Frontier Status Report #185
Frontier Status Report #185
January 14, 2000
Dale M. Gray
Two weeks into 2000 and so far the number of rockets launched is equal to that launched in the first two weeks of 1900. However, two attempts were made to launch the new Minotaur rocket before dead batteries caused controllers to reschedule. The last Shuttle mission of 1999 is bearing fruit as the Hubble Space Telescope comes back on-line. Chandra X-Ray Observatory solves a 37-year-old mystery. The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory is slated for demolition by reentry. Identified problems with the Proton second stage have now pushed the launch of the ISS Service Module to late August.
While there were no launches this week, space business was very busy. Hughes has decided to sell its satellite manufacturing division to Boeing. New contracts abound and there is news on nearly every orbital space frontier.
January Frontier Corner editorial "Imponderables" is on-line at Space Policy
Highlights of the week of January 14 include:
The Shuttle Endeavor is on pad 39A awaiting a January 31 launch on the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. While a later date was considered, Shuttle managers confirmed the January 31 date. On January 14, the crew conducted a dress rehearsal for the launch, which ended in the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test. An end-to-end Y2K test was also completed. Aft compartment close-outs are underway with expected completion some time next week. On Saturday, January 15, loading of on- board storage tanks will commence. Flight readiness review will be conducted on January 18. Count down will begin on January 28 (NASA).
Atlantis is in the Orbital Processing Facility bay 3 being prepared for the 3rd ISS flight in April. Wiring inspection and repair continue along with main landing gear assembly installation (NASA).
The identification of possibly flawed engines on the second stage of the Proton rocket has caused yet another delay in the launch of the Service Module Zvezda. The engine's manufacturer Voronezh Mechanical Works promises to have the engines replaced by the end of June. After the engines are in place, it will take 45 days at a minimum to prepare the Service Module for launch. The additional time will allow Russia to work on software problems that have cropped up on the Zvezda's computers. This places the new launch date at the end of August at the earliest (AP; Florida Today).
A team of experts has advised NASA to set up a private company to manage the International Space Station as soon as possible. The Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) would be similar to port authorities that operate harbors or the Space Telescope Science Institute that manages the Hubble Space Telescope. The Space Studies Board of the National Research Council report suggests that a private consortium might be better at managing the station. Further, the report states that NASA must act soon it insures that the management is in place when the Station is completed in 2004. The report indicated that NASA probably would not have enough staff to support the management of the station. The report recommended that NASA remain in control of construction operations and overall policy (Reuters; States News Service).
With more lives than the proverbial cat, Mir appears to have gotten yet another last second reprieve from death. American businessman Walt Anderson has made public his offer to save Mir by using it as an out-of-this-world vacation spot for rich adventure seekers. The honor of being the first tourist in space is for sale for a mere $40 million. While a place in history awaits the first tourist, subsequent space tourists will make the trip for only $25 million. Unlike other space tourist plans, Anderson has the advantage of an established location (Mir), established transport (Soyuz rockets) and the one thing all other ventures lacked, hard cash. Anderson became a multi-millionaire from the break-up of AT&T by buying and selling portions of telecommunications companies. His Bermuda-based holding company Gold & Appel will operate the Mir venture. Anderson and Space Frontier Society president Rick Tumlinson approached Energiya after they learned that the station would be abandoned and destroyed. Anderson, apparently views the orbiting station as a "fixer-upper" no more to be thrown away than any other vintage building with a few system problems. In addition to preserving Mir, Anderson's group ultimately plans to add modules as part of a moneymaking venture. The evolving station would also be used as a commercial lab, advertising gimmick as well as a tourist destination. Anderson is expected to sign a lease on the station by the end of the month (Knight Ridder; Reuters; Drudge Report).
