Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #157

Frontier Status Report #157

July 2, 1999

Dale M. Gray

A quiet week on the frontier with no reported launches. However, the first captive carry flight of the X-34 was conducted. Iridium missed its second interest payment deadline and is busy trying to sell a new business plan to its creditors. The US scratches plans for Champollion cometary mission while ESA unveils their Rosetta comet mission.

Highlights of the week of July 2 include:

  • Galileo flies-by Calisto
  • First X-34 captive carry flight
  • Champollion comet mission canceled
  • Pratt & Whitney announce plans for RL50
  • New attempt to recover Grissom's capsule leaves port.


The Shuttle Columbia is on Launch Pad 39B being prepared for a July 20 launch of the STS-93 mission to deliver the Chandra X-Ray Observatory to orbit. The Chandra / Inertia Upper Stage payload was loaded into the cargo bay on June 27. The orbiter / payload Interface Verification Test occurred on June 30. Upcoming milestones include Flight Readiness review on July 8, aft compartment closeouts beginning on July 9 and closing of the payload doors in preparation of flight on July 17 (NASA).


Following the repairs to the battery charging system on-board the Zarya module by the shuttle Discovery crew, NASA and the Russian Space Agency began the semi-annual cycling of Zarya's six batteries this past week. The activity involves a full charge and full discharge cycle. However, during the discharge cycle one of the batteries stopped discharging and began to recharge. The battery conditioning activity has been discontinued until the problem can be understood (NASA; forum).

On the ground NASA has accepted the "keys" to the ZI truss structure which will be delivered to the Station in February 2000. The truss will be used to support an early set of solar arrays and future truss sections. The Acceptance Review Board has also accepted the Control Moment Gyros (NASA).

Managers have determined that the June 13 orbit debris avoidance problem was not due to incorrect mass properties and center of gravity data being loaded into the software after the recent supply mission of the Discovery Columbia. Media sources have reported that the command to fire the on- board thrusters to avoid the debris was beyond acceptable parameters and the station computer aborted the maneuver. While Dan Goldin in a letter to Congress stressed the mass and center of gravity change was not the cause of the failure, he did not cite an alternate cause. The event is still under review (NASA; Dan Goldin).

The station is in a 256 x 237 statute mile orbit with a period of 92 minutes. As of June 27, the station has completed 3,379 orbits since it was launched.


The Russians are trying yet another new tact to find funding to save their beloved Mir Space Station. Vitaly Sevastyanov, who is in charge of fund raising for the station, suggested during a radio interview that a share in the station be sold to a foreign country or organization. While there is currently no "Mir" stock, Sevastyanov mentioned China, India and Pakistan as potential customers. The purchase of the stock would allow the countries to send cosmonauts to the station to conduct research missions. Russia, without a doubt, would retain controlling interest in the station. Estimates for the cost to maintain the station for a year have been significantly lowered due to the rapid devaluation of the ruble. Earlier estimates placed the cost at $200 to $250 million (US), Sevastyanov now estimates that only $50 million will keep the station in orbit for a year (AP).


Orbital Sciences completed its first captive carry flight of the new X-34 rocket plane in a modified L-1011 aircraft on June 29. The flights, based out of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, will determine if modifications to the L-1011 have resulted in any hazardous conditions as required by the FAA for certification. The aircraft took off at 1:12 pm EDT with landing at 3:02 EDT. The flight was expected to last 2.5 hours, but a NASA F-18 chase plane accompanying the flight noticed a fuselage panel on the L-1011 behind the X-34 appeared to be vibrating and test officials decided to end the test. After this series of captive carry flights is concluded, testing will move on to unpowered drop tests and then powered tests using the Fastrac engine (NASA PR; Space Views).



NASA has officially canceled the $240 million Space Technology 4 (ST4) "Champollion" comet mission. The mission was scrapped to provide more money to cover overruns on other projects, additional Mars exploration and the emergency Hubble repair mission. The Champollion project is still in the early development stage and was to have launched in 2003 and arrive at Comet Temple 1 in late 2005 (AP).


In the wake of NASA's announcement canceling the Champollion cometary mission, the European Space Agency on Thursday unveiled a model of their own cometary mission. The Rosetta spacecraft is expected to reach comet Wirtanen on May 28, 2012. The spacecraft will then be placed into orbit around the comet at a mere 3,300 feet above its surface. It will then study the comet with 12 instruments as it approaches the sun. A month later, Rosetta will deploy a "harpoon" to secure itself to the comet. Wirtanen has a period of 5.5 years and was chosen because of its predictable behavior (ESA ; AP).

