Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #163

Frontier Status Report #163

August 13, 1999

Dale M. Gray

An Ariane 4 launch tops the week's space activities, but Iridium's default on its loan and subsequent filing for bankruptcy is the week's top story. NASA has discovered the cause of the electrical short on the recent Columbia/Chandra mission. Hughes and JPL unveil a new solid-state gyro that is a fraction of the mass of previous gyros.

Highlights of the week of August 13 include:

  • Iridium defaults on loan files for bankruptcy
  • Ariane 4 launches Telkom 1 satellite
  • Shuttle electrical short pin-pointed
  • Chandra in final orbit -- opens sun shade
  • Gyroscope on a chip licensed
  • August Frontier Corner posted at


Investigators into the electronic failure during the July 23 launch of the Shuttle Columbia have determined that a wire with broken insulation brushed against a metal screw five seconds into the flight. This caused a short that crashed one of the computers controlling two of Columbia's main engines. Back-up systems seamlessly assumed control allowing a successful launch. Post-landing investigations have revealed that a worker probably stepped on the wire prior to the launch, pressing it against a marred Phillips-head screw. This analysis has prompted NASA to order additional inspection of the fleet of Orbiters. Columbia is NASA's oldest Orbiter with 23 flights to its credit. The September launch of Endeavor (STS-99) will be delayed from September 16 to October so an advanced radar can be off-loaded to reveal the area in question (Florida Today). article

On August 12, payload hardware for the Third Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission (STS-103) arrived at Kennedy Space Center aboard a C-5 cargo plane. The equipment was shipped from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Due to failures of on-board gyroscopes, a scheduled third servicing mission was moved forward half a year. In addition to replacing the gyros which are essential to the pointing of the telescope, astronauts will also replace a Fine Guidance Sensor, install an enhanced computer and replace a tape recorder with a solid state digital recorder. A Battery Voltage/Temperature Improvement Kit will be installed to protect the telescope's batteries and electrical system. A failed back-up transmitter will also be replaced. While inspections of the electrical system sparked by the Columbia launch event will not delay the processing of the Hubble Servicing mission, the launch may be pushed back due to delays of Endeavor's Radar Mapping mission which will fly before the Hubble mission (NASA).


This past week the Canadian Space Agency announced that it had signed an agreement with SpaceHab that would give the US firm access to Canadian experimental space on the International Space Station. SpaceHab will have use of one of the CSA's experiment lockers beginning in May of 2001. In exchange, SpaceHab is providing Canada with a protein crystal growth experiment on an upcoming Shuttle mission. The crystal growth facility was built by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The deal gives SpaceHab the first direct commercial access to the station (; SpaceDaily).

Other than one battery that has problems with discharge /recharge, the station is in good health. The battery is not being used and will be replaced during the next Shuttle mission (STS-101). Plans are underway for testing the Kurs automatic docking system that will be used in the November docking of the Service module to the Zarya module already in orbit. On the ground controllers have corrected a software glitch that prevented transfer of control from Moscow to Houston. The station is in a 249 x 236 statute mile orbit with a period of 92 minutes (NASA).


Yet another plan to save Mir has emerged from Russia. Rumors are circulating that Russia hopes to salvage components of the Mir station and launch the back-up Service Module developed for the ISS. Together they would form a new, smaller, orbital facility called Nadezhda (Hope). At one percent of the cost of the International Space Station, the Russians are hoping to use the station as a trainer and for commercial purposes (Artemis-list citing NASA Watch).


An Ariane 42P rocket with two solid strap-on boosters was launched from ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana on August 12 at 7.52 p.m. local time. The satellite was released into orbit 21 minutes after launch. Flight 118 is the first Ariane launch since April (Reuters).

Telkom 1 will provide telecommunications services for Indonesia. The 6,000 pound satellite was built in the US. The cost of the satellite, launch and insurance was reported as $200 million. It was originally slated for launch on the new Ariane 5, but was moved to an Ariane 4 when a second compatible payload could not be obtained (Reuters).


Russia has made the first $12.5 million installment on a lease agreement with Kazakstan for the use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Under an agreement hammered out after the recent failed Proton rocket launch, Russia will be able to continue using the Cosmodrome located on Kazakstan soil in exchange for cash and goods. Russia plans on paying only $50 million in cash, the rest of the $115 million annual payment will be in the form of commodities (AP).



The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft fired its hydrazine engine for two minutes at 1:00 pm EDT on August 12 to put it on track for a February 14, 2000 encounter with the asteroid 433 Eros. The firing was also a good test of the software and systems necessary to put the spacecraft into orbit around the asteroid. The burn changed the spacecraft's velocity by 20 mph (4.5 mps) to about 188 mph (84.2 mps) relative to Eros. The spacecraft malfunctioned during a final engine burn earlier this year on its first attempt to orbit Eros (SpaceDaily).


