Frontier Status Report #151
Frontier Status Report #151
May 21, 1999
Dale M. Gray
The Americans finally orbited a satellite successfully this week on a Pegasus XL launch out of Vandenberg. While the primary payload did not deploy properly, the secondary payload was successful. The Russians managed to launch an American-built satellite for Canada. The space station's "robot arm" was delivered to Florida even as the Shuttle prepares for its second launch to the orbiting Space Station (which just celebrated its half-year birthday). The US Congress has been busy on a variety of space related bills. President Clinton is taking no chances with America's string of launch failures and has put the CIA on the case.
Highlights of the week of May 21 include:
SHUTTLEFollowing the repair of 460 of 648 identified "divots" in the External Tank insulation caused by last week's hail storm, the Shuttle Discovery has been returned to Launch Pad 39B on May 20. Aft compartment closeouts, umbilical hook-up and ordinance installation has begun. The crew is expected to arrive for the flight on May 23. Count down for the May 27 launch will begin at 9:00 am EDT on May 24 (NASA).
The Canadian Space Station Report Manipulator System (SSRM), the Space Station equivalent of the Shuttle Arm, was delivered to Kennedy Space Center on May 19. The new arm which is bigger, more sophisticated and more versatile than its predecessor will now undergo numerous integration, compatibility and verification test with other station elements. As part of the Mobile Servicing System, the new arm will work in conjunction with a mobile base, a Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM) and the Mobile Servicing Operations Complex (MOC). The arm is considered essential in the completion and maintenance of the International Space Station. It was constructed by a team lead by Macdonald Dettwiler Space and Advanced Robotics of Brampton, Ontario -- formerly a division of Spar Aerospace. Ltd. The arm is currently slated for launch in 2000 during STS-100 (SpaceDaily).
The International Space Station celebrated its 6 month anniversary on May 19. In Russia, the Service Module (AKA Zvezda) has arrived in Kazakhstan to begin final preparations for its fall launch. In preparation for the upcoming Shuttle mission, controllers will switch on heaters inside the orbiting modules on May 24 to begin warming the interior. The Shuttle is slated to dock on May 29. Astronauts (and cosmonaut) will then begin to transfer 3,600 pounds of materials onto the station and conduct station assembly spacewalks. The station is in an orbit of 251 x 237 statute miles with a period of 92 minutes. The Station has completed 2826 orbits (May 20) since it was launched on November 19, 1998 (NASA).
New rules are being set by a NASA-led international panel that will ban advertising on all vehicles docking or operating near the International Space Station. Ironic, that United States, the leader of the Free World and a so-called capitalistic country is squelching advertising while Russia a former Communist country is being warned away from capitalistic endeavors. One can't help wonder how the promised commercialization of the International Space Station can take place without the advertising revenue necessary for high profile and expensive space station-based commercial enterprise. NASA has failed to realize that the assets of the International Space Station are not just position, vacuum, and microgravity. The International Space Station is also a symbol worth billions of dollars in advertising. It is not a space-based ivory tower. The sooner that NASA starts acting like it serves a capitalistic country, the sooner we will have a human space frontier (Space Frontier Society; Dale Gray opinion).
MIRRussian President Boris Yeltsin formally announced on May 21 that Russia will keep Mir space station in orbit. The government will continue to pay for the station's operation through August. Thereafter, the station will continue operations only if private funds are made available. The Russians are currently dealing with "business man" Peter Llewellyn who has promised $100 for the station. Llewellyn may or may not have been promised a flight to Mir in exchange for the money. He has been pronounced fit for flight by Russian doctors and is reported to be engaged in a three month training course in preparation for an August flight to Mir. However, Energia has announced that if investors are not available, it will take out loans to continue operation (CNN; AP).
PROTON / NIMIQAn ILS Proton K was launched from Kazakstan on May 20. The Blok DM3 upper stage subsequently fired twice as planned; correctly placing the satellite into a transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred at 6 hours and 42 minutes into the flight. Signal from the satellite has been acquired by ground controllers who report the spacecraft to be healthy. The satellite's orbit will next be altered to place the satellite into geostationary orbit at 91 degrees West (Lockheed Martin PR; George Antunes; Jonathan's' Space Page).
The satellite is based on the Lockheed Martin A2100 satellites with a designed life of at least 12 years. The satellite features 32 transponders and will carry 8 - 10 digital video signals. The satellite will be tested for two weeks after arriving in its orbital slot. Service is expected to begin by mid-June (The Ottawa Citizen; Toronto Star).
