Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #159

Frontier Status Report #159

July 16, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Russia and Baikonur dominate space news this week as a ban on rocket launches is lifted in time to provide one last supply mission to Mir. Other news includes a Delta 2 rocket delivering 4 Globalstar satellites to orbit. The Shuttle Columbia is on the pad awaiting launch on July 20. Boeing tests a powerful new rocket engine for the Delta IV. Investigations focus on the cause of the Delta 3 and Titan 4 failures. Boeing awarded X-37 contract.

Highlights of the week of July 16 include:

  • Baikonur reopened
  • Delta 2 launches Globalstar satellites
  • RS-68 test fired at 100 percent
  • Progress supply rocket launches for Mir
  • July Frontier Corner on line at


The Shuttle Columbia is on pad 39B in its final week of preparation prior to its July 20 launch. The simulated countdown test on July 9 for the Inertial Upper Stage was successfully completed. An audio communications component was replaced on Columbia on July 12. Ordinance installation was completed on July 15 and aft compartment close-outs completed on July 16. The crew of STS-93 arrived at the Cape early in the morning on July 16. The crew includes Commander Eileen Collins, Pilot Jeff Ashby, Mission Specialists Steve Hawley, Catherine Coleman and French astronaut Michel Tognini. Countdown for the Chandra X-Ray Observatory deployment mission began at 10:00 am EDT July 16. Payload bay doors will be closed on July 17. The Shuttle is slated for launch on at 12:36 am EDT on July 20. The flight will feature the deployment of the long-awaited Chandra Observatory, but will also carry the Southwest Ultraviolet Imaging System. This will be the 26th flight for Columbia and the 95th flight of the Space Shuttle program (NASA;

Following the deployment of Chandra by the crew of Columbia, the two IUS solid rocket motors will push the observatory into a 10,000 x 140,000 km orbit. About 20 days after launch the observatory will open its sunshade door and align on the quasar PKS 0637-752 to focus and align. The official first light image will be of supernova remnant Cas A. The telescope is 20-50 times more powerful than any previous X-ray telescope. With solar panels deployed the telescope will measure 45.3 feet long and 63 feet wide (Jonathan's Space Report). More on Chandra at: NASA article; Chandra home page.

Chandra IUS

The upcoming Chandra X-ray Observatory contains the same two-stage Inertial Upper Stage as that which failed during the April 9 launch of a Department of Defense missile warning satellite on a Titan 4 rocket. The use of the IUS has been cleared and the previous failure has been linked to human error. Early on investigators revealed that the two stages of the Inertial Upper Stage rocket booster failed to completely separate when an electrical connector failed to disengage. Recently investigators reported the rocket appears to have been launched with the "remove before flight" tape remaining on the connector. The tape prevented a proper disconnect. The upper IUS could not perform within desired parameters with the lower IUS still attached. An understanding of the problem with the Titan 4 launch was critical to the July 20 launch of the Shuttle Columbia carrying the Chandra X-ray observatory (AW&ST; Florida Today; Space Views).


Despite three hail-storm related power outages at the Russian control center, the orbiting elements of the International Space Station continue to be monitored. Controllers are investigating problems with battery cycling and have resumed the cycling of batteries 1 and 2. The cycling was initially planned for only battery 2, but battery 1 also began to cycle when the activity began Controllers determined that while this was not planned, it could continue safely. Investigations are also being conducted on the loss of function of the left side antenna of the back-up Early Communications System. Managers are assessing the situation and may replace the antenna during a spacewalk during the December Shuttle visit. The station is in a 256 x 238 statute mile orbit with a period of 92 minutes. The station has completed (July 15) 3,702 orbits since launch in November (NASA).

The Space Infrastructure Business Unit of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AG (Dasa, Munich) and Aerospatiale Matra Lanceurs of France have signed a DM 163 million contract for the automated transfer vehicle (ATV) that will be used in conjunction with the International Space Station. The first ATV mission is scheduled for June 2003 when it will be launched by an Ariane 5 rocket and will use its own propulsion system to reach the Space Station. It will then automatically dock with the Russian node where it will remain attached for up to six months. Functioning in a manner similar to the Russian Progress supply system, the ATV will deliver up to seven tons of materials and supplies to the station (the Progress is capable of delivering 2.5 tons). After it is emptied the craft will be used to collect waste and outdated equipment. When filled with station trash, the ATV will be ordered into a controlled incineration during reentry. Like the Progress, the ATV will also be capable of reboosting the ISS which will lose up to 50 km of orbital altitude per six months (SpaceDaily).


