Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #160

Frontier Status Report #160

July 23, 1999

Dale M. Gray

The launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia with the Chandra X-ray Observatory topped the news for the week. The Ukraine also launched a Zenit-2 rocket. A Progress supply vessel docked with the Mir Space station and the Russian cosmonauts conducted a six hour spacewalk. Both Lunar Prospector and Deep Space 1 are preparing for close encounters.

Highlights of the week of July 23 include:

  • Shuttle Columbia
  • Ukrainian Zenit-2 launched
  • Grissom's capsule recovered
  • Progress supply vessel docks with Mir
  • July Frontier Corner on line at


Following nearly a year's delay and two scrubs in three days, the Chandra X-ray Observatory was finally launched into orbit by the Shuttle Columbia on July 23 at 12:31 am EDT. The ascent was marred by an electrical problem. At T+5 seconds a half- second electrical short occurred in one of three electrical buses leading to six redundant Shuttle Main Engine controllers. Each bus powers two engine controllers. The problem knocked out one of two controllers for two of the three Shuttle engines. The redundant controllers smoothly took over the control function, allowing the Shuttle to continue its ascent. A second problem cropped up after arriving in orbit. Columbia ran out of oxygen 4,000 pound early. This resulted in an orbit seven miles lower than planned. There is some indication that a hydrogen leak may have occurred in a cooling line for Engine #3. The suspect engine will be carefully examined upon return from orbit (NASA; Jonathan's Space Report).

Despite these problems, Columbia successfully rose to a 78 x 276 km x 28.5 degree transfer orbit and separated from its external tank. The OMS-2 engine burn circularized the orbit, albeit lower than planned. The Shuttle's final orbit was reported as 187 x 176 miles with a period of 90 minutes. To allow the Columbia to launch the 50,000 pound Observatory, NASA's oldest Orbiter had to be stripped of 7,000 pounds of equipment -- including the robot arm. It is slated to land in Florida on Tuesday July 27. Earlier launch attempts were scrubbed on July 20 at T-6.5 seconds by a faulty sensor reading and again on July 22 by weather related issues (NASA; Reuters).

The $1.5 billion Chandra X-Ray Observatory was ejected from the payload bay of the Shuttle a little more than seven hours into the flight at 7:47 am EDT. Once the Shuttle was safely away from the four story high Observatory, the inertial upper stage (IUS) fired at 8:48 am EDT for 125 seconds --placing Chandra into a 226 x 13,841 km orbit. The second stage burn followed immediately for 117 seconds placed the Observatory into a 330 x 72,030 km orbit. This orbit is about 900 km lower than planned since the IUS underperformed slightly. This difference will be made up by the Chandra's own propulsion system. At 9:50 am, the IUS separated and Chandra extended its solar panels. Controllers then activated the Pointing Control and Aspect Determination (PCAD) system and Momentum Unloading Propulsion System (MUPS) which contains thrusters to unload the reaction wheels once they become saturated with momentum. Flight Operations Team also activated the AXAF Charge Coupled Device Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS) to assure that it does not get too cold. Covers for the cameras will not be opened until mid-August. Over the next few days the telescope's orbit will be adjusted until it is 6,800 x 86,966 miles (10,000 x 140,000 km) using the Integral Propulsion System. First science is expected to be received from the telescope in three to four weeks (Jonathan's Space Report; Marshall Space Flight Center PR).

The Chandra Observatory was named after Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an Indian-born astrophysicist. The facility will spend the next five years studying X-ray sources at resolution 100 times greater than any previous study. The facility will spend much of its time looking at X-ray sources near black holes (Reuters).

More on Chandra at: NASA article; Chandra home page.

After a night's rest in orbit, the crew of the Shuttle began working on a series of secondary payloads and experiments. These include the Southwest Ultraviolet Imaging System (SWUIS) which is on its second flight. The crew of STS- 93 includes Commander Eileen Collins, Pilot Jeff Ashby and Mission Specialists Cady Coleman, Steve Hawley and Michel Tognini of the French Space Agency (CNES). At one point Tognini was able to talk to his country man Jean- Pierre Haignere on-board Mir via short-wave radio (NASA).