On August 11, the Cassini spacecraft completed a final flight path adjustment for its August 17 Earth flyby. Cassini fired its main thruster for 130 seconds at 8:30 am PDT. On August 17 the spacecraft will sling-shot across the South Pacific to accelerate the craft toward Jupiter. The craft will swing around Jupiter in December 2000 to gain the momentum necessary to reach Saturn in 2004. During the August 17 fly-by, nine of 12 scientific instruments will be activated to observe the Earth/Moon system (NASA / JPL PR; SpaceViews).



Iridium LLC has missed subscriber and income goals for August and has defaulted on its August interest payment for two loans totaling $1.55 billion dollars. It is also unlikely to meet an interest payment on 1.45 billion on bonds that is due on August 15. As a result, the company declared bankruptcy on Friday, August 13, and has filed for protection under Chapter 11. The filing came just hours after a group of senior note holders filed suit against the company's Iridium Operating LLC and Iridium Capital Corp subsidiaries. Trading on the stock was halted on Friday when it had dropped 28 percent to $3.0213 per share. Service to Iridium's 15,000 users is not expected to be affected by the actions (; Dow Jones Newswires; Reuters). article 1, article 2

ICO Global Communications

ICO Global Communications has failed to raise the required $600 million to create its global telecommunications system. The company blames the "Iridium" effect for souring the investment market ( article

Editor's note: The "Iridium" effect is similar to that experienced in historic western mining enterprises when the first mine in a new district failed. Investors then shun the district -- despite any direct evidence of potential profits from other mines working other sources of ore. In western terminology, the district becomes a "humbug". This effect continues until sufficient time elapses for new investors to enter the market, or a privately funded effort enters the district and manages to make a profit -- thereby dispelling the reputation. While painful for capitalistic investors, humbugs rarely proved fatal for broader frontier movements. Instead, they cause venture capital to be redirected to other more promising areas in the same general frontier. The word "Iridium" is likely from this point onward to be used in space-related business investing in a manner similar to that of "humbug" (Frontier Theory by Dale M. Gray).

Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences was recently awarded a $23 million contract to build, launch and operate the QuikTOMS atmospheric ozone monitoring satellite. The satellite will feature the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) which Orbital Sciences has built for NASA. The satellite will be launched on a Taurus launch vehicle as a secondary payload in 2000. The satellite will have a three year mission to monitor the ozone layer and the growth of the Antarctic ozone hole. The QuikTOMS satellite is part of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise (SpaceDaily).

SpaceDaily article


EchoStar posted a higher than expected loss for the quarter on Monday, August 9. Marketing expenses of $152 million pushed the quarter loss to $76.1 million with $350 million in revenues. The news was greeted with a $9 per share drop in price to $61. The increase in marketing loss was in part due to additional spending to attract Primestar customers after that company was acquired by DirecTV. EchoStar is currently spending $365 per new customer as compared to the $500 spent by DirecTV. The high rate is justified by the low churn rate experienced by the industry. Echostar added 332,000 new customers to make a customer base of 2.6 million (Denver Rocky Mountain News).



Using its back-up engines, the Chandra X-ray Observatory completed its fifth and final orbit-raising maneuver at 1:43 am EDT, August 7. The Integral Propulsion System fired for seven minutes, 44 seconds to change Chandra's perigee to 9,676 km. The apogee was unchanged at 139,141 kilometers. The door for the telescope's Astrophysics Charge-Coupled Device Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS) was opened on August 8. Flight controllers are now activating equipment and calibrating the High Resolution Camera and the ACIS (NASA: Lockheed Martin PR).

The Observatory's sun-shade was opened on August 12 at 2:00 pm EDT. A pyrotechnic device opened the latch that allowed the 9 foot diameter, 120 pound door to open. In the coming week, prelaunch software in Chandra will be replaced with operational software. Science and control teams are now preparing for the first observations for the worlds most powerful x-ray telescope (NASA). article

EchoStar V

The newest EchoStar satellite, EchoStar V, arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Station in preparation for its September 10 launch on an Atlas 2AS rocket. The satellite is destined for the 110 degree West Longitude orbital slot where it will expand Echostar's television signal from 350 to 500 channels. The satellite will also provide Hawaii and Alaska with Direct-to-home television for the first time. The satellite was built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, Colorado. The FS-1300 satellite has 21 110-watt Ku-band transponders with the capability of combining to 220 watts on 16 transponders (Business Wire).


On August 6, the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) ended operations of the Communications and Broadcasting Engineering Test Satellite (COMETS). Controllers emptied the satellite's hydrazine fuel tank prior to ending service. The satellite was launched on a Japanese H-2 rocket on February 21, 1998 (NASDA).