On Monday, July 12, the crew of the Mir space station discovered the source of an air leak. The problem appears to be in a "module that holds the exit hatch". A small drop in air pressure was noted last week. The cosmonauts have had to search for the leak around activities in their busy work schedule. While the leak poses no immediate hazard, Russian officials have added extra oxygen to the manifest of the Progress due to launch on Friday (AP; Houston Chronicle).

The Progress supply vessel launched July 16 will be bringing the usual staples of food, water and fuel. It will also carry a new computer that will be used to control the station remotely from the ground. The computer will have to be connected and operational prior to the crew abandoning the station on August 21. For the first time since 1989, the Mir station will be unoccupied. Since there are no other Soyuz in production other than one earmarked for the first crew of the International Space Station, it is unlikely that the station will be reoccupied before commands are given to deorbit the 130 ton complex. Had the Progress not launched by July 20, the crew would have had to abandon the station -- leaving the Russian Space Agency with no way to control the reentry of the station. Officials estimate that it will take about a month to install the new computer (AP; Reuters).


Following resolution of several technical, political and environmental issues, the Kazakstan government permitted the launching of a Progress supply rocket from Baikonur. The launch was originally slated for July 14, but the ban on launches caused it to be moved to July 16. The rocket was launched at 8:37 Moscow time. It is expected to dock with Mir around 2 pm EDT (Florida Today; AP).


The former Soviet launch site of Baikonur which is located in present-day Kazakstan has agreed to reopen this week following last week's ban on all launches. The cause of the ban was the July 6 failure of a Proton-K rocket and the subsequent rain of debris on Kazakstan. The closure issue revolved around the physical hazard of several very large rocket fragments landing near human habitation, the potential for pollution from the toxic "giptil" rocket fuel and $300 million in back rent owed by the Russians for the use of the Cosmodrome in Baikonur. On the other side of the issue, the Russians argued that a critical Progress supply flight was necessary for the final disposition of the Mir space station; the Ukrainians have a Zenit-2 rocket ready to launch the Okean-0 ocean research satellite; and the Americans and other ISS contributors are concerned about the effects of the closure on the launch of the Service Module in November on a Proton rocket.

Russia has instituted investigations into the cause of the Proton failure and has teams assessing the pollution issue. More importantly, Russia has agreed to pay $115 million in back rent -- $50 million in cash and $65 in goods. Russia has also agreed to compensate the lady who had a 440 pound chunk of rocket land in her garden. Farmers in the village of Karbyshevka where an 80 ton section of rocket landed are complaining that no one will buy milk or meat from their farms because of fear of contamination from rocket fuel.

On July 14, Kazakstan lifted the ban on all launches clearing the way for the Friday evening launch of the Progress supply rocket. The Ukrainian Zenit launch was also cleared, but has not yet been rescheduled. The Proton is still banned from launch pending the results of investigations. The next scheduled Proton launch on July 23 is expected to be delayed (AP).


A Russian State Commission has been formed to investigate the July 6 failure of a Proton-K rocket launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The commission will be headed by General Colonel Vladimir Nikitin, First Deputy to the Commander in Chief of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces. A preliminary report is due on July 19. The events leading to the failure of the second stage are currently defined as: Nominal flight for 277 seconds; at 277 seconds Engine #3 on the second stage began indicating a significant temperature increase in the combustion chamber; this lead to melting of propellant lines and the aluminum alloy fuel tank; fuel pouring out of the tank created an "explosive event". The third stage, Briz-M and satellite continued flight intact until at 325 seconds aerodynamic forces began to break them up; at this point the fuel tank of the Briz-M began to break up -- releasing fuel that has become a pollution concern. Debris fell in a track 80 - 90 km long and 8 - 10 km wide. All debris has been recovered. The engine that failed was one of four second stage KB Khivavtomatiki RD-0210 engines, burning unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide (ILS PR; Jonathan's Space Report).

Press reports that the Proton was carrying a Raduga-1 (Globus) satellite were incorrect. The rocket was actually carrying the Raduga (Gran') satellite which is a different series (Jonathan's Space Report).


