Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #182

Frontier Status Report #182

December 24, 1999

Dale M. Gray

Humans have returned to space after an absence of almost four months, the first such absence in 10 years. After numerous delays, the Shuttle Discovery was launched on December 20. The picture-perfect launch was followed by a nearly flawless mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

The spectacular week of launches also included a Taurus launch of three payloads, the first-ever Vandenberg AFB launch of an Atlas-Centaur rocket carrying the long delayed Terra satellite, and an Ariane 4 rocket carrying the new generation Galaxy XI telecommunications satellite. Other news of note includes a full-thrust test of the X-33 linear aerospike engine and the first steps for the clearance of the Proton to return to flight in February.

Highlights of the week of December 24 include:

  • Discovery launches, crew captures Hubble
  • Three space walks repair Hubble
  • Ariane 4 launches Galaxy XI
  • Atlas 2AS launches Terra from Vandenberg AFB
  • Taurus launches Kompsat, AcrimSat and ashes.
  • Proton to return to service in February

SHUTTLE / HUBBLE - After nine delays due to wiring inspections, paper errors, material concerns and finally weather, the Shuttle Discovery was launched from pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center at 7:50 p.m. on May 19, 1999. Due to Y2K concerns, this was the last possible date to launch before the turning of the year. Delays caused NASA to trim two days off of the mission and cancel a fourth spacewalk. This was the third and final Shuttle flight of the year. The ascent was picture perfect. The solid rocket boosters (SRBs) completed their work and were jettisoned at T+2:30 minutes at an altitude of 40 miles. At T+8:00 minutes the Shuttle rolled to heads-up position to establish communications with the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRS). Main engine cut-off (MECO) occurred at T+8:35 minutes -- immediately followed by the External Tank released. At MECO Discovery was in a 56 x 587 km x 28.5 degree transfer orbit. The orbit was close enough to specification that OMS 1 was deemed unnecessary. OMS 2 at T+76 minutes raised the orbit to 591 x 610 km. The solid rocket boosters were recovered at sea with relatively little damage (NASA; Jonathan's Space Report; SpaceViews; AP).

As the Shuttle slowly closed-in on the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope (150 miles per orbit), they prepared for a series of three spacewalks. One of the few technical issues was a minor problem receiving e-mail from the ground. On Tuesday, Discovery caught up with the Hubble over the Gulf of Mexico at 7:34 p.m. EST. Commander Curt Brown positioned the Shuttle within 10 meters of the 13-meter, 1136-kg Hubble. Jean-Francois Clervoy using the 15 meter-long robot arm then grappled the telescope. It was placed in a special berth in the aft cargo bay to await a series of three spacewalks. Live video was of the grapple were beamed down using the Ku-band antenna deployed from the payload bay (Reuters; Jonathan's Space Report; Spaceflight Now).

On Wednesday, Steve Smith and John Grunsfeld suited-up and entered the shuttle cargo bay to conduct the first and most important space walk. The pair moved rapidly to replace the six aged and/or damaged gyroscopes that caused the Hubble to enter safe mode this past November. They also installed voltage regulators to keep the Hubble's six batteries from overheating and opened coolant valves on a disabled camera. However, the opening and closing of balky doors and panels took longer expected. Other planned, but lower priority battery repairs had to be skipped due to time constraints. By the time the pair completed their tasks and moved back into the Shuttle, they had extended their walk by two hours. At just over 8:15 hours, the Smith/Grunsfeld walk was the second longest in NASA history. The replaced components were tested by ground controllers and found to be working properly prior to the second space walk (AP).

On Thursday, Michael Foale and Claude Nicollier ventured out of the shuttle on the second space walk of the mission. Their main mission was to replace the outdated Hubble computer with a space-rated triple-linked Intel 486 computer. With a processing speed of only 25 MHz, far slower than modest terrestrial home computers, the new unit is 20 times faster than its predecessor and is hardened to withstand radiation in space, run on only 30 watts of power and does not have to support Windows (a much harsher environment). The old computer had only a tenth of a megabyte of RAM while the replacement has two megabytes. The pair also replaced a 225-kg fine guidance system the size a Christmas tree that was removed during the 1997 Hubble mission and has since been refurbished. The sensor contains a variety of lenses, mirrors, prisms and electrical components. Nicollier was the first ESA astronaut to conduct a spacewalk from the Shuttle, while it was Foale's third spacewalk. Again problems with opening and shutting compartments extended the mission (originally planned to last 6:30 hours) to just under 8:15 hours -- the third longest in NASA history (AP; Reuters; ESA).

