Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #184

Frontier Status Report #184

January 7, 2000

Dale M. Gray

While the world waited with abated breath, the clock ticked over to 2000. Kennedy Space Center, Intelsat, and various other space related organizations and companies found few Y2K problems. The military, with many sophisticated, yet outdated systems, reported two small problems that were easily corrected.

No launches were reported this week other than a funerary launch of Graham Chapman's ashes in a small rocket on New Year's Eve. New of note includes the progress on the X-34, new directions for the X-33, an incident on the next Titan 4B payload, SpaceImaging and GlobalStar inaugurated new services, and the DBS providers reported a stellar year.

Highlights of the week of January 7 include:

  • Endeavor on the pad
  • H-2 first stage engine found
  • Mars Society awards contract for polar station
  • X-34 gets its wings
  • Galileo encounters Europa and 3 minor moons
  • Still no sign of Mars Polar Lander, but theories abound


The Shuttle Endeavor is currently on Pad 39A preparing for a January 31 launch. The STS-99 mission is the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), which has been extensively delayed by the Shuttle wiring issue. On January 5, the Launch Control Center conducted a standard launch countdown simulation. January 7, the helium signature test was conducted. Workers also inspected tiles on the left and right inboard elevons. A tile on Discovery's right inboard elevon debonded during its landing. Prelaunch propellant loading will occur on January 10-12 and the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test is slated for January 13 -14 (NASA Shuttle page).

NASA is apparently considering delaying the launch of Endeavor until February 10. The move would allow ground crews to prepare for the launch at a less frantic pace. The move would depend in part in the NASA's ability to negotiate a launch date with the Air Force Eastern Range. An Atlas and a Delta launch are already slated for early February, but February 10 is open (

The Shuttle Atlantis is Orbital Processing Bay 3 where a wiring inspection and repairs are being conducted in the midbody and aft compartments. The Shuttle is also being prepared for the third ISS flight (2A.2). This flight was originally slated for after the arrival of the Proton-launched Service Module. However, a variety of delays have pushed this event back until late spring 2000. Atlantis is scheduled for launch on March 16, but this date will remain in doubt until plans for its ISS mission are finalized (


NASA is considering modifying the planned ISS flight 2A.2 to occur prior to the launch of the Service Module. While the International Space Station modules in orbit are functioning within parameters, several problems with the batteries have occurred. In addition, the Zarya module, which is providing station-keeping services, is only certified to fly through the end of March. A March mission is required to extend its service as well as replace the faulty battery and charger electronics. The crew of Endeavor will also change out fans and deliver additional supplies to the station (

Because of problems getting the ISS Service Module off the ground in a Proton rocket, NASA is seriously planning to push the flight of Discovery back from June to October. In addition, Endeavor's second year 2000 flight will be moved from July to November. The first crew, scheduled to fly in May is now looking at first occupation in the fall (

The orbiting elements of the International Space Station have entered year 2000 without any apparent computer problems. Four of the six batteries continue to be cycled. Controllers have reported a successful test of the Kurs docking system after some discrepancies in the relative velocity readings were seen prior to Christmas. The problem is thought to stem from electromagnetic interference from other systems on the station. The system will continue to be tested until the docking of the Zvezda module. The station is in a 246 x 234 statute mile orbit and has completed 6,500 orbits since its launch (NASA).


Even while Lockheed Martin was unveiling photographs of the new external payload bay for their VentureStar launch system, the company was reexamining the use of high-tech carbon composite tanks in the X-33. The X-33, a half-size prototype of VentureStar, suffered a failure on the composite tank that was to be used to contain liquid hydrogen. Construction stopped on the X-33 in November after a portion of the tank wall pushed through the external skin after a successful pressure test. Since December, Lockheed Martin has been pursuing design work for substitution of aluminum tanks for the composite tanks to provide storage for the liquid hydrogen. No final decision on a substitution will be made until the failure of the composite tank is fully understood -- a process delayed by the holidays and trouble removing the tank from the test stand. The $1.3 billion X-33 cost sharing program between Lockheed Martin and NASA is currently over one year behind schedule. The follow-on VentureStar is to be funded privately. Because of lessons already learned on the X-33 program, VentureStar will have the aforementioned external payload bay, vertical fins have moved from the body to wings, and the composite tanks have been replaced with aluminum tanks (States News Service;


