Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #169

Frontier Status Report #169

September 24, 1999

Dale M. Gray

One of the busiest weeks on record for the high frontier. Three launches occurred in three consecutive days. The Senate passed a budget bill with NASA fully funded. An amazing robot arm is debuted. Space memorabilia is in high demand at Christie's auction house. However, not all the news was good. The Mars Climate Observer was apparently lost when it entered the Martian atmosphere at too low of an altitude.

Highlights of the week of September 24 include:

  • Mars Climate Observer lost behind Mars
  • Soyuz launches four Globalstar satellites
  • Athena launches Ikonos remote sensing satellite
  • Atlas 2 launches EchoStar direct broadcast satellite
  • Senate passes full NASA budget
  • Roton hover test is a success (last week).

SHUTTLE - Following the clean up from Hurricane Floyd, the space center is returning to business preparing three Orbiters for flight and the oldest orbiter, Columbia, for renovation. Shuttle Discovery's wiring inspections are complete in the forward and aft compartments with work continuing in the midbody above and below the payload bay liner continuing. The Orbiter will return to flight on the Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 3A (STS-103) no earlier than November 19. On Wednesday an oxidizer valve on the orbiter maneuvering system was replaced. Shuttle Atlantis is also undergoing wiring inspections with the forward, midbody and aft compartments complete. Repair and wiring protection actions are ongoing. Its next mission, the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (STS-99) has been bumped back to no earlier than December -- depending on the progress of STS-103 (NASA).

On Friday, September 24, Columbia was loaded on a modified Boeing 747 for a flight to Palmdale, California. A planned overnight stop at Luke Air Force Base was canceled following a crash of an F-16 at the base on Monday. The orbiter will undergo a nine-month period of inspection and modification -- technically referred to as the orbiter maintenance down period (OMDP). Having completed 24 flights, this will be Columbia's second OMDP. The nation's oldest Shuttle will undergo over 100 modifications including the installation of the multi-function electronic display system (MEDS) which is popularly known as the "glass cockpit". Columbia will be the second Orbiter outfitted with full-color, flat-panel displays -- replacing the outdated electromechanical displays. Because Columbia is too heavy to provide useful transport to the International Space Station, it will not be outfitted with an air lock; it will remain the only Shuttle in the fleet with a full 60-foot payload bay. Other upgrades include installation of an enhanced GPS locator system, a space-to-space orbiter radio and wireless video system. A number of weight- saving changes will be made along with increased protection for the Orbiter's radiators and coolant lines. Columbia's 100 plus miles of wiring will also be given close inspection for damage and wear. The orbiter is expected to return to Kennedy Space Center in July 2000 (NASA).

ISS - NASA's chief Daniel Goldin, speaking at the Space Frontier Foundation Conference September 24, announced a new plan for NASA to turn operation of the Space Station over to private enterprise -- perhaps within the next decade. After a period of five to ten years of operation, NASA would be willing to hand its portion of the station over to private industry. The move would free NASA to concentrate on exploring the solar system. NASA would retain a major presence on the station, but as a tenant. Under NASA's current plan, NASA retains control of the station while leasing up to 30 percent or more of the station to commercial ventures. The Space Frontier Foundation is a strong supporter of commercialization of the International Space Station. Other space advocacy groups such as ProSpace have actively lobbied Congress to increase commercial opportunities in space and on the space station (AP).