After two delays due to unfavorable winds aloft, a Delta 2 rocket (7420-10) carrying four Globalstar satellites was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station at 4:45 am EDT, July 10. By 74 minutes after launch, the satellites had been deployed in pairs in a 1370 km orbit. The satellites deployed their solar arrays were acquired by the Globalstar ground control center at San Jose using telemetry received by Globalstar command unit gateways around the world. Following on-orbit testing, over the next two weeks the satellites will be raised to their operational orbit of 1,414 km. This brings the total number of Globalstar satellites in orbit to 28. Thirty-two satellites are needed for the inauguration of global telephone services in September. By the end of the year, 48 satellites are expected to be in orbit to provide expanded services and redundancy. This was the second of four Delta 2 launches carrying Globalstar satellites within only 90 days (Florida Today; Business Wire).


Boeing and NASA signed a $173 million agreement for the cooperative development of the X-37 experimental space plane. The spaceplane, formerly known as Future-X Pathfinder, will be ferried to orbit by the Space Shuttle or by expendable rockets. Once in orbit, the craft is capable of up to 21 days of orbital operation before reentry and horizontal landing. The unpiloted craft will be capable of Mach 25 and will be used as a test bed for 41 new reusable launch vehicle technologies. The vehicle will be 27.5 feet long and have a 15 foot wingspan. It will feature an advanced thermal protection system, storable non-toxic propellant and a seven foot long experiment bay. In shape it will be a 120 percent- scale derivative of Boeing's X-40A which has already begun a drop test program. The first drop test from a B-52 is planned for the fall of 2001 and two orbital tests are slated for 2002. Boeing and NASA will share in the cost of the program 50/50 (Boeing PR).


The launch of an Atlas 2 rocket carrying the GEOS-L satellite has been put on indefinite hold so that the Centaur upper stage can be replaced. The change-out is the result of the on-going investigation into the cause of the May 4 failure of the Inertial Upper Stage used in the second Delta 3 launch. The Delta 3 and the Atlas/Centaur feature variations of the Pratt & Whitney RL-10 rocket engine. Investigation into the failure of the RL-10 Inertial Upper Stage used in the Delta 3 launch has turned up a change in the process that produced the combustion chamber. Investigators currently believe that shortly after the beginning of a second scheduled burn a seam failed along one of the four joints in the reinforcement structure of the combustion chamber. This then caused a rupture of the chamber -- leaving the Orion communications satellite in a useless orbit. While this finding clears the way for launches using Pratt and Whitney RL10s manufactured before the new process, it creates doubts for the planned Atlas launch of the GOES-L satellite which features a Centaur upper stage which uses the RL-10 engine. Factory records indicate that this engine used the suspect process and could be flawed. GEOS-L is currently in an Astrotech processing facility being refurbished due to the delays encountered. While it was hoped to launch the satellite before this year's hurricane season, is unlikely to be launched prior to October 14 even if the Centaur engine is cleared because of periodic orbital eclipses (up to 72 minutes per day) could interfere with the deployment of the solar panels (Florida Today).

Another Atlas Centaur rocket that is to launch the Terra Earth observing satellite has also been examined. It contained an RL-10 engine produced prior to the introduction of the suspect manufacturing process. The rocket is expected to be launched from Vandenberg AFB on September 13 (Florida Today).


A Brisbane-based company has announced a new spaceport venture in Queensland. The United Launch Systems International Pty Ltd (ULSI), proposes to build a facility on Hummock Hill Island near Gladstone to launch Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites using Russian rocket technology. While the company states that it will be utilizing the Unity rocket which is based on 21st century technology, examination of the specific engines show the rocket to be using a sea-level derivative of the RD 120 with a RD-0136 second stage. The rocket will be capable of placing 5,000 kg payloads into LEO. An estimated $350 million is required for the project with about one third in hand. ULSI is 90 percent owned by a Bermuda-based corporation named International Space Development Ltd. which in turn is majority owned by Thai Satellite Telecommunications of Bangkok. The venture lists the Iridium II and Teledesic satellite constellations as potential clients. The first launch could occur as early as 2002 (Australian Space Frontier News).



GenCorp Aerojet will be designing and building the propulsion system for NASA's Discovery Messenger (MErcury: Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) program. Under a $12.3 million contract, GenCorp will produce a set of one and five pound hydrazine thrusters and a 150 pound bipropellant main engine. The Messenger spacecraft will be launched in the spring of 2004, swinging twice by Venus and twice by Mercury before settling into orbit around Mercury in September 2009 (SpaceDaily).



In a turn of fortune, Boeing's second quarter profits surged upward to 56 cents per share. The profit easily outpaced the forecast of 48 cents per share. Boeing had net earnings of $701 million for the quarter compared to only $258 million for the same period last year. One of the main contributors for the turn around was the Commercial Airplanes division which had an operating income of $435 million for the quarter as compared to a $178 million loss last year. The company is projecting gross revenues of $58 billion for 1999 (AP).

