Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #181

Frontier Status Report #181

December 17, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Yet another rough week on the frontier. A Brazilian rocket was destroyed by command when its second stage failed to ignite. The Shuttle was delayed three times in one week, but appears to be clear of technical issues. An Atlas rocket was scrubbed due to a minor technical issue.

On the brighter side, a Titan 2 rocket successfully deployed a military weather satellite. Japan has announced plans to continue work on the H-2A launch system. Perhaps the most significant space news of 1999, SpaceHab, Energia, and the Russian Space Agency have announced plans to build the first privately funded commercial module on the International Space Station. This will be the first privately owned real estate in orbit.

December's Space Policy editorial "Go Web, Young Man" is now on-line at

Highlights of the week of December 17 include:

  • Titan launches military weather satellite
  • Shuttle Hubble mission delayed a few more times
  • Atlas launch delayed by computer glitch
  • SpaceHab / Energia announce commercial ISS module
  • Brazil rocket destroyed after successful first stage

SHUTTLE - The Shuttle Discovery is on pad 39A awaiting launch on the Hubble Telescope Servicing mission. On Friday, December 10, workers removed a dented hydrogen recirculation line and installed a new one the next day. Following a pressure test, the engine compartment was closed for flight on Monday. While the mission was recycled for launch on Thursday, December 16, the launch was again delayed over concerns over materials used in welds on the external tank pressure lines. On December 15, the welding flaws were found to be an isolated issue on hardware slated for future flights. The Shuttle flight was bumped one day to allow engineers to confirm the quality control processes of a NASA subcontractor that worked on Discovery 20 years ago. On Friday, the crew boarded the Shuttle Discovery for the final countdown. However, poor weather caused the eighth delay of the mission. After the seven astronauts left the Shuttle, the fueled External Tank was then drained. The flight has been rescheduled for Saturday, December 18, pending good weather. No remaining technical issues were reported. The Shuttle has to launch in the next few days to assure that it won't be in orbit during the Y2K turnover. While NASA is confident that all Y2K issues have been addressed, they are taking no chances with their $2 billion orbiter and its crew. Because of the restriction, if the Shuttle is launched in 1999, it will conduct an abbreviated mission (NASA). Article Article

ISS - A year has passed since the Shuttle Enterprise connected the first two orbital elements of the International Space Station. This past week, controllers have continued to work electrical issues with only four of six batteries still on-line. New software was uploaded to allow mission controllers in Moscow and Houston to monitor the power system more closely through the early comm system and the TDRS System. Russian controllers are also working on an issue involving a test of the Kurs automatic docking system that will be used to dock Zvezda to the ISS sometime in 2000. The station is orbiting the world at 246 x 234 statue miles and has completed more that 6,134 orbits (NASA).

Enterprise: Forging a link between the Internet and space, SpaceHab, Energia and the Russian Space Agency (RSA) have inked an agreement to build a purely commercial module for the International Space Station. The $100 million module, named Enterprise, would host commercial experiments that would be controlled and monitored via an Internet server located on the module. Billed as the first "space portal", a goal of the new commercial communications link to the ISS is to provide a "virtual trip to space". The portal will generate revenue through commercial web advertising. SpaceHab is currently in negotiations with an established Internet company. SpaceHab / Energia hope to finance, build and launch the module in only two years. It will be attached to a docking port on the orbiting Zarya module. The module will also serve as a broadcast station for television, Internet news, education and entertainment about space. SpaceHab will provide half the financing for the module. Energia will construct the module and launch it on an RSA Zenit rocket. The module will break new ground as the first commercial real estate in orbit (; States News Service; SpaceDaily; Reuters). Article

SpaceHab: On December 14, NASA awarded SpaceHab a $4.2 million contract for the launch of the Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC) and the two SpaceHab Oceaneering Space Systems (SHOSS) boxes on ISS flight 7A.1. This represents the third flight of the ICC, which debuted on STS-96 in 1999. Placing the ICC on the February 2001 flight represents NASA exercising its first option on its Research and Logistics Mission Support (REALMS) contract with SpaceHab (SpaceHab PR).