The second of three X-34 rocket planes has reached a milestone with the attachment of its composite wing to the fuselage of the second X-34 prototype. The advanced technology demonstrator is being assembled by Orbital Sciences' Dulles, Virginia plant under a $85.5 million contract with NASA to produce three prototypes. This individual rocket plane (A-2) will be used for a series of rocket powered flights conducted at the Dryden Flight Research Center in California. Ironically, once the completed A-2 finishes final testing at Orbital, the wing will be taken off for shipment to California. The composite wing is made by R-Cubed of West Jordan, Utah. The 17.7-m long fuselage will be shipped to Holloman AFB in New Mexico for integration with its Fastrac rocket engine. After propulsion testing, the fuselage will be shipped to Dryden to be reattached to the 8.4-m long wing for the actual flight tests. After being drop launched from the L-1011 carrier aircraft, the X-34 will test technologies up to Mach 8 and altitudes of up to 50 miles (

The first demonstrator (A-1) has already conducted a series of captive carry flights at Dryden FRC. The A-1 vehicle has since been extensively modified for tow tests and drop tests. because of the many changes the vehicle is now designated A-1A. This spring it will be towed along the runway at speeds up to 80 mph to test steering and positional systems. At the successful conclusion to these tests, the A-1A will again be captive carried and then drop tested at White Sands. The first powered flights of the A-2 unit are slated for later this year (Dryden PR; SpaceViews).


A recent accident at the Cape Canaveral launch pad has caused a delay in the launch of a U. S. missile warning satellite on a Titan 4B rocket. Oil from a crane was dripped on the 2686-kg satellite while it was being lifted to the top of the rocket. Workers were attempting to cocoon the spacecraft within the nose cone to protect it from weather during the Christmas holidays. The USAF and contractors will spend six days inspecting the TRW-built satellite. If no oil is found, then the nose cone will be installed on the Titan for a mid-February launch. The last attempt to launch a similar satellite ended with an upper stage failure that left the satellite in a useless orbit. The satellites operate from geostationary orbit (


The launch of the Rokot booster damaged by last week's shroud incident has been postponed by Eurockot Launch Services who markets the system. On December 22, explosive bolts on a protective shroud were accidentally triggered. As a direct result the shroud fell from the rocket and hit a launch service building below. Both shroud and building were extensively damaged, but the rocket was relatively unharmed. The Briz K upper stage has been returned to the Khrunichev in Moscow for inspection. The rocket was to be the first launch of the new Briz K upper stage carrying the RVSN-40 experimental satellite for the Russian Strategic Missile Forces. The launch from Plesetsk has been tentatively rescheduled for late March. However, the Rokot will now be equipped with a Briz KM upper stage that can accommodate the deployment of multiple satellite payloads. The March launch will carry two dummy satellites to validate commercial operations. Eurockot has a contract to launch two Iridium satellites that it expects to launch in the second quarter of 2000. Eurockot has renovated a former Cosmos-3M launch pad at Plesetsk at a reported cost of $40 million. Eurockot also plans to renovate silo #175/1 at Baikonur in order to facilitate commercial launches associated with the deployment of the Leo-One 56 satellite constellation. The Rokot system, based on refurbished Russian SS-19 ICBMs has the capability of placing 900 kg into LEO (Eurockot PR; SpaceViews;


Having located debris of the failed H-2 rocket about 380 km northwest of Ogasawara Islands, the salvage ship Yokosuka found the first stage engine of the rocket and took low-resolution images of rocket debris. NASDA, the Japanese space agency, has several theories as to the cause of the failure, but without physical evidence they cannot pinpoint the cause using telemetry alone. The salvage ship Natsushima will take high-resolution photographs of the LE- 7 rocket engine using a probe called Dolphin 3K. They will also try to bring up smaller pieces of the rocket. The heavy engine will be brought to the surface in the coming months. The November 15,1999 H-2 flight ended in an explosion just after the first stage shut down prematurely. While the H-2 program was canceled as a result of the H-2 failure, the new H-2A has many common systems (


