Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #164

Frontier Status Report #164

August 20, 1999

Dale M. Gray

A typical week on the frontier with two launches resulting in five successfully deployed satellites. Two missiles were test fired. Cassini passed by Earth safely while Galileo encountered Callisto. SpaceDev announced new ultra-low cost commercial space missions to Mars and the Moon. Iridium bankruptcy woes continue. The much heralded GPS calendar roll-over created little news.

Highlights of the week of August 20 include:

  • Delta 2 launches four Globalstar satellites
  • Soyuz launches Russian military satellite
  • Two Minuteman 3 missiles test launched
  • Cassini safely passes by Earth.
  • Athena cleared for September launch


The Shuttle Endeavor has had its Shuttle Radar Topography Mission Payload removed from its payload to allow technicians to examine wiring suspect after Columbia's launch electrical problems. The SRTM mission is now slated for launch in early October. Endeavor's sister- ship, Discovery, has also been subject to wiring inspections (NASA).

NASA is currently weighing its options for rescuing the stranded Orion 3. The communications satellite was left in a useless orbit by a malfunctioning upper stage during the first commercial launch of the Delta 3 system. The satellite is in good condition, but cannot be used in its present orbit. NASA is considering carrying a new upper stage to the satellite, attaching it, and then sending the satellite off to its intended orbital slot. However, aside from the risk involved with astronauts grabbing the satellite during a spacewalk and attaching it to the upper stage, economics of a $400 million shuttle mission being used to rescue a $265 million satellite are problematic. For the last satellite rescue mission in 1992 NASA was reimbursed only $96 million and an independent panel later concluded the mission wasn't worth the risk (Florida Today).


The International Space Station has passed a test of its automated docking systems. As part of the test, the station was maneuvered into its docking orientation and the Kurs docking systems on the Zarya control module activated and tested. As a back-up in case the automated system is not successful, Russia is training two cosmonauts to be launched in a Soyuz spacecraft and dock the Zvezda module to the ISS complex manually (SpaceViews; NASA).

The Zvezda module is slated for a November launch from Baikonur. This past week a high gain antenna and thermal blankets were added to the module. NASA says the module remains on schedule with 86 percent of the electrical tests completed (SpaceViews; NASA).

The Station's orbit was reported on August 19 at 249 x 236 statute miles with a period of 92 minutes. The station has completed over 4,240 orbits since its launch in November of 1998 (NASA).


A Delta 2 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral pad 17B at 12:37 am on August 17. The four Alliant Techsystem graphite epoxy motors fired for a little over one minute before being jettisoned. The Delta 2's RS-27A first-stage engine fired for the first 4.5 minutes of flight before shutting down and separating from the second stage / payload. The Aerojet second stage engine ignited and fired for about 7 minutes. At 62 minutes after launch, the second stage reignited for 27 seconds to circularize the orbit. At T+69.5 minutes, the upper two satellites were deployed. This was followed at T+ 74 minutes by the deployment of the second two satellites. After deployment, the four Globalstar satellites were acquired by ground stations. They will be tested and then moved into their final 764 nautical mile orbits. This was the fifth Delta 2 to be launched in 68 days; deploying 17 satellites (16 Globalstar and 1 FUSE) which is a new record. The launch also gives Globalstar 36 of its planned 48 satellite constellation. The next Globalstar launch will be the September 24 launch of a Starsem Soyuz rocket (SpaceViews; Florida Today).


A Russian Soyuz-U rocket launched a military satellite into a Low Earth Orbit from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on August 18. The satellite, a Yantar'-class spy satellite was placed in a 166 x 342 km x 67.1 degree orbit. This orbit has been used for high resolution spy satellites since the inception of the Kobal't satellite series in 1981. Itar-Tass reported few details, stating the payload was the Kosmos 2365 satellite which was placed into a circular orbit (Florida Today citing Itar-Tass; Jonathan's Space Page).


A modified Orbital Sciences Pegasus rocket booster to be used to power the X-43A was recently delivered to the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, California. The X-43A is part of the Hyper-X program. The 12 foot long research vehicle, which is to be delivered in October, was developed and built by MicroCraft Inc. of Tullahoma, Tennessee. The X-43A/Pegasus stack will be launched from a modified B-52 bomber. The Pegasus will push the X-43 to a predetermined altitude and speed where it will fly a pre- programmed trajectory to conduct a series of aerodynamic and propulsion tests before it eventually falls to the Pacific Ocean. Three research flights of Mach 7 (2) and Mach 10 (1) are planned (Dryden FRC PR).


