Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #152

Frontier Status Report #152

May 28, 1999

Dale M. Gray

A good week on the high frontier with three American launches and India's first commercial launch. Topping the news was the launch of Discovery on the second International Space Station mission. Finally, after four attempts Lockheed Martin successfully launches a Titan 4 rocket.

Highlights of the week of May 28 include:

  • Shuttle Discovery launches May 27.
  • Titan 4B launches NRP payload May 22.
  • India launches three commercial satellites May 26.
  • Amateur rocket built by JP Aerospace reaches 72,000 ft.


At 6:49:42 am EDT on May 27, the Shuttle Discovery made a picture perfect launch from Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. The only event of note in the count-down was when a boat drifted into the safety zone and had to be moved. The Shuttle carried an international crew of seven along with 3,600 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station. The crew for mission STS-96 are: Commander Kent Rominger, Pilot Rick Husband, and Mission Specialists Tamara Jernigan, Ellen Ochoa, Daniel Barry, Julie Payette, and Valerie Tokarev. This was the first Shuttle launch in six months; the 26th flight of Discovery; and the 94th Shuttle flight. The Shuttle will dock with the ISS on the 29th and remain attached to the station for six days to transfer materials both internally and externally (NASA; Compuserve Rocketry forum launch conference).

In the payload bay of the Shuttle is SpaceHab's Logistics Double Module which is carrying food, tools, clothing and other items to be transferred to the interior of the station. The cargo bay also holds SpaceHab's Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC) on its initial flight. The ICC is positioned over the tunnel connecting the crew compartment to the Double Module. This trip to the ISS the ICC will be carrying unpressurized items, including tools, and external space station hardware such as the American crane and parts of the Russian crane. The ICC will next be used on STS-101 that is tentatively scheduled for later this year (SpaceHab PR).


It took a while, but the Russians have finally decided that Peter Llewellyn was a little too hot to handle and that they were better off without any of the money he promised the Mir space station. Llewellyn, who has a reputation for fast talking and little return, had begun training for a mission to Mir in exchange for $100 million to support the space station. By May 25, the Russians announced that Llewellyn had been dropped from the program. A final decision on the fate of the Mir station has reportedly been set for the first week of June (Wired News; AP).


Lockheed Martin and the US Air Force successfully launched a Titan 4B from Vandenberg AFB SLC 4 East on May 22 at 2:36 am PDT. At two and a half minutes into the flight the core vehicle engines ignited and the solid rocket boosters separated. The payload fairing separated about four minutes into the flight. The rocket payload fairing was not the longer 65 foot variation used by the LACROSSE satellites, rather a shorter 50 foot fairing which has only been used once before. At five minutes, 45 seconds the first stage separated and the second stage ignited. The second stage ended its burn a little over nine minutes into the flight with payload separation at 9 minutes, 24.5 seconds after launch. The classified National Reconnaissance Office payload did not utilize an upper stage which proved problematic in two previous Titan launches. The payload separated as planned This was the 28th Titan 4 launch (Lockheed Martin PR; Florida Today).


India joined the ranks of nations capable of commercial rocket launches on May 26 with the launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV-C2 at 2:22 am EDT from Sriharidota on the Bay of Bengal coast. The 294 tonne, 44.5 m high, four stage rocket ignited along with four strap-on motors at the opening of the launch window. Two additional strap-on motors ignited as planned 25 seconds into the flight. At 68 seconds the first four strap-on motors separated with the second two strap-on boosters separating at 90 seconds. At 112 seconds the first stage separated -- immediately followed by the ignition of the second stage. The heat shield separated at 156 seconds at an altitude of 125 km. The second stage separated and third stage ignited at 281 seconds after launch. Following the third stage separation at 503 seconds, the fourth stage ignited at 585 seconds at an altitude of 613 km. Fourth stage cut-off occurred at 984 seconds. The Indian OceanSat 1 (IRS-P4), South Korean Kitsat-3 and Germany's TubSat satellites were released into orbit about 17 minutes (1010 seconds) after launch. All three satellites are in a sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 727 km.

The Indian Remote Satellite (IRS-P4) which weighs more than a ton, will be used to study the ocean. KITSAT-3 weighs 110 kg while the DLR-TubSat is a mere 45 kg. The two smaller satellites were released from the fourth stage after two 40 degree yaw maneuvers to assure that they would avoid colliding with the spent fourth stage. The IRS-P4 deployed its solar arrays as planned with checkout of the onboard instruments (Ocean Colour Monitor and Multifrequency Scanning Microwave Radiomenter) beginning on the 15th orbit -- a day after launch.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has managed to produce the launch vehicle despite US restrictions on technology transfers. The PSLV has successfully flown four times including the launch of the indigenously built INSAT 2E for the Indian government earlier this year. ISRO believes that it can launch commercial satellites 25 percent cheaper than other launch services. The ISRO has signed a launch agreement with Verhaert Design and Development of Belgium to launch its PROBA satellite on a future PSLV flight. India is also working on a Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle capable of lifting heavier payloads. Its first launch is expected later this year. ISRO also hopes to send a spacecraft on a lunar flyby mission by 2008 (ISRO; Flatoday; Reuters; Space News).

