Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #148

Frontier Status Report #148

April 30, 1999

Dale M. Gray

A rough week for the Americans with two failed launches. Russia, however, managed to launch two commercial satellites on a refurbished ICBM from a launch pad that hasn't been used since the Cold War. The US did manage to gain control of a spinning satellite launched April 9 and two Trident missile launches were hailed as a success. Activity on the International Space Station is heating up with the roll-out of the Service Module, the naming of the Japanese module and American preparations for the second Shuttle mission to the ISS. China is also back in the news as further details of their aggressive spying campaign unfold.

Highlights of the week of April 30 include:

  • Athena II launch ends in failure
  • Titan 4B launch ends in failure
  • Kosmos successfully launches two satellites
  • Service Module rolled out
  • Trident missiles successfully tested
  • X-34 rolled out


The Shuttle Discovery was transported to Pad 39B on Monday April 26 and is now being prepared for its May 20 flight to Mir. SpaceHab double module was installed in the cargo bay of the Shuttle on April 28. Orbiter Helium Signature Leak Test was completed on April 30 (NASA).

The Shuttle Discovery's crew were at Kennedy Space Center this week for the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test on April 29. The crew simulated the final three hours of a countdown with a simulated abort moments before lift-off. The crew then practiced an emergency evacuation from the Orbiter.

NASA has begun accelerating plans to upgrade the Space Shuttle system. While the Shuttle celebrated its 18th anniversary of flight, planners are working to keep the fleet of Shuttles operational for 20 to 30 more years. NASA currently plans to spend $100 million per year on upgrades. While Presidential approval is needed to expand that figure, such approval could be obtained as early as next year. The plans to extend the life of the Shuttle is intertwined with a lack of a suitable replacement. The $1 billion X-33 program has been repeatedly delayed and the plans for the follow-on VentureStar rocket are far from certain. The Shuttle system is a year away from the completion of a $1 billion program of incrimental improvements to the shuttle main engines. Improved turbopumps and combustion chambers are making the reusable engines more reliable, safe and efficient. The most recent Shuttle improvement was a $200 million cockpit upgrade for the Shuttle Atlantis. The new cockpit, similar to that used in military aircraft and the Boeing 777, features electronic displays that replace many of the 2,000 dials and displays. In its development phase 25 years ago, the Shuttle lead the way in a number of innovative design concepts such as fly-by-wire that are now the industry standard. The Shuttle is now reaping the benefits of developments of commercial aviation.


On April 26, the Russian Service Module was officially unveiled as part of a ceremony and news conference at RSC-Energia in Moscow, Russia. The event marks the end of Service Module testing at the Energia plant. On May 11 the Service Module will be shipped by rail to Baikonur for prelaunch tests and final equipment integration. While Russian officials are still pointing toward a September launch, US officials have noted that it typically takes up to eight months to prepare modules for launch (AP).

In a ceremony in Japan on April 24, the Japanese Experiment Module was renamed "Kibo". The name was selected in a contest involving 20,000 entrants. The module will be launched during the second half of station construction (SpaceViews).

Controllers successfully completed the third and final test of the International Space Station prior to Discovery's arrival. During the test, software was uplinked and tested that permitted only the use of the small thruster jets on the Zarya module. The update prevents Zarya from using its 40 kg thrusters while the Shuttle is nearby or docked to the station. The station is in good health circling the Earth every 92 minutes in a 252 x 238 statute mile orbit.


Despite financial problems and potential conflicts with their obligations with the International Space Station, Russia announced on Monday, April 26 their intent to keep the aging Mir space station in orbit at least until the end of the year. NASA has been urging Russia to deorbit the facility by August, but Russia has hopes that private investors will provide the funds to keep the station aloft. The bottom line according to Yuri Koptev, chief of the Russian Space Agency, is that the Mir space station will remain in orbit for all of 1999.

