Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #178

Frontier Status Report #178

November 26, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Three launches from three countries led the news this week. China took another step toward manned spaceflight with the launch of a new version of the Long March rocket topped with an unmanned capsule. Russia placed four more Globalstar satellites in orbit and America's military communications were upgraded by the successful launch of the Navy's UFO Follow-On satellite (F11). The Shuttle Discovery remains on the launch pad while technicians continue to battle minor technical glitches. Mars Polar Lander is preparing for December 3 landing.

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 26 include:

  • China launches manned-mission prototype
  • Atlas launches UF0 Follow-On
  • Soyuz places four Globalstar satellites in orbit
  • Shuttle hydraulic problem discovered
  • Galileo encounters Io while controllers scramble to reset systems.

SHUTTLE - The Shuttle Discovery is on Pad 39b in preparation for the third Shuttle launch of 1999. On Monday, November 22, NASA officials officially set December 9 as the launch date for the STS-103, the Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission. The three day adjustment from the previously announce December 6 launch date will allow workers to repair an umbilical connecting the Shuttle to the External Tank. A new problem with a leaking hydraulic system will be repaired on the pad, but the resolution of the problem is expected to take all the built-in "contingency time". The leaking system is used to steer the Shuttle's main engine and provides power to operetta wing flaps and landing gear. The Payload Bay was closed for flight on November 24. Flight Readiness review is slated for December 1 (NASA;

MIR - Russia remains emotionally, if not physically, attached to their abandoned Mir space station. The Russian parliament, the Duma, recently requested between $50 and $60 million in next year's budget to fund year 2000 operations of Mir. While the approval of the funding is far from certain, it would take at least three months for the funds to reach the operational level. The Director of the Russian Aerospace Agency (RASA) has asked that the station be discarded so that the agency can concentrate on its obligations to the International Space Station. The station is slated for destruction by controlled reentry in the spring of 2000. The station's internal air pressure continues to drop due to an undiagnosed leak and is currently below required levels. RKK Energia, the Russian company operating the station, plans to bring computers on-line for attitude control sometime after the new year to prepare for a final cosmonaut visit to the station to prepare it for controlled reentry. Meanwhile, private groups and the Russian Duma are searching for ways to find the 1.5 billion rubles needed save the historic station (

LONGMARCH / SHENZHOU - Despite earlier reports from China that it was backing-off from its manned space program, China reported November 20 that they had successfully launched, orbited and reentered the prototype for their first manned space mission. The Long March (CZ- 2F) rocket was launched at 6:30 a.m. Beijing time November 30 from the Jiuquan launch center in the Gobi desert. The capsule, estimated to weigh 8.5 tons, separated from the rocket approximately 10 minutes into the flight. It was placed in a 197 x 323 x 42.6 degree orbit. The capsule circled the globe for almost 21 hours, touching down at 3:41 a.m. November 21. The capsule made 14 orbits before the descent module separated, reentered the atmosphere and was recovered in the Inner Mongolia Region. The orbital module remains in a 205 x 332 km orbit (SpaceDaily; SpaceViews; Jonathan's Space Page).

The capsule was designed and built by the China Research Institute of Carrier Rocket Technology. President Jiang Zemin named the new ship Shenzhou, variously translated as "God Ship" or "Magic Vessel". While China is trumpeting the capsule as an indigenous design, analyses of photos show it to be a slightly modified version of the 7K Soyuz capsule. The descent module is visually the same as the Soyuz-TM module. China is known to have bought a number of Soyuz capsules in April of 1996. In addition, two Chinese astronauts have been trained at Russia's Star City. China also may have used an/or improved upon a number of former Soviet technologies such as the docking system, life support and pressure suits. Because so little is known of the Chinese manned space program, specific Russian influences are subject to conjecture. The rest of the module and the avionics appear to be of Chinese origin. (Reuters;; SpaceDaily).

The capsule contained a dummy astronaut -- referred unofficially as a Taikonaut -- which was wired with a variety of sensors. Other items contained in the capsule include first day covers, a variety of flags, seeds, and a red banner signed by participants. The capsule was launched on a new version of the Long March rocket dubbed the Long March 2F. It was the first launch from Jiuquan in three years. The capsule and enclosed virtual Taikonaut were guests of honor at a ceremony at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation in Beijing Aerospace City on Tuesday. The first manned flight was originally scheduled for October 1 of this year to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of communist rule, but a series of technical issues have pushed the flight back. Experts have indicated that China could launch its first crewed capsule as early as 2000 (SpaceViews; SpaceDaily).