KERMIt: The Kit for External Repair of Module Impacts (KERMIt) is under development by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The kit will allow spacewalkers to place a patch over external punctures on damaged modules. The operational kit is expected to be delivered next year. The kit was deemed necessary to effect repairs to damaged modules that have been sealed off to conserve the life of the station. It is also necessary for repairs to punctures to the approximately 30 percent of the station external area that cannot be accessed from the interior. The KERMIt will also be useful because external surfaces will generally be easier to work on while wearing a space suit than cramped and complicated internal surfaces (SpaceDaily citing Orbital Debris Quarterly News).

MIR - On December 7, Russian controllers in Corolla, Russia commanded the Mir complex to stabilize its position. On December 8, a 328.7-second burn using the engines of the docked Progress supply vessel adjusted the station's orbit. The burn increased the orbital velocity of the station by 2.5 m/sec. On December 10, the Progress was again used in a 49-second burn that added 1.7 m/sec. The burns increased the station's altitude and extended its orbital life. The station is now reported to be safe at least until April 2000 when a scuttling crew will make one final trip to the station (barring a late reprieve). Ground controllers also tested the Kurs automatic docking system (

TITAN 2 / DMSP - A Titan 2 rocket launched the DMSP Block 5D-3 weather satellite from Vandenberg AFB SLC-4 West on December 12 at 12:38 p.m. EST. The liquid fueled LR87 first stage burned 2:45 minutes before depleting and separating. The payload fairing separated 4 minutes into the flight. At T+5:45 the liquid-fueled LR91 second stage completed its burn and separated about half a minute later. The satellite's Star 375 kick motor fired at T+13:37 for just 51 seconds; followed by a trim burn. The satellite was placed in an 837 x 851 km x 98.9 degree orbit. Solar panels were extended at T+19:30 minutes. The launch was originally slated for October, but was delayed due to a faulty chip in one of the two solid state recorders in the DMSP payload.

This was the ninth consecutive successful mission for the Titan 2 launch system. The Titan 2 is based upon refurbished ICBMs that were decommissioned in June of 1987. The rocket, once stationed in Kansas was refurbished and modified by Lockheed Martin. The Titan 2 achieved fame in the 1960s when it was used in NASA's Gemini space program (SpaceFlight Now; SpaceDaily; USAF Fact Sheet; Jonathan's Space Report; SpaceViews).

Spaceview Article

ATLAS 2 / TERRA- The launch of the $1.3 billion Terra mission was scrubbed on Thursday, December 16 when a software error was encountered. The launch count-down had reached the T-39 second mark when an automatic system incorrectly indicated that the ILS Atlas 2AS rocket had not switched to internal power. By the time the software error was discovered and the rocket declared fit for launch, the launch window had expired. The five- instrument Terra satellite will study Earth's land, oceans, life and their interactions. The NASA spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space and contains instruments built in Canada and Japan. The launch of the International mission was rescheduled for a launch window opening 1:33 p.m. EST Saturday, December 18 (; AP; MediaNews). Article
Space Flight Now - Atlas Launch Report: Mission Status Center

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellite (DMSP 5D-3-F15) will be used to generate weather data for operational forces. The $250 million satellite will be used to analyze and track severe weather patterns. The information provided will allow the generation of three- dimensional models used in weather forecasts. The DMSP program is a joint effort between the USAF and the NOAA. The satellite, which was built by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space, is 12 feet high and nearly 4 feet in diameter; in orbit is 20 feet long. The satellite has a mass in orbit of nearly 800 kg. The satellite and upper stage have been integrated into a single system. The system that navigates from lift-off, also provides guidance, power, attitude and propulsion for the second stage. In orbit, four reaction wheels will provide attitude control. The satellite joins a constellation of other DMSP satellites orbiting in near- polar, sun-synchronous 500-mile high orbits. More than 30 DMSP satellites have been launched since 1966. Four are currently functional; two will be replaced by the new Block 5D-2. The Block 5D-3 series accommodates a larger sensor payload than earlier DMSP satellites and features two solid state recorders. The most recent DMSP satellite launch, the last of the Block 5D-2 series, occurred in April of 1997 (SpaceFlight Now; USAF Fact Sheet; SpaceDaily; Florida Today).

