Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #158

Frontier Status Report #158

July 9, 1999

Dale M. Gray

A failed Proton launch tops the week's news. Fallout from the failure has clouded the future of both the Mir space station and the International Space Station. Kazakstan has closed the Baikonur Cosmodrome until the cause of the failure and other issues are resolved. The Russia did manage to launch another communications satellite successfully from Plesetsk. A Delta 2 launch of four Globalstar satellites was delayed due to unfavorable winds aloft. The X-38 was successfully drop tested with a new high-speed drogue chute. The space frontier lost a champion this week with the death of Pete Conrad.

Highlights of the week of July 9 include:

  • Proton rocket fails; Baikonur closed during probe
  • X-38 dropped from 31,000 feet.
  • Molniya launched from Plesetsk
  • Two new Discovery Missions announced
  • Mir springs a small leak
  • July Frontier Corner on line at


The launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia carrying the $1.5 billion Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the first woman Shuttle commander was cleared by NASA for July 20. The commander will be USAF Col. Eileen Collins who has two previous shuttle missions to her credit and was NASA's first Shuttle pilot (NASA; Florida Today).

The "end-to-end" test of the Chandra Observatory was successfully concluded on July 3. The test verified communication links to Chandra in a configuration as if it were in space on Columbia. The flight batteries for the observatory were put in place over the weekend. On July 5- 8, the IUS flight readiness test was conducted. The test included loading flight software and calibrating the inertial measurement unit. The thrust vector control system was also tested. The IUS flight batteries were installed on July 7. Payload bay doors are slated to be closed on July 17 with launch of Columbia on July 20 (NASA PR).


This past week Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space delivered the first of two Solar Array Rotary Joints (SARJ) and the second of two Thermal Radiator Rotary Joints (TRRJ) to Boeing at Tulsa, Oklahoma. The components will be integrated into other flight hardware before shipping to the Kennedy Space Center for delivery to the International Space Station. Each SARJ is 10.5 feet in diameter and 40 inches long -- said to be the largest mechanisms designed to date to operate in space. Once installed on the station they will maintain optimal orientation to the sun for solar arrays to assure maximum power generation. Drive motors in the SARJ will rotate the arrays at four degrees per minute through 360 degrees of motion. The TRRJ are four feet long and four feet in diameter. These joints are designed to keep the station's thermal radiators edge-on to the sun to maximize the dissipation of waste heat.

The station is currently in a 254 x 238 statute mile orbit with a period of 92 minutes. As of July 5, the station had completed 3,250 orbits (Lockheed Martin PR).


Earlier this week an air leak was detected on the Mir space station. A small drop in air pressure was detected, but officials stated that there was sufficient oxygen on-board to compensate for the leak. The drop in pressure was originally suspected to be the result of lower temperatures in one of the modules, but is now thought to be a slow leak through a faulty vacuum valve or cracks in the hull from metal fatigue. The crew of cosmonauts Viktor Afanasyev, Sergei Avdeyev and French astronaut Jean-Pierre Heignere are not expected to be affected by the problem other than closing internal hatches and keeping an eye on pressure monitors (AP).

The station is also facing a possible water shortage due to a recent ban on launches from Baikonur. The Kazak Aerospace Agency has stated that "not a single launch" will be made until the cause of the recent Proton rocket failure is determined. A Progress supply vessel was slated for launch in the coming week from the Kazakstan space port. Russian space officials hope to gain clearance for launch within a week. If the Progress is not launched, Russian cosmonauts will be forced to cancel a planned July 23 spacewalk to retrieve external equipment and could be forced to return to Earth (AP).


The fourth free-flight of the X-38 test vehicle occurred July 9 at Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. The second (Vehicle 132) of three prototypes was carried aloft by a B-52 aircraft to an altitude of 31,500 feet. The X-38 conducted three previous flights between March 12, 1998 and March 5, 1999. The flights were temporarily suspended until a new drogue chute which could handle higher speeds could be designed and constructed. The drop tests will continue for the next three years with altitudes increasing up to 45,000 feet. In 2001, an unpiloted X-38 will be carried into space by the Space Shuttle to demonstrate the vehicle's capability of carrying a crew safely to Earth from orbit (NASA Dryden PR).