ATLAS / ECHOSTAR - For the first time in five months an Atlas rocket has left the ground. Atlas flight AC-155 with the EchoStar-5 satellite as payload was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station on Thursday, September 23. The launch was delayed on September 6, 10 and 21 due to a lightning strike, Hurricane Floyd and heavy rains. Lift-off from pad 36Aon was delayed an hour during the T-5 minute hold to remove three boats from the launch danger zone. Lift-off of the Atlas 2AS occurred at 2:02 a.m. EDT. By T+2 minutes both pair (ground lit and air lit) of Thiokol Castor IVA strap-on solid rocket motors had completed their burn and were jettisoned. At T+3 minutes the two Rocketdyne MA-5A booster engines completed their burn and separated from the sustainer stage. The payload fairing separated at T+3.5 minutes with sustainer engine shutdown at 5 minutes after launch, followed immediately by the Atlas stage separating from the Centaur upper stage and the ignition of the Centaur engine. The first burn of the Centaur's two Pratt & Whitney RL-10A-4-1 engines lasted four minutes and 35 seconds. A second burn of the Centaur upper stage occurred at T+24:49 and lasted almost two minutes. At T+29 minutes, the EchoStar-5 satellite was successfully deployed from the Atlas -- the 44th consecutive successful launch (Florida Today; ILS PR; skyreport).

The EchoStar-5 satellite was deployed into a 45,822 x 166.8 km orbit inclined at 26.6 degrees, slightly higher than expected which will save fuel when the orbit is circularized and the satellite is placed in its orbital slot at 110 degrees. Contact with the satellite occurred 45 minutes after launch. The satellite was built by Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto (Space Systems / Loral PR;

ATHENA/IKONOS - On Friday, September 24, the Athena II rocket system returned to service by launching the replacement IKONOS satellite. The launch took place at the Vandenberg AFB SLC-6 on Athena II vehicle LM-7 at 2:21 p.m. EDT (11:21 a.m. local time). Two minutes into the flight the first stage motor completed its burn and separated, followed immediately by the second stage firing. Both the first and second stages are Thiokol Propulsion Castor 120 motors. The second stage completed its burn three minutes into the flight. The rocket coasted ballistically for 90 seconds before the second stage was jettisoned, the payload fairing separated and the third stage ignited. This was the stage where the last Athena was lost because the fairing did not separate and the extra mass dragged the rocket back into the atmosphere. By T+8 minutes the third stage, a Pratt & Whitney Orbus 21D solid rocket motor completed its burn and separated. At T+10 minutes the Primex Aerospace Orbit Adjust Module (OAM) completed its perigee burn. At T+51:27 the OAM began the 6.5 minute apogee burn to circularize the orbit. Satellite separation occurred at T+64 minutes. Data from the spacecraft was acquired at 3:34 p.m. PDT by a tracking station in Sweden. The spacecraft accurately placed in orbit and no additional adjustments using the spacecraft's maneuvering system were required. Data showed the spacecraft to be healthy with deployed solar panels. The satellite will now be tested in orbit with first sale of panchromatic imagery to occur in about 60 days and sale of full map products in 90 days (Florida Today).

IKONOS, owned by Space Imaging, is the first private satellite to provide one meter resolution of on-the-ground objects. Such resolution was previously attained only by "spy satellites". The 1600 lb, three-axis stabilized satellite has both X and S band transceivers and has a design life of five to seven years. The satellite was placed in a 680 km sun-synchronous, near-polar orbit. It can simultaneously collect one meter black and white images and four meter color images. The imagery will be marketed under the Carterra brand name. Investors in the system include Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Mitsubishi, Van Der Horst Ltd, Hyundai Space and Aircraft, Remote Sensing Affiliates, Swedish Space Corp and Loxley Public Co. Space Imaging is based out of Denver, Colorado (Florida Today).

SOYUZ / GLOBALSTAR - A Starsem Soyuz rocket was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 10:33 a.m. EDT on September 22. The four first stage boosters and second stage core engines ignited at T-4.5 seconds. The four liquid fuel boosters that comprise the first stage separated from the liquid-fuel second-stage core at 1:58 minutes into the flight. The payload fairing separated 2:38 minutes into the flight with the Blok A second stage separation at 4:48 minutes after launch. The Blok I third stage completed its burn and separated from the Ikar upper-stage about 9 minutes into the flight. The Ikar stage ignited 2:30 hours after the launch and successfully deployed four Globalstar satellites 3:33 hours after the launch. The satellites were deployed into a 900 x 960 x 51.9 degree orbit. The total number of satellites in the Globalstar constellation is now 40. The Globalstar network will inaugurate global telephone services on October 11 (Florida Today; Starsem PR).