Mars Climate Orbiter

This past week the gyroscopes on the Mars Climate Orbiter were turned off and the craft placed in an "all-stellar" mode. The switch was the last engineering milestone to be achieved during the mission's cruise phase. The switch will save wear on the gyros and hopefully prolong their life. The Mars Climate Orbiter is now only 89 days from arrival on Mars on September 23 (NASA).

Mars Polar Lander

The Mars Polar Lander team successfully tested the master sequence of computer commands to control the spacecraft during its December 3 landing on Mars. The test, in a Lockheed Martin simulator, identified a few problems that will be corrected prior to the landing. The team is now conducting the first operational readiness test for entry, descent and landing. Images from the Mars Global Surveyor are now being utilized to fine-tune the landing site for the Polar Lander (NASA).


On June 30, the Galileo spacecraft passed within 1,047 km of the surface of Jupiter's moon Callisto. The pass was the second of four orbit changing passes involving the moon. These Callisto encounters are primarily designed to alter the spacecraft's orbit to bring it closer to Io, Jupiter's closest large satellite. However, the spacecraft will collect data during all four passes. While Galileo will pass within 127,000 km on Io later this week, closer encounters will not occur until late 1999. In December of 1995, Galileo passed within 900 km of Io, but the spacecraft was not taking pictures at the time ( NASA PR).


Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin has filed an initial application with the US FCC for broadcast spectrum and orbital slots for a Regional Positioning System. The system would be designed to provide a Wide Area Augmentation System to the existing GPS system. This would allow GPS to serve as the "backbone" of future air traffic navigation. The proposed RPS would be deployed in three global regions with initial service being provided to the Western Hemisphere. The service would then expand into a seamless global system as other regional customers commit to the service. In addition to providing information to ground controllers, the system would provide a high precision navigation signal to enable Category I Precision Approach landings in all weather conditions. The benefits would also extend to aircraft being able to fly in closer proximity, use more direct routes and thus decrease fuel consumption (SpaceDaily).

VDO North America

VDP North American's Audio Navigation System recently announced the introduction of its Carin 522 Interactive Navigation system. The system utilizes GPS signals supplemented with vehicle speed sensing, and an on-board gyroscope to provide accurate positional information even in areas shadowed from GPS signals. Directions are given on a monitor that can display either full color maps or directional pictograms showing upcoming intersections and where to turn. VDO's parent company is Mannesmann AG based out of Germany ( VDO North American PR).



The Iridium telecommunications company has once again failed to reach its subscriber base/ income goals. The company was given until the end of June to increase its subscriber base to 15,000. This did not occur. To create its 66 satellite telecommunications system, Iridium has spent about $5 billion dollars. Of that, about $3.02 billion was borrowed. A payment of interest on loans of $800 million was due on June 30. Another large interest payment on $1.45 billion is due on July 15. In the first three months of the year, the company reported a loss of $505 million with only $1.45 million in revenue. In April, Iridium only made $195,000 in cash revenues. To their credit the company recently sold $52 million worth of phones and calling services to the General Services Administration. In addition, the Defense Department Information Systems Agency recently signed up for $219 million in services. Iridium stock has lost 85 percent of its value in the last year. The company is negotiating with its creditors and is expected to announce it future plans on July 7. The company is expected to announce a third loan extension until August 15 (

Lockheed Martin

In a move to restore sagging profits, Lockheed Martin has announced that it will be shedding at least $1 billion in assets. The plans were presented to the Lockheed Martin Board of Directors on Friday. The review should be complete by September. Assets considered for sale include businesses involved in military-aircraft electronics, radar, cockpit displays and weapons-firing systems along with a business that makes automation equipment for the US Postal Service. Lockheed Martin is considering revamping its management structure to reduce overhead and improve communications. It is also seeking a non-aerospace partner for its recently formed global- telecommunications subsidiary (AP).


OrbComm has signed a reseller agreement with Hughes Global Services to deliver OrbComm's satellite services to the US Government. Hughes holds a GSA Federal Service contract for satellite-based services up to $100 million. Under the agreement Hughes will be able to resell to the Federal government Orbcomm services ranging from tracking remote assets, generation of data from remote sites and field communications services. The OrbComm system utilizes Low Earth Orbit satellites to transmit data from anywhere to anywhere on Earth (SpaceDaily). On June 23 OrbComm signed an agreement with European Datacomm Holding (EDC) to deliver OrbComm services to 60 countries and territories in sub-Saharan Africa. EDC plans to complete a gateway Earth station and a gateway control center by year's end. It is also obtaining necessary approval from participating countries. EDC plans to offer a wide range of services including utility resource management, fleet management, messaging, stolen vehicle recovery, home and field security, marine communications and monitory and tracking of locomotives and rail cars. OrbComm is a joint venture between Orbital Sciences Corp. and Teleglobe Inc. (OrbComm PR).