Atlas 5

Lockheed Martin announced on July 13, that they had completed their first commercial sale of Atlas 5 launch services. Through International Launch Services (ILS) Lockheed Martin has contracted to provide three Atlas launches for Teledesic LLC. The contract also includes three launches on ILS Proton-M rockets. Each launch vehicle will carry multiple Teledesic satellites. The contract also contains options for five additional launches of both systems (ILS PR).


In addition to a launch agreement with International Launch Services, Teledesic LLC has announced a system agreement with Motorola, the company's prime contractor. The agreement comes after over a year of close collaboration and detailed design work. The contract is contingent upon the results of the final technical review period which is expected to be completed in the next three months. The system agreement moves Teledesic to the next phase -- that of actual development of the system. In an exchange of funds, Motorola has completed a $150 million cash payment to Teledesic as part of its investment in the company. Teledesic in turn has paid Motorola $250 million in a down payment for work as prime contractor. Teledesic is currently funded to the $1.5 billion level primarily through its founders Craig McCaw and Bill Gates with contributions from Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and Boeing. The system of 288 satellites (some reports indicate this number may be reduced to as few as 120 satellites) is expected to come on line in 2004 with a total cost of $9 billion (Teledesic PR; Business Wire; Reuters; Space Views).


Motorola, which owns an 18 percent share of Iridium, warned other investors that it would no longer invest in Iridium to stave of bankruptcy without the help of other major investors such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Sprint and American International Group. Iridium stock, as a result of this declaration tumbled 18 percent to $6.75 on the NASDAQ Stock Market. Motorola revealed that it had taken a $126 million second quarter charge to profits to write down the value on Iridium bonds that have lost much of their value. Iridium's fiscal exposure is reported at $2.2 billion -- roughly half the amount invested in the 66 satellite global communications system (AP).

Iridium recently reported that Iridium de Mexico received a license from the Mexican Secretariat of Communications and Transportation to provide satellite telephone services. Mexico has been one of the last nations to approve Iridium's satellite phone service (Space News).

Sea Launch

The first commercial launch using the innovative Sea Launch system appears to be heading for a delay. Because of Department of State restrictions on the sharing if satellite technology, insurers for the DirecTV satellite slated for launch have been unable to gain the information they need. Without this information, the non- US insurance underwriters are refusing to cover the launch (Space News).



In an attempt to jump-start the Japanese satellite manufacturing industry, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry is soliciting bids for new low-cost experimental satellites. The two Space Environment Reliability Verification Integrated System (SERVIS) satellites will be built for a maximum price of 23 billion yen ($188 million US). The program is run by the ministry's Institute for Unmanned Space Free Flyer (Space News).


In an attempt to get rockets flying again from Kourou, Arianespace has decided to place two satellites on individual Ariane 4 rockets instead of waiting for partner satellites to fly on the larger Ariane 5. Telkom-1 will be launched on an Ariane 42P on August 4 and Koreasat 3 will be launched on another Ariane 42P on August 26. Arianespace, which has been hampered by satellite delivery problems, expects to pick up the pace of satellite launches in the second half of 1999. Arianespace expects to launch an Ariane 5 later this year (SpaceNews; Arianespace PR).


Direct-to-home TV

The total number of homes receiving direct-to-home TV topped the 10 million mark this past month. DirecTV announced that they had acquired 117,000 new customers in June bringing their total to 7.4 million. EchoStar's Dish Network announced they had acquired over 105,000 new customers which brings their total number of subscribers to 2.6 million. Both companies' new customer numbers are about 50 percent higher than last year. Yearly sales are usually higher in the second half due to the football and holiday seasons (Business Wire; MSN).


DirecTV recently signed an agreement with SBC communications to help SBC with its efforts to compete with AT&T as a single package phone, television and Internet provider. AT&T this past year has made over $100 billion in cable purchases -- including TCI and MediaOne (MCN; Business Wire; AP).


Chicago Rail

The Chicago Metra Commuter Rail System has awarded an $800,000 contract to GeoFocus, a subsidiary of Williams Controls, to install a train tracking and information system. The Chicago System operates 546 miles of track to serve 14 million passenger trips per year. Utilizing the TrainTrac system on two of its 11 major train routes, the System hopes to utilize GPS data to improve scheduling capabilities and to provide information to rail passengers. TrainTrac has previously been installed in Tri- County Commuter Rail authority in southern Florida (SpaceDaily).