PROTON / LMI - An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket is being prepared for a September 27 launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The payload is the Lockheed Martin Intersputnik (LMI) satellite, which is bound for the 75 degrees East Longitude orbital slot. The Lockheed built A2100AX series bus supports 44 C and Ku-band transponders and is expected to have a service life of 15 years (ILS PR).

SEA LAUNCH - The Sea Launch Odyssey and Sea Launch Commander are preparing to sail for the south Pacific for an October 10 launch. A Zenit-3SL will carry the Hughes-built DirecTV 1-R orbit where it will take its place in the 154 degrees West longitude orbital slot. The launch of the 7,600 pound HS 601HP will be the second launch for the system and the first commercial launch. The satellite has been encapsulated in its fairing and attached to the three- stage rocket in the payload processing facility in the Sea Launch Commander. The assembled rocket was then transferred to the Odyssey, a self-propelled floating launch platform, for transit to the launch site. Travel time from the homeport of Long Beach to the equatorial launch location is expected to take 10-11 days. The equatorial launch position in the largely empty Pacific Ocean provides few launch constraints and allows the Zenit to use the Earth's spin to maximize its launch capability. The launch of the Sea Launch Zenit system is automated with launch control on the Sea Launch Commander. Sea Launch, an international venture, has 19 firm launch contracts (Sea Launch PR).

ROTON - The Roton ATV has completed a second flight test at the Rotary Rocket test facility in Mojave, California. The Atmospheric Test Vehicle used its unique tip-powered helicopter rotors to hover stationary for four and a half minutes. The test was concluded 30 seconds earlier than planned to assure fuel reserves. The next test will be a low- level horizontal flight along a runway at the Mojave airport. Rotary rocket hopes to use a Fastrac engine in its launch vehicle so that it can begin commercial service in 2001 (SpaceViews).

JAPAN - In response to the North Korea missile threat, Japan has reached an agreement with the US Government to buy key instruments and parts for four spy satellites to be launched in 2003. The 200 billion yen ($1.9 billion US) project is a direct result of North Korea launching a satellite over one of the Japanese islands in August of 1998. North Korea maintained that the launch was of a peaceful satellite, but military analysts suspect that it was a test firing of the new medium-range Taepodong I missile. North Korea has since repeatedly stated that it will launch another such rocket soon. While the US government at first wanted Japan to buy turn-key satellites from US sources, it later altered its stance to support Japan buying components for its own domestically produced spy satellites (SpaceDaily).

U.S. Senate: On Friday, September 24, the U.S. Senate passed a fully funded NASA budget as part of the VA/HUD/Independent Agency funding bill (S. 1596). The bill will now be drafted into a "conference report" where differences between it and the corresponding House funding bill will be ironed out. The NASA budget is one item of major difference. While the Senate fully funded the agency, the House cut $1 billion off of its budget. The House was prepared to cut $1.4 billion, but by canceling the AmeriCorp program, the House was able to add $400 million to NASA. The Senate fully funded AmeriCorp. Even if the NASA differences are resolved, Clinton may veto the bill on an entirely different issue relating to the EPA's adherence to the Montreal Protocol. Because the bill is not expected to be ready for presentation to the President until later in October, the Congress passes a Continuing Resolution to deep the agencies operating at 1999 funding levels until their budget is resolved (Tim Kyger;

Atlas: The US. State department appears to be ready to approve Lockheed Martin's plan to help in the mass production of rocket engines for the commercial versions of the new Atlas 4 and 5 rockets. Space News reported that the license was to be issued September 14 (SpaceNews).