On Christmas Eve, Smith and Grunsfeld returned to the payload bay for the third and final spacewalk. Grunsfeld spent much of the walk removing and replacing a broken radio transmitter that was not designed to be replaced in space. Using a special tool, he disconnected and reconnected a series of fine wires too small for his gloved hands to manipulate. Smith also replaced a reel-to-reel tape recorder with a new solid-state recorder. With time remaining, the pair managed to attach two of six new steel shields designed to protect the telescope from the sun. An electrical problem with Grunsfeld's suit caused the spacewalk to extend an hour, making it the fourth longest in NASA history (Reuters).

Following an on-orbit checkout of the new systems, the Hubble will be deployed from the cargo bay on Christmas day. Discovery will return to Earth on December 27. This will allow time for the safing of systems prior to the advent of any potential Y2K problems.

Risk Assessment: Futron, a risk-assessment consulting firm based out of Washington, has concluded that the International Space Station faces a 10 percent chance of disaster in the next 10 years. While fires, explosions and collisions between spacecraft account for a mere 2 percent of the risk, by far the greatest risk is of catastrophic decompression due to micrometeorite strikes. A surprising result of the study is that crewmembers are at higher risk of accidents inside the station than from accidents during the many spacewalks needed to complete the station. Futron, also concluded that at least one crewmember could be lost from accident or disease in the next 15 years. The results of the study are published in this week's New Scientist Magazine (MediaNews citing New Scientist Magazine).

Proton: Investigations in the cause of the October Proton rocket crash that grounded the launch system are progressing and are expected to be completed by the end of the year. Additional testing is being conducted on second stage engines already at Baikonur. The launch failures have been traced to second stage engines manufactured after a work stoppage at a Russian factory. No engines from this batch of four engines remain. Strenuous tests are being conducted to assure engines manufactured subsequently were built to flight specifications (ILS PR; Frontier Status).

MIR - In an attempt to save the condemned Mir space station, the Russians are considering raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. The taxes, estimated at six billion rubles or $200 million (US), would be used to give the station a last-second reprieve (SpaceDaily; Reuters).

ATLAS / TERRA - An Atlas-Centaur (AC-141) carrying NASA's Terra spacecraft was launched from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 3 East on December 18. The long-awaited launch of the Atlas IIAS occurred at 1:57 p.m. EST, only 10 seconds before the close of the launch window. At T+1 minute the air-ignited solid rocket boosters were activated. Both ground and air-ignited solid rocket boosters completed their burns and were jettisoned at T+2 minutes. The payload fairing separated at T+3:30 minutes. At T+4:40 the sustainer engine shut down, followed immediately by separation from the upper stage and the ignition of the twin RL10 Centaur engines. The Centaur engine completed its burn at T+11:40 minutes. The payload separated at T+14 minutes. The 4854-kg Terra spacecraft was placed into a 654 x 684 km orbit inclined at 98.25 degrees. The launch was delayed by two days after a Thursday launch attempt ended in a scrub due to a faulty sensor reading that indicated the rocket had not gone to internal power. This was the fifth Atlas flight for 1999 (Spaceflight Now; AP).

The $1.5 billion Terra mission will study Earth's environment for the next six years. The Terra program is a cooperative effort between NASA, Canada and Japan. While the solar panels and high gain antenna successfully deployed, the high gain antenna stopped tracking on Sunday during initial stages of activation and testing. The satellite will use the NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System to transmit the large volume of data generated. By Sunday the antenna was again tracking and controllers continued working through the 90-day testing period. On early Tuesday the spacecraft controls computer halted. Analysis determined an exception in the navigation software caused the problem. The spacecraft will be controlled by an independent safe-hold processor until a software patch can be up-linked. Activation of the five scientific instruments was also proceeding well. By mission day five, all planned activities were on schedule. Terra was built by Lockheed Martin under management of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (Spaceflight Now).