Graham Chapman had the honor of being the last person launched in a rocket in the second millennium (or was he the first in the third millennium?). At the stroke of midnight, his ashes were launched in a rocket over the Welsh mountains. Chapman, who was best known as one of the founders of the Monty Python comedy team, died ten years ago from cancer. His final wish was to have his ashes launched in a rocket. His partner, David Sherlock, who arranged the flight, admitted that he "simply hadn't got round to it before" (Reuters).


The Mars Society symbolically reached orbit last month during the Discovery repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The red, green and blue flag of the Mars Society was sewn by Maggie Zubrin and brought aboard Discovery by the invitation of astronaut John Grunsfeld. The colors symbolize the transformation of Mars in the Martian trilogy written by Kim Stanley Robinson as well as the traditional values of liberty, equality and justice. A similar Mars Society flag will fly over the organization's Mars Arctic Research Station on Devon Island. This past week, the Mars Society selected Infrastructure Composites International as the primary contractor for the construction of the Research Station. The primary structure will be a fiberglass habitat and laboratory 27 feet in diameter. The assembly will be shipped to the Arctic and reassembled in late June and early July to prepare for the first three-month field season in the summer of 2001 (Mars Society PR;



With China's pending entry into the world of human space flight, the country has admitted that there have been an increasing number of UFO sightings. The country's UFO Research Association has a membership of 50,000 and there is a bimonthly magazine dedicated to UFO sightings that has a circulation of 400,000. Sightings date back at least 30 years and have been previously attributed to such ideologically correct causes such as probes sent by Soviet revisionists or as auspicious signs from heaven. While in America UFO sightings tended to be silver colored (the material of choice for U-2 spy planes), in China the UFOs appear as golden light. The UFO Research Center reported 500 UFO sightings in 1999, but expects the number to be revised downward to 200 after investigations. It is not known if the sightings correspond to so-called "Iridium flares" caused by reflection of the sun off of the highly polished bodies of the Iridium constellation of satellites. It is significant, however, that China is sanctioning the study of UFOs and is admitting the sightings to the outside world (AP; DG).



As one of the first measures enacted in 2000, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has unveiled a panel to assess the threat of Near Earth Object (NEO) collision. While the risk is known to be relatively remote for any given year, the Earth has experienced several asteroid hits that are thought to have profoundly changed the evolution of life on the planet. The panel, consisting of two scientists and a former diplomat will weigh the levels of risk and assess the nature of the hazard. It will also make recommendations as the British contribution to international efforts to deal with NEOs (Reuters;



The initial campaign to photograph the Mars Polar Lander landing site has been completed with no trace of the Lander being revealed. The orbiting Mars Global Surveyor scanned 19 target areas along the predicted MPL landing ellipse. However, this ellipse has been revised significantly as local weather conditions have been made available. MGL has also been used to target the Mars Pathfinder landing site, but errors in coordinates on a December 26 attempt caused the wrong site to be targeted. Another attempt will be made on January 9. Mar Polar Lander landing ellipse targeting will continue until January 12 (JPL PR).


While most scenarios have been played out for contact with the Mars Polar Lander, the JPL team is still working on the assumption that the Lander's clock was scrambled after touchdown -- placing MPL in UHF safe mode. A number of communications windows with Mars Global Surveyor have been scheduled through January 17. Two theories have evolved that would explain the loss of the Lander. One theory using updated landing coordinates places the Lander on steep slopes of a unnamed gorge as deep as the Grand Canyon and six miles wide. With slopes in excess of 20 degrees, this far exceeds the Lander's ability to handle slopes of up to 10 degrees. An alternate theory is that the craft landed on the rough slopes of a large crater 2.3 of a mile deep and as big as California's Central Valley. Controllers had hoped to land north of the crater. Controllers at Lockheed Martin's Golden, Colorado control center realized they were drifting toward the crater after the 4th course correction burn a few days before the landing attempt. However, a 5th correction burn was canceled when it was realized it would push the Lander too far south. Mars Polar Lander vanished during its December 3 landing attempt (Denver Post; Reuters).


