Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #176

Frontier Status Report #176

November 12, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Another quiet week on the frontier. No launches were reported. While the X-33 slides further behind schedule, the first X-43 test vehicle was delivered. China has backed away from its manned space program while the U.S. prepares the Shuttle Discovery for its mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Baikonur launch ban extended to February 2000.

The history of the new high frontier is now at your fingertips. Research topics from past issues of Frontier Status at .

Highlights of the week of November 12 include:

  • X-34 delivered to Dryden
  • Satellite Home Viewers Act passed by House
  • Thermal problems found in Mars Polar Lander
  • Mars Airplane canceled
  • Dole announces contest to fly into space!

SHUTTLE - During last week, Discovery was attached to its external tank and solid rocket boosters (SRBs) in Vehicle Assembly Building bay 1. Roll out of the Orbiter to Launch Pad 39B was delayed on Monday, November 8, when engineers noted loss of command through a range safety cable. An inspection revealed damage to the SRB cross- strap cable, which will be replaced. The cable is part of the destruct system that would be used if the spaceship goes out of control (NASA; Florida Today).

The Hubble Servicing Mission cargo has been moved to the launch pad in preparation for integration into Discovery's cargo bay. The Hubble mission was originally slated for the spring of 2000, but failure of all but three of the Telescope's gyroscopes, which are essential for the accurate pointing of the instruments, has put Hubble in a precarious position. One more gyroscope failure would cause the orbiting Telescope to go into safe mode until repairs can be made. This would temporarily end the collection of data and cause serious problems by placing a gap in the continuous record. The revised mission has been repeatedly delayed due to technical issues, poor time management by NASA, and avoidance of the Leaned meteor shower. The mission features replacement of all six gyroscopes, replacement of the solar panels with more powerful panels, and the replacement of a camera ten times more powerful than its predecessor (NASA; Frontier Status).

ISS - A mock crew working and living in a simulation of the International Space Station (ISS)has emerged from captivity after 110 days orbiting, albeit slowly, firmly attached to the ground. The experiment included German psychologist, Bernd Johannes along with three Russians: Igor Nichiporuk, Vladimir Saponkov and Yevgeniy Bobrovnik. The 200-cubic-meter simulated station, dubbed Marsolet, is located at the Moscow Institute of Medical and Biological Problems. The experiment was to study interaction of people from different cultures working together under close conditions. Marsolet is connected to another simulation chamber named Mir where a team has been working since July 2 and plans to stay for 240 days (

BAIKONUR - The Kazakstan government announced on November 9 that it would extend the ban on Russian rocket launches from Baikonur until February 2000. The ban, originating from the second Proton failure in less than half a year, has serious implications for the launch of the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS. The statement by the Kazak government comes one day after Russian officials announced that the ban would be lifted at a November 17 meeting of the intergovernmental commission. The RSA also confirmed a February launch date for Zvezda, but attributed it to Shuttle problems. The November 17 meeting is expected to result in an agreement to resume non-Proton launches (AP; citing ITAR-TASS; SpaceViews).

Investigations in the pair of Proton rocket losses have centered on the RD-0210 engines that were built in 1993. Two other rockets using engines from the same batch engines have flown successfully. No other engines from the batch remain (

X-33 - Damage to a cryogenic hydrogen tank during testing may delay the X-33 program by up to two years. The joint NASA and Lockheed Martin program had been slated to begin flights in 2000, but a series of technical issues have pushed the schedule back (Space News).

X-43 - The first of three hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicles, designated X-43A, has been delivered to Dryden Flight Research Center. The vehicles will be the first air-breathing flight vehicles to operate at velocities in excess of Mach 7. Supersonic combustible ramjets (scramjets) fueled by hydrogen and atmosphere will power the vehicles. The body of the X-43 will form integral components of the scramjet -- both the intake and the nozzle. The current record holder for a jet engine is the SR- 71 that can reach Mach 3+ while the rocket-powered X-15 reached Mach 6.7. The 12-foot-long vehicles will be the subjects of three flights, two at Mach 7 and one at Mach 10. The X-43 will be boosted up to speed by an Orbital Sciences booster rocket dropped from a B-52. The vehicle will fly a preprogrammed trajectory, conducting aerodynamic and propulsion experiments -- ending with a Pacific Ocean impact. The first flight is slated for May of 2000 (Dryden FRC PR; NASA PR).

NASA Dryden Flight Research Center Photo Gallery

CHINA - China, which was actively building its manned space program, has backed away from the program. With many of the technical hurdles passed, the first manned flight was expected within the year. Financial constraints were cited as the reason for the reassessment of governmental priorities. It is not known when or if the program will be resumed (Space News).


