Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #179

Frontier Status Report #179

December 3, 1999

Dale M. Gray

While the world watched on the Internet, Mars Polar Lander refused to call home. Desktop explorers jammed the Internet as the mission approached Mars touchdown. Other news of note includes the launch of a stripped-down Ariane 4 with two French intelligence satellites. The enactment of the Satellite Home Viewers Act into law. Reboosting of the ISS into a higher orbit. The merger of European aerospace firms into a giant to rival Boeing and Lockheed Martin. And final approval for the emergence of ICO Global from bankruptcy.

Highlights of the week of December 3 include:

  • Mars Polar Lander disappears after reentry
  • Ariane 4 launches
  • Satellite Home Viewer Act signed into law
  • Shuttle hydraulic problem delays launch
  • SOHO enters safe mode

SHUTTLE - The Shuttle Discovery in on pad 39b awaiting launch on December 11. Because of a hydraulic leak discovered last week and a backlog of technical issues, Shuttle managers on Thursday pushed the launch date for the Hubble Servicing mission (STS-103) back two days. The leak is on a quick disconnect on auxiliary power unit No. 2. In addition, a paper trail error from the wiring repair project conducted this past fall has been found. A repair on a wire connected with the Solid Rocket Booster ignition system was not signed-off on. An inspection has been ordered on the wiring for the pyrotechnic initiator controller for the left-hand booster. The work on an unrelated wiring problem on the External Tank umbilical harness has been completed. Work has also been completed on replacing the mass memory unit No. 1. Routine close-outs continue with the countdown to begin on December 6 (Reuters; NASA).

On December 2, the Shuttle Endeavor was moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building to be mated with the External Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters in high bay 1. Endeavor is slated for the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission to be launched on January 13. Managers have decided to replace the Shuttle's Main Engine #3. Analysis of tests of another engine revealed delamination on the wall of the main combustion chamber. Since Engine #3 has undergone similar testing, managers determined to replace the engine (NASA).

ISS - On Wednesday, December 1, the Zarya module of the International Space Station activated its thrusters to boost the orbit of the station to a 245 x 238 statute mile orbit. Two burns of 27 and 23 seconds were conducted 45 minutes apart. The move is in preparation for the arrival of the Zvezda module early next year. Controllers also returned Battery No. 1 to service. The battery had been off- line since a problem was observed in its charge/recharge cycle. The move was to assess the health of the battery. When the battery performed nominally, it was returned to service; giving the station five of six operational batteries. Since its launch on November 20, 1998, the station has completed 5,904 orbits (NASA; Spaceflight Now).

MIR - Spaceflori, a space memorabilia web site, is offering the chance for collectors to send small memorabilia on what could be the last trip to Mir. Items to be flown will be negotiated on a case by case basis. The price for flying a 1 kg item to Mir is around $20,000. Each cosmonaut is allowed 1.5 kg of personal mass. Cosmonauts also receive about $200 per month in salary. In the past, cosmonauts set up a post office where they stamped covers for collectors, philatelists and from companies such as RKK Energia. The ability to pre select memorabilia is expected to draw additional interest in this current offer. The practice of philatelic trade is expected to end on the ISS where it is banned by NASA law (SpaceViews)

(Spaceflori Website:

ARIANE 4 / HELIOS 1B - An Ariane 4 rocket with no strap-on boosters was launched from ELA-2 launch complex at Kourou, French Guiana on December 3. At 11: 20 a.m. EST the rocket left the pad in a rare daytime launch. The four Viking 5 engines operated for three minutes before they cut off and the first stage separated. The second page Viking 4 engine continued upward with payload fairing separation at T+ 4 minutes. Second stage completed its burn at T+5 minutes and separated. The third stage Snecma HM 7B engine burned for 13 minutes and shut off at an altitude of 669 km.. The primary payload, Helios 1B was released at T+18:30 minutes. The secondary payload, the Clementine satellite was released 22 minutes into the flight This was the 50th consecutive successful Ariane 4 flight and the first use of the Ariane 40 variation with the smaller 02 fairing since 1996 (AP; Justin Ray; Jonathan's Space Report).

Helios 1B is a $2 billion joint project shared by France, Italy and Spain. The 2544 kg surveillance satellite was built by Matra Marconi Space based upon Matra's Spot 4 Earth- observing satellite. While the satellite's resolution is classified it is believed to be 1 meter resolution, but only in daylight and clear weather. The satellite is 3-axis stabilized and nadir pointing. The satellite was placed in a sunsynchronous orbit (Justin Ray; Jonathan's Space Report).

The secondary payload is the Clementine satellite that is a small experimental satellite that will test signals intelligence technologies. The satellite was built by Alcatel Space and Thomson and will study the Earth's radio electrical environment. It is a follow-on of the Cerise satellite and will serve as a testbed for the future French Zenon signals intelligence satellite program. The 50 kg satellite was deployed after Helios 1B by the Ariane Structure for Auxiliary Payloads (Justin Ray).