A Russian Proton-K rocket was launched at 9:32 am EDT on July 5 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The powerful three stage rocket was to deliver the Russian Raduga military communications satellite using the new Briz-M upper stage motor. Engineers reported loss of contact with the spacecraft at 280 seconds after launch -- initially reporting that the problem was with the satellite. Deviations from the planned trajectory were seen by ground tracking stations at 330 seconds. By 390 seconds after launch, the spacecraft was 14 km below planned trajectory. The upper stages and payload were tracked to impact 1000 km from the launch site. An 80 ton rocket fragment was reported as landing six miles from the town of Salamalkol in central Kazakstan with a 440 pound fragment landing in a garden in a nearby village. No casualties were reported. Early indications point to a rapid chain reaction failure spreading through the second stage engines. The new Briz-M upper stage was destroyed without firing. This is the 95th Proton launch in the last 10 years. The system has a 92 percent reliability average for the last 50 flights (Flatoday; AP; ILS PR; Reuters).

While Russia originally stated that the rocket crashed in remote Russia, subsequent reports have confirmed a Kazakstan impact. Kazakstan has suspended all flights from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. In addition to the hazard of falling debris, the Kazak government is concerned over the possibility of pollution from the toxic rocket fuel. The relationship between Russia and Kazakstan is already strained over Russia's continued use of Baikonur despite having never paid any of the $115 million annual lease payments -- they are presently $300 in arrears. Russia maintains that the lease payments are being applied to a debt Kazakstan owes Russia. The incident is poor timing for both the Mir space station and the International Space Station. A Progress supply vessel that was to be launched to Mir on Wednesday now faces an indefinite delay until the space port is reopened. If the station is not resupplied, the cosmonauts on-board could run out of water. The Proton rocket that crashed is similar to the one that will be launching the second Russian-built element of the International Space Station in November. Another launch, that of a Ukrainian Zenit rocket was delayed one day from Thursday July 15 to July 16 (Reuters).

The launch failure destroyed the Raduga satellite payload. The satellite was built by NPO Prikladnoi Makhaniki in Zheleznogorsk. The satellite is an improved version of the old Raduga satellites first launched in 1975. A Raduga satellite was successfully launched February 28 of this year on a Proton-K rocket. The destroyed satellite was to have been place in geosynchronous orbit where it would have served as part of the Russian government and military telecommunications system (Frontier Status 3/5/99).


A four stage Molniya-M booster rocket carrying a Molniya-3 communications satellite was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on July 8 at 4:46 am EDT. The satellite was released into a highly elliptical 40,8013 x 472 km orbit with a period of 12 hours, 16 minutes with an inclination of 62.5 degrees. The orbit is designed to maximize the time the satellite is available in Russia. Three properly-spaced satellites in Molniya orbits provide continuous coverage of Russia. The orbit is named the "Molniya" orbit after the long series of communications satellites that have utilized it since 1964. The Molniya-3 satellite was declared operational in 1974. By fall of 1998, over 50 missions had been flown. The satellite serves domestic and international civilian communications with some military and governmental services. The satellite was constructed by NPO Prikladnoi Medhaniki (Scientific Production Association of Applied Mechanics). (AP; Bart Hendrickx in Quest Magazine 6:3 p 28-36).


A scheduled launch of a Delta 2 rocket with four Globalstar satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Station was delayed twice on July 8 and July 9 due to unfavorable winds aloft. The launch was rescheduled for July 10. This will be the second of four Delta 2 launches carrying Globalstar satellites within only 90 days (Florida Today).


The long-awaited shipment of the Telkom-1 satellite occurred June 29 when it was loaded onto an Arianespace ship at Port Canaveral, Florida. The A2100 satellite, built by Lockheed Martin is slated to be launched in the third quarter of this year. Equipped with 24 C-Band and 12 extended C-Band transponders, the satellite will provide a variety of telecommunications services for its owner PT Telkomunikasi of Indonesia. The satellite will provide a communications link for the thousands of Indonesian islands. The shipment of the satellite is significant in that Arianespace has been plagued by a series of on-the-ground satellite problems that have repeatedly delayed launch of its rockets (Lockheed Martin PR).