ATLAS / UHF FOLLOW-ON - After a one-day delay to replace a problematic battery, an International Launch Services Atlas 2A (AC-136) was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station on Tuesday, November 22 at 11:06 p.m. The boosters were jettisoned after three minutes of flight. The payload fairing separated at T+3:50 minutes. Around T+4:30 the sustainer engine completed its burn and separated with Centaur upper stage ignition at T+5 minutes. The Centaur stage burned for 5 minutes, pushing the stage and payload into an elliptical orbit. At T+22:24 minutes the Centaur engine restarted an burned to depletion to put the spacecraft into transfer orbit. Prior to spacecraft separation, the Centaur provided attitude and spinning for deployment. he payload was released into a transfer orbit at T+27. The satellite on-board R04D apogee engine fired and placed the spacecraft into a 26,527 x 36,665 km x 7.2 degree orbit. The spacecraft will be moved to geosynchronous orbit over the coming weeks by a series of apogee engine firings (Jonathan's Space Page;;

The payload was the Navy UHF Follow-On (F-10) satellite built by Hughes Space and Communications. The satellite, based on the Hughes HS 601bus, will take its place as part of a military system to beam spy photos, intelligence reports, missile warning reports and other tactical information to U. S. troops around the world. When combined with two other satellites already in orbit, the new system cuts the time to detect and transmit information on a missile launches from 16 minutes to a fraction of a second (Florida Today; SpaceViews;

SOYUZ / GLOBALSTAR - On Monday, November 22, the Baikonur Cosmodrome reopened for business with the launch of a Starsem Soyuz rocket. The spaceport reopened after top-level negotiations and a $400,000 payment from Russia to Kazakstan for damages incurred from the October 27 Proton rocket crash. The Soyuz launch was delayed only one week by the ban. The Soyuz-U/Ikar rocket was launched at 11:20 EST. The four first stage boosters separated as planned after two minutes of flight -- followed a minute later by the separation of the payload fairing. Second stage separation was announced at T+5 minutes. The third stage Blok 1 engine then pushed the Ikar upper stage and four satellite payload into a parking orbit before separating at T+9 minutes. At T+3.5 hours, the Ikar upper stage released the four Globalstar satellites into 900 x 942 km x 52 degree parking orbits. Contact with the satellites was established and all four were reported to be healthy with deployed solar panels. After satellite deployment, the Ikar upper stage reignited to cause it to deorbit. The Blok I third stage remains in a 230 x 876 km x 52 degree orbit . This launch completes the deployment of the 48 satellite Globalstar constellation. Only one Globalstar launch remains, a Delta 2 on January 27 will place four space satellites into orbit. Globalstar has initiated limited service of their global telephone network in select areas with full serve to begin early next year (AP;; Jonathan's Space Page;


SHVA: Having survived a stormy passage through the US Senate, the Satellite Home Viewers Act has been sent on to the White House for a signature from the president. The cost of passage was the removal of a $1.25 billion loan guarantee program to promote the delivery of local TV signals to rural areas and a provision that barred America Online Inc. and similar companies from using cable TV's license to retransmit local TV signals. The SHVA is attached to a $400 billion omnibus spending bill that funds much of the federal government at the Cabinet level. After it is signed into law, it will allow satellite television companies to rebroadcast local TV signals back into US markets. Both DirecTV and EchoStar are preparing to offer local programming to their major markets within 24 hours of the President signing the bill into law.

Export Controls: Another rider on the recently passed spending bill creates a two-tier approach for the approval of satellite exports. Since the March 1999, enactment of the Strom Thurman 1998 Defense Bill, satellite exports have been classified as munitions and as such are regulated by the State Department. The State Department was under funded and understaffed for the booming satellite export business and a log jam of bureaucratic paper was created. Under the new legislation, the State Department would continue to approve export licenses, but would expedite the approval of licenses to friendly nations. Specifically, the bill would "establish a regulatory regime for the licensing for time- critical export of commercial satellites, satellite technologies, their components, and systems to NATO allies and major non-NATO allies." This new approach would allow the pace of U.S. satellite exports to pick up while allowing the State Department the time to study any pending exports to China or other problematic nations. China, which has repeatedly denied technology transfers, has stated that they object to any measure that treats China different than other countries. The measure would also increase the State Department's Office of Defense Trade Controls budget to $9 million. The massive spending bill to which the measure was added is expected to be signed by President Clinton Monday in a Rose Garden ceremony (

Brazil / Ukraine : An agreement signed in Kiev on November 18 between Brazil and Ukraine will allow for cooperative ventures between the two countries. Among these is the possibility of launching Ukrainian Tsyklon boosters from the Alcantara launch center in Brazil (SpaceViews).


Mars Polar Lander: Mars Polar Lander is entering into its last week of its 11 month flight to the Red Planet. The explorer is set to set down on the South Pole of Mars on December 3. Controllers will preheat thrusters responsible for gently landing the 577 kg Lander. A problem with cold firing the thrusters was discovered in the post-Mars Climate Orbiter loss investigation. The pre-heating is expected to correct the problem. The spacecraft contains a number of scientific instruments including the first microphone to record the sounds transmitted by the thin Martian atmosphere. The Lander also has the first Russian instrument, named Light Detection and Ranging, to be carried by a NASA planetary Lander. While there is no rover on this mission, the Lander is equipped with a six foot arm to collect samples from the surface and to dig as deep as 0.3 meters (AP).

