Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #156

Frontier Status Report #156

June 25, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Two successful launches of American rockets top the week's news. A Russian cosmonaut breaks the record for time spent in orbit. Hughes inks deals with Intel and AOL. While Cassini passes a major mission milestone, two future planetary missions are threatened.

Highlights of the week of June 25 include:

  • Titan II launches QuikScat
  • Delta II launches FUSE
  • Boeing zeros in on Delta 3 failure cause
  • Cassini slingshots around Venus
  • Rotary Rocket tests ATV / rethinks propulsion system
  • X-34 ready for first captive carrier flight


The Chandra/IUS payload arrived at Launch Pad 39B at 3:50 am June 24 in preparation for its June 28 loading into Columbia's cargo bay. The crew of Collins, Ashby, Hawley, Coleman, and Tognini participated in the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test which concluded at 1 pm June 24 with a simulated main engine cutoff and emergency egress practice. An End-to- End test of the Chandra will be conducted to assure communication paths to the telescope are operational. The test commanded the telescope as if it were in orbit. The Flight Readiness Review is slated for July 8 with launch on July 20 (NASA).


Russia has begun a simulation of a long-term mission on the International Space Station. Beginning on June 25, a crew of four were sealed in two ground-based compartments based on the design of ISS. The crew will stay inside the simulation for 240 days, maintaining communication with Mission Control during a series of simulations that include emergencies and docking with spacecraft. The experiment is sponsored by European, Russian, Ukrainian, Canadian and Japanese space agencies and private companies (AP).

On June 28, the European Space Agency will open the International Space Station User Centre at Noordwijk, The Netherlands. The facility will enable scientists, engineers and businesses planning on using ISS to obtain information on access and use of the space station. Interactive, 3D virtual-reality simulations will enable them to explore the station on both the inside and the outside. The ESA laboratory module, Columbus, is expected to conduct several hundred experiments per year beginning in the second half of 2000 (ESA PR).


This past week Russian cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev, set a new record for most time spent in space by marking his 679th day in space. He surpassed Valeri Polyakov who previously held the cumulative record with 678 days, 16 hours, and 35 minutes in orbit. Polyakov still holds the single duration record at 438 days. By the end of his mission in August, Avdeyev will have chalked up more than two years of his life in orbit (Space Views).

The fund raising effort to keep Mir in orbit was given its official start when Cosmonaut Vitaly Sevastyanov, president of the Mir Preservation Fund, gave the equivalent of $40 to save the station during a press conference. The amount was quickly doubled when Vladimir Malyshev, a professor at the Moscow Aviation Institute, burst in with a contribution. While the foundation has been in existence for two months, paperwork problems have delayed its inauguration. The Fund hopes to raise $50 million to keep the station in orbit for a year (official estimates place the figure closer to $250 million). Russia is also considering use of the station to shoot part of the Yuri Kara movie "The Mark of Cassandra". The leading man, Vladimir Steklov, has already begun his cosmonaut training. Shooting the movie depends on acquisition of funding (AP; Reuters).

TITAN II / QuikScat

A Titan II rocket (23G-7) was successfully launched June 19 from Vandenberg AFB SLC- 4 West at 7:15 pm PDT. The two -stage, refurbished ICBM was carrying the 870 kg QuikScat, ocean-observing satellite. The first stage shut down about 2.5 minutes into the flight -- followed immediately by second stage ignition. At 3.5 minutes into the flight the fairing and nose cone jettisoned. Second stage shut down occurred at 5.5 minutes. Around 53 minutes into the launch the second stage vernier thrusters were employed to adjust the orbit. QuikScat was released 59 minutes into the flight into a 280 x 813 km x 98.7 degree elliptical orbit. Solar panels deployed normally with first signal received 78 minutes after launch. During the next 14 days the satellite will use numerous thruster firings to circularize and tune its polar orbit. The first cluster of five burns occurred on June 24. The scatterometer will be switched on 18 days into the flight and will be tested and calibrated for 12 days. Its science mission will begin about 30 days after launch (NASA; Jonathan's Space Report).

From its 800 kilometer high orbit circling the globe every 101 minutes, the Quick Scatterometer, or QuikScat will provide oceanographers with detailed snapshots of ocean winds. The information is expected to greatly improve weather forecasting and understanding of the El Niņo and La Niņa weather patterns. The satellite is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Earth Science. The $93 million QuikScat was the first to be procured under NASA's Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity program and was designed and built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies in just 12 months. The SeaWinds Scatterometer was built by JPL (NASA Headlines).


