Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #149

Frontier Status Report #149

May 7, 1999

Dale M. Gray

This week saw the conclusion of the most disastrous month in space launch history since the 1980s. Previous unsuccessful launches were capped with the failed Delta 3 launch and the loss in orbit of a satellite previously launched by a Russian Kosmos rocket. A bright spot, however, were the dramatic photographs of the Liberty Bell 7 capsule resting three miles deep in the Atlantic.

Highlights of the week of May 7 include:

  • Delta III puts satellite in wrong orbit
  • USAF writes off Milstar 2
  • Liberty Bell 7 photographed in the deep Atlantic


The official launch date for the upcoming Shuttle mission to the International Space Station has been officially set for May 20 at 9:32 EDT from Launch Pad 39B. The Shuttle will dock with the International Space Station on May 22. The six day mission will feature the transfer of two tons of supplies from the double SpaceHab modules in the cargo bay of the Shuttle to the two orbiting modules. These supplies include food, clothes, laptop computers, printer and cameras. The astronauts will also attach an external US -built "crane" and portions of a Russian-built crane during a spacewalk on May 24. The crew includes Commander Kent Rominger, pilot Lt. Col. Rick Husband, space-walker Tammy Jernigan, Ph.D., spacewalker Dr. Daniel Barry, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette and Russian cosmonaut Col. Valery Tokarev (KSC PR).

This past week the SpaceHab tunnel has been mated to Discovery. Pre-launch propellant loading has begun and will continue through Saturday. Payload bay doors will be closed for flight on May 11. Countdown begins on May 17 at noon (NASA).

In anticipation of numerous additional flights, NASA has announced the purchase of materials for 60 external tanks. The $625.6 million contract with Lockheed Martin Michoud Space System is the sixth purchase of tanks and the first to be entirely comprised of Super Lightweight Tanks which weigh 7,500 pounds less than its predecessor the Lightweight Tank. The new tanks are made of aluminum lithium alloy which is lighter, but 30 percent stronger than the aluminum alloy previously used. NASA has previously purchased 119 tanks of which 93 have flown and the last of which will fly in late 2001. Production of the new tanks will begin in 2000 with delivery to Kennedy Space Center in 2002. Each tank takes about 20 to 22 months to build. Not only does the tank carry over half a million gallons of propellant, but it also acts as the back-bone of the Shuttle/ Solid Rocket Booster configuration (Marshall Space Flight Center News Release).


Flight controllers will be preparing for the upcoming Shuttle / International Space Station docking this coming week by conducting a dress rehearsal. During the test, the station orientation will be changed from a slow spin with the Unity module pointing toward Earth to an orientation horizontal to the Earth's surface. The station will remain in this configuration for three hours as the Zarya module's guidance system is calibrated. The station will then be returned to its previous perpendicular orientation with a slow rotation that maximizes solar exposure to the panels while helping with the heating and cooling of the modules. The Shuttle Discovery is expected to dock with the station on May 22. The deployed elements of the station are in a 252 x 238 statute mile orbit with a period of 92 minutes (NASA).

The third module of the station , the Service Module, is expected to be launched in the fall. It was recently renamed Zvezda, or "Star" and is currently being prepared for its May 20 shipment to Baikonur, Kazakstan. Russia has announced that neither the Russian Space Agency nor the Energia Corp will insure the launch of the Zvezda module. A minimum of $125,000 is needed to purchase the insurance (NASA; SpaceViews).

Russia is at it again. This week news leaked that the Russian Space Agency intends to use a Soyuz rocket purchased by the US to carry the first crew to the International Space Station to instead carry cosmonauts to the Russian Mir space station in August. The US gave the Russians $40 million for the rocket as a way to free funds for the completion of the Service Module. The US gave the money on the understanding that it would be used to complete the Soyuz slated for launching the first ISS crew. If the Soyuz is used for Mir, the earliest a new Soyuz could be prepared is late next year. Without a Soyuz, the crew would arrive on-board a Shuttle, but would have no way to return to Earth in an emergency (SpaceViews).


At 9:00 pm EDT on Tuesday, May 4, the long- delayed Delta 3 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral. While the initial launch appeared to be a success, the upper stage shut down early leaving the $145 million Orion telecommunications satellite in too low of an orbit. The second stage is a Pratt and Whitney RL-10B-2 rocket engine in a new stage design. About 30 minutes into the launch the second stage began its second firing when a spike in pump pressure cut off the engine after only one second. This resulted in the Orion 3 payload being placed in a 162 x 1378 km x 29.5 degree parking orbit. Controllers have since been working to raise the orbit to protect the satellite from reentry (Boeing; Florida Today; Reuters).

The Orion 3 satellite is a Hughes HS601HP satellite owned by Loral Orion. It was to have served the Asian Pacific region with 33 Ku- band and 10 C-band transponders (Florida Today).