Ground controllers continue to deep-cycle the space station's storage batteries. A loss of function was reported for the right side antenna of the Early Communications system. On July 23, the station was in a 255 x 237 statute mile orbit with a period of 92 minutes. The station has completed 3,794 orbits since it was launched (NASA).

Reports have surfaced that the astronauts on the last Shuttle visit to the station experienced a variety of symptoms ranging from nausea and eye irritation. The symptoms are similar to those reported in "Sick Building Syndrome". The problems usually subsided when the crew returned to the "fresh air" of the shuttle. Symptoms are also consistent with excessive carbon dioxide. While there was no elevated levels of CO2 prior to or during the Shuttle docking, the addition of the Shuttle/SpaceHab module may have disrupted air patterns creating invisible pockets of bad air. Because the astronauts did not report the problem during the mission, mission managers were not able to implement an investigation into the cause of the discomfort. NASA is expected to investigate the problem during STS-101, the next Shuttle/ISS mission (SpaceViews; NASA Watch).


A Progress supply rocket launched July 16, docked with Mir around at 1:53 pm EDT on July 18. The Progress-M 42 vehicle used an automated system to connect with the side port of the Kvant 1 module. The port was made available when a previous Progress which had been used as an orbiting trash bin was disconnected on July 17 and sent to a fiery reentry. This may well be the last supply vessel to visit Mir. On board the Progress are food, water, equipment, and a flight computer that will allow the space station to be more fully controlled from the ground. The new computer will allow the station to be abandoned in August and hopefully directed to a controlled re-entry next spring (Florida Today; AP; SpaceViews).

On July 23, Viktor Afanasyev and Sergei Avdeyev conducted a nearly 6 hour spacewalk. The pair were to deploy a communication's antenna, but it failed to unfold properly. Some experts suggested that traces of water may have frozen the antenna's joints when the station entered into Earth's shadow -- alternately, the antenna may not have been given sufficient electrical power. The cosmonauts collected scientific instruments and a device to measure Mir's exhaust. An earlier stated goal for the walk, that of finding a slow air leak, was downplayed. The leak if left unattended could make the station uninhabitable in about three months. The undeployed antenna will be jettisoned during next week's space walk -- which could be the last spacewalk conducted on Mir (Reuters; AP).

In one of the stranger twists in the Mir saga, the French space agency (CNES) has been besieged with calls from fear-stricken citizens afraid the Russian space station will crash into France in August. The concerns were generated when Paris fashion designer Paco Rabanne predicted the station would deorbit and crash in France during a solar eclipse on August 11. CNES has responded by announcing such fears were groundless (SpaceNews).


A Ukrainian Zenit-2 rocket was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan on July 17 at 0538 GMT (1:38 am EDT). The payload was the 6500 kg Ukrainian-Russian Okean-0 ocean research satellite. The satellite was placed in a sun-synchronous 661 x 662 km x 98.0 degree orbit. It is equipped with a side-looking radar and a set of visible and infrared scanners and radiometers. It was built by Yuzhnoe Co. of Ukraine in conjunction with the Russian Aviation/Space Agency and the Ukrainian National Space Agency. This was the first land-based Zenit flight since a Zenit rocket carrying 12 Globalstar satellites failed to make orbit in September of 1998. The launch follows the limited reopening of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Zenit flight was cleared because it does not use the hazardous fuel used in the Proton (Reuters; Jonathan's Space Report).