On January 3, the Galileo spacecraft passed within 351 km of Europa at 10:38 a.m. PST. Because the spacecraft passed behind the Jovian moon, scientists were able to use radio signals to study Europa's ionosphere. The spacecraft then swung by the lesser moons of Amalthea, Thebe and Metis. On January 4 at 4:00 a.m. PST, the spacecraft once again dipped into Jupiter's intense radiation to conduct a distant encounter with Io. This passage was not marked by the equipment resets that plagued the two previous encounters. Software correctly diagnosed the reset problem and kept it from recurring. Galileo is in its last stages of its extended mission that ends January 31. NASA has agreed in principle to fund a new extended mission, which will be called the Galileo Millennium Mission. Encounters with Io on February 22 and with Ganymede on May 30 and December 28 are planned for this year. Joint observations with Casini could occur in December (NASA JPL; AP; SpaceScience Headlines).



With three years advanced warning, the Intelsat technicians began a $25 million program to assure that the 17 satellite Intelsat system would maintain smooth function during the Y2K roll-over. The project examined 1,400 pieces of equipment, 16 million lines of computer code in 130 ground stations. While the satellites are not calendar dependent, the organization focused its efforts on the ground stations. As a result of these precautionary measures, Intelsat was pleased to report a non-event on January 1. As the New Year swept around the globe, Intelsat stations checked in with no issues. Intelsat provides a variety of communication services to over 200 countries (Washington Post).


The European Space Agency's X-Ray Multi Mirror telescope appears to be working perfectly. The ESA has activated all the telescopes systems while leaving the shutter cover on to protect the instruments. ESA scientists have benefited from the Chandra experience -- damaging radiation was reflected by the X-Ray mirror onto the Charge Coupled Devices. The Chandra team now mis-aligns the telescope while it passes through radiation belts to preserve the remaining CCDs. The XMM team has benefited directly from this experience. The XMM was launched December 10 on an Ariane 5 rocket. Commissioning procedures for the telescope and its five scientific instruments began on January 4 and will continue for a month (

Galaxy XR

On January 3, PanAmSat announced that its new Galaxy XR satellite had arrived at Kourou to begin final launch preparations. Galaxy XR will be launched in late January, the first satellite to be deployed for PanAmSat this century. The Hughes-built HS 601 HP satellite boasts of 24 C and 24 Ku-band transponders. When it reaches its orbital slot of 123 degrees west longitude, it will bring the PanAmSat fleet up to 21. This orbital neighborhood provides services for nearly all 11,000 cable television systems in the US while also providing Internet and telecommunications services. The last satellite, Galaxy XI, was launched from Kourou on an Ariane 4 rocket on December 21 (Business Wire; SkyReport).


Launch preparations are underway for the Multispectral Thermal Imager satellite. The MTI has been developed by the Sandia and Los Alamos Labs to collect ground images in 15 spectral bands. The three- year R & D mission will compare the satellite's data with that collected simultaneously on the ground. The satellite uses technology to achieve results previously only available in controlled laboratory settings. The multispectral thermal images have a broad range of national defense and civilian applications (Space Daily).