BRAZIL - On December 11 at 1:30 p.m. EST, the Brazilian-made Satellite Launch Vehicle (VLS-1) was launched from Alcantara, in the Brazilian State of Maranhao. The rocket, carrying the SACI-2 payload, successfully completed its first stage of flight. The four engines of the first stage worked as planned. However, 200 seconds after launch the second stage engine did not ignite. The second stage engine is of the same design as the four first stage engines. The rocket and its payload were then destroyed by a command from the ground. Debris from the rocket fell into the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket was reported to have cost about $3.5 million and the SACI-2 satellite cost $800,000 (Reuters reports the satellite cost $6 million). The development of the rocket has cost Brazil about $240 million over the last nine years. The four-stage 19 meter tall rocket was designed to lift 350 kg into orbit. An earlier version of the rocket was launched in 1997, but had to be destroyed 65 seconds into flight because one of the first stage strap-on motors failed to ignite. Brazil's space program will continue development of their launch system, which is viewed as being in the experimental stage. The launch "perfected" version of the VLS-1 may occur as early as 2001. However, the satellite series will be discontinued. The investigation into the flight failure is expected to be completed in about 30 days (SpaceDaily; AP; Spaceflight Now; Reuters; Jonathan's Space Report; SpaceViews). Article Article

DELTA 4 - Preparing the way for the coming Delta 4 program, Boeing launched a new rocket ship -- that is a ship that transports rockets on December 16. The ship, the Delta Mariner, was constructed in the Halter Marine Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It will be used to ferry Delta 4 Common Booster Cores (CBCs) from Decatur, Alabama to Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg AFB. The CBCs are the same diameter as commercial airplane fuselages. It will also carry the second stages in special climate controlled containers, payload adapters and fairings. The 312 foot long Delta Mariner will be fitted with special mobile transporters that will allow the CBCs to be loaded and unloaded via the ramp in the stern of the vessel (Boeing PR).

H-2A - Having walked away from the last launch of the H-2 program, Japan has renewed its efforts in the follow-on H- 2A development. Instead of flying H-2 vehicle Number 8, the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) will work on a second H-2A test vehicle that is tentatively slated for a late 2001 launch. The H-2A "Standard" will then be followed by a larger version, the H-2A "Augmented". The H-2A is both cheaper and easier to produce than the H-2, which cost about $185 million to launch. The November 99 failure of the 7th H-2 rocket has set the timeline for H-2A development back by about a year (; SpaceViews). Article

SOHO: The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) was successfully brought out of safe mode on December 9. The Observatory is now back on-line studying the Sun. SOHO suffered a pair of safing events on November 28 and December 1. The problem was traced to faulty software and a patch was transmitted to the spacecraft (SpaceViews)

Spaceviews Article

Mars Polar Lander: Having exhausted nearly all likely and unlikely scenarios for a still functioning Mars Polar Lander, the MPL is now working on a post-mortem. Toward this end, the Mars Global Surveyor was programmed to alter its routine to specially target the MPL landing corridor with its high-resolution camera. Ten imaging scans will be conducted from December 16 through December 19. The photographs are hoped to contain evidence of the spacecraft or its 65-foot long parachute. Following this work, the MGS will return to its pre-MPL mapping work. Controllers will continue to transmit commands to the MPL on the remaining assumption that the spacecraft reset its clock. The transmission commands the Lander to conduct medium-gain antenna to sweep the sky (JPL).

MGS - While controllers searched for the lost Mars Polar Lander, scientists studying data from Mars Global Surveyor have announced in the December 10 issue of "Science" that the red planet once had a large ocean early in its history. Though photographic images show no evidence of the ocean, analysis of radar altimeter data show geological structures consistent with shorelines. The shoreline extended around the northern third of the planet. The ocean could have been as deep as 3000 feet. The article revealed the findings of a Brown University team lead by James W. Head III (SpaceViews; AP).