Lunar Prospector In an effort to confirm the presence of water on the Moon, the Lunar Prospector is in its last week of orbit. On July 31 at 5:52 am EDT, the 157 kg spacecraft will be directed to impact near Mawson crater at lunar latitude 87.7o S and longitude 42o E. It is hoped that the impact will throw up to 40 pounds of water vapor. The Hubble Space Telescope, the Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS), the 107" McDonald Observatory and the Keck telescope on Mauna Kea telescopes will be focused on the impact site recording spectral lines of the ejected material. Analysis of data previously derived from Lunar Prospector and its predecessor Clementine, show hydrogen enough on the Moon to account for 200 million metric tons of water. Because hydrogen combines with many different elements besides oxygen, telescopic observations of the impact may be able to directly detect water or hydroxyl radicals in the impact plume (water breaks down to hydroxyl radicals when exposed to solar florescence). Lunar water is thought to be in the form of ice crystals mixed into the top 18 inches of soil in permanently shaded craters (Space Science News).

More on Lunar Prospector at: NASA article; Lunar Prospector home page.


On July 28 at 9:46 pm PDT, the Deep Space 1 technology demonstrator will turn explorer as the state-of- the-arts spacecraft zips past asteroid 1992 KD. The spacecraft will pass within 15 km of the 1-2 mile diameter asteroid's surface at a relative speed of 15 kms per second. During its passage, DS-1 will take scientific measurements along with infrared and black and white photographs. The AutoNav system on the spacecraft will set a record for the closest encounter with a solar body without actually landing. To prepare for the encounter, mission teams practiced the fly-by on an imaginary asteroid know affectionately as Spoof2 (Dr. Marc Raymond).


IridiumThe Motorola United States Federal Government Markets Division announced on July 20 that it had facilitated a deal in which the US Department of State placed an order for $1.4 million in Iridium phones and accessories. The phones ordered are Motorola Satellite Series (TM) 9500 (Motorola PR).

SpaceDevSpaceDev, Inc. announced on July 20 the first sale of space on its Near Earth Asteroid Prospector (NEAP). Dojin Limited of Lyler, Texas has contracted to have a package delivered to the asteroid Nereus as part of its Cosmic Voyage 2000 program. The program will allow virtual passengers to travel in space. Dojin customers will be able to submit image, identity, and personal messages that Dojin will load onto a CD-ROM which will be placed on NEAP. The virtual passenger information will be preserved for the ages on the asteroid. The contract was reported to be worth $200,000. NEAP is the first privately developed spacecraft to deliver payloads beyond Earth orbit (SpaceDev).

Cosmic Voyage web site home page.

ArianespaceArianespace has placed an order for 20 new Ariane 5 rockets. Including the two previous orders for 10 rockets each, this order raises the total number of Ariane 5 backordered to 50. The latest order is for the new P2 variation which will be able to launch heavier loads. The variant will have an improved Vulcain 2 engine and two new upper stages beginning with the ESC-A (based on the HM7B used in the Ariane 4) and the EPS-V which will have the capability to be reignited in orbit. The first of the new order is expected to be delivered in 2001. With the ESC-A upper stage, the Ariane 5 will be able to lift 10 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit (SpaceDaily).


KoreasatKoreasat-3, built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, was delivered to the Arianespace launch complex in Kourou, French Guiana on July 19. The Korea Telecom satellite is slated for launch on an Ariane 4 rocket on August 23. The satellite is a Lockheed Martin A2100 bus with 24 Ku-band (Fixed Satellite Service), six Ku-band (Direct Broadcast Service), and three Ka-band transponders. It also features a steerable antenna. It will be positioned at 116 degrees east longitude to serve the far East. This is the third Koreasat to be built by Lockheed Martin (Lockheed Martin PR).

MILSTARThe USAF Space Command released the results of its investigation into the failed Titan IV B-32 / Milstar mission launched April 30. The investigation focused on a series of failures within the process used for the Centaur upper stage software development, testing and quality assurance. The process failed to find a human error made during manual entry of data values into the Centaur's flight software file. The Centaur upper stage was loaded with incorrect software and as a result lost attitude control. The Reaction Control System of the upper stage attempted to correct for these errors, but excessive firing exhausted its supply of hydrazine fuel. As a result, the $800 million Milstar satellite was released from the Centaur in a useless orbit. It was declared a total loss on May 4 (Air Force Space Command PR; Florida Today).