On January 6, 2000, GlobalStar announced that it would begin selling its satellite phone service to customers in the United States. The FCC has given the company a "Special Temporary Authorization" while it reviews the company's license application. Final approval depends on an agreement between the US Department of Defense, the FBI and the Department of Justice over wiretap issues. The call-from-anywhere service has learned from its predecessor's mistakes. Unlike Iridium, GlobalStar already has 40,000 phones in its distribution system. In addition, the GlobalStar phones provide not only satellite service, but also the less expensive cell phone service which allows them to work inside buildings. However, the company does face some of the same obstacles as Iridium. The phones themselves are expensive -- up to $1000 each with use time billed between $1.50 and $3.00 per minute. The company's business plan calls for 40,000 units to be sold in the first quarter followed by another 75,000 in the second. This compares with the 10,000 customers signed up by Iridium in its first half year. GlobalStar stock price more than doubled in 1999 and jumped 50 percent in the last week of 1999 (Wired News;


Space Imaging

On January 4 Space Imaging announced the introduction of its new Carterra Geo product line. Through this new service black and white images of 1 meter resolution are now available on-line through Customers can specify specific areas of interest anywhere in the world and receive the satellite product within days of image collection or within three days of the order if it is already in the archive. In addition to the black and white images, the Carterra Geo also offers four- meter resolution color images in four bands, including near infrared. Prices range from $12 - $17 per square km in the US and Canada and $29 - $44 per square km outside North America. These prices reflect minimum orders of $1000 and $2000 respectively. The products are delivered in either TIFF or GeoTIFF formats (Space Imaging PR; Space Daily).



EchoStar has had a banner year, adding 1.47 million new customers to its base. The company capped 15 consecutive months of adding 100,000 new subscribers with December 1999's record 160,000 new customers. This is a 64 percent increase over 1998 figures. EchoStar stock has become popular on Wall Street -- jumping 700 percent during the course of 1999 (CNET News; Media News).
As a direct result of the passage of the Satellite Home Viewers Act, DBS is now positioned to directly compete with cable TV. Toward that end EchoStar is now offering cable customers free equipment and installation. Cable customers who bring in their cable bill and agree to subscribe for a year are eligible for the program. Non-cable customers get a $199 rebate and free installation. The DBS receiver is listed at $400 (Denver Post).


December was a great month for DirecTV. The company added 225,000 new customers -- a company record. With December's totals, the company has added 1.6 million new customers, which is 38 percent ahead of 1998's figures. In addition, the company converted 89,000 PrimeStar customers from medium to high-powered service for a total 1999 conversion of 470,000(CNET News; Media News).



In the wake of the great Y2K non-event, the US military appears to have experienced one of the few certifiable Y2K failures. A computer used to communicate with one of the US spy satellites experienced a Y2K glitch on Friday, Dec ember 31, 1999, causing disruption of the flow of information for several hours. The problem occurred at midnight Greenwich Mean Time or 7:00 p.m. EST. A back-up procedure allowed the resumption of communications within a few hours. The Pentagon at first denied that it was experiencing the problem and later refused to identify which satellite was affected or what part of the World was not monitored. Greenwich Mean Time is the standard by which many military satellites are synchronized. The U. S. military reportedly spent $3.6 billion preparing for Y2K. The only other problem reported was a brief power outage at a remote military outpost at Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean (MediaNews; New York Times; Washington Post;


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • January 15 - Orbital Sciences, Minotaur, JAWSAT, FalconSat, ASUsat-1 and OPAL (with picosats), Vandenberg AFB.
  • January 21 - Atlas 2A, DSCS B8, SLC-36A, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • January 24 - Ariane 4, Galaxy 10R, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • January 28 - Pegasus, HETE 2, Kwajalein Missile Range (first orbital launch from range).
  • January 31 or February 10 - Shuttle Endeavor, STS-99, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center.
  • Late January - Sea Launch Zenit 3SI, ICO Mobile Satellite F1, Odyssey platform, equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • Late January - Soyuz-Fregat, Russian military satellite, Baikonur, inaugural flight of Fregat upper stage.
  • February 3 - Atlas 2AS, Hispasat 1C, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • February 6 - Delta 2, Globalstar 7, SLC-17B Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • February 8 - Taurus, MTI, Vandenberg AFB.
  • February 8 - M-5, Astro-E, Kagoshima Space Center, Japan
  • February 8 - Titan 4B, DSP Payload, SLC-40, 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.


There are currently no humans in orbital space. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 414 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin sometime in 2000.

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