Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #154

Frontier Status Report #154

June 11, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Two launches of competing world-wide satellite telephone systems top the news for the week: four Globalstar satellites on a Delta 2 and two Iridium satellites on a Chinese Long March rocket. The Shuttle Discovery returned home safely after its visit to the International Space Station, pausing on its way home to launch a small student-built satellite. The much maligned THAAD system proves itself with its first successful interception. XM Satellite positions itself for the next "gold rush" in the sky.

Highlights of the week of June 11 include:

  • Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center
  • Delta 2 launches four Globalstar satellites
  • Long March launches two Iridium satellites
  • Russia officially announces end of Mir missions
  • THAAD system successfully intercepts rocket
  • Frontier Corner posted at


Having departed from the International Space Station on June 4, the Shuttle Columbia landed safely on Kennedy Space Center Runway 15 at 2:02 am EDT on June 6. Total elapsed mission time was 9 days, 19 hours and 13 minutes. Prior to reentry, the crew deployed the small student- built STARSHINE satellite. The satellite, with 900 external mirrors was observed in eastern North America soon after deployment. The next launch for Shuttle Discovery will be STS-103 slated for October 14 (NASA; SpaceViews).

A key element of the International Space Station was shipped via "Super Guppy" to Kennedy Space Center on June 11. The center truss segment (S Zero) was assembled by Boeing Reusable Space Systems at Huntington Beach. The 44 x 15 foot structure was sealed in plastic for the trip. When integrated with the Canadian Mobile Transporter, the truss will weigh 30,800 pounds. The S Zero is the center portion of a 10 element integrated truss that will eventually stretch to the length of a football field. Tracks along the truss will allow the 50 foot long robotic arm mounted on the Canadian Mobile Transporter to move up and down the truss. Wire and cables will be threaded through the truss to deliver electricity from solar panels along with data and control messages. The truss will also house control moment gyros, batteries, computers, radiators and antennas. The S Zero will be attached to the station in the Spring of 2001 (Boeing PR).


Having had its funds officially removed by Russia, the Mir Space Station is now preparing to find its own funding or literally die in the attempt. In response, a fund raising campaign was launched on June 9 to save the historic station. Famed cosmonauts and members of the lower house of Russian parliament Vitaly Sevastyanov and German Titov called on Russians to save the station by contributing to the fund. To date, Russian factories and businessmen from Libya and Iraq have contributed to the fund. Russia estimates that it will take about $250 million to keep the station aloft for a year. American groups such as the Frontier Foundation have also raised the cry of "Save Mir" (AP; Frontier Foundation).


Following the June 6 Main Engine test, the Shuttle Columbia was rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly building on June 7 (2:00 am EDT) and was in place at Launch Pad 39B by 10:00 am. The Chandra / Inertial Upper Stage end-to-end test was successfully completed June 8. The test involved communications and command testing from the Chandra' Operations Control Center in Cambridge, MA, Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system. Hotfire testing of APU's 1 and 3 were completed June 10. The Chandra / IUS combination will be placed in the transportation canister on June 18, moved to the launch pad on June 19 and placed in the cargo bay June 24. The July 22 launch date is currently under review because of past problems with the IUS (NASA).


A Delta 2 (7420-10) rocket was launched from Space Launch Complex 17B of the Cape Canaveral Air Station on June 10 at 9:48 EDT carrying four Globalstar satellites as payload. The rocket was configured with a RS-27A main engine with four Alliant Techsystem solid rocket motors strapped on. The second stage was a Aerojet AJ10-118K engine which fired twice to put the upper stage into the proper 1370 kilometers (851 miles) orbit for satellite separation (two additional burns maneuvered the second stage away from the satellites and then depleted the remaining fuel). The first pair of satellites separated at 69.5 minutes after launch and the second pair separated 73 minutes after launch. The Globalstar system now has 24 of a 48 satellite telecommunications constellation in orbit -- 32 satellites are necessary for the service to inaugurate commercial world-wide telephone service in September. Launch attempts on June 8 and 9 were scrubbed due to weather concerns. Boeing will be launching three more Delta 2 rockets this summer as part of the Globalstar deployment. An additional 12 satellites will be boosted to orbit by Soyuz rockets (Boeing PR; Reuters; Florida Today).


A Long March 2C rocket was launched June 11 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the northern Shanxi Province at 1:15 am local time (Friday afternoon EDT). The rocket was carrying two Iridium satellites which will be used as on-orbit spares (Florida Today).


