Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #173

Frontier Status Report #173

October 22, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Three launches were reported this week, a Russian Soyuz rocket and an Ariane 4 rocket launched five American-made satellites into orbit. The Russian military also conducted a test launch of their RS-18 missile. The first detailed photographs of Io by Galileo have been released. A planned orbital correction on the Mars Polar Lander was put on hold while teams work to assure that there will be no problems with the maneuver. The NASA budget was signed into law by President Clinton.

Highlights of the week of October 22 include:

  • Io photographs released
  • Soyuz launches four Globalstar satellites
  • Ariane 4 launches Orion 2 satellite
  • Russia test launches an RS-18 missile
  • Brazilian satellite in trouble
  • ICO Global working to get out of bankruptcy


The ISS is in a 248 x 230 statute mile orbit -- having completed 5,120 orbits since first element launch. The system whereby Houston can control the station through the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) was demonstrated during the week with commands sent from Houston to the computers on Zarya. The control system was turned off periodically so as to avoid conflict with data being received from Galileo as it encounters the Jovian moon Io (NASA).


Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts have been training at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. They represent the main and back-up crews for the first International Space Station crew. The crewmembers will train on Zvezda's systems. The Zvezda will be launched on a Proton rocket from Baikonur in late December or early January (AP).


The European Space Agency is preparing for participation in the International Space Station by operating a modified Airbus A-300 in a week-long training program. Beginning October 25, the aircraft will conduct series of parabolic flights to conduct brief experiments in microgravity conditions. Technical, biological, chemical and physical processes will be evaluated for function in the absence of gravity. Since 1984, the ESA has conducted 26 campaigns producing a total of 2,650 parabolas -- almost 15 hours of simulated orbital microgravity (ESA).


A group of American investors have traveled to Russia with a plan to save the Russian space station Mir. The group is advocating the use of low-cost tether technology to boost the station in orbit until a financially stable solution can be found. The general-director of RSC Energia has agreed to work with the group backed by U. S. financier Walt Anderson to study the use of an electrodynamic tether to reboost the station in orbit (SpaceNews; Space Frontier Foundation).


On Tuesday, October 19, an Ariane 4 rocket was launched from the ELA-2 launch pad at Kourou, French Guiana. No problems were reported preparing the Ariane 44LP rocket for launch. Configured with two solid and two liquid rocket boosters, Flight 122 lifted off at 2:22 a.m. EDT. The solid rocket boosters burned out and were jettisoned at T+1:45 minutes. The rocket continued with four Viking 5 rocket engines and the two liquid boosters. The liquid strap-on boosters completed their burn and were jettisoned at 2:45 minutes. At T+4 minutes the first stage shut down and separated from the second stage at an altitude of 92.3 km. The Viking 4 engine of the second stage fired for two minutes with the protective payload fairing released at T+5 minutes. At T+6 minutes the second stage completed its burn and separated from the third stage at 129 km altitude. The HM 7B cryogenic third stage burned for 13 minutes, carrying the satellite upward to over 439 km and a velocity of 0.81 km/s. The Orion-2 satellite was released in an elliptical super-synchronous transfer orbit at T+22 minutes. The high point of the orbit is 60,368 km (apogee) and low point (perigee) is 200 km. The next Ariane launch will carry the GE-4 satellite on November 13 (Florida Today; SpaceViews).

Loral Space and Communications built the Orion-2 telecommunications satellite. The 1300 bus satellite features 36 Ku-band transponders and will be placed in the 15 degrees west longitude orbital slot. The 10,600 watt satellite is three-axis body stabilized and has a designed life of 15 years. The satellite will be part of the Loral Global Alliance's fleet of ten satellites that provide data and Internet service connections between four continents. The satellite's capacity will be available for lease through Loral Skynet. The satellite will cover Europe from the Ural Mountains to the Atlantic along with the east coast of North and South America (Loral PR).