A high-performance, long-life gyroscope developed by JPL has been licensed to Hughes Space and Communications Company. The device, jointly developed with Hughes is only 4 x 4 millimeters (0.16 x 0.16 inches) and weighs less than a gram (0.03 ounces). The device is a major breakthrough in that it will replace gyroscopes in both terrestrial and space applications. Current solid-state gyroscopes weigh up to 20 pounds and can measure rotation at just over the speed of a second hand on a watch. The new gyroscope can measure rotation that is 30 times slower than the hour hand of a watch. The silicon device is easily manufactured and has no moving parts. The gyroscope is the result of a technological cooperation agreement between JPL and Hughes that was signed in 1997 (JPL).


NASA has awarded a $11.3 million contract to Summa Technology to support manufacturing and maintenance operation of the new Fastrac rocket engine. Under the three year contract, Summa will build three Fastrac engines for the X-34 technology demonstrator along with an additional Fastrac engine already under contract. The engine will be hot-fired in acceptance testing at the Stennis Space Center. The company will provide hardware, engineering support and refurbishment for 22 powered flights of the X-34. Under a pending licensing agreement Summa will be able to seek other markets for the engine beyond the X-34 -- the engine is being considered for use in the Roton Rotary Rocket system. The 60,000 pound thrust engine was designed and developed by the Marshall Center (SpaceDaily).

Secondary Payload Kick-motors

SpaceDev's subsidiary Integrated Space Systems (ISS) has been awarded a 9- month $687,700 contract to provide research support for the US Office of Space Launch. Under the contract ISS will study designs for a Secondary Payload Orbital Transfer Vehicle (SPOTV). This kick-motor would allow secondary payloads "piggy-backing" launch services to change orbits once deployed. Currently such satellites have had be satisfied with whatever orbit was available with the delivery of the primary payload. ISS plans to use hybrid-motor technology it inherited from the now-defunct American Rocket Company. The technology would use solid, storable and relatively inert fuel and a gas or liquid oxidizer. Using such a system, the rocket can be throttled or restarted. The goal of the program is to give secondary payloads the capability to achieve designed orbits -- making them the equivalent of primary payloads (SpaceDaily).

Solid Hydrogen Fuel

Researchers at Glenn Research Center in Ohio have developed a method by which small particles of frozen hydrogen can be suspended in liquid helium. In the process liquid hydrogen at 14 degrees Kelvin is dropped into liquid helium at 4 degrees Kelvin. A suspension is then formed that could be used in future rockets that used futuristic atomic fuels. This class of fuels requires that very active elements be stored in a medium that prevents recombination. In the rocket engine the fuel would recombine into molecules -- flash heating from 4 degrees Kelvin to 2000 degrees Kelvin. Both the hydrogen and helium would vaporize and be ejected out of the rocket nozzle at high speed. Such a rocket engine could in theory produce five times the thrust of today's chemical rockets (SpaceDaily).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • August 14 - Galileo fly-by of Jupiter's moon Callisto.
  • August 17 - Delta 2 (7420), Globalstar (4 sats), pad 17B Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • August 17 - Cassini Earth fly-by.
  • August 19 - X-34 fifth flight test.
  • August 22 - GPS Satellite calendar roll-over.
  • August 23 - Mir Space Station final crew abandons station.
  • September 1 - Ariane 4, flight 120, Koreasat 3, ELA-2 Kourou, French Guiana.
  • September 3 - Athena 2, Ikonos (previously Ikonos-2), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • September 10 - Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS (AC-155), MCI- 1, pad 36B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • September 10 - Japanese H-2, Multi-functional Transport Satellite, Tanegashima Space Center, Japan.
  • September 15 - Orbital Sciences Minotaur, JAWSAT, FalconSat, ASUSat 1, Vandenberg AFB.
  • Mid-September 14 - Ariane 44LP, Telstar 7, Kourou, French Guiana (previously slated to fly on Atlas 3).
  • Late September - Sea Launch Zenit 3SL, DirecTV 1-R, equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • September 19 - Titan 2 (G-8), Defense Meteorological Satellite Program weather satellite, SLC-4W, Vandenberg AFB.
  • September 23 - USAF Delta 2, NAVSTAR GPS satellite (2R-3), pad 17a, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • September 23-26 - Space Frontier Conference 8, Los Angeles, CA.
  • September 24 - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 sats), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • October - Space Shuttle Endeavor, STS-99, SRTM, pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center.
  • October - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM (8 satellites), Kwajalein Missile Range.
  • November 12 - Proton, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.


The population of space is in its final weeks of the base-line of 3. The Mir station contains one French cosmonaut and two Russians. This marks the completion of 3,618 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 267 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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