Remembering the popularity of the Mars Pathfinder mission, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has upgraded web- servers for the coming landing of the MPL. The Pathfinder mission recorded 521 million hits in July of 1997 and around 1 billion hits during the three month mission. While the record has since been eclipsed by events such as the Olympics, NASA expects heavy Internet activity on Mars Polar Lander web pages due to the rapid expansion of the Internet since the 1997 Pathfinder mission. Twenty additional mirror sites have been added to bolster access to the MPL data. On the day of the landing, events and images will be routed to the Internet as soon as they are processed. Other aspects of the mission will also be available in near- real-time. These include web-cam watching the activities of the project team, ten second sound-bytes from the first extra-terrestrial external microphone, a movie made from 10 images from the last 10 seconds of the landing. and streaming video of all press conferences. After the third day after landing some images may be delayed in their transfer to the public due to the loss of Mars Climate Orbiter which was to act as a satellite relay. JPL expects around 1,000 journalists to cover the event from the JPL control center in Pasadena (JPL;

Mars Micromission: NASA has selected Ball Aerospace & Technologies as chief contractor for the Mars Micromission project. The small planetary spacecraft (220 kg) will obtain a cheap ride to orbit in 2003 as a secondary payload on an Ariane 5 rocket carrying a telecommunications primary payload. The Micromission will use an on-board propulsion system to use a series of Lunar and Earth fly-bys to gradually build up the velocity of the craft until it can be sling-shotted into a Mars trajectory. Based on a common spacecraft bus, the Micromission is part of a larger Mars communication/navigation constellation to be placed around Mars to increase the flow of data from surface or orbiting explorers (JPL).

Galileo: In a nearly worst-case scenario, the Galileo spacecraft went into safe mode four hours before it made its closest approach to the Jovian moon Io. While the problem was quickly resolved, it took 35 minutes for the corrections to be transmitted back to Galileo. As a result, the spacecraft was did not record data as it approached Io. The spacecraft passed within 300 km of the moon's surface at 8:40 p.m. PST. However, because of the rapid response, the spacecraft returned to active status only four minutes after passing the lowest point of the encounter. The team had seen problems due to high radiation levels during the October 10 Io pass and experienced several minor problems as a result. A number of contingency plans were created to minimize risk and maximize mission success as a result. The second half of the Io encounter was salvaged along with the entire subsequent Europa encounter (JPL; AP).

Galileo Website


Police equipment: The Spokane, Washington Police Department has tapped into the power of the GPS locational system to bring a suspect to justice. A GPS tracker was placed in the vehicle of a man suspected in the disappearance his daughter. Following the suspect's movements, police were able to locate an empty grave 10 miles from Spokane and then found the girl's body in a grave 50 miles northwest of Spokane (AP).


XM Satellite Radio: General Motors has selected Delphi Automotive Systems to manufacture the satellite radios that will be installed in General Motors vehicles beginning in the first half of 2001. The radios will be able to receive AM, =46M and XM satellite radio signals. The receivers will enable drivers to enjoy around 100 channels of digital quality audio beamed down from satellites. The service will be available for a fee of about $9.95 per month. XM Satellite Radio is traded on the NASDAQ under the symbol XMSR (MediaNews).

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

Space Flight Now - Tracking Station: World Wide Launch Schedule
Spaceviews Website

Please note: Justin Ray has moved from Florida Today to that features an excellent launch calendar and individual launch events description.

December 3 - Ariane 4, flight 125, Helios 1B (Clementine secondary payload), Kourou, French Guiana.

December 3 - Mars Polar Lander, Mars south pole landing. Deep Space 2 probes impact.

December 4 - Pegasus XL, ORBCOMM (7 satellites), Wallops Island, VA.

December 8 - Orbital Sciences, Minotaur, JAWSAT, FalconSat, ASUsat-1 and OPAL (with picosats), Vandenberg AFB.

December 9 - Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-103, Hubble Servicing Mission, pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.

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

December 11 - Titan 2 (G-8), Defense Meteorological Satellite Program weather satellite (5D-3-F15), SLC-4W, Vandenberg AFB.

December 16 - Atlas 2AS, AC-141, EOS AM-1 (Terra), SLC-3, Vandenberg AFB (This will be the first Atlas 2 to be launched from Vandenberg).

December 17 - Eurockot, experimental flight, Plesetsk, Russia.

December 18 - Shuttle Discovery, landing, KSC.

December 20 - Orbital Sciences Taurus, KOMPSAT / ACROMSAT, Vandenberg AFB.

December 22 - Ariane 4 (44L), Galaxy 11 (the first HS 702 satellite to be launched), ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.

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

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 International Space Station has been in orbit for 372. 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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