The Satellite Home Viewers Act came out of conference committee on November 8. The compromise bill would allow satellite-based television services to carry local content television programming. It also contained a $1.25 billion provision that established a loan guarantee program to help bring local programming to smaller markets. On Tuesday, November 9, the US House voted 411 to 8. The bill (S. 247) did not fare as well in the Senate, where Senator Phil Gramm vowed to filibuster the bill unless the Rural Viewers Amendment injected by Montana Senator Conrad Burns was removed. Since the Senate is preparing for its annual recess, the filibuster threat carried greater impact than normal. By Wednesday, the RVA was removed from the bill. The White House has revealed that it has problems with portions of the bill, that it would "make it more difficult for satellite TV firms like EchoStar Communications Corp and DirecTV to compete with land- based cable services," which was the intent of the bill. Wall Street disagreed with the President. On Tuesday, after the House passed the bill, share price for DirecTV's parent company Hughes Space and Electronics (GMH), rose over six points (Reuters; Media News; NYSE).


AppNet: Goddard Space Flight Center has contracted with AppNet, Inc. to develop technologies to enable scientists to control satellites and receive satellite data directly from secure Web sites. The $5.6 million contract also includes development of "intelligent" spacecraft capable of detecting and correcting small anomalies in their operations. The contract is expected to significantly reduce the cost of round-the-clock operations. The new technology will allow satellite control to be conducted from laptops or personal computers and remove the need for traditional high-cost satellite control centers (SpaceDaily).

Flares: The U.S. Shuttle will have a new military application that will directly save lives. Excess solid rocket fuel not used in the Shuttle's SRBs will be formed into flares used to consume land mines. The flares are placed next to uncovered mines and activated by radio control. The flare then burns through the side of the mine, burning away the explosive contents. Each solid rocket fuel batch has a small percentage of extra propellant. Once the fuel sets, the excess cannot be used with another batch. The flare was developed by Thiokol Propulsion that is the NASA contractor that designs and builds the Shuttle SRBs. The flares are being produced through an agreement with the Marshall Space Flight Center (

Microsats: The USAF is preparing to launch a fleet of miniature satellites that weigh less than a pound and are only slightly larger than a deck of cards. The new satellites are categorized as picosatellites. Nanosatellites range from 20 to 2 pounds while microsatellites are between 200 and 20 pounds. Several picosats are slated for launch on a new Orbital Science launch vehicle called the Minotaur which uses two stages of decommissioned Minuteman II ICBMs and the upper stage of a commercial Pegasus rocket. The launch system is hoped to be a way to use up surplus ICBMs while providing inexpensive rides for government payloads. The first launch will feature the Orbiting Picosat Automated Launcher, or OPAL, built by students from Stanford University, which will deploy six picosats (New York Times).


Dole: The Dole company has announced a grand contest to send the lucky winner of a new contest into space! The winner will receive a seven-day training program that culminates in a flight aboard the Vela Space Cruiser to a height of 100 km. An advertisement for the contest appeared nationwide on November 7.

Dole Food Company, Inc. Website


Sea Launch: Kvaerner, the Anglo-Norwegian engineering group, has indicated that it would be interested in selling its 20 percent share in the Sea Launch venture. While Boeing is an obvious potential buyer, Kvaerner has engaged a bank to seek potential buyers. The move is part of a downsizing plan to compensate for the first annual loss in more than 30 years. The company is also engaged in the process of selling off its core business of shipbuilding (Sat ND).

SkyCorp: Dennis Wingo's new company SkyCorp is proposing a radical change in the way satellites are placed in orbit while reducing the cost of deploying satellite constellations. SkyCorp proposes to utilize the International Space Station as an orbital factory for the final assembly and deployment of satellites. Major components of the satellites would be carried to ISS on the Shuttle and then assembled by astronauts. Because the satellite components do not have to be folded up to fit into a rocket nose, the new satellites can be simpler and more robust. After assembly, each satellite will be released out an airlock and checked out. If the satellite is not functioning correctly, it can be returned to the interior of the faulty and the faulty component replaced. SkyCorp is seeking a barter agreement with NASA to exchange three of six satellites in exchange for the ride to the station and assembly by station astronauts. SkyCorp is also working for an option for 1000 additional satellites (Dennis Wingo;


Smart-1: The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced the go-ahead for the Smart-1 lunar satellite. The spacecraft, which will be launched in 2002, will feature a Demonstrator of the Compact Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (D-CIXS). The instrument will be able to measure the Moon's composition by detecting X rays emanating from the surface. Funding for the D-CIXS is primarily from the British National Space Centre. The spacecraft is the first of the Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology of ESA's Horizons 2000 Science programme. The spacecraft will utilize a solar electric ion engine for propulsion (SpaceDaily).


