Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #155

Frontier Status Report #155

June 18, 1999

Dale M. Gray

One launch headlines the news this week: A Russian-built ILS Proton rocket placed an American-made communications satellite into orbit for a Luxembourg-based telecommunications company. The ISS had a wake-up call when a debris avoidance command accidentally paralyses the station. The Chandra Observatory is prepared for placement into Columbia's payload bay. CD Radio challenges XM Satellite in the "gold rush" in the sky.

Highlights of the week of June 18 include:

  • ISS controllers botch avoidance maneuver
  • Proton launches Astra 1H satellite
  • SES /Eutelsat dispute resolved
  • CD Radio signs Ford Automotive
  • Sea Launch signs four more payloads
  • Iridium downsizing its workforce


On June 16, the Payload Readiness Review for Chandra and its Inertial Upper Stage was concluded -- clearing the way for their installation in the Shuttle Columbia's payload bay. The combined telescope and booster stage were placed into its launch canister on June 18. The transfer to the pad has been delayed slightly due to the failure of a roller associated with the telescope payload ground handling mechanism. The canister will be moved to the launch pad on June 22 and installed in the payload bay on June 25. On June 17 the launch team completed the fourth of six launch and activation simulations. Columbia with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory will be launched no earlier than July 20 (NASA).


The International Space Station had its first reality check last week-end when a routine maneuver to avoid orbiting debris turned into an emergency. The situation began on June 12 when the US Space Command informed NASA that a Russian rocket stage would pass within 1 kilometer of the space station. The information was then relayed to the Russian ground station who ordered the station's thrusters activated to move the station away from the debris. However, instead of firing, the on-board computers rejected the command and shut down the station's guidance control system. The problem was a faulty command that would have fired one of Zarya's engine's longer than is permitted and the on-board computer correctly canceled the burn. ISS made one orbit without the guidance system before it could be restored to function. Ultimately, the space junk passed 7 kilometers from the non-responsive station. Had the station been occupied, the crew would have been able to quickly remedy the situation. The station is currently in a 254 x 238 statute mile orbit with a period of 92 minutes. The station has completed 3,250 orbits since launch (Florida Today; NASA).


While Russia appears to be going ahead with plans to abandon the Mir space station in August, a new mission has been announced that would place a new crew on Mir in December of this year. During the interim, the station would be placed in automatic mode. Experts outside of Russia were reported to be shocked at such a plan. The Mir station has proved to require high maintenance with frequent breakdowns of systems -- including the position control computer. After being left untended for several months, the station could be tumbling out of control with batteries drained which would make it impossible for a crew to dock. The Russian plan would utilize one last crew to prepare the station for its reentry into the atmosphere. Control of reentry of the 100 ton station is essential since much of the station could survive to impact Earth's surface. Control would assure the station reenters in the remote South Pacific. Should the mission extend until the International Space Station is occupied, then the Russians would regain the honor of beginning the permanent occupation of space (BBC).


An International Launch Services Proton D-1-e rocket was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome June 18th at 9:49:30 pm EDT (June 17 in US) at the opening of a 10 minute launch window. The rocket carried the Astra 1H satellite for the Société Européenne des Satellites (SES) of Luxembourg. The first three stages of the rocket placed the satellite into a 179 x 215 km orbit inclined at 51.6 degrees. Seventy-four minutes after launch the Blok DM upper stage pushed the satellite into a 35,840 km apogee orbit. A second firing six hours and twenty minutes after launch raised the perigee to 7,450 km and changed the inclination to only 16.35 degrees. Release of the satellite came soon after the end of the second Blok DM firing at 6 hours 43 minutes after launch. The satellite will utilize five activations of its apogee motor to raise its orbit to geostationary at the 19.2 degrees east longitude orbital slot. Antennas and solar panels will be deployed 11 days into the mission. Astra 1H is expected to be operational in about five weeks. This was the fourth Astra launch on a Proton (Florida Today; SES PR; Hughes PR).

The Astra 1H satellite built by Hughes Space and Communications is the world's first commercial Ka-band communications satellite. The HS 601 HP satellite carries 30 transponders with a Traveling Wave Tube output power of 98.5 Watts in Ku-band and 70 Watts in Ka-band. The innovative payload features 8 uplink Ka-band channels and two active Ka-band downlink channels. The satellite is powered by gallium arsenide solar cells rated at 6.6 kilowatts and a 28 cell nickel hydrogen battery. It is equipped with the efficient Xenon Ion Propulsion System (XIPS) and features two advance technology antenna. The satellite weighed 3,690 pounds at launch and has a designed life of 15 years. The satellite will provide Direct-to-home service for SES which currently has about 75 million subscribers (SES PR; Florida Today).