Delta II (7920), flight 272 was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station Pad 17A at 11:44 am EDT June 24 carrying the $120 million Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE). The launch of FUSE was delayed one day because work was running behind schedule. The 1,360 kg satellite separated from the second stage of the Delta rocket about 76 minutes after launch. The satellite was placed into a 768 km circular orbit with a 100 minute period with solar panels extended and properly oriented toward the sun. The satellite will now begin a two week testing and calibration period (NASA; Orbital Sciences PR).

This was the first use of the two stage, three solid rocket booster version of the Delta II rocket that is equipped with a 10 foot fairing. The rocket's first stage, a RS-27A engine was assisted by three Alliant Techsystem graphite epoxy booster motors. The second stage engine was built by Aerojet. The upper-stage engine was built by Cordant Technologies (Boeing PR).

It is one of a series of Medium Light launches for NASA. The satellite bus was developed by Orbital Sciences while the observatory developed by a collaboration of agencies, universities and corporations led by The Johns Hopkins University. The satellite will collect data in the far ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to study the chemical remnants of the Big Bang (Florida Today; NASA).


The fourth launch of the Ariane 5 rocket has been postponed to late July or early August. The launch, originally slated for April and then June, has been repeatedly delayed by problems with the satellite payloads. The rocket will be carrying AsiaStar and Telkom-1 satellites. The latest slip is due to problems with the shipment of the AsiaStar satellite. This will be the first fully commercial launch of the Ariane 5 system. The delay will probably push the fifth flight of the Ariane 5 beyond the turn of the year (SpaceDaily).


Orbital Sciences is preparing to begin captive carry flights of the new X-34 rocket plane in a modified L-1011 aircraft. The flights will determine if modifications to the L- 1011 have resulted in any hazardous conditions. This is required to receive FAA certification. Previously, the L- 1011 aircraft was used by Orbital Sciences to launch Pegasus rockets. The 59 foot long X-34 structural test vehicle that is being used was built for vibration and captive carry flights and not for free-flight. The captive carry first flight is slated for June 29 at 11 am EDT from Dryden Flight Research Center, California. Once the L-1011/X-34 flight configuration has proven to be stable and safe, a program of drop test and flight test will proceed. The two flight vehicles that will be used are now under construction by Orbital Sciences. They will be powered by the new Fastrac rocket engine being developed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA).


The Zefiro engine was successfully test fired for the second time on June 17 at Salto di Quirra launch range in Sardinia, Italy. The engine test is part of the Vega small launcher development program of Vegaspazio, a joint venture between FiatAvio and Aerospatiale. The 16 ton Zefiro solid propellant motor is 4 meters long and 1.9 meters in diameter and will serve as the second stage of the Vega launch system. The Vega will consist of three solid fuel rocket stages and a liquid fueled upper stage. The first stage will be based upon the Ariane 5 solid booster with a reduced propellant mass (85 tons as opposed to the original 230 tons). With a capability of placing a 800 kg payload in a 1200 km polar orbit, the system's first launch from Kourou is slated for the end of 2002. Because the rocket is designated for only governmental and military payloads, Aerospatiale Matra recently announced at the Paris Air Show that it would not increase its financial stake in Vega beyond the initial 15 million euros ($15.7 million US). The system also faces final approval by ESA in October of 1999 (ESA PR; Space News).


Investigations in the Delta 3 RL-10 upper stage anomaly have focused on two unexplained shocks 4.5 seconds after the first ignition and 3.5 seconds into the second ignition. The problem can be explained by several scenarios -- the most likely a breach in the engine combustion chamber resulting in an explosive event. The turbo machinery only operated several milliseconds after the second shock. Investigations are continuing to reveal the root cause of the loss of the thrust chamber. Boeing recently expressed interest in Pratt & Whitney's plan to phase out the RL-10 with a more powerful RL-50 engine beginning in 2006. Boeing has firm customers for Delta 3 launches beginning this fall (Boeing PR; Space News).