In a strange twist of events, last week Russia announced that a private investor had come forward with a $100 million donation. In exchange, RKK Energia, the Russian corporation that operates the space station, was willing to send the man to the Mir space station for a week. The man's name has since been revealed as so-called British businessman Peter Rodney Llewelyn. However, the self- proclaimed waste-disposal magnate has a checkered past. Two years ago he faced five counts of theft for allegedly swindling $38,000 from a business partner in Pittsburgh, PA. The scheme involved the trust funds of the Southern Pacific Railroad and a casino owned by an Indian Tribe in New York. When he paid the money back the charges were dropped. Llewelyn has been connected to schemes in Hong Kong, London, Singapore, Vietnam, Ohio and Perth. News clippings have revealed that over the years he has claimed to be a British secret agent, a Welsh lord, and a British knight whose ancestors signed the Magna Carta. He also has claimed to have extensive family holdings in Switzerland and France. Until he arrived in Pittsburgh, he had managed to avoid any charges associated with his activities. Conflicting stories indicate that Llewelyn may or may not have signed an agreement for the August Soyuz flight to Mir. In a BBC interview from Tel Aviv, Llewelyn stated that he was not paying $100 million for the flight. Rather he was donating $100 million to build a hospital in Moscow and that the flight was merely a way of publicizing the donation. There has been no news of the $100 million being transferred into the coffers of Energia or to build the hospital. Llewelyn's contact at Energia could not be reached and was listed as "on vacation" AP Article.


After a year of delay, due to technical issues on the Ikonos satellite, an Athena II rocket carrying the 1,600 pound satellite was launched from SLC-6 at Vandenberg AFB on April 27. The rocket lifted off at 2:22 pm EDT with the ignition of the first stage Castor 120 solid rocket motor. The second stage, also a Castor 120 separated at two minutes into the flight and burned until T+3 minutes. The third stage, a Pratt & Whitney Orbus 21D solid- fuel motor burned for two and a half minutes ending at T+7 minutes and 30 seconds. The Lockheed Martin/Primex Orbit Adjust Module began the first of two burns when telemetry was lost at T+8 minutes. The vehicle has since been determined to have bee destroyed when it reentered over the South Pacific sometime before the second scheduled burn of the OAM. Early indications are that a payload fairing failed to jettison. With the 1,400 pounds of additional weight, the spacecraft was unable to achieve orbit. The two-piece aluminum-lithium fairing was to be jettisoned as the second and third stage separated 4 minutes and 37 seconds into the flight. This was only the second launch of the Lockheed Martin Athena II launch vehicle (previously known as the Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle - LMLV). The last flight was the successful launch of the Lunar Prospector mission (Flatoday;

Ikonos was to be the first commercial space imaging satellite to provide images with 1 meter resolution. The satellite was based upon the Lockheed Martin LM900 series spacecraft. Space Imaging of Denver, Colorado, the owner of Ikonos, announced that while implementation of their plan has been set back, a twin satellite, Ikonos II, had been built for just such an event. While originally slated for launch in late 1999 on an Athena II rocket, no launch date for the back-up satellite has been announced (Reuters; Flatoday; Lockheed Martin PR).


A Russian Kosmos-3M rocket was launched from the Kapustin Yar on April 28 at 4:30 pm EST. The rocket was carrying the German ABRIXAS satellite and the Italian MagaSat-0. The first stage of the rocket was derived from the Yangel R-14 intermediate range missile (SS-5). The upper stage is a restartable rocket engine developed in the early 1960s. The Kosmos-3 usually is launched from Plesetsk. Instead, the launch was conducted from state range 4 (GTsP-4) at the Kapustin Yar missile range -- the first launch there since 1988. Since 1961 the Soviet military conducted over 130 rocket launches from the range. ABRIXAS was released from the second stage one hour after launch into a 544 x 603 km by 48.4 degree orbit (Jonathan's Space Page; AP).

The 470 kg ABRIXAS satellite will conduct astrophysical research. The satellite was built by OHB-System with the scientific payload developed by MPE/Garching and the Astrophysical Institute of Potsdam. The satellite contains seven hard X-ray imaging telescopes with an X-ray CCD detector to conduct an all-sky survey in the 1-10keV band (Jonathan's Space Page; AP).

The 35 kg MegaSat-0 will test high bit rate data transmission and control systems for a satellite to be launched in 2000. The satellite was built and owned by MegSat, a division of Gruppo Meggiorin out of Brescia, Italy (Jonathan's Space Page).


The USAF Titan rocket program is now 0 for the last 3 attempts. After a 94 minute delay due to overnight storms, a USAF Titan 4B rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Station Pad 40 at 12:30 pm on April 30. Initial indications showed the two solid-fuel boosters and two liquid-fuel core stage operated nominally. Ten minutes into the flight the Centaur upper stage and the 10,000 pound satellite separated as planned. The Centaur was to fire three times over the course of 6 hours to put the satellite into a geosynchronous orbit. The first burn at T+11 minutes was to be of one minute duration. The second burn at T+ 66 minutes was to last 5 minutes and 12 seconds. At T+62 minutes the telemetry feed to the press for the flight was cut off. It was later reported that the problems with the orbit were first noted after the first Centaur firing. A USAF source stated that the Centaur completed all three burns, but they were much earlier than the flight plan -- resulting in the $800 million satellite being released 2 hours and 30 minutes into the flight into an elliptical 460 x 3,105 mile orbit. While controllers are attempting to salvage the satellite, the USAF admits that the satellite probably does not have enough fuel to achieve the desired orbit (Washington Post; SpaceViews).