On Monday, October 18, a Starsem Soyuz rocket was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 9:32 a.m. EDT. The payload was four Globalstar satellites. The four-four chambered NPO Energomash RD 107 first stage engines completed their burn and the four boosters separated from the central core (second stage) at just under 2 minutes into the flight at an altitude of 54 km. The payload fairing separated at 2:38 minutes. The NPO Energomash RD 108 second stage engine completed its burn and separated at 4:43 minutes at 215 km above the Earth. The RD 0110 engine powered third stage completed its burn and separated from the Ikar upper stage at T+8:48 minutes. The Ikar upper stage began its first burn at 2:29:31 hours after launch. The Aerospatiale-produced dispenser in the Ikar upper stage released the Globalstar satellites 3:33:30 hours after launch at an altitude of 920 km. This brings the total number of Globalstar satellites in orbit to 44. The final four satellites of the network are slated for launch next month on a Starsem Soyuz and four on-orbit spares will be launched on a Delta 2 in December. Starsem was founded in 1996 to market Soyuz launch services. Partners include the Russian Space Agency, Samara Space Center, Arianespace and Aerospatiale (Florida Today; Starsem PR).


The Lockheed Martin Skunkworks has apparently decided to augment the single-stage to orbit concept for their VentureStar spacecraft. In recently released plans for the redesigned spacecraft, VentureStar sports a piggy-back external payload bay that resembles a giant crayon. By moving the 15 foot diameter x 53 foot long payload bay outside, the design allows for greater efficiency in the use of internal space of the spacecraft, but only slightly increases drag. The new configuration has already been wind tunnel tested. The external payload will also allow the payload to be potentially stretched to 63 feet and may allow VentureStar to carry the Crew Return Vehicle (CRV). The final design of VentureStar will still be derived from the X-33 technology demonstrator and will be finalized in October of 2000. While the Lockheed Martin announcement did not mention using the external payload as a second stage, such an adaptation is apparent from viewing the design and would be even easier to implement than mounting the CRV externally. As a one or two-stage system, the VentureStar would be capable of carrying payloads to a wide variety of orbits (Dale Gray observation;


NASA Budget

On October 20, President Clinton signed a $99 billion HUD / VA / Independent Agencies funding bill into law. Within the bill is $13.7 billion funding NASA for FY 2000 -- about $75 million more than the President requested in his original budget proposal, but $25 million below FY 1999. President referred to the NASA portion of the bill only briefly stating, "This bill also looks to the future. It gives NASA the resources it needs to probe the mysteries of space." NASA Administrator Dan Goldin was present during the signing (AP; SpaceViews; ProSpace;


Great Wall Industries

China's Great Wall Industries signed an agreement to launch the Italian satellite Satelcom in the first half of 2001. The contract was awarded after a competition with American, Russian and European launch providers. The 2.6 ton satellite, owned by Alenia Aerospazio, will be launched on a three-stage Long March 3A rocket -- its first international payload since his maiden flight in 1994. Construction of the $100 million satellite will be completed by the end of next year (AP).


NTT Mobile Communications Network, Inc. (NTT DoCoMo) of Japan has selected Orbital Sciences to manufacture the N-STAR c satellite using Orbital Sciences' STAR platform and Lockheed Martin components. The satellite will be used for S-band communication services to mobile users in Japan. The company has selected Lockheed Martin as the prime contractor. Lockheed Martin will provide ground and launch services. The satellite is slated for on-orbit delivery to the 132 or 136 degree East longitude orbital slot in early 2002 (SpaceDaily).

ICO Global

As part of its restructuring to emerge out of bankruptcy, ICO Global has plans to cut the cost of its satellite system by $1 billion. Though the 6-month delay in implementing the program will result in savings of only half that amount. Under the current plan, ICO Global will launch 10 Hughes- built satellites in January with first revenues to be produced in April of 2001 instead of the earlier plan that inaugurated service in October 2000. ICO Global has received $225 million in letters of intent from investors in its attempt to return Chapter 11 bankruptcy (Space News; SpaceViews).

Comsat Corp recently wrote off its $36 million direct investment in ICO Global. As a result, Comsat reported a $18.4 million net loss for the quarter. Comsat retains an indirect investment in ICO Global through its participation in Inmarsat that has significant holdings in ICO Global. Inmarsat has not yet written off its holding in the company (Space News).


Because of slow sales of transponder capacity on the first Lockheed Martin Intersputnik (LMS-1) satellite launched on September 26, the company has delayed plans to launch the second of the series. Rostelecom, the Russian long-distance telephone company, ordered 25 transponders, but has paid for only 11. Another Russian company Sistema Telecom ordered 8 transponders, but has not to-date paid for them. Other companies have expressed interest in transponders on LMS-1 that carries 44 C and Ku-band transponders (Space News).