The first commercial satellite to be launched on a Sea Launch rocket was announced June 8. A Hughes Space and Communications HS 601 HP satellite built for DirecTV will be the payload. The satellite, DirecTV 1-R will be delivered to geosynchronous transfer orbit by Sea Launch. It will then join DBS-2 and DBS-2 at the 101 degrees West longitude orbital slot. The launch is slated for later this summer. Sea Launch has firm orders for 15 launches. Sea Launch previously successfully launched a dummy payload into its planned orbit on March 27 from its floating launch pad located on the equator. The system utilizes a hybrid system of a converted Norwegian oil drilling platform used as a launch pad, Ukrainian Zenit- 3SL rockets (first and second stages), Russian Block DM upper stages and Boeing integration systems (Sea Launch PR).


An "all-up" ground test of the Roton Atmospheric Test Vehicle occurred on May 22 with a two-person crew. The Roton features helicopter-like rotors to slow the descent and landing of the single- stage-to-orbit vehicle. During the test the vehicle was tied down to prevent it from taking off. The test was brought to an end early when a sensor in the rotor failed. The craft is currently being inspected and checked by company engineers. A series of tie-down tests will be conducted --including a full-throttle test -- prior to low- level, low-speed flight tests. The ATV is not equipped with rocket engines (SpaceViews).

The company is reported to be in good financial health and apparently has sufficient funds to complete the flight test program. Applied Space Resources recently signed a letter of intent with Rotary Rocket Company to launch its Lunar Retriever I spacecraft on a Roton launch vehicle. The five-year letter begins in 2002. The Lunar Retriever is designed to return over 10 kg of lunar samples for use by scientists and for commercial sale (SpaceViews).


A Proton D-1-e rocket is being prepared for a June 18th launch from Baikonur. The rocket will carry the Astra 1H satellite for the Société Européenne des Satellites (SES) which will be placed in the 19.2 degrees east longitude orbital slot. This will be the fourth Astra launch on a Proton (Florida Today).



In an effort to pump up its subscriber numbers Iridium has announced that it will be cutting prices for its world-wide satellite telephone service. The new pricing plan, announced by Seven Seas Communications, Iridium's largest US distributor, charges a flat rate of $4.29 per minute for international calls and $1.79 per minute for calls in the US. Previously calls cost $6.00 per minute. Iridium phone sets, which debuted at $3,000 are now available for just over $2,000. Iridium has also stated that it will bulk up its sales force to counter poor sales linked to a lack of trained sales personnel. However, the Maryland-based Digital Communications has announced that it is cutting its association with Iridium and firing its Iridium sales force (Wired News).

XM Satellite Radio

Several new investors have announced that they have invested a total of $250 million in the digital-audio service provider XM Satellite. XM Satellite expects to deliver up to 100 channels of CD quality digital radio signals to automobiles across the US beginning in late 2000. Investors include General Motors ($50 million), GM Hughes Subsidiary DirecTV ($50 million), Clear Channel Communications ($75 million) and a private-investment group comprised of Columbia Capital, Telcom Ventures, and Madison Dearborn Partners ($75 million). XM Satellite's majority stockholder is American Mobile Satellite Corp. which recently purchased the remaining equity and debt interests held by WorldSpace Inc. DirecTV which will also provide billing and conditional access capabilities to the system will utilize channel capacity on the XM service for differentiated entertainment services. General Motors plans on installing AM/FM/XM radios in its cars and trucks (MCN; Reuters).


Satellite Circuit

The Swedish Hugin satellite set to be launched August 15 will feature a new type of attitude control system. The system will be controlled by a new board that uses analog electronics to mimic nervous systems of animals. Rather than an integration of subsystems, the approach concentrates on synergistic systems. The space craft will be equipped with 12 photodiodes that will detect UV radiation from the sun -- providing information to the main controller via the analog to digital converter. Traditional torque coil actuators and controllers will be used as back-up. The main body of the satellite is being constructed by the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, but the control systems were designed by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. If the experiment proves successful, the cheap and robust analog systems may be used in other satellites (EE Times).


Lunar A

Japan has once again delayed the launch of the Lunar A probe. Originally slated for launch in 1997, defective equipment has now pushed back the launch for at least three years. Two previous delays were due to mechanical problems. The mission which featured ground "penetrators", has most recently been set back because of failure of two of the penetrators during tests last year at White Sands, New Mexico. During the tests the pear-shaped penetrators cracked and destroyed measurement circuits. The launch of the mission is now slated for April 2002 at the earliest (AP).



Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed a bill this past week that authorizes the Florida Department of Transportation to seek grants and funding for commercial space projects in a manner similar to road and airport project. The bill redirects Kennedy Space Center sales tax revenues to space technology and research (Florida Today).



