bombing in Omagh, in Northern Ireland and the promise of a trip to Kennedy Space Center played a key role in the recovery of young Stephen. During his convalescence in a Belfast hospital, Stephen was visited by President Clinton during is Ireland trip. On National television, Clinton promised Stephen that when he got better he could tour Kennedy Space Center and meet a real astronaut. While doctors gave Stephen little time to live, his mother stated that the promised trip played a major part in the healing process. Since that time Stephen has beaten the odds and while he still has internal injuries under treatment, is slowly improving both physically and mentally. The Coyle family trip to Kennedy Space Center was a joint effort of the Share a Dream Foundation of Ireland, NASA and the White House (KSC Press Release).


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • (Delayed) - Delta 3, flight 268, Orion-3, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • 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.
  • April - Long March 3B, ChinaSat-8, Xichang Satellite Launching Center, China.
  • May 4 - Delta 2 (7925), flight 270, NAVSTAR GPS 2R-3 spacecraft, pad 17A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • May 5 - Space Day
  • May 7 - Titan 4B, Classified DOD Mission (B-12), SLC-4 Vandenberg AFB.
  • Mid May - Pegasus XL, TERRIERS/MUBLCOM, Vandenberg AFB.
  • May 15 - Atlas 2A, AC-137, GOES-L, pad 36A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • May 20 - Shuttle Discovery, STS-96, 2nd American ISS flight, double SpaceHab module, Kennedy Space Center.
  • May 24 - Delta 2 (7920), flight 271, Iridium Mission -12, SLC-2 Vandenberg AFB.


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 3515 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 155 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/November of 1999, failing that, the occupation of the International Space Station but will probably begin in about 8 to 10 months.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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