TITAN II / QuikScat

A Titan II rocket is prepared to launch June 19 from Vandenberg AFB at 7:15 pm PDT. The rocket will be carrying NASA's QuikScat, ocean-observing satellite. From its orbit of 800 kilometers, the Quick Scatterometer, or QuikScat will provide oceanographers with detailed snapshots of ocean winds. The information is expected to greatly improve weather forecasting. The launch was moved from June 18 to give technicians an extra day to resolve a possible telecommunications problem on the Titan II. Noisy data was discovered coming from an inertial measurement unit on the Titan rocket during a system checkout test June 15 (NASA PR).


While preparations for the maiden flight of the new Atlas 3 rocket are moving forward for a tentatively scheduled August 17 launch, the rocket may be losing its satellite payload. Concerns over the upper stage used in the Atlas 3 have lead Loral Space & Communications to consider moving their Telestar 7 television satellite to an Ariane 4 rocket. The upper stage used in the Atlas 3 is the same as the one that failed during a May flight of a Delta 3 rocket. The situation is expected to be resolved by early July. The Atlas 3 has five booked flights -- three for Loral and two for the Pentagon. The Atlas 3 can carry nearly 5 tons to geostationary orbit, a full ton more than the Atlas 2. The increase will allow the Atlas to compete with the Delta 3, Ariane 4 and Proton rockets. It will also serve as a bridge to the Atlas 5 which is now in development (Florida Today).


Sea Launch

Following last week's announcement of their first commercial launch scheduled for August 15, this week Sea Launch announced that they had received a confirmed order for four satellite launches from Hughes Space and Satellite. With the four launches slated for between 2001 and 2003, Sea Launch now has a back-log of 19 launches (Sea Launch PR).


On June14, Iridium announced that it had laid off 15 percent of its work force 550. The move is part of the company's reorganization efforts to meet its fiscally challenging position. The news triggered a further drop in the company stock price to a new low of just over $5 per share. The company's creditors have given Iridium until June 30 to increase its subscriber base to 27,000. The Wall Street Journal reported that Iridium has only 15,000 users. This figure could not be confirmed by Iridium spokeswoman Michelle Lyle (Reuters).

CD Radio

Public Radio International (PRI) announced June 7 that it has entered an agreement with CD Radio to develop a 24-hour per day cannel of public radio news for broadcast on the CD Radio satellite system beginning in the fall of 2000. PRI cited CD Radio's capability of reaching audiences not presently served by PRI. Programming will be developed in cooperation with public radio stations and independent producers nation-wide. CD Radio plans to launch its 100 channel digital satellite radio system in the fall of 2000 (PRI Web site).

Ford Motor Co. and CD radio announced June 15 that they had formed an alliance in which Ford will install CD radio receivers in its new vehicles starting in the first quarter of 2001. CD Radio plans to offer its CD quality satellite radio broadcast for a monthly subscription rate of $9.95. In addition Ford will have access to individually-addressed bandwidth and CD Radio will work to develop programming exclusively for Ford customers (AP).

Current estimates for the satellite-radio market indicate a potential market of $2 billion a rear with 21.5 million subscribers. With agreements in place with Ford (CD Radio) and GM (XM Satellite), satellite-radio could provide additional post-sales revenues for car makers who would receive a portion of the monthly service fees. The potential of the new technology is not lost on terrestrial based radio stations. Clear Channel Communications which owns 625 radio stations has invested in XM Satellite. With 70 percent of radio listening being conducted in cars and trucks, radio stations hope their local information will counter the threat of the new technology (Gregory L. White and John Lippman WSJ Interactive Edition).


Orbital Sciences

On June 14, Orbital Sciences announced the successful testing of an advanced, low-cost upper stage rocket engine at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The engine was developed for the Upper Stage Flight Experiment program -- a joint endeavor with NASA and the USAF. The engine was static fired for 140 seconds, demonstrating the ability to generate 10,000 pounds of thrust. The engine will next be outfitted with flight components which include avionics, thrust vectoring and advanced propellant tank structures to create a full-scale rocket stage. Test flight for the engine is slated for late 2001 at the Kodiak Island commercial spaceport in Alaska. The engine will be used in a variety of reusable launch vehicles and space planes (Orbital Sciences PR).