Lockheed Martin has to date launched 27 of 41 Titan rockets in a $15.8 billion contract. Four of these, including the last three, have failed to place their satellites into proper orbit. On August 12, 1998 a Titan 4A exploded 41 seconds into flight -- destroying a $700 million NRO satellite. The problem was determined to be the result of poor quality control in the rocket's wiring. On April 9, a $250 million defense satellite launched on a Titan 4B was sent into the wrong orbit by a malfunction of its Inertial Upper Stage. There appears to be no common thread to the consecutive incidents. The Titan rocket fleet is expected to be grounded pending investigations. The next Titan launch was to be the May 7 launch of a classified payload from Vandenberg (Washington Post).

The Milstar 2 satellite was to have joint two previously launched satellites to proved jam-proof communications between military units on land and sea. The satellite was an upgraded version that was capable of relaying data at 1.5 million bits per second. The Milstar system has had to face serious allegation from the General Accounting Office for a variety of shortcomings including the possible degradation of the system by 2003 -- three years before a replacement system is expected to be ready (Washington Post).


The first of two composite liquid hydrogen fuel tanks to be used on the X-33 prototype rocket has been delivered Huntsville, Georgia for testing. The 28 foot long, 4,400 pound tanks were manufactured by Alliant Techsystems in Clearfield, Utah and transported to Palmdale on a NASA Super Guppy aircraft. Following testing, the tanks will be flown to the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California. The complex composite tanks not only serve as fuel storage, but are also an integral part of the structure of the X-33. The hydrogen fuel tank was one of three major technological advances necessary for the X-33 program along with a new thermal protection system and Boeing's linear aerospike engines. When the fuel tank lining separated last year, the entire X- 33 program was pushed back ( Space Daily Article).


NASA rolled out the X-34 experimental space launch vehicle in a ceremony at Dryden Flight Research Center on April 30. The vehicle is the result of a $85.7 million contract with Orbital Sciences to design, build and test fly the X-34. The contract covers the production of three test vehicles. Each test vehicle is 58.3 feet long and has a 27.2 foot wingspan. The X-34 is designed to be launched from a modified L-1011 aircraft in a manner similar to the Orbital Science Pegasus rocket. The X-34 will be powered by the reusable Fastrac engine being designed and developed by the Marshall Center. After aircraft launch the X-34 will be capable of flying up to Mach 8 and achieve altitudes of up to 50 miles. It will then land on a conventional runway and be readied for its next launch in as little as 24 hours. The roll-out vehicle is to be used as a ground test vehicle and will be utilized in "captive-carry" flight tests to prove the airworthyness of the L-1011 / X-34 combination. The first non- powered free-flight will be conducted by another test vehicle still in production at Orbital Science's Dulles facility. In all, seventeen test flights are planned at three different test facilities. The X-34 program is aimed at demonstrating technologies necessary to reduce the cost of putting payloads into orbit for $10,000 to $1,000 per pound ( Space Daily Article).

Orbital Sciences used the backdrop of the X-34 roll-out to set the stage for its announcement that they will be developing a commercial, unpiloted reusable space launcher. The new launcher would be capable of launching 8,000 pound payloads and then land like the X-34 prototype. The launcher would compete with the Lockheed Martin Athena, Orbital Sciences' own Taurus and a number of start-up single stage to orbit rocket companies ( Space Cast Article).


China is back in the news for theft of secrets. Not only has China created an international incident by lying about obtaining technology from crashed Loral satellites, it has also apparently been busy stealing secrets to high speed reentry. On April 28, the CIA informed Congress that Chinese spies and workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory had obtained information on the technical designs of US reentry vehicles that carry nuclear warheads. This included information on how reentry vehicles maneuver through the upper atmosphere once separated from launch vehicle missile carriers. Previous disclosures indicate the Chinese also obtained information on the nuclear warheads themselves. The Chinese have apparently obtained similar information from the Russians. While no indication has been seen of the information being applied to the development of new systems, the CIA sees this as only a matter of time ( Space Cast Article).