Only 15 months after receiving a contract for QuickBird 1, Ball Aerospace & Technologies has completed the satellite' bus. Instrumentation is scheduled by the end of the month. QuickBird 1 will be launched from Plesetsk in the first quarter of 2000. QuickBird 1 will provide commercial 1 meter resolution images of the Earth's surface (Ball Aerospace PR).


The Russian federal government has plans to procure more high-precision weaponry and "spy satellites" to provide information for ground troops. The Ministry of Defense hopes to acquire more funds in the 2000 procurement budget to order spy satellites (Space News).


GPS Military

Funding for continued upgrades to the U.S. Global Positioning System have been restored as part of the FY2000 US Defense spending bill. The House Appropriations Committee originally cut $67.5 million from the Pentagon's $139 million request for the system. Recently, during the joint House/Senate conference committee restored $33.5 million to the program. The bill is now awaiting President Clinton's signature (Space News).



Contact has been lost with the Brazilian SACI-1 (Scientific Applications Satellite) launched October 14 as a secondary payload by a Chinese Long March 4B. While the $4.6 million, 60-kg satellite apparently functioned normally after deployment, contact was lost after a few days. The Brazilian National Institute of Space Investigations (INPE) reported that his country has asked NASA to photograph the satellite so that they could determine if the solar panels deployed and are oriented properly. Another scenario is that there is an electronics problem, which will resolve when the computer automatically resets when the spacecraft enters Earth's shadow. The satellite was designed to study the Earth's magnetic field and its interaction with the sun. The primary payload of the launch, the Brazilian SBERS-1 satellite is functioning nominally and has already returned photographs of Brazil (Reuters; SpaceViews;


Mars Polar Lander

Flight controllers have decided to postpone a planned thruster firing to fine-tune the spacecraft's trajectory to Mars. The firing originally slated for October 20 has been rescheduled for October 30. The delay will allow engineers to continue their evaluation of all spacecraft systems and procedures. The evaluation is a direct result of the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter on September 23. The spacecraft is in good health and is 18.8 million km from Mars. It will land in the Martian North Pole region on December 3 (NASA/JPL).


On October 22, JPL released the closest-ever photograph of the Jovian moon Io. The photograph, taken by the Galileo spacecraft from a distance of 671 km clearly shows an active volcano in the center of a lava field. Galileo was launched from the Shuttle Atlantis on October 18, 1989, entered orbit around Jupiter on December 7, 1995 and is currently in a two-year extended mission ( NASA/JPL).



The Russian strategic forces launched an RS-18 Stiletto ICBM on October 20. The missile was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan, and successfully hit a target at the Kura testing grounds in the Kamchatka peninsula. The RS-18, known in the west as the SS-19, can carry up to six warheads. If Russia signs the START-II nuclear arms reduction treaty, the missile will be decommissioned. START-II is currently stalled in the Russian Parliament (AP).


The Pentagon has begun research into the design and deployment of unique servicing satellites that will be capable of refueling and servicing U.S. spy satellites. The project, dubbed "Orbital Express", will make US national security satellites more maneuverable -- making them more difficult to track while enhancing their effectiveness. Future spy satellites will be designed with fuel ports that would allow refueling by small autonomous satellites (SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • Late October - Eurocket, experimental flight, Plesetsk, Russia.
  • October 31 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Garuda-1, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • November 2-4 - International Space Business Assembly, Washington, D.C.
  • November 5 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM (7 satellites), Wallops Island, VA.
  • November 13 - Space Enterprise Symposium, Seattle.
  • November 13 - Ariane 4, GE-4, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • November 14 - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 satellites), Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • Late November - Atlas 2A (AC-136), Navy UHF-10, pad 36B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • December 2 - Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-103, Hubble Servicing Mission, pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.
  • December 6 - Pegasus XL, TSX-5, Vandenberg AFB.
  • December 7 - Titan 2 (G-8), Defense Meteorological Satellite Program weather satellite, SLC-4W, Vandenberg AFB.
  • December 10 - Ariane 5, X-ray Multi-Mirror, ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Delayed to late December / January - Proton, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.


There are currently no humans in orbital space. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 337 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin in March of 2000.

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