A fairing change on the Athena 2 rocket has cleared the way for a September 24 launch of the Ikonos satellite. Lockheed Martin built both rocket and satellite. A previous attempt to launch an Ikonos reconnaissance satellite failed when a fairing failed to separate and its weight pulled the spacecraft back down to Earth. The problem was traced to an electrical circuit that triggers a pyrotechnic charge that splits the fairing (SpaceNews).



On August 17 the Cassini spacecraft completed a flyby of Earth. At 8:28 pm PDT the spacecraft shot across the South Pacific, gaining 12,000 mph (5.5 kps). The spacecraft passed within 1,171 km (727 miles) of Earth. Nine of 12 scientific instruments actively observed the Earth/Moon system. Observations will be used to help calibrate the instruments. Cassini's next port-of-call will be Jupiter in December 2000 where it will gain the momentum necessary to reach Saturn in 2004. Cassini is a joint NASA / ESA / Italian Space Agency project to study Saturn and its moons. The spacecraft along with its controversial 72.6 pounds of plutonium power nodules was launched in 1997. (NASA, JPL PR; SpaceViews; Florida Today; SpaceViews).


On Saturday August 14, at 1:31 pm PDT, Galileo passed by Callisto for the third time. As the spacecraft passed behind the Jovian moon, radio signals passing through the moon's atmosphere were analyzed for clues to the atmospheric composition. Unexpected exposure to a burst of powerful radiation from Jupiter has caused problems on the spacecraft. While the on-board fault protection system is keeping the spacecraft operational and science systems active, a tape recorder did temporarily stop during the Callisto encounter with some loss of data. The Callisto pass was used to move the spacecraft inward toward Jupiter so that it can study the volcanically active moon Io (NASA; JPL).



Iridium has announced that 70 percent of its creditors have agreed on a restructuring plan and that a deal could be reached for the restructuring of the company in 30 days. Iridium filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 13 after the latest of a series of failed interest payments. Under one possible scenario, debt would be converted into a 25 percent equity stake in the company. Because of the rapid development of the satellite telephone industry (Globalstar is set to go on-line), Iridium hopes to emerge from bankruptcy as rapidly as possible. Experts in bankruptcy do not expect Iridium to meet its self-imposed 30 day goal (USA Today).

In a strange mixing of frontiers, shares of the recently bankrupt Iridium were being offered on the Internet web-site eBay. The exchange of Iridium stock on the NASDAQ was officially halted when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. However, a shareholder posted 1,300 shares of Iridium at the eBay web-site for $6,500 or $5 per share which was well above the $3-1/16 which it last traded at on the NASDAQ. While not thought to be illegal since the trading was brought to a halt by the stock exchange and not the SEC, eBay asked that the shares be removed from its service. It does not allow stock sales due to possible legal and regulatory issues. There were no bids posted for the shares at the time of removal (Reuters).


Jim Benson's SpaceDev announced that it is now offering commercial missions to Mars and the Moon. For $24 million, SpaceDev will build launch a 200 kg spacecraft capable of carrying 30 kg payloads to Mars. The mission will be launched during the 2003 Mars launch window as a secondary payload on an Ariane 5 rocket. Benson recently challenged the Mars Society to find a sponsor and do their own exploration of Mars. Lunar missions are listed at $20 million (SpaceDev PR; SpaceNews; SpaceViews).

Orbital Science

Russia's inability to launch the QuikTOMS mission has allowed Orbital Sciences to capture the launch contract. The satellite will be launched as a secondary payload on a Taurus rocket in the second half of 2000. The $23 million contract includes satellite, sensor integration (built by Orbital Sciences Sensor Systems Division), launch and two years of mission operations (SpaceNews).


Orbimage and Aerial Images Inc. have teamed together to market Orbimage's high-precision geographic information on TerraServer, an Internet-based library of imagery and maps. Terra Server reportedly get more than 100,000 visits per day (SpaceNews).


Astra 2

The Societe Europeenne des Satellites (SES) has announced a contract with Hughes Space and Communications for two more Astra 2 satellites to be delivered to the SES' second orbital slot at 28.2 degrees east longitude. The Astra 2D is slated for delivery in late 2000 by an Ariane rocket with Astra 2C to be placed in orbit by early 2001 on either a Proton or Ariane rocket. Astra 2D will be a spin-stabilized HS 376 HP with 16 Ku-band transponders. Astra 2C will be an HS 601 HP body- stabilized satellite with 28 Ku-band transponders. The satellites are expected to have life spans of 12 - 15 years respectively (Hughes PR).