Engineers investigating the March 4 loss of the Wide-Field Infrared Explorer (WIRE) telescope have discovered what appears to be cause of the telescope's loss of coolant. An previously undocumented power up irregularity in a commercial integrated circuit produced by Actel Corp. caused a power surge lasting one fortieth of a second. The chip was not defective, rather behaved in a way not documented before. The unexpected behavior was not observed prior to launch by the University of Utah Space Dynamics Laboratory USU/SDL who built the telescope nor by NASA who built the spacecraft. The surge was sufficient to trigger the three explosive bolts that secured the cover of the telescope -- exposing WIRE's solid hydrogen cryostat to direct sunlight. This occurred before controllers had worked out an instability and had not yet oriented the craft away from the sun. As the hydrogen sublimated, the released gases caused further instability. Before the craft could be controlled the entire cryostat was exhausted. WIRE was to have investigated infrared light. The cryostat was necessary to lower the measuring instrument's temperature to -445 degrees F. so that WIRE's own infrared emissions would not obscure observations of distant objects. The WIRE spacecraft is currently under control and being used by NASA to study ways of controlling and maneuvering satellites. Its telescope is inoperable. The USU/SDL engineering team led by Harry Ames discovered the problem and documented it for future users of the integrated circuit (Utah State University PR).


The failed April 30 Titan 4 launch of an $800 million Milstar-2 satellite has been traced to faulty software. The software was inadvertently loaded into the upper stage's guidance control system. As a result, the stage utilized all available fuel prematurely -- leaving the satellite in a useless elliptical orbit with a high point of only 3,100 miles instead of a circular geostationary orbit at 22,300 miles. Investigators are now concentrating on how the software managed to be loaded without detection (Florida Today).


A team investigating the failed April 27 launch of the Ikonos 1 Earth-imaging satellite on a Lockheed Martin Athena rocket released its findings on June 8. The Lockheed Martin Anomaly Investigation Team suggested that the 1,143 pound payload fairing that failed to separate and subsequently dragged the spacecraft into the atmosphere because of a problematic electrical signal. Open circuits in redundant connectors were cited as the specific cause. The investigation is on- going (AP).



Proving the adage "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, and try again", the US Army's Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), proved it can hit a flying target. In the seventh test of the system on June 3, a THAAD missile struck a modified Minuteman (HERA) target missile in the skies over New Mexico. The missile was launched from a ranch north of White Sands. The THAAD missile then launched 120 miles to the south, intercepting the incoming missile seven minutes into the flight. The missile utilizes mass and velocity to destroy the moving target instead of explosives. The test demonstrated the successful integration of the various segments of the THAAD system: radar, Battle Management Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (BM/C4I), launcher and missile. Six more test flights remain in the planned program. When deployed, the system will be a robust, highly mobile system that will be used by military units and civilian population centers from ballistic missile attack. The THAAD system was designed and built by Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space with testing conducted by the US Army Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (AP; Lockheed Martin PR).


DeForest Kelley

DeForest Kelley, the gruff, but lovable doctor from the original Star Trek series died this past week as a result of an extended illness. Kelley, who is best known for his roll as Dr. Leonard McCoy was 79. When cast as "Bones" in the NBC series, Kelley was a successful supporting actor who tended to be cast as the "heavy" in westerns. His credits include "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" (1956); "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" and "Raintree County" (1957) and "Apache Uprising" (1966). He also played McCoy in six Star Trek sequel movies and made a guest appearance in the premier episode of "Star Trek, The Next Generation". Kelley is survived Carolyn Kelley, his wife of 55 years (AP).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • To be announced - Ariane 44P, flight 118, New Skies K-TV, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • June 17 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Astra-1H, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • June 18 - Titan 2, QuikSCAT, SLC-4 West, Vandenberg AFB.
  • June 23 (no earlier) - Delta 2 (7920), flight 272, FUSE, Pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • June 23 - 24 - First U.S. Space Tourism Conference, Washington, D.C.
  • June 26 - Proton K, Raduga satellite, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • June 26 - Atlas 2A, AC-137, GOES-L, pad 36A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • July 2 - Delta 2 (7420), Globalstar (4 satellites), pad 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • To be announced - Ariane 504, flight 119, Telkom-1 and Asiastar, ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • July 17 - Athena 2, Ikonos (previously Ikonos-2), SLC- 6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • July 22 - Space Shuttle Columbia, STS-93, Chandra X- ray Observatory, Pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.
  • August 15 - Sea Launch Zenit, DirecTV 1-R, equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • July -August - Inaugural flight Atlas 3A (AC-201), Telestar 7, Cape Canaveral.


With the landing of the Shuttle Discovery the space population has returned to its base-line of 3. The Mir station contains one French cosmonaut and two Russians. This marks the completion of 3557 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 204 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin in March of 2000.

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