Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #180

Frontier Status Report #180

December 10, 1999

Dale M. Gray

The exploration of space had several major setbacks during the week, most notably with the continuing silence from Mars Polar Lander. However, commercial space moved forward with the first commercial launch of the Ariane 5 and a successful Pegasus launch of 7 Orbcomm satellites. Boeing has landed a major contract to launch satellites in the SkyBridge constellation. SpaceHab and Energia have joined forces to build a purely commercial module for the International Space Station.

December's Space Policy editorial "Go Web, Young Man" is now on-line in the Space Policy Digest.

Highlights of the week of December 10 include:

  • Mars Polar Lander lost>
  • Ariane 5 launches XMM>
  • Pegasus launches 7 Orbcomm satellites>
  • Shuttle launch delayed twice>
  • Japan calls it quits on H-2 program

SHUTTLE - A frantic pre-launch week for the Shuttle Discovery with several last minute repairs being completed. The mission was moved to a December 11 launch date because of a paper error on a wiring repair. Inspection of the suspect wire found it to be nicked and managers opted to delay the mission to replace the wiring harness on the Engine No. 2 controller. While this work was proceeding another serious problem was discovered with a hydrogen line. A dent was discovered on a six-foot section of a liquid hydrogen recirculation line. The dent on the four-inch line was about 12 inches long and up to 1.5 inches deep. The line is not used during launch, but is critical in keeping the engines cool while waiting for lift-off. The launch of the Hubble repair mission was delayed for the 6th time to allow the repair. The mission is currently slated for Tuesday, December 14. Any further delay would cause the mission to be moved to January to avoid any undetected Y2K problems (Florida Today; NASA).

Discovery is on Pad 39B awaiting launch on STS-103, the Hubble Servicing Mission 3A. After the international crew rendezvous with the orbiting space telescope, they will replace solar panels, six gyroscopes, a fine-guidance sensor, a transmitter, a spare solid-state recorder and a high- voltage/temperature kit to protect the batteries. They will also install a more advanced computer that is 20 times faster and has six times the memory than the computer currently installed (NASA).

The mission will be commanded by USAF Col. Curt Brown (6th flight) and piloted by Navy Lt. Commander Scott Kelly (1st flight). Payload Specialists include: Payload commander Steve Smith (3rd flight); Michael Foale, Ph.D. (5th flight + 4.5 months on Mir); John Grunsfeld, Ph.D. (3rd flight), ESA Astronaut Claude Nicollier (4th flight) and ESA astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy (3rd flight) (NASA).

Swiss-born Claude Nicollier will become the first ESA astronaut to space-walk from the American Shuttle during the mission. He will participate in the second of four repair spacewalks scheduled. Nicollier was on the first Hubble repair mission in 1993 where he controlled the robot arm. He will also play the lead roll in the operation of the robot arm on this mission. He will be at the controls when the arm captures the 12 ton Hubble telescope and places it in its repair berth in the cargo bay (ESA).

ISS - SpaceHab reached an agreement with RSC Energia to build a pressurized module for the International Space Station. The module, named Enterprise, will be dedicated to serving commercial mass markets on Earth. The cost of the project is projected at $100 million with SpaceHab financing the endeavor and Energia constructing the module in cooperation with the Russian Space Agency.

Spacehab Website

ARIANE 5 / XMM - The X-Ray Multi-mission (XMM) telescope was successfully launched into space on an Ariane 5 rocket. The launch took place at the Kourou Space Flight Center in French Guiana on December 10. The 746-ton launcher left the pad at 1432 UTC. The cryogenic main stage (Etage Principal Cryogenique - EPC) ignited as planned shortly before the two flanking solid rocket boosters The solid rocket boosters (Etage d'Acceleration a Poudre - EAP) completed their burn and were released at T+2:23. They were later recovered in the Atlantic after a descending under parachutes to splashdown. Having risen above the atmosphere, the payload was jettisoned at T+3:16. The EPC shut down around T+9:43 minutes into the flight -- followed a few seconds later by separation and ignition of the storable propellant upper stage. The upper stage completed a single 16-minute burn to push the payload into an eccentric orbit. The XMM payload was released at T+31into an 838 x 112,473 km x 40 degree transfer orbit. Over the next week the satellite will use its eight 22N hydrazine thrusters to rise to an eccentric 7,000 x 114,000-km orbit with a 48-hour period. This allows maximum time over tracking stations while minimizing time of passage through Earth's radiation belts (Spaceflight Now; Jonathan's Space Report).