White House

On July 14, President Clinton approved four additional launches of US satellites on Russian launch vehicles. The president agreed to increase the launch quota because it felt that Russia had improved its export controls on sophisticated weapons technology. Russian launches typically cost between $65 and $75 million which is substantially less than American rocket launches. Commercial satellite launches have become a major source of funding for the Russian space program. Russia currently has permission for 16 launches, but each of the new launches must be approved on a case-by-case basis. The US produces two-thirds of the satellites launched each year -- far outstripping America's launch capability (Reuters).



Boeing's new high-powered rocket engine, the RS- 68 was recently tested for the first time at 100 percent of power on test-stand 1A at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards AFB. The engine, which will be used in the Delta IV now under development, exceeded 650,000 pounds of thrust. While Boeing touts the milestone as the greatest thrust ever achieved by a single oxygen/hydrogen engine, it is still less than half the thrust of the F-1 engine used in the Saturn V which has LOX/RP-1 as fuel. In its final configuration, the five F-1 engines on the Saturn V produced over 7.7 million pounds of thrust or 1,545,000 pounds of thrust per engine. The RS-68 does, however, produce about 30 percent more thrust than a single Space Shuttle Main Engine. The RS-68 test was the first to achieve 100 percent of thrust -- beginning and ending at full thrust. The engine is capable of being throttled down to 60 percent of power. The engine being tested has over 300 seconds of accumulated hot fire. The next goal of Boeing's Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power division is to conduct long duration tests. The RS-68 development features advanced management techniques that have substantially reduced development costs and cycle time. The resulting engine is both environmentally friendly -- producing only steam and contains far fewer parts than the comparable Space Shuttle Main Engine. When used in the three engine heavy lift configuration of the Delta IV, the engine is expected to be able to place over 29,000 pounds into geosynchronous transfer orbit (Boeing Press RL; Mark Wade's Encyclopedia Astronautica; The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Space Technology; Delta IV web page).


The TechStar Applied Solar Division (ASD) set a record 27 percent efficiency for triple junction solar cell cells. The record was reached using an improved Cascade multijunction solar cell technology. The company is currently achieving lot averages between 23 and 24 percent efficiency. To date, 120,000 Cascade solar cells have been produced by the company that have been used in a variety of space-based applications including GPS, Globalstar, Iridium, Orbcomm and Mars Pathfinder (SpaceDaily).

Liquid Apogee Engine

TRW engineers recently completed 25,000 seconds of hot testing of the TR312, an advanced liquid apogee (LAE) engine. The testing demonstrated the new engine has a specific impulse of 325 seconds -- five to ten seconds above currently available engines in the same class. The new engines will allow satellite designers to reduce propellant mass which translates into increased life expectancy for satellites, increased mass available for satellite systems or lower total launch mass. The technological improvement features an iridium-coated rhenium thrust chamber which can withstand the extreme temperatures need for the improved efficiency. The hot testing of the new engine occurred in a vacuum chamber at the TRW Capistrano Test Site using a combination of monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Qualification of the new thruster is expected to be completed in early 2000 (TRW PR).


George Brown

Representative George E. Brown Jr. (D- California) died on July 16 as a result of a long illness. At 79, Brown was the oldest member of the House -- serving his 18th term. As the current ranking Democrat and former Chairman on the House Science Committee and its Space subcommittee, he used his position to support both manned and unmanned exploration of space. He was the "tireless champion of innovative space projects like space solar power, bold scientific exploration, and reusable launch vehicles". Brown had a heart valve replacement surgery on May 3 --recovering well and returning to work. In mid-June he was readmitted to the hospital for a post-operative infection from which he did not recover (James Muncy; AP).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • July 17 - Zenit 2, 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 4 - Ariane 4, flight 118, Telkom-1, ELA-2 Kourou, French Guiana.
  • 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.
  • Delayed - Atlas 2A, AC-137, GOES-L, pad 36A Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 21 - Delta 2 (7920), Iridium, SLC-2 West, Vandenberg AFB.
  • August 21 - Mir Space Station final crew abandons station.
  • August 26 - Ariane 4, flight 120, Koreasat 3, ELA-2 Kourou, French Guiana.
  • August 29 - Sea Launch Zenit, DirecTV 1-R, equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • September 3 - Athena 2, Ikonos (previously Ikonos-2), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • November 12 - Proton, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.


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 3592 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 239 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin in March of 2000.

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