Depending on the results of a January 20 Russian Space Agency meeting, Mir may soon be receiving a new long-duration mission. A Soyuz capsule carrying veteran cosmonauts Sergei Zaletin and Alexander Kaleri may blast off from Baikonur on March 30. The crew may deploy a large radio telescope to conduct experiments. The pair may also play host to Vladimir Steklov, a Russian actor. Steklov will star in a movie about a cosmonaut who refuses to leave the station. Steklov's trip to space is contingent on $20 million in private funding from Gold & Appel and his ability to train for the mission in the short time remaining. Golden Apple has already advanced $7 million for the mission. The mission is slated to last 45 days. A Progress supply vessel is scheduled to be launched toward the station on January 31. The Progress will boost the station into a stable orbit and will have 150 kg of compressed air to be used to increase the air pressure in the station. A council of chief designers meeting at Korolev last week approved the plan (AP; Boston Globe; Space.com).
(editor's note: While the saving of Mir is far from a sure thing, it fits well within the Russian philosophy of last-second events saving the day and the country's profound attachment to the station as a symbol of national pride.)
MINOTAUR / JAWSAT
On January 14, the first launch of the Minotaur system was halted at 8:25 p.m. PST when auto sequence start was not confirmed. The rocket, based upon recycled Minuteman ICBM boosters (first two stages) and Pegasus upper stages was to be launched from Vandenberg AFB. The rocket carries the Joint Air Force Academy Weber State University (JAWSAT) multi-payload adapter which will dispense four small satellite once the rocket reaches its correct orbit of 750 km. A secondary payload of six pico satellites is located under the JAWSAT. The problem that caused the abort was traced the ground equipment that had not sent the auto sequence start to the rocket. Earlier in the countdown a problem with the auto destruct transmitter caused the launch to be pushed back 15 minutes. A second attempt to launch with a reset system occurred later in the evening, but it too was aborted just shy of auto sequence start at 10:37 p.m. PST when it was determined that the rocket's batteries had run down and would have to be replaced. The next launch attempt will likely be on or after January 22 because the Vandenberg range is booked in the interim for missile tests (Justin Ray Spaceflight Now; AP; JAWSAT home page; USAF 30th Space Wing PR).
Pending the results of an investigation into the damaged hydrogen tanks, the program has tentatively rescheduled its first launch from this July to June of 2002. The program, which has seen several delays, was de-railed by the failure of the $60 million hydrogen tank built by Alliant Techsystems. Lockheed Martin, which is the prime contractor for the project, is currently considering replacing the composite tanks with aluminum tanks. It would take about 18 months to design, manufacture, test and integrate the aluminum tanks. Use of the heavier aluminum would reduce the performance on the scaled-down prototype of VentureStar, but would be less of a problem with the larger ship because of the squared/cubed relationship between tank material and its enclosing volume. The hydrogen tanks are critical both as fuel storage and as an integral structural component of the spacecraft (Spacepolicy.org; AP).
While it has long been known that the two Proton rocket failures utilized second stages from the same defective factory batch, the mechanism of failure was released this week in a report. Both failures came from nearly identical causes when foreign materials triggered turbopump fires that shut down the second stage prematurely. Sand, fabric and metallic particles were found in the wrecked engines. Both of the 8D411K engines were manufactured in the 1992- 1993 period by the Voronezh Mechanical Plant after a return to work which has since been characterized by a "gross neglect of requirements". The release of the report by International Launch Services on January 7 clears the way for the return of the Proton system to operations at Baikonur, Kazakstan. ILS will also meet with the Khrunichev/Russian review board on January 12. The Proton is of special interest to the international space community for its up-coming role delivering the long-delayed Service Module to space. The Proton's first launch of the ACeS Garuda-1 satellite is expected in February (Spaceflight Now; SpaceViews).
The Japanese National Space Development Agency (NASDA) has announced plans to recover the engine wreckage of a failed H-2 rocket. The rocket, the last of the H-2 series, failed during its November 15 launch. NASDA hopes to recover the critical LE-7 engine using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) owned by the US Kutzleb Marine Service. In addition, the Agency hopes to retrieve the LOX turbopump and skirt assembly. The ROV will attach lines to the wreckage, which will then be winched up to the salvage ship above. While Japanese ROV can operate down to 2000 meters, the US ROV can operate in water up to 6,000 meters deep. The rocket parts are located in 2,913 meters of water about 1250 km from the launch site near the Ogasawara Islands. The rocket remains will be studied to help determine the cause of the launch failure (Space.com; Frontier Status 12/31/99).