A long-running dispute between the Societe Europeenne des Satellites (SES) of Luxembourg and Eutelsat treaty organization was announced June 8. The dispute revolves around the use of the Ku-band frequencies utilized from several key orbital slots above Europe. Under terms of the agreement existing and planned satellites of the SES and Eutelsat constellations will not interfere with each other. The agreement will allow both SES and Eutelsat to expand their orbital business (SpaceNews).


Defense Authorization Bill

National defense and commercial space are at odds again in legislation now under consideration by the US Senate. A recent amendment to the 1999 Defense Authorization bill would give the Department of Defense "super primary" status on any spectrum it shares with commercial systems. To give the amendment teeth, there are stiff penalties for any commercial interference with DOD usage of the frequency. The US military has cited advances in technology that necessitate the reservation of bandwidth. Such technologies include anti-stealth and portable mine detection radar, integrated aircraft avionics, and secure, high-capacity communications. The legislation is being contested by a coalition that includes the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association, Satellite Industry Association and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. Representatives of the coalition are urging legislators to alter the language of the amendment. The coalition will also meet next week with the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to consider adapting the present spectrum management process to meet fair sharing and interference requirements (

US House

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Cal.) announced June 10 that he and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) will work on a bill to extend the US Dept. of Transportation's authority to exempt certain commercial launch and re-entry activities from lawsuits stemming from incidents involving expendable launch systems. Without the bill, DOT's authority will expire at the end of 1999 (SpaceNews).


EchoStar IV

The FCC has granted EchoStar a Special Temporary Authority to relocate EchoStar IV from its position at 148 degrees West Longitude to 110 degrees West Longitude to begin broadcasting DISH network programming. The satellite will remain in place until EchoStar V satellite is launched later this year. When EchoStar V is operational at 110 degrees, EchoStar IV will be moved back to 148 degrees where it will resume niche and local channels. When combined with the two EchoStar satellites at 119 degrees W. L., the DISH network will be able to offer over 500 channels of programming to subscribers utilizing a single dish (Business Wire).


Because of launch failure investigations, the planned launch of the GOES-L satellite has been delayed and the satellite de-mated from its Atlas IIA rocket. The satellite is being returned to Astrotech, its manufacturer, for reconditioning. The satellite has been attached to the Atlas on Launch Pad 36 since May 6. Astrotech will recondition the batteries and purged the satellite with gaseous nitrogen to prevent degradation. After launch constraints are resolved, the launch countdown will resume at T-20 days. Once launched, GEOS-L will act as an on-orbit replacement for either GEOS-8 or GEOS-10 which are now monitoring weather above the east and west coasts of America respectively (NOAA & NASA PR).


The 12 year old GOES-7 weather satellite has started a new career as a communications satellite as part of the PEACESAT system. The PanPacific Education and Communications Experiment by Satellite is a public service communications network for educational institutions regional organizations and governments in the Pacific Islands. PEACESAT will provide maintenance for the satellite while National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will continue to provide engineering. GEOS-7 was launched on February 26, 1987 to help NOAA by measuring wind direction and speed and relayed a variety of weather-related data from rain gauges, seismometers, tide gauges, buoys, ships and automatic weather stations. These tasks are now handled by two newer GEOS satellites. GEOS-7 will be moved west to a position southwest of Hawaii to fulfill its new role (AP).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • June 19 - Titan 2, QuikScat, SLC-4 West, Vandenberg AFB.
  • June 23 - 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.
  • July 8 - Delta 2 (7420), Globalstar (4 satellites), pad 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • July 16 - Atlas 2A, AC-137, GOES-L, pad 36A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • July 17 - Athena 2, Ikonos (previously Ikonos-2), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • July 20 - Space Shuttle Columbia, STS-93, Chandra X-ray Observatory, Pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.
  • July 24 - Delta 2 (7420), Globalstar (4 satellites), pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 15 - Sea Launch Zenit, DirecTV 1-R, equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • August 17 - Inaugural flight Atlas 3A (AC-201), Telestar 7, Cape Canaveral.


The space population is at its base-line of 3. The Mir station contains one French cosmonaut and two Russians. This marks the completion of 3564 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 211 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin in March of 2000.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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