RL 10

The RL 10 upper stage engine that failed during the second Delta 3 launch is still under investigation. Pratt & Whitney officials believe, however, that certain variants of the engine can be cleared for launch as early as mid-July. Lockheed Martin Atlas rockets which use an RL 10 somewhat different than that used in the Delta 3 have been grounded since May. It is unlikely that they will return to flight before August since the range at Cape Canaveral will be closed for 19 days beginning July 26 to conduct upgrade work. To date four Atlas launches, including the maiden flight of the Atlas 3A, have been affected by the launch ban. While progress has been made, Boeing has yet to pin-point the cause of the failure (Space News).


Lunar Prospector

The Lunar Prospector spacecraft continues its extended mission with four of five scientific instruments activated. One of the instruments, the Electron Reflectometer was placed on high resolution mode from June 27 to 30 to take advantage of the full moon. On June 29th the 7th Extended Mission Orbit Correction burn was executed, leaving only 9.51 kg of propellant. One more orbital maintenance burn is scheduled for July 26. The mission is set to end on July 31 with a lunar south pole impact in Mawson crater (NASA - Ames PR).

Deep Impact

The cometary mission, Deep Impact, has been selected by NASA as one of two new Discovery Program missions. The Deep Impact space craft will be launched in January 2004 and encounter comet P/Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. The spacecraft will then send a 500 kg copper projectile to impact the comet at a relative speed of 10 km/second (22,300 mph). The mission is expected to cost $240 million. Another mission was simultaneously announced that will map the surface of Mercury (NASA - JPL).


Along with the Deep Impact mission, NASA has selected the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (Messenger) mission. The spacecraft would be launched in 2004 with two Venus flybys to reach the solar system's innermost planet in 2008 for the first of two flybys. The spacecraft would go into orbit around Mercury in 2009. The only previous spacecraft to visit Mercury was Mariner 10 which made three flybys in 1974-75. The new mission will be equipped with a camera, spectrometers, magnetometer and other instruments (SpaceViews).



Lockheed Martin and SpaceDev have announced an agreement to work cooperatively to investigate the development and marketing of low cost payloads for civilian and governmental clients. Under the plan, SpaceDev will stack two or more of its MiniSIL (TM) spacecraft on a Lockheed Athena rocket. Customers can purchase a slot on one of the spacecraft for as little as $4 million or may buy an entire spacecraft for $17 million. These smaller payloads (25 to 55 kg) are usually relegated to secondary status and as such are subject to scheduling of the primary payload. By developing a dedicated launcher of the smaller payload, the companies hope to open up a new market for launch services and satellite sales (SpaceDev PR; SpaceViews).

ICO Global

The FCC authorized US Electrodynamics to provide the satellite access node for the tracking, telemetry and control of the ICO Global Communications satellites. The node, one of six world-wide, will be located in Brewster, Washington. The FCC has granted temporary permission for the experimental use of handsets and other terminal to use the 2 Ghz bands with ICO satellites. The first of the ICO constellation is slated to be launched on a Proton rocket later this year (Business Wire; ICO PR).


Allied Signal has begin shipping its new Airsat-1 aircraft communications system which uses the Iridium satellite network. Used in a moving aircraft, communications are transferred seamlessly from satellite to satellite. The systems are priced at $29,500 with rates varying from $3.50 per minute domestic and up to $7.00 per minute for international calls (SpaceDaily).



The US Federal Communications Commission has streamlined its licensing process for Ku-band Ground Stations. Beginning August 15, the application process is expected to take only 55 days as opposed to the current 75 day average. The FCC processed 700 Ku-band ground station applications in 1998 (SpaceNews).


The US Senate passed the Open-Market Reorganization Act for the Betterment of the International Telecommunications Act (ORBIT) on July 1. The Act sets guidelines for the privatization of Intelsat and clears the way for Lockheed Martin to purchase Comsat Corp, the US signatory to Intelsat. It would scrap the 50 percent ownership cap on Comsat. The House is considering similar legislation (SpaceNews).