Arianespace announced this past week that it has acquired contracts for the launch of three satellites. The satellites will be launched between late 1999 and late 2000. The customers were listed as the Indian Space Research Organization (Insat 3A), PanAmSat, and SpaceSystems / Loral (Telstar 7). Insat 3A is the eighth satellite launched for India by Ariane. This contract will be the 17 satellite launched by Arianespace for PanAmSat. The Telstar 7 contract is a conversion of a Globalstar LEO launch to a GEO launch contract. These new contracts mark the 200 -202 satellite launch contracts for Arianespace which now has a backlog of 43 satellites (Arianspace PR).


Minuteman 3

The US Air Force Space Command launched two Minuteman 3 ICBM missiles from Vandenberg AFB on August 20. The test was part of the Force Development Evaluation Program involving the 576th Flight Test Squadron of Vandenberg AFB and the 740th Missile Squadron of Minot AFB, N.D. The missiles were launched from silos LF-10 and LF-09. After reaching an altitude of about 1500 km, the missiles released five unarmed re-entry vehicles which impacted a target at the Kwajalein Missile Range in the Marshall Islands. The last Minuteman test was in February (30th Space Wing PR; Jonathan's Space Report).


New Planet

A team of astronomers in the US, Australia and Israel had detected the presence of a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting two suns. Using the Mount Stromlo Observatory in Australia, the team made the discovery by observing a "micro-lensing" effect when the planet passed between the stars and Earth, magnifying the stars. Because the effect lasted an extraordinary 100 days, the team determined that it could be best caused by two small suns orbiting each other at 150 million miles with a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting the suns at 650 million miles. While planets have been detected around double star systems before, they have orbited only one of the stars and not both as in the recent discovery. "Micro-lensing" is one of the ways that astronomers detect planets around distant stars (BBC News Online; SpaceViews).


Roll over

The widely heralded "roll over" of the calendars on the GPS satellite system has resulted in little or no disruption of US services. The weekly calendar, which has only 10 places in its numbering system, can only contain 1024 weeks (2 to the 10th power). The numbering system began on January 6, 1980. Older GPS systems were expected to have problems converting to a new week 1. While American GPS users appeared unaffected, Japanese car-owners using a Pioneer Electronics system to navigate the complex and often unmarked Tokyo streets apparently were hit hard. The GPS systems were installed in over a quarter million cars, but of these only 170,000 have been updated to handle the roll over. Pioneer put 450 workers on telephone lines to help customers with GPS problems (Reuters).

GPS/cell phones

A start-up company named SiRF Technology unveiled a new chip that will allow cell phones and computers to have navigation functions. The stamp- sized GPS on a chip fits on a small card that can also be installed in watches or lockets -- making it possible to find small children or lost skiers. The company is funded by graphics chip company S3 and by cell phone companies Ericsson and Nokia. The US FCC has mandated that by 2001 all cell phones have GPS functionality -- assuring a strong market for products such as SiRF's. It is estimated that the market for GPS systems chips will reach $1.7 billion in 2003 (Reuters).


Itasca, Illinois

In what has to be one of the strangest stories of 1999, the Itasca Village Board voted last week to pay its residents $100 for signing up for DBS TV services. The Board earmarked $10,000 to cover the first 100 such hook- ups if they occur before October. The Board hopes its plan will provide competition for the AT&T Broadband & Internet Services which just took over the Time Warner Cable system in the town. AT&T Cable responded by saying it was a complete misuse of public funds, part of which came from taxes paid by the cable company. DirecTV responded by saying those people who miss out on the first 100 offer would be eligible for discounts on equipment and installation. EchoStar, not to be outdone, is preparing its own offer for the town's residents (Monica Hogan).



In addition to the successful deployment of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the recent STS-93 mission of the Shuttle Columbia also conducted important experiments in 30 microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). One such experiment placed 19 tiny electric thrusters on a circuit board about the size of Lincoln's face on a penny. The research was conducted by a partnership of TRW and CalTech and was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The MEMS technologies tested could lead the way for cannon launched satellites or swarms of microsatellites. Such microsatellites would weigh less than 2.2 pounds and measure 4 inches in diameter with a thickness of only one inch. Other MEMS devices currently in operation in day-to-day life include ink-jet printer heads and airbag control sensors (SpaceDaily).