This is the fourth launch and first commercial mission for the Ariane 5. The European Space Agency paid Arianespace $154 million to launch the telescope. The program was delayed by the loss of the first Ariane 5 rocket in June of 1996 only 37 seconds after lift-off. The second flight placed its payload in a significantly lower orbit than planned. The third flight in October of 1998, which carried a dummy payload, was a success. While Arianespace has a backlog of about 205 payloads, satellite owners were hesitant to use the Ariane 5 system until it had established a positive track record. The Ariane 5 can lift twice the payload of the Ariane 4 with improvements planned to increase the capacity to three times the Ariane 4 by 2005. Up to six Ariane 5 flights are planned for 2000 (; Spaceflight Now; AP).

The X-Ray Multi-Mission is the second of ESA's Long Term Scientific Programme. Built by Dorner Satellitensysteme -- a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace -- which led a consortium of 46 companies in 14 European countries and the United States. The telescope is 13 meters long and 4.5 meters diameter and weighs in at 3.9 tons. The satellite has three barrel-shaped telescope modules. Inside each module are 58 concentric mirror shells with a total surface area of 120 square meters. The mirrors focus the incoming X-rays on three high speed European Photon Imaging Cameras. About half of the rays in two of the barrels will be reflected by Reflection Grating Spectrometers that will allow analysis of the wavelengths of the rays. The satellite also has a 30-cm optical telescope -- the equivalent of a 4-meter telescope on the ground. The ESA financed project cost $689 million. The orbiting observatory will study X-rays emitted by the hottest and remotest stars and measure the materials ejected by them. The telescope is five times more sensitive than the Chandra Observatory recently launched by NASA, but Chandra produces sharper images. As a result, the two telescopes provide complimentary data. The instruments on the XMM will not be activated until the telescope reaches its final orbit early next year (; ESA; SpaceDaily; Jonathan's Space Report).

PEGASUS / ORBCOM - An Orbital Sciences Pegasus rocket was launched from an L-1011 Stargazer aircraft at 1:53 p.m. on December 4. The aircraft was based out of Wallops Flight Facility and released the Pegasus rocket over the Atlantic Ocean about 50 miles offshore of southeast Virginia. On board were seven Orbcomm communication satellites. The Pegasus was released from the aircraft at 40,000 feet and fell free for five seconds before the first stage ignited. The solid fuel first stage burned for 69 seconds and separated at T+90 seconds. The solid-fuel second stage ignited immediately after separation and the payload fairing separated soon thereafter. The second stage burn was completed at T+3 minutes and coasted until T+7.5 minutes when the second stage separated. The third stage ignited at T+7:38 minutes and burned for about 1.5 minutes. Around T+10 minutes, the third stage separated and the liquid-fueled HAPS upper stage began its first firing with a 1 minute duration. At T+50:41 minutes the HAPS stage began a 2:20 minute firing to circularize the orbit. The seven Orbcomm satellites were deployed about an hour into the flight. The seven satellites were placed into an 840 km x 45 degree orbits. The mission was the 14th consecutive successful flight of the Pegasus launch system (Justin Ray at Spaceflight Now) .

With the successful deployment, the Orbcomm constellation reached the 35 satellite mark. Previous launches using the Pegasus deployed eight satellites, this launch only carried seven satellites. Apparently, the new satellites at 45 kg are slightly heavier than the older satellites. The system provides two-way messaging and data transfer services worldwide through 15 ground stations in operation or currently under construction. The system allows companies to track and monitor mobile assets such as truck trailers, railcars and shipping containers along with monitoring fixed assets such as meters, pipelines and storage tanks. The seven new satellites will now begin a three month checkout period. (Spaceflight Now;; Jonathan's Space Report).