After inspections of a Pentagon satellite, the USAF has determined that it is fit to be launched. Oil was inadvertently dripped onto the $250 million missile launch detection satellite while the nose cone was being placed on the spacecraft to protect it from the weather. The December 22 incident caused the flight to be delayed until the satellite could be inspected. Examinations with ultraviolet and white light revealed no traces of oil and the satellite's sensors were removed for cleanliness testing. The recertified satellite was fitted with the nose cone on January 13. The crane was fitted with a "diaper" to contain any further leaks. The Titan 4B rocket is now slated for launch on January 30 from Cape Canaveral Air Station's Launch Complex 40. This will be the first launch of the Titan 4B system since an upper stage malfunction put a payload in a useless orbit on April 9, 1999 (Space.com).
On January 12, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex hosted a First Day of Issue Ceremony for the U.S. Postal Service. Honored was the "Space Shuttle Program" stamp which received the most votes by American people in a poll of the most important events in the 1980s. It is one of 15 stamps in the set, which includes among others "Fall of the Berlin Wall, Video Games, Cabbage Patch Kids, Hip Hop Culture, Compact Discs, Cable TV, and the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial". The set is part of the Celebrate the Century program that honors aspects of each decade (Kennedy Space Center PR).
During Galileo's pass by Europa on January 3, the spacecraft collected new evidence of a liquid ocean below the surface ice. The spacecraft's magnetometer studied Europa's magnetic field and found readings consistent with a shell of "electrically conducting material" such as a salty ocean. Because of its proximity to Jupiter's powerful magnetic field, electrical currents would develop in any salty ocean. These currents then produce a magnetic field of their own which Galileo measured. Because of its changing orbital position in respect to Jupiter, Europa's magnetic pole is on its equator and reverses direction every 5.5 hours. Galileo had previously recorded a magnetic north pole, but did not determine whether it moved. January's fly-by was specifically designed to reveal any movement of the pole. The Europa Orbiter mission, which will be launched in 2003, will further increase our knowledge of the moon and its ocean (NASA; Space.com; Spaceflight Now).
The Stardust comet sample return mission is in good health and is preparing for a series of maneuvers on January 18, 20 and 22 (NASA).
The orbiting Chandra X-Ray Observatory appears to have solved the 37-year-old mystery of the source of the X-ray background radiation. The Observatory found that the radiation was coming from a "new class of objects" that emitted the radiation. There are an estimated 100 million of these objects. Ground- based telescopes have previously recorded many of these objects, but their emission of X-rays was unknown. Using positional data from Chandra, ground-based telescopes have been able to cross- index these X-ray sources into four groups: galaxy clusters, quasars, bright galaxies, and optically faint objects. Most likely all are venues for super-massive black holes. The objects could not be previously studied on traditional ground-based observatories since Earth's atmosphere blocks the rays. Early rockets fitted with equipment to detect X-rays found the rays to be coming from no definable source (NASA Goddard; Space.com; Spacescience headlines).
Data from NASA's Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking System (NEAT) collected from the Mount Haleakala 1 meter telescope on Maui, Hawaii has been used to recalculate the number of Near Earth asteroids. The previous estimate for one km or larger asteroids in this class was between 1,000 and 2,000. The new data has significantly reduced this number to between 500 and 1,000. NASA currently has 322 near-Earth asteroids identified and hopes to have 90 percent of these asteroids identified by 2010. The asteroid tracking system has been on hiatus for the past year, but will be reactivated later this year using an upgraded 1.2-meter telescope. The findings appeared in the January 13 issue of the journal Nature (NEAT Web Page).
Hubble Space Telescope
Having been repaired by Shuttle Discovery's astronauts, the Hubble Space Telescope is set to begin preliminary observations. Two sets of Early Release Observations were taken beginning on January 11. Limited prime science observations using the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph began on January 13. Full Science operations are slated to begin on January 17 (NASA Goddard).