SHVA: The Satellite Home Viewers Act (SHVA) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 29 during a Rose Garden signing ceremony for the Omnibus spending bill to which SHVA was attached. Immediately after the signing both DirecTV and EchoStar Communications announced that they would begin rolling out local television signal packages to 20 of the Nation's largest markets. DirecTV began transmitting local signals to New York and Los Angeles immediately with San Francisco, Washington D.C, Denver, Detroit and Miami to be added soon. EchoStar began immediately to transmit local programming to 13 markets. The signing was heralded on Wall Street with a significant rise in both company's stock. The legislation is aimed at creating effective competition between cable and DBS television services. Over 10 million American homes subscribe to DBS television services with 100,000 subscribers being added each month. Cable companies serve an estimated 68 million homes (Reuters).


American Express: While their is currently no way to put a trip to space on a credit card, a recent American Express commercial raised the possibility. Emphasizing the card as the choice for the future, one cardholder stated, "I could use it to pay for my Lunar Vacation!" Society and the advertising agencies that seek to influence public opinion appear to have undergone a transformation of attitude. Tourism in space is no long perceived as a question of "if", rather a question of "when" (Jim Sealy, Jr.).

Siemens: In an advertisement for a networking product by Siemens appearing in publications like InfoWorld, director Michel Comte stated, "I will make my next movie on the moon." The idea behind the ad is that the networking product will allow Comte to work anywhere (SpaceViews).


Boeing: Due to uncertainties with the new Delta 3 rocket, Boeing has announced plans to lay off 40 employees in Florida. The reduction of the work force is directly linked to the ICO Global bankruptcy. Boeing plans on launching 16 Delta 2 and 3 rockets next year. ICO Global had planned to manifest five of their satellites on Delta 3 rockets launched from Cape Canaveral. Without the ICO payloads, the number of year 2000 Florida launches would dip from 11 to only six. Another five Delta rockets are slated for launch from Vandenberg AFB. The lay-off announcement comes only weeks after the ICO Global announcement that it is emerging from the protection of Chapter 11 bankruptcy through a substantial investment by Craig McCaw (see below). The first ICO satellite is expected be launched on a Sea Launch Zenit in late January, 2000. Boeing is a partner in the Sea Launch venture (Florida Today; Frontier Status).

ICO Global: The US Bankruptcy court on December 3 has issued final approval for the $500 million bailout of ICO Global by Craig McCaw and Subhash Chandra. Chandra had previously been reported to be challenging McCaw's bid. Under the new financing, McCaw will provide 62 percent of the funds while Chandra provides 38 percent. In all $1.2 billion will be pumped into ICO Global so that it may exit bankruptcy and proceed with the deployment of its global satellite network and begin services in the second quarter of 2001. While McCaw is well-known for amassing a fortune in cell-phones and as Chairman of Teledesic, Chandra is less-well known outside of India. Chandra is the chairman of Essel Group which includes Zee Telefilms Ltd., India's leading producer and broadcaster of television programming which is received by over 150 million households in Asia, Europe, Africa and America. He is also chairman of ASC Enterprises Ltd., which is developing the Agrani geostationary satellite system (Space Daily).

EADS: In a move to increase their ability to compete with American aerospace giants, CASA of Spain, Aerospatiale Matra of France and DASA, the aerospace unit of Germany's Daimler Chrysler signed a historic agreement December 2. The new conglomerate, known as the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co, will be the world's third largest aerospace company behind Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The merger was officially created at a ceremonial signing at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid (Florida Today).


SOHO: The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) entered safe mode on Sunday, November 28. The Attitude Control Unit on the spacecraft reset. Controllers apparently restored function in time for a planned 50 minute burn to correct SOHO's orbit. However, for an unknown reason burn was halted after only 9:40 minutes. This caused the spacecraft to begin to roll and go into safe mode where it transmits engineering data instead of science data. The spacecraft is now in its 19th month of its extended mission despite the loss signal in June of 1998, the gradual recovery and thawing of the spacecraft and the loss of its last gyroscope in December of 1998. Controllers figured a method of gyroless operation and brought the spacecraft back on-line. The Wednesday safing event occurred on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the launch of SOHO (SpaceViews; States News Service).

PanAmSat: The world's largest commercial satellite, the Galaxy XI, was delivered this past week to Kourou in preparation for a December launch on an Ariane 44L rocket. Hughes built the PanAmSat-owned telecommunications satellite on the new HS 702 bus. It will feature 40 Ku-band and 24 C-band transponders (PanAmSat).