H-2 - Following the failure of the H-2 rocket, Japan has canceled the H-2 development program rather than risk additional expense and embarrassment. The decision will cause the last H-2 being assembled to be left 80 percent complete -- despite $16 billion yen already being earmarked for the project. NASDA, the Japanese space agency, has also moved back the target launch date for the H-2A by one year. The H-2A project aims at developing a low-cost launch system that can compete in the global market (Reuters;

MINOTAUR - The first flight of the converted Minuteman launch system dubbed the Minotaur has been delayed until January 22. The rocket was delayed from December 7 due to problems discovered during the final checkouts at Vandenberg AFB. The avionics control system will be replaced along with a transponder. The system, which utilizes refurbished Minuteman 2, rockets as the first and second stages. The third and forth stages are derived from Orbital Sciences rocket stages used in the Pegasus rocket. The hybrid configuration can lift 750 pounds into a 400 nautical mile, sun-synchronous orbit, about one and half times more than a Pegasus. The coming launch will help to deplete the US stockpile of 350 retired Minuteman 2 rockets currently in storage. The missiles were deactivated as part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991 (Florida Today;


Portugal: On December 15, Portugal will sign an agreement that will allow them to become the 15th full member of the European Space Agency (ESA). Portugal is currently involved in some satellite navigation projects through a bilateral cooperation agreement signed in 1996. The country has expressed interest in contributing in other fields and has been able to place young Portuguese engineers in several ESA training programs. The request to become a full member of the ESA was submitted in June of 1999 (ESA PR).

Metop: On December 7, the ESA signed a contract with Eumetasat and Matra Marconi Space for the development and production of three Metop weather satellites. The polar orbiting meteorology and climate satellites will be launched beginning in 2003. The 4.5-ton satellites will be based upon a platform developed for the CNES's SPOT-5 satellite that is slated for launch in 2001. The satellites will carry 12 instruments developed by a pan-European and American consortium (ESA PR).


Mattel: The Mars Surveyor 1998 missions have been honored by Mattel by the issuance of a Hot Wheels "Action Pack" that contains the Mars Polar Lander, Deep Space 2 probes and the Mars Climate Orbiter. The toy was introduced in some stores two weeks before the landing of MPL and was distributed at JPL prior to the landing attempt. The set appears to be going directly to the collector market. At least 33 separate lots were offered for sale on e-Bay with bidding rising to over $50 for the set that sold originally for $5. While Mattel is not pushing the model "out of respect" for those involved in the missions, the toys appear to be extremely popular and have been impossible to find on store shelves.

Space Week: On December 6, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 4 - 10 of every year as World Space Week. The choice of October reflects the October 4, 1957 launch of SPUTNIK I, Earth's first artificial satellite, and the October 10, 1967 enactment of the Treaty of Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The UN's action is supported by Space Week International. Space Week International has conducted Space Week activities for two decades and has moved its own Space Week activities to reflect the UN dates. Persons interested in additional information or wish to participate in next year's space week may contact Space Week at (Florida Today).

USA Today Poll: The newspaper USA Today is conducting a poll on whether planetary missions to Mars should continue. The debate centers around the fact that of the 25 missions launched toward Mars since 1962, 11 have failed and four did not complete there mission. By Monday, December 6, 10,891 people had voted with 72.4 percent in favor of continuing exploration of Mars and 27.6 percent voting against it (USA Today).


Boeing / SkyBridge: Boeing announced this past week that they had been selected by SkyBridge to provide launch services for the SkyBridge constellation. Boeing has been asked to launch 40 of the 80 satellites of the system beginning in 2002. The agreement includes two Delta 3 rockets carrying four satellites and four Delta 4 Medium+ vehicles carrying eight satellites. In addition to the 40 satellites, Boeing also was awarded an option for additional launch services as required by SkyBridge. The SkyBridge system of high-speed multi-media transmission services is expected to be operational in 2003 (Boeing PR).


SOHO: The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) continues on the road back from a pair of safing events that occurred November 28 and December 1. The satellite is in the Coarse Roll Pointing (CRP) mode at the L-1 while controllers work on a software patch to fix the bug that caused the second safe mode. During recovery from the first safe mode, the spacecraft lost the star by which it was determining position and was unable to recover -- initiating the CRP. The cause is believed to be a failure to reset a pointer in the spacecraft's memory -- causing other values to zero out. The patch was expected to be uplinked on Wednesday prior to recovery maneuvers (SpaceViews).


