Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #168

Frontier Status Report #168

September 17, 1999

Dale M. Gray

On September 15, NASA weathered two storms: Hurricane Floyd off the Florida coast and a critical budget vote in the US Senate. East coast American rockets were grounded by the storm. Two technical issues delayed the Japanese H-2 rocket this past week. Only a sub-orbital launch from Alaska was reported. Lots of activity in Congress and two spacecraft, Mars Climate Orbiter and Galileo, prepare for encounters.

Dale Gray's article "Space as a Frontier -- the Role of Human Motivation" has been published in Space Policy, Volume 15, Number 3, August 1999.

Highlights of the week of September 17 include:

  • Kodiak, Alaska complex launches second rocket
  • NASA battens down the hatches.
  • Galileo survives four encounters in one day on its way to Io.
  • Mars Climate Orbiter in final week of voyage to Mars.
  • Senate sub-committee restores NASA budget
  • Australia spaceport may get converted Russian missiles

During the week of September 11 through 17, the Kennedy Space Center prepared for, experienced and recovered from Hurricane Floyd. Shuttles Discovery, Endeavor and Columbia were stored in the Orbiter Processing Facility's bays 1, 2 and 3. Columbia had been undergoing preparation for transfer to Glendale, California for refurbishment before being grounded by the storm. Atlantis was stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building high bay 2. Payload bay doors were closed and landing gear was protected on all the orbiters. The VAB and launch pads were designed to withstand winds of 125 miles per hour and the OPF is designed for winds up to 105 miles per hour. While weather forecasts predicted winds of up to 100 knots on Wednesday, the ultra-high winds failed to materialize. Sustained winds reached 62 mph (100 km/h) with gusts up to 80 mph (129 km/h). Floyd turned north and hit land at Cape Fear, North Carolina. A temporary power outage was reported along with some water blown under the door of the OPF -- no damage to the orbiters was reported. Four rockets left on their stands during the storm apparently were undamaged (NASA; SpaceViews;

While workers returned to the Cape on September 16, the storm could cause serious delays in the launch schedule. If Discovery is not launched on the Hubble Space Telescope repair mission by November 4, it will be delayed to November 19 to avoid a meteor shower. This would bump Endeavor's November 19 Radar mapping flight into January and would push the Atlantis flight to the International Space Station into the spring (Florida Today).

In an unusual move, Astronaut Mark Lee has been pulled from a crew assignment on a space station construction mission next spring by the management of the Johnson Space Center. The reason for the reassignment was not given by either management or by Colonel Lee who is asking for the decision to be reconsidered. Lee was to work on the May 2000 mission to deliver the US Laboratory to the station. With four previous spacewalks, Lee is among NASA's most experienced astronauts. Three of the walks were during the 1997 Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission and a 1992 test of backpack jetpack. The move is nonpunative and comes with no loss of employment grade or salary. Lee remains eligible for future spaceflights (Houston Chronicle;


The Service Module, dubbed Zvezda, appears to be on-schedule for a launch sometime on or after November 12. The actual launch date of the module on a Proton rocket from Baikonur will be set during a September 27-29 meeting of the Joint Program Review between NASA, the Russian Space Agency and RSC-Energia. The continued wiring problems and weather delays that have affected the Shuttle launch schedule may cause the Americans to ask the Russians to delay (ESA PR).



The launch of the Japanese H-2 rocket with a weather and communications satellite was delayed on September 12 due to a problem with a gauge in a first stage liquid hydrogen tank. On September 8, the launch was delayed when an umbilical cord detached and caused minor damage to the payload fairing. This would have been the eighth launch of the H-2 system from Tanegashima in southern Japan. The satellite is the Multifunctional Transport Satellite (MTSAT-1) which will test communication and navigation technologies linking aircraft with air traffic controllers. The satellite will also provide weather information. No new launch date has been set (SpaceViews).