The entered safe mode last week. On Friday, January 7, it was reported that SOHO was in Emergency Sun Reacquisition (ESR) mode during a scheduled communications gap. After contact was reestablished, the SOHO was ordered into the Coarse Roll Pointing (CRP) mode after 21 hours in ESR. After only 40 minutes in CRP the controllers were able switch to the high-gain antenna. In the next four days, momentum managements and station keeping were conducted to trim the spacecraft's orientation and orbit. On January 11, SOHO returned to Normal Mode and instrument recovery operations began. Investigations continue into the cause of the safing event (SpaceRef; SOHO web page).
On January 1, one of three primary gyros on the SeaWinds radar satellite degraded and the satellite entered a safe mode. Using an on-board back-up gyro, the Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. team was able to return the spacecraft's Earth-pointing system to function the same day. On January 2, the spacecraft's instruments were reactivated with only a 36-hour gap in the data stream. The Ball team has been concerned with the gyros even before launch when it was learned that they might not be able to complete the entire two year mission of SeaWinds. As a result, a team is now working on a software fix that would allow the satellite to use its star tracker to maintain pointing accuracy. The satellite is in an 800 km polar orbit making observations of the oceans and their weather in a joint NASA / NOAA project (NASA; SpaceDaily).
The Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor satellite following its December 21 launch was placed in 714 km orbit -- 89 km higher than expected orbit. The satellite has not yet begun its mission to study the sun since it mistakenly pointing 15 degrees away from the Sun. The principle instruments cannot measure the total energy coming from the sun unless the satellite is pointed within 0.5 degrees of the target. Because of a software problem, the satellite thinks it is within 0.25 degrees. Controllers do not know if the problem is software related or caused by vibration from the launch. The spacecraft's instrument will remain off until a software fix is transmitted. The 115-km spacecraft is expected to operate for 5 years measuring the total energy the Earth receives from the sun (Space.com).
Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
Like the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory experienced a gyroscope failure in late 1999. The Number 3 gyroscope failed on December 6, leaving the CGRO with only two remaining gyroscopes, the minimum required to maintain orientation. Although Compton was designed to be serviced in space, NASA has no plans to do so. It was the first satellite designed to be refueled in orbit. However, the satellite has long- standing thruster fuel line issues that violate Shuttle flight rules -- making approach and capture impossible. NASA is preparing to deorbit the 15,876 kg satellite in March of 2000 before the loss of an additional gyro causes lose of control. The Compton Observatory was launched in April of 1991 on Shuttle mission STS-37 as part of a joint NASA/ESA/Germany/the Netherlands/United Kingdom project (SpaceRef).
SATELLITE PHONE FRONTIER
Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences have signed a contract with NTT Mobile Communications Network of Japan for the development, construction and launch of a geosynchronous satellite to serve Japan's wireless communications industry. The N-Star c satellite will receive in C-band and transmit in the S- band. Instrumentation provided by Lockheed Martine will be integrated into an Orbital Sciences Star Bus at the Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems plant in Pennsylvania. The satellite is part of NTT DoCoMo's integrated plan to provide improved signal and smaller phones for its 25 million cell phone users. The satellite will be launched in 2002 and will be placed in either the 132 or 136 degrees East orbital slot. The contract for the satellite was signed in Tokyo on January 6 (Lockheed Martin PR; SpaceDaily).
SATELLITE RADIO FRONTIER
Sirius, formerly known as CD Radio, has announced plans to ship its first satellite to Baikonur. The satellite will be launched on the recertified Proton launch system in late February or early March. The satellite was originally slated for a January 17 launch date, but the grounding of the Proton caused the date to slip. Two additional satellite launches are projected for late March and May. The Sirius satellite radio system is expected to become operational by year's end. This week also marked the official change of the company's stock ticker symbol from CDRD to SIRI (Skyreport).
XM Satellite Radio
XM Satellite Radio, the main competition to the Sirius satellite radio, has filed a registration statement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The company plans to offer 4 million shares of common stock and 2 million shares of convertible preferred stock in an initial public offering. The IPO is expected to help final financing of the company's satellite radio system that is expected to go on-line in 2001 (Skyreport).