Mars Polar Lander: After a week of chasing down increasingly unlikely scenarios, the Mars Polar Lander team has admitted defeat. While all appeared normal going into the landing, the spacecraft never emerged out of the radio blackout caused by its fiery entry into the atmosphere. When the Lander did not report immediately, the team concentrated on a variety of safe modes and improperly oriented antenna scenarios. The orbiting Mars Global Surveyor, which had been adapted to serve as a communications relay after the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter, was unable to contact MPL (JPL).

At the same time, mission controllers also failed to contact the two Deep Space 2 impact probes Emundsen and Scott. The probes hit the Martian surface around 3:15 p.m. EST December 3. The probes were programmed to contact the Mars Global Surveyor sometime in the first 29 to 32 hours. Failing that, they were designed go into auto-transmit mode where signal was transmitted for one minute out of every five. Because the probes were battery powered, they would be unlikely to be able to transmit after a week. The $29 million mission was designed to assess "high-risk" technology (

In the wake of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander losses, a firestorm of controversy has erupted on the Web, in the media and in the halls of Congress over the management, philosophy and implementation of the Mars exploration program. US President Clinton defended the mission in a brief statement, but NASA/JPL is expected to be put under a microscope in an attempt to find scapegoats. In the past, bureaucratic investigations have consistently pointed to inadequate bureaucratic oversight and control as the cause of such problems. However, it must be remembered some of the most successful technological programs have been accomplished with minimal bureaucratic oversight. The U-2 spy plane developed at the Lockheed Skunkworks come to mind. At the same time, managers pushing political solutions to technical problems have doomed many missions. It is unlikely any Terrestrial investigation will lift the veil of radio silence that cloaked the demise of MPL. They will, however, change the way things are done (or not done) at JPL and will likely exponentially increase the cost of placing any probe in space without making any increase in its reliability or worth as a scientific platform. As to the fate of Mars Polar Lander, for that we will have to wait for some future Martian archaeologists to uncover its remains (Dale Gray opinion).

Deep Space 1: The Deep Space 1 technology demonstrator has been on safe mode since November 11. At that time a "major arcing event" may have caused the star tracker to stop working. After attempting to fix the problem several times, the on-board software placed the spacecraft in to safe mode. A few days before the event, another instrument, the Plasma Experiment for Planetary Exploration, was active with voltage gradually being raised from 10,000 to 13,000 volts. At 12,750 volts, the power supply dipped down to 5,500 volts -- indicating some sort of short circuit. The PEPE did not seem to be damaged. The Deep Space 1 team is now working on a way to get the spacecraft to point its high gain antenna toward Earth so that they can receive information on events leading to the event, which will help them diagnose the problem. The team is also working on ways to continue the mission in the event the star tracker cannot be brought back on line (


Galileo GPS: The ESA is moving ahead with its plans to deploy a rival system to the US Global Positioning System (GPS). The system, dubbed Galileo, will consist of 21 satellites in 24,000-km orbits that may be supplemented by geostationary satellites and ground stations. On December 7 a 20 million euro contract was signed between the ESA and a 50 company consortium led by Alenia Aerospazio to develop the concept of the orbital and its ground systems. An additional four contracts with 60 companies led by Alcatel Space is expected to increase ESA's investment in the concept to 80 million euros. The system would start operations in 2005 and become fully operational by 2008. Overall cost for implementing the system is expected to reach 2.7 billion euros. The system will give Europe independent access to GPS data and provide economic benefits to European equipment manufacturers (ESA; AFP).


China: Westerns experts have advised that China is preparing to launch the new Julang 2 intercontinental sea- to-surface missile. The missile, also known as the CSS-N- 4X has an estimated range of 9,000 km. The missile is expected to be launched from a Chinese Golf class submarine or China's only nuclear-powered submarine the Xia. The JL-2's range and payload is capable of transporting a small nuclear warhead to any American city. The missile is said to incorporate stolen American technology from the Trident D-5 program. Once the system is on-line, it will give China "second strike" capability in case of nuclear attack (Space Daily).

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

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

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

December 14 - Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-103, Hubble Servicing Mission, pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.

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 - 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.

Late December - Shuttle Discovery, landing, KSC.

January 13 - Shuttle Endeavor, STS-99, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center.

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 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 386 days. 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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