HGS-1PanAmSat has announce plans to lease capacity on the HGS-1 satellite positioned over the Pacific. HGS-1 started life as the ill-fated Asiasat 3 which failed to reach geostationary orbit on a Proton rocket launched December 25 1987. The satellite was transformed into HGS-1 by two clever lunar flybys and a deal made with the insurance consortium that paid off on the Asiasat loss. Renamed HGS-1, the fully functional satellite owned by Hughes with a portion of any profits going to the insurers. The satellite is located in a near geostationary orbit wandering a few degrees north and south. PanAmSat plans to use the satellite to provide telecommunications services to Latin America (SpaceNews).


Torino ScaleMIT professor Richard P. Binzel proposed a scale of relative hazard for asteroid impact at a July 22 meeting of the International Astronomical Union. The scale has been compared to the Richter scale for measuring earth quakes, only instead of measuring only energy, the Torino scale also measures risk. Utilizing the scale, identified Near Earth Objects can be categorized by size and orbit. A scale reading of zero indicates virtually no chance of impact while a measure of 10 indicates an impending global climatic catastrophe. The development of the scale is the result of several recent announcement concerning asteroids with Earth crossing orbits that were calculated to be on collision courses with Earth. The most recent of these, asteroid AN10 is now known to be a certain miss which gives it a zero on the new scale. With over 2,000 Near Earth Objects identified and more being added every day, a more empirical measure of risk is needed to differentiate between any potential Earth/asteroid encounters (MIT PR).


EchoStarEchostar Communications unveiled a 500 channel television system at the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association national expo in Las Vegas. The new system will be able to receive television feed from Echostar satellites at both 110 degrees West and 119 degrees West longitude. The DISH 500 is a small satellite dish equipped with dual amplifiers and feeder horns to enable it to receive dual signals. The DISH 500 system will ship with EchoStar's Model 4722 for the same price of $299. Current DISH network customers can upgrade to the new system without replacing their current satellite receivers (DISH PR).


has announced that it will be offering a channel of high definition HBO 24 hours a day. The service will begin in August on Channel 509 with showings of Lethal Weapon 4 and How Stella Got Her Groove Back (DirecTV PR).


XM Satellite Radio

XM Satellite Radio Holding Inc. announced July 23 that it planned an initial public offering of common stock in the hope of raising $173 million. The Class A shares will be traded on the NASDAQ under the symbol XMSP. The company did not reveal the number of shares or estimated values in its preliminary filing with the Security and Exchange Commission. XM Radio holds a license with the FCC to provide 100 channels of music, news, talk, sports and children's programming. The service will be available for a monthly fee of $9.95 (Reuters).


One of the signs of the advancing of a frontier is increased public awareness. This past week saw the introduction of two new -- and radically different -- web sites dedicated to space related issues.

Move over Florida Today and watch out, there is a new player with space news on the Web. Former CNN "Moneyline" anchor Lou Dobbs unveiled his new Internet site The web site is the result of 18 months of planning to produce a site dedicated to "all-things space related." In the backfield for the new team are former astronaut Sally Ride, and former IBM and NASA executives. The new site was unveiled on July 20 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the landing on the moon (Knight Ridder/ Tribune Business News; home page).

Another new space web-site was also launched on the Apollo anniversary. SpaceWatch features three channels of Internet TV: "Mission Control, Over", "Deep Sky", and "Cosmic Visions". A new show is added each week with past shows available the archives ( home page).