Editor's note: Contrary to these reports, the launch vehicle for Insat 2E was an Ariane 4. Please see the Errata note in the June 4, 1999 issue of Frontier Status Report.


JP Aerospace

>From a location the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada, the JP Aerospace team launched a rocket/ balloon combination on May 23. An attempt was scrubbed on May 22 when surface winds picked up to 7 knots. Despite unfavorable winds aloft, the launch team decided to launch the "rockoon" on May 23 to obtain additional information on the systems. The 10 weather balloons in a 620 vertical foot stack tethered to the rocket gently lifted off at 6:30 am. At 26,000 feet, the 17 pound rocket was launched -- platform video showed a clean launch. Shortly after rocket burn-out, the GPS receiver on the rocket acquired eight satellites and relayed via telemetry an altitude of 72,223 feet and a vertical climb rate of 800 feet per second. Ground crews were unable to obtain an apogee altitude recording (JP Aerospace; Space Frontier Foundation).


Mars Global Surveyor

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has produced the first global 3-D map of Mars using data from the Mars Global Surveyor Laser Altimeter (MOLA). The map represents 27 million elevation measurements taken in 1998 and 1999. Elevation points are spaced 60 km (37 miles) apart. The map's accuracy is within 13 meters with much of the flat northern hemisphere within 2 meters. Among the features mapped is the Hellas impact basin in the Southern Hemisphere which is nearly 9 km deep and 2,100 km across. The basin is thought to have been formed when by a massive asteroid strike. The map also shows water courses and places where water pooled. Analysis of the polar ice caps indicate there is about 3.2 to 4.7 million cubic km of water ice on Mars -- the equivalent of 1.5 times the water ice covering Greenland. The Mars Global Surveyor continues to take 900,000 elevation measurements per day -- further refining the elevation map of Mars. The data is being used to help determine a landing site for the Mars Polar Lander which will set down on December 3 of 1999 (NASA JPL PR).

Deep Space 1

This past week the Deep Space 1 technology demonstrator was under the control of the Remote Agent artificial intelligence program. Earlier the program was placed in charge of the space craft for two days and accomplished many of the goals of the test including a simulated failure. However, a bug in the software was encountered on the second day. Once the software problem was understood, it was decided to continue with testing to accomplish mission goals. During the second test the Remote Agent was able to correctly diagnose and respond to three simulated failures. The only missing element in the second testing period was the firing of the ion engine. The Remote Engine did not receive a confirmation of a prestart commands for the firing of the engine had been executed and therefore shut the engine down. At the end of the Remote Agent testing 100 percent of objectives had been met (Dr. Marc Raymond; SpaceDaily).



The Lockheed Martin Corporation reported to the US Congress that it has been unable to attract Wall Street investors in its Venture Star project. It has asked the government for some form of government funding or loan backing. The new high-tech single- stage-to-orbit reusable space craft is expected to cost billions of dollars to develop. While Lockheed Martin has had substantial government subsidies in its development of the X-33 prototype, the commercially operated VentureStar follow-on launch vehicle was to be privately funded, but using technology produced by the X-33 program (SpaceDaily).


Having fallen far short of their business plan in terms of subscribers, the managers of the Iridium system are scrambling to maintain financing for the global communications network. Originally, managers had estimated that they would have 27,000 subscribers by May 31 of 1999, but my March 31 only 10,294 had signed on to the service. In the past months the company's stock has fallen from a high of $62.38 to its current price around $10 per share. In addition, two of its top executives have resigned. Motorola, which owns 18 percent of the company is facing a situation where they need to infuse between $1.5 and $2 billion into Iridium to keep it viable. In an effort to concentrate its resources resolving Iridium's problems, Motorola has pulled many of the 600 engineers it has assigned to the Teledesic project to work on Iridium. Iridium has received a 30 day extension on its loans -- until June 30 -- to prove to its lenders that meet certain customer revenue targets. The company plans to use the time to also restructure so as to avoid the possibility of declaring bankruptcy. The first two- month extension expired on May 28. It is hoped that Nippon Iridium Corp, the Tokyo-based local service provider will help boost personal subscriber and rental sales in Japan by offering handsets built in Japan by Kyocera. The Iridium communications system features 66 low earth orbiting satellites. The business venture needs to have 500,000 subscribers to break even (Reuters; Washington Post; SpaceNews).