SpaceLift Australia announced that it plans on launching payloads from the Woomera launch range beginning with the first of three test flights in December 2000. The first commercial flight is slated for February 2001. The company plans on using modified SS-25 missiles. SpaceLift Australia has signed an exclusive agreement with Russia, which will provide key launch services. The converted missiles will be airlifted to Woomera in a cargo plane. Payloads up to 800 kg bound for Low Earth Orbit will be fitted onto the rockets at Woomera. The company plans on using established Woomera facilities to launch the first orbital payload from Australia. The SS-25 missile has more than 400 documented launches with a 98.4 percent success rate (SpaceDaily;


An atmospheric interceptor technology (AIT) launch occurred from the Kodiak Launch Complex on September 15 at 5:00 EDT. The launch came one day earlier than originally scheduled. The second stage ignited as planned at 33 miles altitude 64 seconds after launch. The launch and payload deployment was considered nominal. The AIT-2 rocket, built by Space Vector Corporation of Chatsworth, California, was based upon a commercial Thiokol Castor IVB first stage, a government provided M57A1 second stage and an experiment payload section. This was the second AIT launch from Kodiak, the first was on November 5, 1998. The Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation operates the Kodiak Launch Complex. The AIT launch was part of a USAF Material Command, program managed by the Space & Missile Systems Center's Test & Evaluation Directorate located in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Florida Today).


The September 10 launch of an Atlas 2AS was scrubbed after the umbilical tower was hit by lightning. The launch was recycled for September 13 to allow systems to be checked for damage. The September 13 launch was then scrubbed due to a hardware problem compounded by deteriorating weather from Hurricane Floyd. The rocket and satellite were encased in a steel and concrete tower to weather the storm. The rocket is currently slated for a September 22 launch (George Antunes; EchoStar PR).


Beginning this week, one of two identical liquid hydrogen fuel tanks to be used in the X-33 technology demonstrator will undergo a series of pressure and stress tests at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The tank will be tested at the West Test Area where it will be filled with cryogenic propellant and then be subject to structure loads and pressure cycles to simulate pre- takeoff, takoff, ascent, return and landing. The tanks, which are built of graphite epoxy weigh only 4,600 yet, can hold 29,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen chilled to -423 Fahrenheit. The tanks will also be an integral part of the X- 33 airframe where they will form the flanks of the new reusable rocket. The Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California is developing the X-33. Alliant Techsystems of Clearfield, Utah fabricated the tanks. The first flight of the X-33 is slated for the summer of 2000 (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center PR).


U. S. Senate

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on VA-HUD-Independent Agencies has decided to restore full funding to NASA after last week the full US House cut $1 billion from NASA's budget. The new funding is at the level of the President's request. However, $120 million was transferred from the space science budget to the space transportation budget to help fund programs such as the X-33. The International Space Station was given full funding, but NASA was directed to accelerate commercialization of the station. It specifically requires NASA to come up with a plan to outsource logistics and resupply services by next March (ProSpace: Marc Schlather; Charles Miller;

U. S. House

The U. S. House of Representatives passed H. R. 1883 that may withhold $590 million of funding that is to be paid to Russia for its participation in the International Space Station. The measure is part of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 1999 which contains sanctions to prohibit nations from helping Iran develop nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and to prohibit Russian rocket technology from reaching Iran. The bill passed 419-0. Russia in response condemned the measure citing measures it had already given assurances that it was not cooperating with Iran to build rockets. The bill has not reached the Senate. Clinton's advisors have stated that they are recommending the president veto the bill (AP; SpaceNews).



The Russian Space Agency (RKO), NPO Lavotchkine, Samara Space Center (TsSKB-Progress) and Starsem have completed ground testing of the new Fregat upper stage for the Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle. The combination will be able to place a 4.2 tonne satellite into an 800 kilometer orbit or a 2.7 tonne satellite into a 1,400 km orbit. The first use of the new upper stage is slated for early next year. Clients already signed up for the new system include the Cluster 2 (Cluster 1 was lost on the first Ariane 5 flight) and to launch Mars Express in 2003 (SpaceDaily).

Waste to fuel

The New Scientist magazine reported that NASA is sponsoring a project to turn waste, specifically human waste, into rocket fuel and other useful chemicals. Advanced Fuel Research headed by Jim Markham has found that by heating organic wastes in the absence of oxygen, useful smaller molecules are produced. The equipment being used is designed to handle a wide variety of materials ranging from human feces to plastic bags. The end product could be used in a variety of applications. The work follows that of the Russians which seeks to use bacteria to break down underwear into methane (Reuters).