Mars Global Surveyor

Mars Global Surveyor has discovered surprising evidence of possible plate tectonics on Mars. The magnetometer on the craft recorded a banded pattern of magnetic fields on the Martian surface that is strikingly similar to that displayed on the crust of Earth's expanding ocean floors. As it was formed, the new crust recorded changes in the magnetic poles. Discovering the same pattern on Mars has the potential to revolutionize theories on how the planet evolved. The patterns implies early Mars may have had plate tectonics. The patterns were detected during the observations on the low point of the Mars Global Observer's aerobraking maneuver. The extension of the aerobraking due to a problem with one of the solar panels allowed the magnetometer to obtain better than planned regional measurements ( MGS Homepage).

The problems with one of the hinges on the high-gain antenna for MGS has not been resolve. However, mission managers ordered a resumption of the mission on April 28. Even if the problem is not corrected, beginning on May 6 the orientation of the craft will allow use of the antenna in steerable mode until February 2000. After that, the antenna will be placed in a fixed position and the craft will have to be turned to point to Earth during transmission, resulting in periodic interruptions of recording ( Space Cast Article).


This past week, Galileo emerged from behind the Sun and began to download data from the January 31 Europa fly-by. In addition to information on the Jovian moon, the scientists have been able to study distortions in Galileo's radio signal to help them understand aspects of the solar wind. On May 5, the spacecraft will perform a close flyby of Callisto. This is the first of four such flybys of Callisto designed to change the spacecraft's orbit so that can make a close flyby of Io, the most volcanic body in the solar system. Scientists are currently preparing software for Galileo to assure that it does not enter "safe mode" from false power reset indications. The spacecraft entered safe mode twice last year from such occurrences. Galileo has been studying Jupiter and its moons for three and a half years and is currently mid-way through a two year extended mission (NASA/JPL).


Orbital Sciences

Orbcomm, a partnership between Orbital Sciences and Teleglobe of Canada, announced it has signed a service license agreement with Orbcomm Kirloskar Private Ltd to bring Orbcomm services to India. Orbcomm Kirloskar expects to immediately target the region's utility, heavy equipment, rail cargo, transportation and shipping industries. With a population of 950 million people, India represents a significant market for Orbcomm and will be served through two Earth stations. The agreement brings the number of countries with Orbcomm distribution partners to 114 (Business Wire).

Orbimage, an affiliate of Orbital Sciences, announced on April 26 the launching of its OrbView Cities high-resolution imagery product line. The offering is the first on-line series of one-meter resolution panchromatic imagery of select North American cities. Images can be viewed on-line and ordered via (The author of Frontier Status managed to find his own neighborhood and house after about 4 minutes on-line. Streets could be clearly seen as well as houses, cars and vegetation). Images are provided in a GeoTIFF format ready-for-use in off-the-shelf Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing software packages. Products will be delivered via CD-ROM and will be shipped within three days of order receipt (Orbimage PR; PRNewswire).

Despite the unveiling of the X-34 prototype, the announcement of a new launch vehicle development, Orbcomm news and Orbimage news, Orbital Sciences stock dropped 6 1/4 points over the week to a low of 21 points. The price drop was precipitated by Orbital posting a $0.43 loss per share in the first quarter of 1999 as opposed to a $0.13 gain during the same period last year. The loss is due to costs associated with substantial start-up losses in the company's satellite service businesses (Orbital Sciences Quarterly Report).


The Security and Exchange Commission has let SpaceDev off the hook for a complaint filed eight months ago. The SEC claimed that SpaceDev made misleading statements about future prospects of the company which is developing the Near Earth Asteroid Prospector and other projects. The SEC said that SpaceDev neither admitted or denied the charges, but agreed not to violate SEC regulations in the future (SpaceViews).


South Korea

The US and South Korea have agreed to lift all restrictions on the development of commercial rockets in South Korea. A Memorandum of Understanding between the nations will set forth guidelines for launch vehicle used for commercial purposes as well a generations of new ballistic missiles. The issue was forced when on April 10 South Korea test launched a new version of a ballistic missile that violated previous restrictions. All range and payload capability restrictions will be removed for commercial vehicles while military ballistic missiles can be increased to a range of 300 km. The April 10 missile test with an inert upper stage flew 40 to 50 km, but has a range of 300 km with an active upper stage. The missile apparently utilizes French rocket technology. The test was prompted by North Korea's recent missile launches ( Space Cast Article).

Launch Indemnification Extension

A Congressional hearing was conducted on April 21 for the extension of the government launch indemnification provision which requires $1.5 billion in extra protection in the event of a catastrophic accident. Industry leaders asked Congress for a 10-year extension for the provision which runs out at the end of this year. It is feared that a shortening of the provision would send the wrong message to potential customers. Congress will consider the extension later this year (SpaceViews).