DBS TELEVISION FRONTIER
Pegasus / Golden Sky
Pegasus Communications Corp. announced that it will acquire the holdings of Golden Sky Holdings for $1 billion in stock and debt. By combining resources, the Bala Cynwd, Pennsylvania-based company will be able to provide DBS television services to 1.1 million subscribers in 41 states -- making it America's third largest DBS television provider behind DirecTV and DISH. Pegasus concentrates on providing services to rural areas. The deal includes issuing Golden Sky shareholders 6.5 million Pegasus shares worth $632 (at $97.25 per share), assumption of Golden Sky debts of about 373 million. To help finance the deal, Pegasus announced it will sell its cable system in Puerto Rico to Centennial de Puerto Rico for $170 million in cash (Reuters; Space.com).
DirecTV announced this past week that it had signed agreements with LodgeNet Entertainment to bring programming into the more than 3,700 hotels and 400,000 rooms subscribing to LodgeNet's services. DirecTV already has a similar deal with On Command Entertainment, which operates a similar hotel TV programming network (www.skyreport.com).
AeroAstro has announced the introduction of its miniature GPS tracker. The unit, projected to cost $75 and is smaller than a pager, will utilize the Sensor Enabled Notification System (SENS) to provide tracking information. Companies or individuals can then use the Internet to track assets. Messages from the sensors are relayed by satellite in a manner similar to pager messaging. The system will also be able to be used for "In-Situ Remote Sensing". The system is based upon a ten-satellite constellation to be deployed in two orbital plains. The SENS satellites are based on the Bitsy Nanosatellite Core Module, which is slated to fly on a NASA payload in 2001. The satellites will be launched as secondary payloads (SpaceDaily).
INTERNET IN THE SKY FRONTIER
iSKY, formerly known as KaSTAR Satellite Communications Corp., has awarded Space Systems / Loral a contr act to build an advanced Ka band spot- beam satellite. The satellite will be used to provide Internet access to mini-dish owners -- primarily businesses -- in North America from the 109.2 degrees west orbital slot. The satellite will be based upon the 1300 bus and feature 10 kW of power and 41 spot beams. There are currently 50 of SS/ L's 1300 bus satellites in orbit (Space Systems / Loral home page).
While Teledesic and SkyBridge seek to build world- class satellite constellations to provide Internet access, Tachyon has been busy with a stepped approach that is already available. Using satellites already in orbit, Tachyon has gotten a jump on the market. This also allows both sending and receiving Internet information while other satellite systems such as DirecPC use ground lines for outgoing information. Internet requests are routed from the customer to the satellite to the network operations center in San Diego. There the web page request is pulled off the Internet and fired back to the satellite and then down to customer's receiver. Because of the distances involved, the process is delayed half a second between request and reception and has a throughput of 45 million bits per second, which is about 850 times faster than the fastest dial-up modem. The other direction the system is significantly slower at only 8 times faster than a modem -- still fast enough to deliver WebCasts. The down side of the system is that the cost is prohibitive to casual home users; $4,000 per location with a $470 to $1,500 per month service charge. This price is expected to be reduced in the next three years to $1,000 per location with a $100 per month service charge. Tachyon is owned by John E. Koehler, former deputy director of the CIA (Mercury News).
Hughes / Boeing
In what will probably be the biggest space-business deal of 2000, Hughes Space and Electronics has agreed to sell its satellite manufacturing division to Boeing. While rumors preceded the deal, it was formally announced after a joint Boeing / Hughes meeting on January 13. Hughes Space and Communications, with 8,000 employees, is estimated to have earned $2.3 billion in 1999. The $3.75 billion cash deal would make Boeing the biggest space company in world -- able to provide a full range of services. The move will expand Boeing's annual revenues by 30 percent to the $10 billion level. Boeing already makes GPS, spy, and some communications satellites compliments of its purchase of Rockwell's space assets in 1996. By buying Hughes satellite division, Boeing gains valuable commercial contracts -- an area rapidly outpacing governmental contracts. The company has a backlog of 36 satellites worth an estimated $4 billion. Hughes has built almost 40 percent of the communications satellites in operation. Boeing will also acquire satellite component manufacturing units Electron Dynamics (satellite components) and Spectrolab (solar cells) with a combined 1,000 employees. With 36,700 employees, Boeing is California's largest private employer. The three new divisions, based in El Segundo, California, will be placed in Boeing's Space and Communications group and will be named Boeing Satellite Systems. Tig Krekel, who is currently the president of Hughes Space and Communications, will lead Boeing Satellite Systems.