In the continued idealistic battle over who watches what in Itasca, Illinois, EchoStar recently announced that it would be offer Dish Network systems and six months of free programming to Itasca residents. The move follows last month's Itasca town council's decision, since revoked, to offer $100 to the first 100 residents that signed up for DBS service. The move was made to promote competition for AT & T Broadband & Internet that provides the town with cable TV service. Under the new EchoStar program, residents that sign up for one year of Dish's "America's Top 40" programming at $19.99 will receive a free Dish 500 system, professional installation and the first six months of service free. The offer is good until October 3. DirecTV, EchoStar's sole DBS competitor, has also made a special offer for Itasca residents (MediaNews).



European Space Agency scientists have begun experiments in a recoverable Foton capsule launched by a Soyuz rocket on September 9 from Plesetsk. The 250 kilograms of experiments are mostly on biology and fluid physics. The capsule is expected to reenter and soft-land via parachute in Kazakhstan on September 24 (SpaceNews).


The Earth-observing Triana project suggested by Vice-President Al Gore appears to have fallen victim to budget cuts. The project, to product photographs of the Earth from space and distributed on the Internet has grown from a modest $20 million to a true cost figure estimated by the NASA Inspector General to be between $144 and $221 million. In addition, its deployment from a Shuttle may be illegal, in violation of the 1999 Commercial Space Act (House Committee on Science).


Mars Climate Orbiter

The Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) competed a 15 second firing of its maneuvering engines at 9:40 am PDT on September 15 as a final adjustment to its flight path. MCO will arrive in orbit around Mars next week when it will pass 193 miles over the North Pole. The Martian weather satellite took its first photograph of the red planet on September 12. The next significant event for the spacecraft will be the orbital insertion burn on September 23. Software commands for fine-tuning the orbital insertion will be uplinked on September 20. Once in orbit, the Mars Climate Observer will spend the next two years mapping the surface and sending back data on Martian weather and climate (NASA; AP).


A busy week for Galileo. On Tuesday, September 14, the spacecraft passed within 583 kilometers of Ganymede (9:49 am PDT); passed within 1.1 million kilometers of Europa (11:25 am PDT); came within 465,000 kilometers of Jupiter (12:57 PM PDT); and flew by Io at a distance of 439,000 kilometers (2:48 PM PDT). The maneuvers were followed on Thursday, September 16 by an encounter with Callisto. At 11:02 am PDT, the spacecraft passed within 654 kilometers of the moon. As Galileo passed behind the moon, the craft's radio signal was weakened and refracted by Callisto's atmosphere. During the Callisto pass, a recurring "glitch" occurred when a computer re-sets the non-spinning portion of the craft. The problem was correctly handled by software that allowed the science data to continue to be acquired uninterrupted. The September encounters are to set up a close encounter with Io on October 10 and November 25 to study its many volcanoes. It is hoped that Galileo will provide high resolution photographs of the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Controllers are concerned that the Io encounters may prove problematic since Io is in a heavily radiated region around Jupiter (NASA).


Courtesy Florida Today and SpaceViews

Delayed - Japanese H-2, Multi-functional Transport Satellite, Tanegashima Space Center, Japan.

September 22 - Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS (AC-155), EchoStar V, pad 36B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.

September 23 - Mars Climate Orbiter enters orbit around Mars

September 23-26 - Space Frontier Conference 8, Los Angeles, CA.

September 23 - USAF Delta 2, NAVSTAR (GPS 2R-3), pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.

September 24 - Ariane 44LP, Telstar 7, Kourou, French Guiana (previously slated to fly on Atlas 3).

September 24 - Athena 2, Ikonos (previously Ikonos-2), SLC-6, Vandenberg AFB.

September (late) - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 satellites), Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.

September 26 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), LMI-1, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan.

September 28 - Sea Launch Zenit 3SL, DirecTV 1-R, equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Delayed - September 30 - Atlas 2A (AC-136), Navy UHF- 10, pad 36B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.

October 3 - Titan 2 (G-8), Defense Meteorological Satellite Program weather satellite, SLC-4W, Vandenberg AFB.

October 13 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM (8 satellites), Kwajalein Missile Range.

October 15 - Orbital Sciences Minotaur, JAWSAT, FalsonSat, ASU Sat 1, Vandenberg AFB.

Delayed - Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-103, Hubble Servicing Mission, pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.

November 12 - Proton, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.

November 13 - Space Enterprise Symposium, Seattle.


There are currently no humans in orbital space. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 302 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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