The US Navy successfully launched two Trident II D5 ballistic missiles this past week from the Eastern Test range off the coast of Florida. The launch marks the 84th and 85th consecutive successful test flight of the sixth generation missiles. With a string of successes dating back to December of 1989, the Lockheed Martin built Trident II is among the most reliable missiles in the world.


Protect Me Toys

Another innovative use for the GPS system has been r evealed in the SatCel by Protect Me Toys. The company has developed a GPS tracking device that can be incorporated into backpacks and toys of children "at risk" of abduction. The company, founded by Bill Brown and Dan Booker, has taken the GPS technology developed for Boeing 777s by Canadian Marconi and reduced it to the size of a business card. This was then combined with a cell phone receiver and antenna. With battery and shielding, the SatCel is about the size of a box of animal crackers and weighs about 24 ounces. The unit "sleeps" until it is called by the tracking center. It then gives the location of the unit. Fugawi Software, who developed the initial tracking software is now developing software that can be used on a home computer. Protect Me Toys is also working to reduce the size and weight of the SatCel. The unit is expected to cost $200 with a $5 per month service fee. The first five units have been sent to Child Search, a Houston-based nonprofit group that hunts for missing children. The units will be given to five children considered most at risk (AP).



The Defense Support Satellite (DSP) launched on a Titan 4B April 9 from Cape Canaveral, has finally been brought under control. The malfunction of the upper stage and deployment of the satellite, not only put the classified observation satellite into the wrong orbit, but put it into an abnormal spin that prevented the deployment of the solar panels. On April 30, the Air Force Space Command reported that the military and civilian ground controllers were able to stop the spin and deploy the solar panes. With the additional power, a variety of sensors were activated and controllers could begin monitoring the spacecraft. The satellite is still in a highly elliptical orbit and no determination has been made whether it will be able to be utilized.


A gap in the Delta rocket launch schedule is being taken advantage of by Loral Space in deploying its Globalstar constellation of Low Earth Satellites. The availability of a summer launch date has allowed Globalstar to move its scheduled November launch to July. To date, the company has deployed 20 satellites on five launch vehicles (5 Deltas and 3 Soyuz) and plans to launch 32 additional satellites on eight rockets. For the system to begin service as planned in the third quarter of 1999, 32 satellites must be operational in their proper orbits. The full constellation and on-orbit spares are expected to be in orbit by year's end.


Mars Surveyor 2001

While plans for the next Mars robotic mission are well underway for launch in two years, the program has not yet come up with a logo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is sponsoring a contest to design logos for the Orbiter, Lander, Rover or for all three. The Orbiter will be launched from Vandenberg AFB, the first planetary mission to be launched from the west coast. The lander will be launched from Florida and will feature the spare Mars Pathfinder rover, a robotic arm and several science instruments.

Entries for the logo contest are due June 30, 1999. Winners will be announced August 2.

Mail entries to: Mars Outreach, Mail Stop 264-380, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109. Entries may be e-mailed to Questions about the contest can be directed to Davis at (818) 354-6111.

The winner(s) will be acknowledged with a picture and biographical information posted by JPL on the Mars Surveyor 2001's web site, and "will receive the prestige of seeing their creations on the spacecraft, products and documents," Davis said.


Courtesy J. Ray and R. Baalke.

  • May 4 - Delta 3, flight 268, Orion-3, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • May 5 - Galileo flyby of Callisto
  • May 6 - Space Day
  • May 15 - Atlas 2A, AC-137, GOES-L, pad 36A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • May 18 - Pegasus XL, TERRIERS/MUBLCOM, Vandenberg AFB.
  • May 20 - Shuttle Discovery, STS-96, 2nd American ISS flight, double SpaceHab module, Kennedy Space Center.
  • May 22 - Discovery docks with the International Space Station.
  • May 23 - Six hour spacewalk, International Space Station
  • May 23 - Delta 2 (7925), flight 270, NAVSTAR GPS 2R-3 spacecraft, pad 17A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • May 23 - ILS Proton, Nimiq,-1, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • May 27 - Discovery undocks from the International Space Station.
  • May 27 - Delta 2 (7920), flight 272, FUSE, Pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • May 28 - Titan 2, QuikSCAT, SLC-4 West, Vandenberg AFB.
  • May 30 - Discovery landing at Kennedy Space Center.
  • Delayed (late May) - Arianespace Ariane 44P (flight 118), New Skies K-TV, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • (Delayed indefinitely) - Titan 4B, Classified DOD Mission (B-12), SLC-4 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 3522 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 162 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 7 to 9 months.

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