OrbComm Global has announced that it will be working with OrbComm Ukraine on two programs to monitor environmental conditions around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. OrbComm monitoring equipment will be used to collect and transmit sensor readings from electrical water and radiation conditions in the Chernobyl zone. Installation is set for June with 24 hour a day monitoring to begin in July (OrbComm PR).


The Federal Communications commission has given the go-ahead for EchoStar to acquire 28 high-power direct-broadcast satellite transponders from MCI WorldCom. As a result, EchoStar obtains access to the last available full continental United States orbital slot at 110 degrees west longitude. Echostar plans on launching two satellites to the orbital slot this year so that it can provide up to 500 television channels for its subscribers. EchoStar has added over 100,000 customers to its client base for seven consecutive months. In exchange for the orbital property, MCI WorldCom and News Corp will get non-voting stock in EchoStar (Monica Hogan).



Following the May 21 passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of a plan to develop a limited anti-ballistic missile defense, Russia has accused the United States with destabilizing the world peace. Moscow pointed out that it would violate the 1972 Soviet - US Ballistic Missile Treaty. While the bill is aimed at protecting the US from threats such as North Korea, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated the passage "cannot be judged by anything but another step aimed at undermining the ABM treaty." The Russians fear that the passage will stimulate the creation and production of more sophisticated rockets -- sparking the new arms race. The bill which originated in the House has already passed through the Senate. The recent House vote approved changes made by the Senate. The bill now goes to the White House for the President's signature (AP).



The Orbital Sciences' Multiple Path Beyond Line- of-Sight Communications (MUBLCOM) satellite has successfully completed initial on-orbit testing of its systems. The 48 km satellite was launched into an 775 sun-synchronous orbit by an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket on May 17. The satellite will be used to test a new UHF system to link ground troops beyond line-of- sight using hand-held radios without the aid of ground-based gateways. The satellite was developed in cooperation with the US Army and DARPA. In addition to the military application, the system has potential for communications associated with disaster relief, forest fire fighting, police and Drug Enforcement operations (Orbital Sciences PR).



In a Senate Commerce and Science Committee meeting on May 20, Boeing Vice-President Gale Schluter, stated that Boeing has been quietly devoting "a significant private investment of funds on Reusable Launch Vehicle technology". This is the first time that Boeing has admitted to interest in RLV technology development. SpaceDaily sources reported that Boeing is working with its Rocketdyne division on potential engine designs for a future RLV system. Boeing is also working on a reusable crew return craft, the X-37, which features a lifting body. Schluter also reminded the Senate committee that the Shuttle is "an operational reusable space vehicle" (SpaceDaily).


A new type of artificial muscle has been developed using carbon nanotubes by Allied Signal. The technology utilizes billions of submicroscopic carbon fibers formed into sheets. When the electrolyte-filled sheets are connected to electric current, they react in a manner similar to muscle and can perform mechanical work. The new technology can work under low voltages and extremely high temperatures. While still in the early stages of development, the technology can be seen to have important applications in aerospace, automotive and medical applications. Artificial muscles have previously been achieved using plastics. The new technology is described in the May 21 issue of Science magazine (SpaceDaily).


Aeroflex Inc. announced that it has developed a low cost 4 Megabit SRAM for space applications. The UTXQ512 512 x 8 memory combines high reliability with moderate radiation tolerance. The company anticipates the introduction of a 4 M SRAM with enhanced radiation hardness within a year. Aeroflex is a subsidiary of UTMC Microelectronic Systems (SpaceDaily).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • May 29 - Discovery docks with the International Space Station.
  • May 30 - Atlas 2A, AC-137, GOES-L, pad 36A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • May 30 - Six hour spacewalk, International Space Station spacecraft, pad 17A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • June 3 - Discovery undocks from the International Space Station.
  • June 6 - Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center.
  • June 7 - Long March 2C/SD, Iridium replacement mission (2 satellites), Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China.
  • June 8 - Delta 2 (7420), Globalstar (4 satellites), pad 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • June 12 - Proton K, Raduga satellite, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • June 14 or 15 - Ariane 44P, flight 118, New Skies K-TV, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • June 16 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Astra-1H, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • June 18 - Titan 2, QuikSCAT, SLC-4 West, Vandenberg AFB.
  • June / July - Delta 2 (7920), flight 272, FUSE, Pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • July 7 - Inaugural flight Atlas 3A (AC-201), Telestar 7, Cape Canaveral.
  • Delayed - Delta 2 (7925), flight 270, NAVSTAR GPS 2R-3


Space is truly international this week with five nations represented in orbit. With the launch of the four men and three women on the Shuttle Discovery, the population of space has risen from the baseline of 3 on the Mir Space Station to a total of 10. The Shuttle contains five Americans, one Canadian and one Russian. The Mir station contains one French cosmonaut and two Russians. This marks the completion of 3543 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 190 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 by March of 2000.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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