The $400 million Nimiq satellite was built by Lockheed Martin for Telesat Canada. One of five Telesat satellites, Nimiq will provide direct-to-home television services across all of Canada. -- providing 180 channels of programming in English and French along with broadcasts in Italian, German, Indian and Chinese. While the spacecraft's footprint covers the United States, regulatory problems will probably limit its use to north of the border. The word Nimiq was chosen in a contest from among 40,000 entries. It is an Inuit word for any force that unites things or binds them together. One of the major tenants of the satellite, ExpressVu, a division of Bell Satellite Services will move over to the new satellite to provide services for its estimated 100,000 customers with 17 of the satellite's transponders. It is currently sharing the Anik E2 satellite with rival Star Choice Communications. ExpressVu covered some of the capital costs for the satellite to reduce the financial risk to Telesat. The satellite is expected to immediately begin producing $35 million in annual revenues. A new Anik satellite is expected to be launched next year with 80 percent of its capacity already booked (CNW; Lockheed Martin PR; The Globe and Mail; The Ottawa Citizen; www.skyreport.com).
PEGASUS / TERRIERSThe student-built TERRRIERS satellite and MUBLCOM demonstration satellites were launched off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base at 11:09 pm PDT on May 17. The satellite was launched by Orbital Sciences on a three-stage Pegasus XL rocket which was deployed at 40,000 feet from an L- 1011 jet. The first stage fired nominally for two minutes followed by a nominal one minute burn of the second stage. Seven minutes into the flight the second and third stages separated. At seven minutes, 30 seconds the third stage ignited for 90 seconds followed by a separation of the third stage and the HAPS orbital motor with MUBLCOM. Ten minutes into the flight, the rocket successfully placed the 123 kg TERRIERS satellite into a 550 km polar orbit with a period of 96 minutes. The spacecraft was determined to be in the correct orbit and spinning on the right axis. However, on the second orbital pass, ground controllers noted that the satellite had failed to orient itself so that its solar panels faced the sun. On the third orbital pass commands were issued from the ground to reorient the spacecraft -- apparently without result. After internal batteries depleted about eight hours into the mission, the satellite became inert. A recovery team has been formed to develop a plan to return the satellite to operation. It is expected that procession will eventually place the satellite in the correct orientation to the sun allowing power to be restored (NASA; Florida Today; Jonathan's Space Page).
The Tomographic Experiment using Radiative Recombinative Ionospheric Extreme ultraviolet and Radio Sources (TERRIERS) will study how changes in the upper atmosphere affect communications systems. The satellite was built by students at Boston University, AeroAstro, the Naval Research Lab and the MIT Haystack Obs. NASA's cost for the spacecraft is estimated at $6.1 million with a total of $12.3 million including launch (NASA).
The Multiple Path Beyond Line of Sight Communications (MUBLCOM) demonstration satellite was deployed for the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency. The satellite was attached to a HAPS stage which fired three times to raise and circularize the orbit of the satellite. The satellite, based on the Microstar bus, was successfully deployed by the HAPS stage into a 775 km polar orbit (769 x 776 km x 97.9 degrees) just over an hour into the flight. The satellite is a joint DOD / Orbital venture to test a space-based system that would allow troops to communicate with each other over distances of hundreds of kilometers in a variety of terrain (Orbital Sciences PR; SpaceViews; Jonathan's Space Page).
DELTA 3 / ORION 3A senior investigation board has been convened by Boeing to investigate the May 4 Delta III launch that failed to place the Orion 3 satellite into proper orbit. The board will work with a Pratt & Whitney team to determine why turbo machinery stopped suddenly on the second stage engine system (Reuters).
TITAN 4BDespite three failed Titan 4 launch attempts, the USAF is preparing for a May 22 launch of a Titan 4B from Vandenberg AFB. The Lockheed Martin rocket is expected to be launched from SLC-4 East between 12 am and 5 am PDT. The launch was originally slated for May 7, but was delayed due to the previous failures. The launch was apparently cleared because it does not contain the upper stage such as the ones that failed on the last two attempts. The rocket is thought to be carrying a $1 billion spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. The rocket has a 50 foot long fairing as opposed to the 66 foot fairing used for LACROSSE launches. This type of fairing is not common and may have been used only once before on a CRYSTAL launch in 1992 (30th Space Wing PR; Florida Today; SpaceViews; Jonathan's Space Page).
SETIThe Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) moved into high gear this past week with a grass-roots examination of the collected data. A new screen-saver developed by a team at the University of California at Berkeley allows idle computers to analyze data from the radio telescope at Arecibo in Puerto Rico as part of UC Berkeley's SERENDIP program. Since May 15 (official release date was May 17), the screen saver has been downloaded by computer users ranging from multi-station networks to home computers. The Planetary Society reported that 400,000 people signed up for the program even before it became available. Since May 15, a quarter million people downloaded the program -- generating more than 600 years of computing time in only a week. It is allowing the program to analyze the data with increased sensitivity and 10 times faster than their previous resources allowed. It has also allowed the common man to participate in seeking the answer to one of the "Big Questions" -- the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. With the new screen saver, each computer client program downloads 350-kilobytes of data and then uses spare computer time to analyze the data for patterns. Each batch takes on an average 32 hours, but for systems that have not been optimized can take up to 100 hours per batch. The screen saver is available in both Windows and Macintosh formats (Reuters; MSNBC; SpaceViews).