Hughes, which apparently wishes to become a satellite services company, will profit by the high purchase price. It will be able to retire debt generated while consolidating and promoting its share of the DBS television market through DirecTV. This consolidation was originally bankrolled by the sale of Hughes Aircraft to Raytheon in 1997, but the company is now heavily in debt from expanding their DBS venture. The sale will also limit Hughes exposure to frontier "grub stake" risks such as building ICO Global's satellites, which has the potential to drain capital at a time when it is needed to grow DirecTV. Because of its satellite infrastructure, Hughes will be one of Boeing's best customers with ten GEO satellite contracts on order. Stock for Hughes sky-rocketed 15 percent this past week from $104 to 119. The sale is subject to regulatory and governmental reviews. (Motley Fool; AP; PR Newswire; Business Wire).
Increased demand throughout its worldwide service base has prompted Intelsat to exercise an option for two more satellites from Space Systems / Loral. The two satellites, Intelsat 906 and 907 will be placed over the Atlantic. This will allow redeployment of two satellites to serve in other orbital slots. This will bring the total number ordered from Space Systems / Loral to seven ( Intelsat Web page).
Kelly Space & Technology
NASA has awarded Kelly Space a $1.2 million contract. The money is to continue funding a study on the development of space transportation systems that will serve the US through 2030. The five-month contract will refine approaches to meet NASA requirements for safety, performance, reliability and cost savings (Kelly Space PR).
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
In every frontier there is a "dark side" that is rarely reported, but often well known to its participants. In the mining frontiers of the American West saloons and houses of "ill-repute" worked to separate miners from money. In the 20th century aviation frontier, rapid technological progress was the result of the military directing evolution of highly efficient killing machines for a series of wars. The current video, Internet and digital camera frontiers have been hastened by the infiltration of the pornography industry. Participants are often aware of this dark side, but it is often excluded in sanitized histories. While it may be some time before space sees events similar to that in Sean Connery's "Outland", space as a frontier has its dark side. This new index will attempt to track such events as they occur (Dale Gray).
Nicholas Johnson, an orbital debris scientist at NASA, estimates that there is presently in the tens of millions of man-made objects in orbit. While most are very small, about 9,000 are large enough to be tracked by ground radar. The particles, most the size of a pin come from launch vehicles, collisions, explosions, spent fuel and even paint. Despite their small size, they can be deadly due to the large differences in relative velocity. Satellites have been damaged and destroyed from impacts with these tiny particles. While space debris is a real danger, it is manageable at the present. However, with no natural degradation in the higher orbits, our space pollution is only going to get worse (Scripps Howard News Service).
On January 12, the US Justice Department named Rockwell International, Boeing North American and United Space Alliance for concealing fraud of a subcontractor. The subcontractor allegedly spent space shuttle program funds on homes, jewelry and expensive vacations. Omniplan Corp. was hired to handle cost controls and management of the Shuttle fleet. The company operated phony companies so as to lease buildings and equipment to itself at inflated prices and to absorb personal expenses. One such building billed through Rockwell to NASA was used as a pizza delivery outlet. The owner of Omniplan, Ralph Montijo, pleaded guilty to 180 felony fraud violations in 1995. The US government could seek damages from United Space Alliance, the successor company, for three times the damages plus civil penalties ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 per violation (AP).
The Oklahoma City Air and Space Museum was subject to theft of priceless artifacts dating from the historic U.S. - Soviet Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975. In July of that year, a three man Apollo rocket and a two man Soyuz rocket were linked together in space. Items stolen include commemorative articles that flew in space along with other articles that did not fly. Items included spacecraft parts, a Soviet electric razor, plaques and medallions. Gen. Tom Stafford, the commander of the Apollo spacecraft, donated several of the articles. None of the certificates of authenticity were taken -- rendering the objects practically worthless (Space.com).
Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews
FRONTIER CENSUS REPORT
With the landing of the Shuttle Discovery, there are currently no humans in orbital space. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 407 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin sometime in 2000.
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