The only other Delta 3 launch on August 26, 1998, ended 70 seconds into the flight when an inadequate guidance program caused the rocket to break-up and explode. The explosion and substandard performance of the Delta 3 mirrors similar development problems encountered by the ESA's Ariane 5 rocket during its initial flights (Flatoday; Jonathan's Space Page).


In a May 5 report to the US Senate Intelligence Committee it has been revealed that China pressured American satellite companies to push for changes in US export laws. These changes lead directly to China obtaining information useful for improving their ballistic missiles. China made it clear to American companies that access to a vast telecommunications market would be made available to companies willing to cooperate. China then used that cooperation as a means to acquire sensitive data. As proof of the point, this past week the Chinese government has moved cut off western access to the Chinese telecommunications market. China has begun to confiscate direct-to-home satellite equipment throughout the country. The government has banned private satellite receivers citing a 1993 State Council circular. Tens of millions of Chinese are said to be able to receive illegal broadcasts (AP; Reuters).


Mars Global Surveyor

With an injured wing and a stiff antenna joint the Mars Global Surveyor has returned to full service on May 5. While the solar panel problem is no longer an issue, the satellite is limited in the manner it can extend and turn its high-gain antenna. Despite this, the craft has been returned to normal operations because a favorable alignment with Earth allows it to collect data and beam it to Earth with the antenna "as is". The planetary alignment began May 5 and will continue until next February. The space craft fine-tuned its orbit on May 7 with a small-thruster firing. The spacecraft is now engaged in a four week campaign to collect stereo images of the planet (JPL PR).


This past week Galileo spacecraft successfully flew by the Jovian moon Callisto. The fly-by validated new software, known as a "bus reset patch", that fixed a problem encountered on two previous moon encounters. During these fly-bys, the spacecraft went into safe mode when its computer noted a unique electrical problem. During the Callisto approach on May 3, the spacecraft twice experienced the electrical problem, but the software correctly diagnosed the event, determined there was no threat and decided not to enter safe mode. The Callisto encounter was completed with no interruption of its scientific studies. The spacecraft did experience a glitch when the pointing control switched from the gyro-controlled system to the less-accurate star scanner system. The spacecraft continued to collect data, but observations from the near infrared mapping spectrometer may be less sharp as a result. The occurrence is not thought to be related to the electrical reset problem. Galileo is mid-way through its two year extended mission to study Jupiter and its moons (NASA/JPL).

full story

Deep Space 1

On April 27, the Deep Space 1 team completed six weeks of ion thrusting that expended a mere 5 kg of xenon. As a result, the spacecraft's speed was increased by nearly 300 meters per second (650 mph). The craft has been under ion acceleration for a record total of 73 days. The craft will now coast for the next 3 months except for a few brief firings of the ion engine in May and June. A test of the autonomous navigation system was conducted on May 4 and the camera and imaging spectrometer was calibrated on May 6. The Deep Space 1 spacecraft went into standby mode on Thursday May 6. Controllers are working to understand the sequence of events that led to the mode which is a less dramatic response to a problem than the traditional "safe mode" (JPL; Dr. Marc Rayman).

Moon Base Locations

Researchers reported in the May 1 edition of the Geophysical Research Letters that three locations have been identified on the Moon that receive nearly constant sunlight. The long lunar night has in the past been considered an obstacle for the development of lunar bases. A team lead by D. Ben J. Bussey of the European Space Agency found three locations on or near the Shackleton crater rim at the south pole of the Moon. Site A has sunlight 80 percent of the time, B has sunlight 70 percent of the time and C has light 65 percent of the time. If A and B sites which are only six miles apart developed linked solar power capability, the system would at the most experience 10 consecutive hours of darkness. The solar exposure also stabilizes local temperatures at an estimated -64 degrees F. The availability of a dependable solar power source is important in developing plans for the mining of ice discovered in the shaded south pole crater (AP).



Following a successful year in deploying satellites followed by a less than stellar performance on the ground, Iridium now faces a number of class action law suits. The price of Iridium stock during this past year climbed to $72 last May but has plummeted to less than $13. The suits contend the company violated Sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 as well as Rule 10b-5 by issuing a series of false and misleading statements concerning the company's ability to fully launch the Iridium system. The charges are specifically aimed at misleading revenue projections and subscriber numbers, the failure to report serious technical problems, and the failure to disclose delays and shortages of handsets. Failing to achieve the required number of subscribers and revenue figures, the Company is also charged with violating agreements with its lenders (SpaceDaily).



Germany recently announced that it would be increasing its space spending through 2003. The increase will allow Germany to participate in upgrades to the Ariane 5 and in new Earth observation satellites. The amount of the increase has not been announced (Space News).


The NASA Authorization Bill expected to be introduced to the US House of Representatives on May 3 contains a provision prohibiting NASA from funding the TransHab project. TransHab is an inflatable crew quarters concept developed for use on the International Space Station and for future Mars expeditions. The Bill would provide a $700 million budget increase for NASA between 2000 and 2002 (Space News).