NASA announced on August 19 that the newest of the New Millennium missions would be a three satellite constellation called the Nanosat Constellation Trailblazer mission. Each of the three satellites will be an octagon 16 inches across and 8 inches high. The satellites will be deployed in 2003 as a secondary payload on an expendable rocket launch. The $28 million mission will seek to dramatically reduce the weight, size and cost of satellites while increasing the satellite's scientific capabilities. The satellites will feature a number of new lightweight systems and components developed by several aerospace companies, agencies and Universities (JPL; Space Daily).

Hybrid rocket motor

On August 13, a consortium of aerospace companies conducted a long-duration firing of a 250,000 pound thrust hybrid rocket motor at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The Hybrid Propulsion Demonstration Program designed and produced the motor which resembles the solid rocket boosters used by the Shuttle. However, since it is a hybrid motor and the oxidizer is fed into the fuel, the rocket can be throttled and even restarted. The motor is 70 inches in diameter, about 45 feet long and weighs 125,000 pounds. The motor uses a new head-end combustion approach and ignition system developed by Lockheed Martin Michoud Space Systems of New Orleans. The test lasted 15 seconds and produced 250,000 pounds of thrust. Early results of data indicate the motor was stable throughout the test firing. This is the second of a series of tests to demonstrate different methods of ignition and injection of the oxidizer (NASA).


Space Cowboy

Filming of the new Clint Eastwood movie "Space Cowboy" is underway at Kennedy Space Center. The movie, written and directed by Clint Eastwood, is said to be about an aging astronaut called back into active duty to rescue a unique 1960's era satellite. Clintwood's character agrees to do the job if his former teammates played by James Garner and Tommy Lee Jones get to play the support team. The project is in the early stages of production with little available plot information, but the movie does seem to be a cross between "Armageddon" and John Glenn returns to space (Flatoday).


The Russians are coming! This past week rumors have been flying that the Russians are planning a preemptive occupation of the International Space Station. The foundation on which the rumor is based is the fact that Russia is currently training a two-person contingency crew to manually dock the Service Module if the automatic systems do not do the job. Currently, this two-person crew is getting more simulator time than the first crew to occupy the station. This is sparking the debate on whether the docking crew is planning on staying to greet the first official crew. Both NASA and the Russian Space Agency deny even the possibility of the plan. However, following Russia's recent preemptive occupation of the Pristina airport near Kosovo, the idea is getting more consideration than it might otherwise (Newhouse News Service).


While the jury is still out on whether we will contact extraterrestrial intelligence, evidence is mounting that terrestrial humans are more than willing to listen for the contact. An innovative computer "screen-saver" program that analyses data from the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) is now running on more than one MILLION computers. The SETI@home program has logged an amazing 51,374.56 years of combined computer time in its search for patterns in data recorded from radio telescopes. For those wishing to join in the search, contact either the Planetary Society or SETI@home web sites (Planetary Society PR).



The US has extended the suspension of Loral Space & Communication's technical assistance agreement to launch its SAT-8 satellites on Chinese Long March rockets. The agreement was suspended last December pending the administration's investigation into possible technology transfer from Loral and Hughes to China after two failed satellite launches.


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • August 27 - Mir Space Station final crew scheduled to abandon station, actual date uncertain.
  • September 1 - Ariane 4, flight 120, Koreasat 3, ELA-2 Kourou, French Guiana.
  • 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, FalsonSat, ASUSat 1, Vandenberg AFB.
  • September 19 - Titan 2 (G-8), Defense Meteorological Satellite Program weather satellite, SLC-4W, Vandenberg AFB.
  • September 21 - Ariane 44LP, Telstar 7, Kourou, French Guiana (previously slated to fly on Atlas 3).
  • September 23-26 - Space Frontier Conference 8, Los Angeles, CA.
  • September 23 - Delta 2, NAVSTAR (GPS 2R-3), pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • September 24 - Athena 2, Ikonos (previously Ikonos-2), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.
  • September 24 - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 satellites), Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.
  • Late September - Sea Launch Zenit 3SL, DirecTV 1-R, equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • October 7? - Space Shuttle Endeavor, STS-99, SRTM, pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center.
  • October 13 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM (8 satellites), Kwajalein Missile Range.
  • November 12 - Proton, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • November 13 - Space Enterprise Symposium, Seattle.


The population of space may be 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 3,625 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 274 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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