This was the first launch for the remodeled SLC 3 East pad since 1995. The pad was originally designated LC 1-2 of the Naval Missile Facility, Point Arguello and was originally used for MIDAS and SAMOS launches in 1961. From 1966 to 1987 it was used for early launches of various early models of the Atlas (Atlas Burner 2, Atlas E, F and H). The remodeled pad features a 230-foot tower that encloses the rocket up to the time of the launch. The Atlas that was launched was first assembled on the new pad in September 1997 as part of pathfinder exercises. Tests of the launch pad, its systems and teams were complete in April of 1998, but a series of software problems on the Terra satellite and an investigation of the Centaur upper stage forced the Atlas to be placed in storage on the pad. The EOS Data Information System software has more than doubled while the programmers working on the project have experienced a turn over at a rate of over 35 percent. This was also the first flight using the new extended length (4.3 m) payload fairing (Spaceflight Now; Jonathan's Space Page; SpaceViews).

Terra (formerly EOS AM-1) Website Terra Article 1 Terra Article 2

ARIANE 4 / GALAXY XI - On Tuesday, December 21, the European Space Agency launched an Ariane 44L rocket carrying the Galaxy XI telecommunications satellite into orbit for PanAmSat. The rocket, configured with four liquid-fuel strap-on booster rockets, lifted off at 7:50 p.m. EST from Kourou French Guiana. The four liquid-fueled strap-on rockets separated at T+2:30. The five Snecma Viking 5 engines of the first stage completed their burn at T+3:45 minutes -- followed immediately by the first stage separation and second stage ignition. The payload fairing separated at T+4 minutes. At T+6 minutes the second stage completed its burn and separated. The third stage started immediately thereafter and fired for 13 minutes until depletion at T+19:10 minutes. Spacecraft separation into an elliptical geostationary transfer orbit occurred at T+21:30 at an altitude of 396 km. This was the 10th Ariane launch of 1999 and the 3rd in only 20 days (Spaceflight Now).

The 4.5 tonne (4,500-kg) Galaxy XI was built by Hughes Space and Communications. The satellite, built on the new HS 702 platform is the largest telecommunications satellite ever launched into space. The advanced solar panels with angled reflector panels to concentrate the sun's rays on the dual-junction solar cells with 25 percent efficiency are expected to provide more than 10 kW at the end of its 15- year design life. Fully deployed, the satellite is 102 feet long and 29.5 feet wide. The satellite has 40 Ku-band and 24 C- band transponders. The satellite uses the new 25-centimeter xenon ion propulsion system (XIPS) for station keeping and is the first such ion thruster powerful enough to raise the satellite's orbit while using only 5 kg of fuel per year. From its position at the 99 degrees West orbital slot, it will carry television and Internet services across North America and Brazil. The satellite will eventually migrate to the 91 degree West slot as PanAmSat's satellite constellation grows. Galaxy XI is the first of seven high powered Hughes-built satellites to be deployed by PanAmSat. By mid-2001, PanAmSat expects to have a constellation of 25 geostationary satellites in service -- the largest commercial geostationary fleet in orbit (AP; PanAmSat PR; Spaceflight Now). Galaxy 11 Article

TAURUS - An Orbital Sciences four-stage Taurus rocket was launched from Vandenberg AFB SLC 576 East on Tuesday, December 21 at 2:13 a.m. The rocket payload included Kompsat with a secondary payload of NASA's AcrimSat. In addition, the upper stage contained materials from Celestis, Inc. The first stage completed a nominal burn and separated a little more than a minute into the flight. Three minutes into the flight the second stage completed its burn and separated from the third stage. Soon thereafter the payload fairing separated. The third stage completed its burn around T+5 minutes into the flight, but did not immediately separate until after a ballistic coast period. At this point, it was reported that the astronauts on the Shuttle Discovery had observed the launch! The third stage separated and fourth stage ignited at T+10 minutes and burned for two minutes. At T+13 minutes the Kompsat was released into orbit. A minute later the adapter between the satellite payloads was released. The release of the AcrimSat apparently occurred at T+16, but confirmation was not given until T+25 (signal was acquired by McMurdo Ground Station, Antarctica at T+20 minutes). The next Taurus launch has been penciled in for February 8 (Spaceflight Now; JPL; PR Newswire).