Marshall Space Flight Center

The Marshall Space Flight Center has selected 13 of 79 proposals for negotiation for the development of new technology associated with reusable launch vehicles. Among those selected are Boeing/ McDonnell Douglas with composite panel technologies ($1.2 million); Lockheed Martin Astronautics with autonomous flight safety and peroxide upper stage hybrid technologies ($4.7 million); Southern Research Institute with ultrasonic spectroscopy of bonded structures ($0.1 million); Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space Systems with composite liquid oxygen tanks for the X-34 ($2.5 million); Marshall Space Flight Center with validation of aluminum metal matrix composite housings ($0.8 million); Space America Inc., with regenerative cooling of Fastrac rocket engine thrust chamber ($0.9 million); Rocketdyne with turbopump development and advanced ignition peroxide technology ($4 million); TRW Space and Electronics Group with advanced catalyst beds ($0.4 million); Orbital Sciences with hydrogen peroxide enrichment unit ($0.8 million); Aerojet with monolithic catalyst bed ($0.15 million); FMC with safe production and storage of peroxide ($0.07 million); and Techland Research with advanced inlet design technologies ($0.07 million). Contract are estimated to be valued at total of $16 million (Marshall SFC PR).


Solar Wind

A long standing mystery has been solved with the help of measurements taken by the Spartan 201 spacecraft taken into orbit by the Shuttle in October 1998 in conjunction with data from the ESA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) sun observing spacecraft. Experts have long wondered why the solar wind streams away at nearly 2 million miles per hour -- almost twice the predicted speed. The examination of the new data has revealed that the speeding charged particles that make up the solar wind are given a boost by waves of the sun's magnetic field. Waves in the solar atmosphere are caused by vibrating magnetic field lines. When the field vibrates at the same frequency as a particle spiraling around the magnetic field, it heats it up -- forcing the particle to accelerate away from the sun (ESA PR; NASA article)



Spar Aerospace announced July 6 that it has settled a long-standing law suit surrounding a faulty satellite. AGF Reassurances, an insurance company, sought $135 million for a satellite built by Spar and launched in 1995. The satellite, which is still operation has diminished capacity. AGF had to pay $66 million to American Mobile Satellite Corp. It then sued Spar. AGF settled for $15 million. The move is expected to make Spar more appealing in its search for new ownership (Reuters).


On July 8, the space community and the world at large was shocked and saddened by the loss of the Pete Conrad, the third man to walk on the Moon. Conrad, 69, was killed when the Harley-Davidson motorcycle he was riding crashed on Highway 150 near Ojai, California. While originally expected to recover from his injuries, Conrad died from internal bleeding during exploratory surgery. He will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on July 19.

In addition to commanding the Apollo 12 moon landing, Conrad was a Navy test pilot, participated in Gemini 5 and 11 missions and spent 28 days in orbit during the 1973 Skylab 2 repair mission. In recent years, Conrad turned his attention to creating a commercial space frontier by forming several commercial space development companies including Universal Space Lines. Conrad is also remembered for his key role in the successful Delta Clipper/Graham program in which he was able to pilot the test vehicle back to a safe landing after a small explosion ripped away a portion of the rocket's skirting. Pete Conrad, one of the frontier's brightest stars, will be missed.


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • July 10 - Delta 2 (7420), Globalstar (4 satellites), pad 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • July 14 (Delayed) - Soyuz-U, Progress M42, Mir resupply, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • July 15-16 - Lunar Base Development Symposium, League City, Texas.
  • July 16 - Zenit, Okean research satellite, Baikonur.
  • July 19 - 30 - UNISPACE III, Vienna, Austria.
  • July 20 - Space Shuttle Columbia, STS-93, Chandra X-ray Observatory, Pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.
  • July 20 - 30th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.
  • 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 - Lunar Prospector impact. Mawson crater, South Pole, Moon.
  • 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 17 - Inaugural flight Atlas 3A (AC-201), Telestar 7, Cape Canaveral.
  • August 18 - Atlas 2A, AC-137, GOES-L, pad 36A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 21 - Athena 2, Ikonos (previously Ikonos-2), SLC- 6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • August 21 - Delta 2 (7920), Iridium, SLC-2 West, Vandenberg AFB.
  • August 29 - Sea Launch Zenit, DirecTV 1-R, equatorial Pacific Ocean.


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 3585 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 232 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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