Spaceviews Article

Deep Space 1: Mission controllers have successfully pointed the high gain antenna of the Deep Space 1 technology demonstrator toward Earth. The spacecraft had gone into safe mode after the failure of its star tracker -- possibly due to a short circuit in another instrument. The ability to communicate with the spacecraft will allow the mission team to attempt a fix that will allow the spacecraft to operate without the startracker. A series of test maneuvers were accomplished after which the team returned the spacecraft to standby mode. DS1 is currently over 246 million-km from Earth (JPL).

Galileo: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on December 17 revealed dramatic photographs of a volcanic fountain taken by the Galileo spacecraft during its November 25 encounter with the Jovian moon Io. The sprays of molten material were estimated to be over a mile in height and were so bright they over-exposed the spacecraft's camera. The volcanic plumes in the Loki crater were also observed at the same time by the telescope atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii -- ironically a terrestrial volcano. The two sets of observations will give scientists a chance to determine the temperatures of the volcanoes (JPL).

The new Io images are available at

DirecTV: In the wake of the passage of the Satellite Home Viewers Act, DirecTV has been busy signing up local and special interest channels for their satellite television service. DirecTV announce that it will commence local broadcast programming in Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas and Houston. This past week, agreements were announced with the National Geographic channel. NASA Select was added to the DirecTV secondary satellite which is located at 119 degrees, but can only be accessed by 1 percent of DirecTV US customers. The satellite is primarily used for Spanish- language programming. An agreement was also made this past week with Kelly Broadcasting for the retransmission of up to 16 non-Hispanic foreign-language channels. The new channels will be available on satellites at 101 and 119 degrees West. DirecTV currently uses foreign-language channels provided by SkyView Media, but the company is in bankruptcy and is being bought by EchoStar (Media News; SkyReport).

EchoStar: EchoStar has agreed to purchase the foreign- language television provider SkyView. SkyView has been operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since summer. While EchoStar has agreed to pay $23 million for the company, under the initial bankruptcy court decision it won't have access to the programming. A second court decision on this issue is expected within the week. This past week EchoStar announced that it would be adding public interest and educational channels to its line-up at no extra charge. EchoStar had hoped to place its public service/ education programming at the 61.5 degree West Longitude orbital slot, but a recent FCC ruling requires them to provide the programming at all orbital locations. EchoStar reportedly is the fastest growing DBS service in the US with 3.25 million customers (SkyReport; Business Wire).

SkyAngel: The niche-market DBS satellite service SkyAngel celebrated its third anniversary this past week. The service, which has a religious theme, started with six TV and three radio channels, but is now carrying 18 television and 16 radio stations. Services include 24-hour home schooling courses, minority oriented education -- satisfying FCC regulations. The company plans to launch at least one more satellite in 2002 that will be located at 61.5 degrees West Longitude, a slot it will share with EchoStar 3 (SkyReport).

Telesat Canada: While it is illegal for Canadian residents to receive DBS services from US companies, US residents can now receive Canadian DBS services. The change is due to a new ruling from the FCC and a World Trade Organization agreement, which allow Telesat to offer services on the Anik E1 and E2 satellites to US markets. The ruling is the first to allow a non-US satellite DBS service provider to compete in the US market by placing Telesat on the FCC Permitted Space Station list (SkyReport; Telesat Canada PR).

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

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

December 18 - Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-103, Hubble Servicing Mission, pad 39B, Kennedy Space Center.

December 18 - 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 - Eurorocket Rokot, experimental flight, Plesetsk, Russia (The launch system is based upon the SS 19 ICBM).

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

December 21 - 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.

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

Late December - Shuttle Discovery, landing, KSC.

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

January - Ariane 4, Galaxy 10R, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.

January 21 - Atlas 2A, DSCS B8, SLC-36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.

January 24 - Pegasus, HETE 2, Kwajalein Missile Range (first orbital launch from range).

January 27 - Delta 2, Globalstar 7, SLC-17B Cape Canaveral Air Station.

January 30 - Titan 4B, DSP Payload, SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Station.

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

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

Delayed - ILS Proton (Blok DM), CD Radio Satellite 1, Baikonur, Kazakstan.

Delayed to March - 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 393 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin sometime in 2000.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1999

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