ASTEROIDSFrank Zoltowski, an Australian amateur astronomer has discovered an asteroid that could pass within 39,000 km of the Earth's center in 2027. The rock, dubbed AN 10, is not likely to hit the Earth, but the kilometer wide asteroid contains the kinetic energy of tens of gigatons of TNT. The asteroid was discovered as part of the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Project (LINEAR) in January and rapidly sparked a debate on how close it would pass to the Earth. Italian astronomer Andrea Milani lead a team to determine how close the asteroid would come. NASA has calculated that in subsequent passes in 2038 and 2044 the odds of a hit increase from one in 10 million to one in 500,000 (Michael Martin-Smith; MSNBC).
Deep Space 1On Monday, May 17, the Deep Space 1 spacecraft began autonomous operations. An onboard software package dubbed "Remote Agent" is capable of planning and executing spacecraft activities with only general instructions from the ground. For a full day Remote Agent controlled the spacecraft and even resolved a simulated instrument failure. On May 18, an anomaly was detected when the ion engine was not shut down as expected. While portions of the Remote Agent remained active, the portion of the program that issues commands had suspended operations. A ground command was issued nine hours after the anomaly that terminated the experiment with 70 percent of the objectives achieved. A small bug in the software is thought to be the cause of the problem. A follow-up experiment is being considered to complete the remaining objectives. On May 17, the Deep Space 1 spacecraft was reported to be 120 million km from Earth ( JPL site; NASA ARC site).
Lunar ProspectorThe highly successful Lunar Prospector mission may have one final contribution to give to the understanding of lunar ice. Scientists are now considering crashing the spacecraft into the moon's south pole. The controlled high-speed dive would create a new crater on the moon and more importantly result in a spray of material that could be studied by the Hubble and ground-based telescopes (SpaceNews).
CD RadioStandard & Poor's on May 20 revised its outlook on CD Radio from "developing" to "negative". It also assigned its triple 'C'-plus rating on CD Radio's offering of $200 million 14.5% senior secured notes due in 2009. To make the system of satellite- based, CD quality radio operational, the company estimates that it will require $1.238 billion. Of this sum, $138 million remain to be raised. The total amount needed for completion has been raised $134 million since the original estimate -- largely due to delays. The company expects to sell individual receiver units at $199 with a $9.95 per month subscription charge (Standard & Poor's CreditWire).
President ClintonOn May 19, President Bill Clinton launched a Department of Defense investigation into the cause of the recent string of launch failures. The White House requested the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and NASA cooperate in the investigation coordinated by Secretary of Defense William Cohen. An interim report is to be returned 90 days and a final report in 180 days (White House PR; The Orlando Sentinel).
NASA AuthorizationThe three year NASA Authorization Bill (H. R. 1654) was debated one day and put to a vote in the U. S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, May 19. The final vote was 259 to 168 and was split for the most part along party lines with some Democrats reluctantly supporting the bill. The vote was polarized by the removal of $32 million for the Vice-President's pet project the Triana satellite. While no move was made to reinsert the satellite into the House bill, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) said they would try to restore Triana in an amended version of the bill. The vote had been delayed by an unsuccessful attempt to remove the Russians from the International Space Station project (313-117) and an attempt to cap ISS costs. In one of the strangest turns of what has increasingly become a pre-election issue, NASA came out against its own $41.2 billion authorization bill because of the exclusion of Triana. Dan Goldin, NASA Administrator, has publicly supported the project since it was unveiled last year. NASA has already spent $40 million studying the project that was originally envisioned to cost only $50 million. The spacecraft is slated for launch in December 2000 (SpaceDaily; Florida Today).
Anti-Missile Defense SystemIn what appears to some to be a violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the U. S. House of Representatives has passed legislation (345-71) committing the United States to the development of an anti-missile national defense program. The Administration has budgeted $10.5 billion for the system between 1999 and 2005. However, it will be at least 2005 before tests of the proposed system can be determined. The system is envisioned as a scaled-back version of the space-based Strategic Defense Initiative proposed by President Reagan in 1983. The move comes as a reaction to world-wide developments such as North Korea's missile test flights. The bill was originally introduced in the House where it passed, was modified and passed by the U.S. Senate before returning to the House. The new system would be designed to stop limited attack from rogue states and terrorists and would not be space-based (AP).
CHARISMAOn May 18, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) aired "Voyage to the Milky Way". The two-hour program presented a report on the state of the current space frontier and brought forth a vision of the future of humanity in space. Interviews from entrepreneurs such as Jim Benson and visionaries such as Robert Zubrin were used to illuminate the path upward to the stars. Narrator Stacy Keach with the help of computer-generated graphics and film footage described the future and the steps that are being taken to get us there (PBS; AP).
Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews
FRONTIER CENSUS REPORTThe 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 3536 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 183 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.
Additional web formatting by Simone Cortesi. FSR is also archived on the web at cortesi.com.
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