Kompsat: The Korea Multi-Purpose Satellite (Kompsat-1) was built for the Korea Aerospace Research Institute in conjunction with TRW. The satellite was designed for the production of 1:25,000 scale maps of Korea. The 500-kg satellite contains an Electro-Optical Camera, Ocean Scanning Multi-spectral Imager and Space Physics Sensor. It was placed into a 10:50 a.m. sun -synchronous orbit with an altitude of 685 km. Kompsat will enter operations after about two months of on-orbit testing and is expected to have a lifespan of three years (Spaceflight Now; TRW).

AcrimSat: The Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor (AcrimSat) is designed to measure the Sun's total energy. The 115-km satellite was deployed into a 690-km polar orbit. The $17.5 million satellite was built by Orbital Sciences and instrumented by JPL. AcrimSat will begin operations after 45 days of testing and checkouts (JPL).

Celestis: On the upper stage of the Taurus rocket were attached 36 capsules containing cremated human remains. The individual ashes were placed in 7-ounce tubes as part of the Celestis service to place cremated mortal remains in orbit. Previously, ashes from Gene Roddenberry and Timothy Leary have flown on Celestis flights. Individuals from China, Germany, Japan and the United States were included in this, the third flight for the company. Celestis charges $4,800 per individual, which is comparable to some traditional funeral costs. All totaled, 88 people's ashes have been transported to orbit by Celestis. An unknown number of others have been transported to orbit unofficially on Shuttle flights and at least one person's ashes have been placed on the Moon via Lunar Prospector. The recently launched ashes are expected to remain in orbit for about 45 years (AP; Article

X-33 - On December 18, the XRS-2200 Linear Aerospike Engine was tested at full power for the first time. The engine was bolted to the A-1 test stand at Stennis Space Center for the 18-second test. Examination of the engine after the test found no apparent erosion in 19 of the 20 thrust cells. The 20th cell had minor pinhole erosion on the interior wall, but the erosion was within the normal range for development testing. This was the last test of the engine in 1999. Testing will resume early next year. The Aerospike engine is being developed by Boeing Rocketdyne for the X-33 program led by Lockheed Martin ( NASA Marshall PR).


XMM: The European X-Ray Multimirror Mission telescope (XMM) launched December 10 on an Ariane 5 rocket reached its final orbit on December 16. The 29-ton telescope is in a flat, elliptical 7,365 x 114,000-km orbit with a 48-hour period. The telescope is controlled from the ESA base at Darmstadt, German and has already responded to several thousand instructions. Controllers have found that the telescope response better than pre-launch simulations. Built at a cost of $700 million, 13 meter long XMM is the biggest satellite ever constructed in Western Europe. This past week the three EPIC X-ray cameras were switched on and vented. On December 17 the doors to the Multi-Mirror modules were opened with the door to the Optical Monitor telescope opened the following day. The Radiation Monitor was switched on December 18-19. Work has been reduced during the holiday season, but is set to resume January 4. The spacecraft-commissioning phase will last until February 15. The first light from the telescope is expected in March 2000 (ESA; Reuters). Article


Y2K: The long-heralded miasma of the Y2K effect has had an unexpected benefit for the infant satellite telephone industry. As an insurance against possible disruptions to critical communications, multi-national corporations are flocking to buy satellite phones in record numbers. Ironically, while handsets use satellites to make their calls, they are still dependent on Y2K vulnerable ground stations and ground networks to complete calls. Inmarsat reported an acceleration of its Mini-M phones and Iridium LLC stated that it had seen a 15 percent increase in sales as a direct response to Y2K. While analysts continue to state that such purchases are pointless, major corporations have quietly been buying the phones as a relatively easy way to hedge their bets -- especially in situations where local communications are suspect or where a high premium is set on maintaining constant communications (Reuters).

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

Spaceflight Now - Tracking Station: Worldwide Launch Schedule
Spaceviews Website

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

December 27 - Shuttle Discovery, landing, KSC.

January 15 - Orbital Sciences, Minotaur, JAWSAT, FalconSat, ASUsat-1 and OPAL (with picosats), Vandenberg AFB.

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

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

January 24 - Ariane 4, Galaxy 10R, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.

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.

February 3 - Atlas 2AS, Hispasat 1C, Cape Canaveral Air Station.

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 7 humans in orbital space: 4 American astronauts; British-born US Astronaut (Michael Foale); French ESA astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy and Swiss ESA astronaut Claude Nicollier. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 400 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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