The Cassini space craft has successfully completed its second fly-by gravity boost using the planet Venus. On June 24, the spacecraft passed within 600 km (370 miles) of the surface of Venus and is now on course for its August 17 fly-by of Earth. Cassini will use both Earth and Jupiter (December 30, 2000) to speed its journey to Saturn (July 1, 2004). The spacecraft was launched on October 15, 1997. The mission is a joint effort of NASA, the Italian Space Agency and the European Space Agency which provided the Huygens probe which will parachute to Saturn's moon Titan (NASA Headlines; NASA Cassini Site).

Mars Express

The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with Starsem to provide launch services for the Mars Express mission. The first European mission to Mars will be launched on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome during a launch window that extends from June 1, 2003 to June 11, 2003. When Mars Express reaches the red planet in December of 2003, it will release the Beagle II lander (if funded) before it begins mapping the planet, searching for water and studying the crust. Starsem is a joint partnership between Aerospatiale, Arianespace, the Russian Space Agency and the Samara Space Centre (SpaceDaily).


NASA may cut two planetary missions as a result of $1 billion in proposed budget cuts. The Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander and the Space Technology 4 (ST4) "Champollion" comet mission are threatened by the cuts. Both missions are currently on-time and on-budget, but have experienced problems in the past year (Space Views).


Rotary Rocket

The Roton Rotary Rocket Atmospheric Test Vehicle completed the second ground test on June 23. The test, with a two person crew on-board lasted seven minutes. The previous test on May 22 was cut short when an RPM sensor failed (Antelope Valley Press).

Citing a need to assure the completion of an excess of $900 in satellite delivery orders, Rotary Rocket has made an abrupt change in its core engine technology. The company will now use the NASA Fastrac rocket engine instead of its own rotary RocketJet engine system. The Fastrac engine is slated for first use in the X-34. In the Rotary Rocket, the engine will be arranged in a cluster of eight to provide the necessary 500,000 pounds of thrust. The company retains plans to incorporate its revolutionary engine in future Roton space vehicles. Rotary Rocket Co has recently reorganized as a result of these changes. On June 18 Rotary Rocket laid off 20 of its employees not working directly on the Atmospheric Test Vehicle (Roton ATV). Rotary Rocket has been in negotiations with British businessman Richard Branson for additional funding. The lay-offs are seen by some as a sign that Branson waved-off on financing development of the Rotary Rocket engine. Flight testing of the approach and landing for the ATV is on-going at the Roton Mojave facility (SpaceDaily; SpaceViews; Antelope Valley Press).


On June 21, Iridium unveiled its new marketing strategy which will feature lower and simpler pricing of their global satellite-based telephone service. International calls will now be charged at a flat rate. Motorola and Kyocera have also dramatically reduced the wholesale price of Iridium-based products including handsets, pagers and accessories. Iridium and its associates will also embark on new marketing and sales strategies (Iridium PR).

Iridium announced on Tuesday, June 22, that it was terminating a contract to purchase Claircom Communications from AT&T Corp and Rogers Cantel. The deal announced in December was reported to be worth $65 million. The move is reported to be the result of Iridium's slow growth and not a reflection on Claircom (Reuters).


America Online (AOL) announced this past week that it would be investing $1.5 billion in Hughes Electronics in its attempt to create a high-speed connection alternative to cable networks. AOL has been shut out by the cable TV giants. The satellite solution would allow AOL to extend coverage on a national level and would not be limited to cable infrastructure. Projections indicate that in five years a third of the country will still not have cable Internet capability. While AOL has been considering joining forces with DirecTV and DirecPC for several months, details only recently surfaced. AOL Plus broadband service will begin satellite services early next year. The Hughes/ AOL combination is seen as a way to pre-build the Spaceway's customer base. DirecPC is expected to transition its customers to SpaceWay once the service is available in 2002 (CNET News;


Hughes Electronics and Intel Corp announced June 21 that they would join forces to provide Internet services and programming. Intel announced an equity investment in the Hughes Network Systems' Skystream satellite Internet system. The production of digital satellite set-top products will be based on Intel Architecture microprocessors (Intel Pentium MMX chip) along with other Intel and Hughes Network Systems technologies. The first product will be the AOL TV satellite receiver. Intel is also involved with several cable and Digital Subscriber Line services seeking broadband Internet connections for consumers (Reuters; CNET News).


In a competitive move against DirecTV and the cable networks, EchoStar has dropped the price of its new high-end satellite TV receiver by 60 percent. When the new TV receiver hits stores next month, it will be temporarily priced down from $499 to $199 (until September 30). EchoStar will also create bundles of interactive data channels beginning this fall. The move is part of EchoStar's positioning to expand its services beyond television products. EchoStar has had a banner year with monthly gains of over 100,000 for each of the past seven months.