Momentum wheels

The University of Houston's Texas Center for Superconductivity (TCSUH) has developed a way to use superconducting materials in the construction of satellite momentum wheels. These wheels, oriented in different directions are used in satellites to control the satellite's orientation by holding considerable angular momentum. Current momentum wheels have a mass of 5 to 10 pounds and utilize moderate spin to control angular movement. A comparable momentum wheel constructed of superconducting materials could spin much faster -- resulting in a reduction of size and mass to less than two pounds. The superconducting wheels gain their advantage from a property called "flux pinning" in which the superconductor's magnetic field holds other magnetic fields in a stable bond. By placing a magnet in the wheel and bracketing the hub with superconducting materials, the hub is held away from physical contact and can spin with almost no friction, especially in the vacuum of space. While the concept has been proven on the ground, additional testing must be performed on the ground and in space before such a system could be used as an integral part of a space platform (SpaceDaily).



The US Air Force has officially "written" off the $1.2 billion Milstar 2 launch. The satellite was launched into the wrong orbit on April 23 when the upper stage of the Titan 4B misfired. The satellite was placed into a 3,100 x 460 elliptical orbit instead of a 22,300 mile geostationary orbit. In addition the satellite was given a spin that prevented immediate deployment of the solar panels. Ground controllers were able to eventually control the spin, extend the panels and recharge the batteries, but the satellite does not have enough fuel to complete its original mission. The Air Force is now assessing whether the satellite can be used in some other capacity, or whether it will have to be abandoned. Early indications, as published in Aviation Week and Space Technology's May 10 issue, are that Lockheed Martin loaded a corrupted software program into the Centaur upper stage causing it to fire abnormally and fly off course. The software problem was undetected despite an extensive prelaunch verification process at Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Littleton, Colorado. Quality control in wiring was previously cited as the cause of last year's loss of a Titan 4A rocket. The Lockheed Martin Littleton plant is facing 900 impending job cuts (Florida Today).


The ABRIXAS (A Broadband Imaging X-Ray All-sky Survey) satellite launched April 28 on a Russian Kosmos rocket has apparently experienced battery failure. At least one of 11 cells have failed. The satellite was contacted after launch, but subsequently a temperature problem was noted in the battery. By April 30 contact with the satellite was lost. There is some hope that the satellite may be recontacted next month when a period of solar illumination will restore power and allow resumption of contact (SpaceViews; Jonathan's Space Page).


The April 9 launch of the classified DSP-19 satellite on a Titan 4B failed apparently when the two stages of the IUS-21 failed to separate correctly. One or more connectors remained attached. The SRM-2 rocket compression nozzle then failed to extend properly -- possibly because the attached SRM-1 hit the nozzle during the botched separation. The nozzle normally extends in 7 to 8 seconds. Of three extenders, one indicated full extension after 2 seconds while the other two did not indicate full extension until after the engine fired. While the SRM-2 did fire with an incorrectly extended nozzle, the firing did not have the desired results with the spacecraft tumbling during the burn. While the "stack" attempted to regain control, it was unable to do so -- leaving the satellite in a complex tumble in an elliptical orbit (Air Force Space Command PR; Jonathan's Space Page).


Liberty Bell 7

This past week saw the posting of incredible deep- sea photograph's of Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 capsule. The capsule sank after a successful flight and splash-down on July 21, 1961. While Grissom waited for recovery, the hatch inexplicably "blew" -- sending sea water rushing into the capsule. Unable to lift the capsule filled with water, the recovery helicopter was forced to release Liberty Bell 7. The capsule then sank three miles to come to rest on a sandy underwater ridge 90 miles northeast of the Bahamas. Grissom, who nearly drown after he vacated the capsule, insisted that the hatch had malfunctioned. NASA backed him up.

The capsule was relocated on Saturday, May 1, by an expedition led by Curt Newport. Newport previously attempted to find the capsule during expeditions in 1992 and 1993. While the heat shield had disintegrated, the periscope, antenna and control panel are in good shape. Indeed, the exterior in many ways is in better shape than John Glenn's Freedom 7 capsule on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The words "Liberty Bell 7" are clearly marked on the side of the capsule. After taking the photographs, the robot submersible was to attach cables to the capsule. However, the submersible was lost in heavy seas -- setting back the salvage operation by several weeks. While Grissom's widow opposes the salvage of the capsule, the Grissom family has come out in favor of preservation of the capsule -- not restoration -- if and when it is recovered. The salvage operation is being funded to the tune of $1 million by the Discovery Channel and the capsule is slated for display at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas (Florida Today; AP).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • May 15 - Delta 2 (7925), flight 270, NAVSTAR GPS 2R-3
  • 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 22 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Nimiq,-1, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • May 23 (No earlier than) - Atlas 2A, AC-137, GOES-L, pad 36A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • May 23 - Six hour spacewalk, International Space Station spacecraft, pad 17A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • May 27 - Discovery undocks from the International Space Station.
  • May 29 - 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.
  • June - Delta 2 (7920), flight 272, FUSE, Pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.


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 3529 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 169 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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