Man Lands on the Moon

This week marked the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. For one brief moment on July 20, 1969, humanity was united in looking upward as Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin landed the Eagle lunar module on the Sea of Tranquillity. Because the planned landing site was unsuitable, Armstrong piloted the lander to a better location four miles downrange. In a flurry of computer warnings and low fuel indications Armstrong set the Eagle down and uttered "Houston, Tranquillity Base here -- the Eagle has landed. Six and a half hours later Armstrong descended the ladder attached to one of the LEM's legs. About half-way down, he pulled a lanyard that deployed a black and white television camera. The video feed from the camera was transmitted to Earth where it was live broadcast around the globe. An estimated 600 million people, a fifth of the world's population and the largest television audience ever recorded, shared the moment when Armstrong placed the first human footprint on the Moon. "That's one small step for man -- one giant leap for mankind." Aldrin soon joined Armstrong on the surface for a two and a half hour excursion. After only 21 hours on the lunar surface, the Eagle blasted off to rendezvous with Michael Collins in the command module Columbia. Following a successful splash-down and recovery, the crew was quarantined to protect against the remote possibility that they had brought back disease from the Moon. One of the experiments left on the Moon, the passive Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment which reflects light back to its source is still being used to accurately measure the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

Liberty Bell 7

After several years and several attempts, Gus Grissom's capsule Liberty Bell 7 has been raised from the floor of the Atlantic. Launched on July 21, 1961, the capsule was the second ballistic flight to carry an American to space. After a successful mission and splash-down, the hatch inadvertently blew off allowing seawater to rush in. Though Liberty Bell 7 was attached to a helicopter by a cable, the helicopter could not lift the weight of the flooded capsule and had to cut away. Grissom evacuated the capsule and narrowly avoided drowning. Since that time the capsule has rested undisturbed on the bottom of the Atlantic about 200 miles southwest of Cape Canaveral. On the thirtieth anniversary of the landing on the moon, the small capsule once again lifted off of the surface of the Earth and rose upward. Instead of being pushed skyward by a Mercury Redstone rocket, it was gently pulled to the ocean's surface by a slender 4-mile long tether.

The capsule recovery expedition lead by Curt Newport and financed by the Discovery channel found the capsule on May 1 and successfully photographed it. Recovery attempts were foiled when a tether to their recovery robot snapped. Equipped with a new recovery robot, Newport recently returned to the Atlantic to retrieve the capsule.

Early Tuesday morning the capsule was raised from the floor of the ocean and brought gently to the surface. There a heavier cable was attached and a crane operator lifted it up onto the deck of the salvage ship. The titanium shell was little changed by the 38 years of immersion -- likewise the fabric of the seat. Other items found in good condition were seven Mercury dimes that Grissom had taken as souvenirs, his parachute and the first-aid kit. Grissom's camera was found on the bottom of the capsule -- crushed by the extreme pressure. A small bomb which failed to go off as designed when the ship slipped under the waves was also found and removed. After the initial examination of the corroded interior, the capsule was placed in a container of seawater to preserve it as the salvage craft returns to port. The capsule will be dismantled and its 25,000 components cleaned and restored before being reassembled for display at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. The two hour documentary IN SEARCH OF LIBERTY BELL 7 will air on the Discovery channel on December 12 (Flatoday; Discovery Channel web site).


Robert Kennedy III noted in one of the early editions of the July 16 Frontier Status that the fuel used by the Saturn V's F-1 engine was listed as liquid oxygen/ liquid hydrogen. Kennedy correctly stated that the Saturn V's engines used LOX (liquid oxygen) and kerosene (RP-1).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • July 25 - Delta 2 (7420), Globalstar (4 satellites), pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • July 27 - Space Shuttle Columbia landing at Kennedy Space Center.
  • July 31 - Lunar Prospector impact. Near Mawson crater, South Pole, Moon.
  • 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.
  • Delayed - 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 23 - 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.
  • Delayed to October - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM (8 satellites), Kwajalein Missile Range.
  • November 12 - Proton, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.


With the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia, the space population has risen to 8. Columbia contains four Americans and one French astronaut. The Mir station contains one French cosmonaut and two Russians. This marks the completion of 3,599 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 246 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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