Plasma Thrusters

The Critical Design Review of the SPT- 14- Hall Effect thruster and the Planning Design Review for its associated Power Processing Unit have been competed by Atlantic Research Corp (ARC). The work is being conducted under contract with the USAF Research Laboratory through the Integrated High Payoff Rocket Propulsion Technology (IHPRPT) program. The thruster was designed and developed by the Experimental Design Bureau Fakel of Kaliningrad, Russia. A high performance 4.5 kW Hall thruster is now under construction while a 2.3 kW high specific impulse Hall thruster is being developed by ARC, the USAF and NASA Glenn Research Center. Since 1971, over 100 Fakel-built Hall thrusters have flown in space (SpaceDaily).

Asteroid Search

The 1.2 meter Oschin telescope at the Palomar Mountain Observatory has been retrofitted with a new computerized pointing system and an electronic camera. The modernization is part of a program to utilize the facility in NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) system. NEAT currently uses the 1 meter telescope on Mt. Haleakelaon Maui, Hawaii. The Palomar telescope will allow searchers to peer 20 percent farther with a field of view 10 times wider. NASA hopes in the next ten years to chart all asteroids with a diameter greater than 1 kilometer that cross Earth's orbit. It is estimated that there are between 1,000 and 2,000 asteroids in this category, but only 20 percent of that number have been recorded to date (NASA PR).


Satellite Home Viewer Act

The leaders of the US House of Representatives announced the names of 11 Representatives that will serve on the Joint Senate/House conference committee that will finalize legislation on the Satellite Home Viewer Act. They are Tom Bliley (R, Va.), Billy Tauzin (R, La.), Mike Oxley (R, Ohio), John Dingell (D, Mich.), Ed Markey (D, Mass.), and to work on limited sections of the bill, Rick Boucher (D, Va.), Henry Hyde (R, Ill.), Howard Coble (R, N.C.), Bob Goodlatte (R, Va.), John Conyers (D, Mich.) and Howard Berman (D, Calif.). The Representatives will join with eight Senators previously appointed: Mike DeWine (R-Ohio); Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.); Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.); Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); John McCain (R-Ariz.); Ted Stevens (R- Alaska); and Strom Thurmond, (R-S.C.) (

Spaceport Investment Act

The Spaceport Investment Act, which would tax excempt financing for US spaceport construction and improvement was introduced in the House and Senate on June 17. The Act is intended to modernize the nation's launch infrastructure (Space News).



Nilesat SA, the Egyptian TV satellite operator, signed a launch agreement with Arianespace for Nilesat 102 for the middle of 2000. The 1,800 kg Nilesat 102 will be built by Matra Marconi Space and will be positioned at 7 degrees West where it will provide over 100 channels of television for the Arab Gulf countries. Matra Marconi Space also built Nilesat 101 which was launched on Arianespace Flight 108 on April 28, 1998 (Arianespace PR).


The June 18, Frontier Status stated that "the upper stage used in the Atlas 2 is the same as the one that failed during a May flight of a Delta 3 rocket". While the upper stages use the same Pratt & Whitney RL-10 engine, there are significant differences between the Boeing and Lockheed Martin built upper stages. Lockheed Martin is currently working to get their upper stage cleared for flight based on the differences between the two systems (Mike Lockwood).


Deep Space 1

Discover Magazine this past week announced the ion engine used on the Deep Space 1 mission as the 1999 winner for Technical Innovation in the exploration category. This is the 10th year that the magazine has honored teams whose technical innovations have improved the quality of everyday life. The July issue of the magazine honors the Solar Electric Propulsion Technology Application Readiness (NSTAR) program team, which developed and delivered Deep Space 1's ion propulsion system. While the ion engine produces only a small level of thrust, it can be run for long periods of time and is 10 times more efficient than conventional rocket systems (NASA).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • Unknown - Proton K, Raduga satellite, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • July 8 - Delta 2 (7420), Globalstar (4 satellites), pad 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • July 15-16 - Lunar Base Development Symposium, League City, Texas.
  • 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.
  • July 24 - Space Shuttle Columbia landing at Kennedy Space Center.
  • July 31 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM (8 satellites), Kwajalein Missile Range.
  • 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 3571 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 218 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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