Robonautics: Scientists at the Johnson Space Center recently demonstrated their new robot arm designed for work in space. The new arm with its attached hand will allow astronauts to do external work without having to don space suits. By using a system of telepresence, astronauts will be able to grasp and utilize tools designed for the human hand. The new arm is adapted for space with a covering of Kevlar and Teflon to protect it from orbital debris. It is also equipped with 150 sensors to provide feedback touch and feel for the operator. The system, with four fingers and opposing thumb, is so sensitive that it is capable of tying shoelaces. An associated robot head and neck along with a companion arm will be attached to a torso in upcoming tests. The head will provide stereo vision so that the operator can either view two screens or wear virtual reality goggles. The robot would have a variety of day-to- day uses on the International Space Station and would be indispensable in the event of an emergency to make rapid external repairs. An autonomous system even could be used on uncrewed mission. The system took 2.5 years to develop and is reported in a New Scientist article to be the most sophisticated robot arm ever created (SpaceDaily).

Space for sale: On September 18, Christie's of New York auctioned off a variety of space-related items and memorabilia. The 300 items ranged from a name tag with lunar dust from Apollo 15 which sold for $310,000 to a small model of the lunar module from a contractor that went for nearly $30,000 -- 15 times the highest expected price. Experts estimated the items would bring a combined $1.6 million, but in final receipts tallied at $1,934,955 (SpaceViews).

Foton: The returnable Foton capsule returned from orbit at 14:29 local time on September 24 with a soft landing 133 km northwest of Orenburg, Russia. The spherical capsule contained 240 kg of European Space Agency experiments. The SYMBIO experiment, from a group of scientists at Nottingham University in England, studied the interaction of soil bacterium, Rhizobium with clover seedlings. Clover utilizes Rhizobium in root nodules to convert nitrogen in the air into a form clover can use in the production of amino acids and other important compounds. The experiment will provide information on how the bacteria colonize the seedling roots. Another experiment FLYING STONES, from the Open University, placed three different kinds of rock in the capsule's heat shield to simulate the forces experienced by meteorites originating from Mars. The experiment is aimed at aiding the identification and recovery of Martian meteorites. The Foton-12 capsule was launched on a Soyuz U rocket from Plesetsk, Russia on September 9 (ESA; SpaceDaily; Swedish Space Corporation PR).

Mars Climate Observer: On Thursday, September 23, at 5:25 am EDT, the Mars Climate Observer (MCO) fired its engine for Mar orbital insertion and passed behind Mars at 5:30 am. The spacecraft was ordered to dip into the Martian atmosphere to begin a period of aerobraking to slowly lower it into its designed orbit. The spacecraft never regained contact with its controllers. The Deep Space Network searched space around Mars but was unable to locate MCO. The $125 million spacecraft was launched last September and had successfully completed the journey to the red planet. Early indications point to the spacecraft approaching Mars at an altitude of only 37 miles (60 km). At such a low altitude, the spacecraft broke up from interaction with Mars' tenuous atmosphere. The spacecraft was expected to approach Mars at 87 to 93 miles (140 to 150 km) with a minimum for survival of 53 miles (85 km). The spacecraft was to spend a Martian year (about 2 Earth years) studying the climate of Mars and was also to serve as a communications link for the Mar Polar Lander which is enroute to Mars with a December 3 landing date. Controllers ruled out mechanical problems early in the investigations, instead focusing on human error and software. Controllers determined that a significant drop in altitude occurred in the last hours before the attempted orbital insertion (NASA; Reuters).

COMING EVENTS - Courtesy J. Ray, and J. Foust

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

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

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

October 5 - USAF Delta 2, NAVSTAR (GPS 2R-3), pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.

October 10 - Sea Launch Zenit 3SL, DirecTV 1-R, equatorial Pacific Ocean.

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

October 18 - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 satellites), Baikonur, Kazakstan.

October 15-17 - Artemis Project Conference, Hampton Inn, Las Vegas, Nevada.

November 5 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM (7 satellites), Wallops Island, VA.

November 4 - September 30 - Atlas 2A (AC-136), Navy UHF-10, pad 36B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.

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.

CENSUS - There are currently no humans in orbital space. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 309 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin in March of 2000.

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