Mars Polar Lander: As a result of ongoing investigations sparked by the loss of Mars Climate Orbiter, a problem with the Mars Polar Lander's descent engine has been revealed. The on-ground investigations found that cold temperatures may effect the descent engine's ability to fire properly, beginning about 2 km above the Martian surface. The engine must fire for about 40 seconds to reduce the speed of the Lander to about 8.6 kph at touchdown. Without the rocket, the spacecraft would impact at 288 kph. Mission planners have decided to turn on propellant system heater several hours before entry into the Martian atmosphere (JPL News; Florida Today;

A related problem with the pyrotechnics needed to separate the MPL from the aeroshell has also been uncovered. The devices, which do not have heaters, need a minimum temperature of 4 degrees C to operate properly. Teams working on a solution have offered delaying the separation until atmospheric entry so as to warm the pyrotechnics to operating temperature (NASA Watch).

Mars Airplane: NASA has scrapped plans to fly an airplane on Mars as part of the 2003 century of flight celebration. The Mars Airplane, with a cost of $100 million, was bumped from its flight by economics. It may, however, be added to the 2005 Mars mission. The plane was to provide controlled, powered, and level flight to transmit engineering and science data. The flight was to coincide with the anniversary of the December 3, 1903, powered flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright. The funds for the Mars Airplane would likely be reallocated to the development of a new Martian telecommunications satellite to replace the Mars Climate Orbiter (

Mars Global Orbiter: The post-mortem for the defunct Mars Global Orbiter continues. The most recent revelation cites problems with the asymmetric shape of the MGO. As a result of solar pressure, the spacecraft tended to roll as it made its way to Mars. Rocket firings 12 to 14 times a week were used to counter this expected rotation. However, the computations for the firings were flawed by the Metric/English unit problem. Not only was the error not detected, but also the error built up. Despite indications that there was something wrong as the spacecraft approached Mars, no corrective action was taken. When the final firing occurred, the spacecraft was out of position and the firing was plagued by the unit conversion problem. The $125 million MGO was then either lost to a fiery entry into the atmosphere or sling-shotted into space in a disabled condition (AP).


Grissom: The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center has set up a Webcam to allow people to watch the restoration of Liberty Bell 7. When it was set up in September, the site recorded 20,000 hits on its first day. The recovery and restoration will be the subject of a two-hour Discovery Channel special airing December 12 (Florida Today).

Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center Website


Israel: The Israeli Arrow Anti-Ballistic Missile was declared operational this past week after a test when the missile struck a target missile over the Mediterranean. The U.S.-funded system is built by Israel Aircraft Industries and will be deployed some time next year. Three batteries of the Arrow will be deployed near Tel Aviv, Israel's main population center. This was the seventh test firing of the system that is designed to intercept missiles between 10 and 40 km. The system was reported to come with a $2 billion price tag for operations through 2010. Israeli intelligence estimates both Syria and Iran have missiles capable of reaching Israel (Reuters).

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

Florida Today Worldwide Launch Schedule
Spaceviews Website

TBA - Eurockot, experimental flight, Plesetsk, Russia.

November 13 - Space Enterprise Symposium, Seattle.

November 13 - Ariane 4, GE-4, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.

November 15 - H-2 (#8), Multi-functional Transport Satellite, Tanegashima Space Center, Japan.

November 21- Atlas 2A (AC-136), Navy UHF-10, pad 36B, Cape Canaveral Air Station.

November 25 - Galileo, second Io encounter.

November 28 - Starsem Soyuz, Globalstar (4 satellites), Baikonur, Kazakstan.

December 3 - Mars Polar Lander, Mars south pole landing.

DELAYED - ILS Proton (Blok DM), Garuda-1, Baikonur, Kazakstan.

December 6 - Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-103, Hubble Servicing Mission, pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.

December 7 - Orbital Sciences, Minotaur, JAWSAT, FalconSat, ASUsat-1 and OPAL (with picosats), Vandenberg AFB.

Early December - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM (7 satellites), Wallops Island, VA.

December 10 - Ariane 5, X-ray Multi-Mirror, ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana.

December 10 - Orbital Sciences Taurus, KOMPSAT / ACROMSAT, Vandenberg AFB.

December 11 - Titan 2 (G-8), Defense Meteorological Satellite Program weather satellite, SLC-4W, Vandenberg AFB.

Delayed to late February - Proton, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.

CENSUS - There are currently no humans in orbital space. The first element of the ISS has been in orbit for 358 days. The occupation of the ISS is expected to begin in March of 2000.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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