Mars Polar Lander: Following successful course corrections on November 30 and December 3, the $165 million Mars Polar Lander disappeared into the atmosphere of Mars on Friday, December 3. Because of ionization of the atmosphere caused by its fiery passage, the MPL and the two Deep Space 2 probes went out of radio contact 12:03 p.m. PST. The Lander was slated to land at 12:15 p.m. PST, but due to the time lag caused by the distance between Mars and Earth, controllers had to wait 19 minutes for a confirmation. When the time for contact came and went with no communications from the Lander, the Mars Polar Lander team began a set of practiced procedures that would establish contact with the Lander. A number of scenarios were Controllers pointed out the craft could have entered safe mode or the medium -gain antenna could be oriented in the wrong direction. At one point, a faint radio signal was thought to be found well away from the expected landing area, but it could not be confirmed and the signal was not repeated. In the coming days, controllers will attempt contact using the Mars Global Surveyor as a relay satellite. No word has been received from the two Deep Space 2 impact probes, Amundsen and Scott, released from Mars Polar Lander two minutes after the radio black-out began. Early analysis of possible flight path indicate the probes may have impacted inside a 50 km wide crater where they would not have survived (AP; JPL; Jonathan's Space Report; Reuters; Frontier Status; NASA TV).

In preparation for the Mars Polar Lander touchdown, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory set up a web-site with 20 mirror sites and 90 major Internet access points in 43 cities worldwide. JPL set up the sites to receive imagery from the Lander and display the images almost as fast as JPL received them. A log of hits for the site recorded over 9 million hits the day before touchdown. On the day of touchdown, the web sites began to show degradation of data transfer rates at 11:00 a.m. PST from heavy traffic. Web page delivery rates slowed to a stop at the time of Mars touch due to an overwhelming demand from the Internet. As the waiting for contact stretched on into the afternoon, the web sites began to return to full function. The first web-page delivery resumed around 3:30 p.m. PST. Nearly 55 million hits were recorded on the JPL web site and its mirror sites on December 3, with 87 million from December 1 to 4 (BusinessWire; JPL).


CruiseTV: Daytron/Transco unveiled its new CruiseTV (TM) system at the recent Recreational Vehicle Industry Association tradeshow in Louisville, Ky. CruiseTV is a Portable In-Motion Satellite Television Reception System that allows recreational vehicle owners to watch satellite television programming while traveling in their RV or SUV. The CruiseTV is advertised as a Plug-n-Play system that readily adapts to cable systems already set up to receive either DirecTV or DISH Network programming. The system is taken directly from the box and mounted to the roof rack and plugged in. The product boasts of quality engineering, robust design, sophisticated capabilities and easy to use product features (Business Wire; CruiseTV PR).

Cable TV: Time Warner Cable appears to be taking the threat of Direct-To-Home satellite television seriously. The company is offering a $100 bounty to anyone willing to turn in a satellite-TV dish and sign up for its digital cable service. The company's Raleigh-Payetteville division reportedly has already gathered 1100 dishes (Statewide).


New Planets: The total number of extrasolar planets has jumped to 28 with the addition of six new planets orbiting stars similar to the Sun. The planets are in eccentric oval orbits that cause their stars to wobble in a detectable manner. Five of the six orbits are within the habitable zone in which liquid water can exist. The planets are equal to or greater than Jupiter in size and orbit stars from 65 to 192 light years away. While life might not exist on the gas- giants, astronomers are interested in their moons where liquid water could well exist. The international team that made the discovery using data from the Keck Telescope in Hawaii has made many of the previous planetary discoveries (AP; Reuters;


Liberty Bell 7: The salvaged capsule of Gus Grissom's successful sub-orbital Mercury flight continues to be restored by the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. As each part is cleaned and restored, secrets have been revealed. Among the debris were found 42 souvenir dimes, a paper cup and even a cigarette filter. However, the biggest discovery is that the controversial hatch apparently did not blow off from a detonation of the explosive cord placed there for that purpose. The restoration team found a buckled strip of titanium next to the hatch opening. Examination of the hatch sill found it had bowed half an inch near the strip. Had the explosive cord ignited, the hatch would have blown evenly with no deformation and would have left tell-tale burn marks. An alternative scenario presented by Greg Buckingham, the leader of the restoration team, is that the capsule hit hard on its hatch, bending the strap and popping the 70 explosive bolts that held the convex hatch in place. While their remains public debate over the cause of the nearly fatal hatch release, NASA accepted Grissom's account of the malfunctioning door and assigned him to the Gemini 3 flight (AP).

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

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

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

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

December 11 - Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-103, Hubble Servicing Mission, pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.

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 - Eurorocket Rokot, experimental flight, Plesetsk, Russia (The launch system is based upon the SS 19 ICBM).

December 20 - Shuttle Discovery, landing, KSC.

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

December 20 - Zenit, classified payload, Baikonur, Kazakstan.

December 21 - Ariane 4 (44L), Galaxy 11 (the first HS 702 satellite to be launched), ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.

December - Tsyklon rocket, classified payload, Baikonur, Kazakstan.

January 22 - Orbital Sciences, Minotaur, JAWSAT, FalconSat, ASUsat-1 and OPAL (with picosats), Vandenberg AFB.

Late January - Sea Launch Zenit 3SI, ICO Mobile Satellite F1, Odyssey platform, equatorial Pacific Ocean.

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

January 13 - Shuttle Endeavor (STS-99), Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), pad 39a, Kennedy Space Center.

January 17 - ILS Proton (Blok DM), CD Radio Satellite 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 379. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin sometime after March of 2000.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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