The Wireless Communications business unit of Magellan Corp has announced that the company has acquired approximately 13 percent of Wireless Link corporation. The move will combine the Magellan / Orbcomm satellite network with the Wireless Link's terrestrial-based cellular voice and control channel technologies. The move will create a seamless communications system for vehicle tracking and asset management, road-side assistance, security and other commercial and industrial applications (Magellan PR).



Pratt and Whitney, makers of engines ranging from lawnmowers to rockets, has announced that they are developing a new advanced high-performance liquid- hydrogen-fueled rocket engine. Designated the RL-50, the upper stage engine will be available for both domestic and international launch systems. The new engines will produce in excess of 50,000 pounds of thrust -- more than double the thrust of the RL-10 which is now in use with over 300 successful flights to its credit. The new engine development program will build on 36 years of RL-10 experience combined with recent technological advanced to produce a totally new engine using state-of-the-arts technology. The development is privately funded and is reported to be the first new liquid upper-stage engine development since the 1960s. The new engine is expected be commercially available by 2003 (Pratt & Whitney PR).


The University of Arizona at Tucson is developing a new breed of planetary rover called Biomorphic Robot with Distributed power (BiRoD). Instead of utilizing rotational energy to power wheels, the device uses thin wires and springs known as muscle wires to power legs. The advantages are many. The muscle wires response time is in the millisecond range and they can go through millions of cycles without failure. They are also light and strong -- capable of carrying 17,000 times their own weight. Because they do not have centrally distributed power, if one leg goes off-line during a field investigation, the BiRoD can continue to limp along to finish its task. The BiRoDs are also so small and light that it would take 25 to occupy the same volume and weight as that used by Mars Pathfinder. Current prototypes have two front legs and two unpowered rear wheels, but plans are in the works to replace the rear wheels with an additional set of legs. This will allow the BiRoD to walk over obstacles, turn within its own radius and do other maneuvers such as hopping that are impossible for wheeled rovers (SpaceDaily).


One of the hallmarks of an active frontier is the advent of new forms of pollution. Orbital debris has been in the news lately with the ISS debris avoidance problem suffered by NASA and the Russian Space Agency. However, bandwidth pollution has recently surfaced coming from space. Radio astronomers have had to cope with increasing "noise" coming from man-made objects. Two years ago the sun studying SOHO spacecraft was picked up by SETI teams searching for signs of extra terrestrial intelligence. More recently, the 66 satellite Iridium network has clouded the radio skies by transmitting a signal (1612 MHz) close to a frequency used by radio astronomers (1620 MHz). While a deal has been brokered between Iridium and the astronomers to provide observation windows, every week there are new satellites in the skies with literally hundreds waiting in the wings for launch. GlobalStar is well on its way to completing its 48 satellite constellation and Teledesic's 288 satellite system's first launch will occur in only two years. As our society moves into orbit, there will come a day when radio astronomers will have to pack their bags and move out of this polluted neighborhood. Perhaps it is time to begin planning the long awaited radio astronomy station on the far side of the Moon where it is nice and quiet (Frank Houston editorial).


Curt Newport has set sail again July 1 to try to recover the Liberty Bell 7 capsule from the Atlantic 300 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral. The capsule has been sitting on the ocean floor since July 21, 1961 when the door of the capsule inadvertently "blew" at the end of an otherwise successful mission. The open doorway allowed water to enter which sank the capsule. Grissom narrowly escaped drowning. An earlier expedition in May located and photographed the capsule three miles beneath the ocean's surface, but a cable connected to their recovery robot snapped in high seas. It took Oceaneering International Inc. five weeks to build a second recovery robot. Newport plans to first recover its first recovery robot and then attempt to salvage Gus Grissom's ill-fated capsule. Two ordinance experts will be on board the surface vessel to disarm an explosive navigation device that failed to detonate when the capsule sank. The costs of the second recovery attempt has doubled the cost for the multi million dollar recovery effort which is being funded by the Discovery Channel (AP).


Not all advances in the space frontier are necessarily good things for society. Just when you thought it couldn't get any more dangerous on the freeway, Hitachi has announced plans to start a digital satellite service that will allow cars to receive television signals! The service is slated to begin in 2002 utilizing three satellites. Hitachi expects to have 46 million subscribers to the 50 channel service by 2010. The project is expected to cost about $891 million (US) over the next 10 years. At a June 29 stockholder's meeting Hitachi was expected to add broadcasting to its business charter (Bloomberg News; CNET


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • July 6 - 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 19 - 30 - UNISPACE III, Vienna, Austria.
  • 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 14 - Delta 2 (7420), Globalstar (4 sats), pad 17B 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.
  • August 21 - Athena 2, Ikonos (previously Ikonos-2), SLC- 6, Vandenberg AFB.


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 3578 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 225 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin in March of 2000.

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