Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #186

Frontier Status Report #186

January 21, 2000

Dale M. Gray

The first official launch of Y2K occurred this week with the delivery of a military communications satellite to orbit by an Atlas 2 / Centaur rocket. Shuffling of schedules for the Shuttle, Mir and ISS occurred. A race to market appears to be developing on several technological frontiers. GPS - based devices and Internet in the Sky systems appear to be the focus of space frontier entrepreneur activities. On the other hand, with control of DBS television all but locked up in the US, satellite-based television has progressed to the point that it can no longer be considered a frontier activity. While still tremendously profitable, DBS has joined the ranks of mainstream industry.

January Frontier Corner editorial "Imponderables" is on-line at Space Policy

Highlights of the week of January 14 include:

  • Atlas 2 launches military communications satellite
  • US military test of Anti Ballistic Missile system fails
  • New mission to Mir officially approved
  • Service Module launch slated for July
  • DBS Television graduates out of Frontier Status
  • GPS Frontier heating up
  • Frontier Status author interviewed for ISS Teleconference (blatant plug).


Shuttle Endeavor is on the Pad ready for a January 31 launch on the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM; STS-99). The launch of the 11-day mission is expected to occur at 12:47 p.m. EST. The mission will be commanded by Kevin Kregel. American astronauts include Gorie, Kavandi, and Voss. The international crew will include Mamoru Mohri from NASDA (Japan) and Gerhard Theile from the ESA (Europe). The count down begins January 28. Managers shortened the mapping mission by one day to ease concerns about having time to collapse the 200-foot mast mounted antenna back into its container. The change will give a day buffer to work through any problems that may occur (Agence France-Press; NASA;

Problems with a thermal tile on Shuttle Discovery have the potential to delay the mission. A tile fell off Discovery during the final descent from the Hubble Space Telescope Repair Mission. The tile was one of many unique tiles used to cover the right elevon. All totaled, the Shuttle has about 25,000 thermal tiles. NASA is now inspecting the paper trail for the installation procedures to affix the tile to see if Endeavor is at risk. NASA has determined that Discovery's "complex" tile did not have the appropriate thickness of padding beneath it. To date only two tiles have been removed from Endeavor's nose (Spaceflight Now).

The SRTM will attempt to map 80 percent of the Earth's surface. On January 21, team members at JPL were available for questions and Internet interaction during a Webcast. Additional WebCasts will occur during and after the mission on February 9 and 28. A complete schedule of events is available at the Webcast Website (NASA).


In a rare move, Russia has moved up the launch of the Service Module by a month. Last week, it was reported that the Service Module Zvezda would be launched at the end of August. However, on January 20, Russian officials met and later told journalists that the launch would take place in July (Reuters;

Having spurned earlier overtures to joining the International Space Station, China has recently reexamined its stance and is now considering joining the team. The People's Daily Online news service reported that the Ministry of Science and Technology is drawing up plans for participation. While vague, the report states that China would not pay less than 10 percent in joint ventures involving international technology projects (SpaceDaily).

After fourteen months in orbit, the Zarya and Unity modules continue to function in good order, albeit without human occupation. While batteries continue to be an issue, the problem is expected to be corrected during the next Shuttle visit. A second Kurs docking system test is being planned to help diagnose and correct electromagnetic interference that was experienced during the last test. A small problem developed on January 15 during a self-test of a Remote Power Controller Module. The problem is being studied, but the PCM continues to function normally. The station is in a 247 x 231 statute mile orbit and has completed more than 7,600 orbits (NASA; Spaceflight Now).


It is official, the Russian Space Agency (RSA) has given Mir a reprieve. Yuri Koptev, head of the Russian Space Agency, stated during a press conference that a Cabinet-level meeting held January 20 had given the go-ahead for several new missions to Mir. As a result, a cargo ship will resupply the space station on February 1 as a preliminary action for the launch of a new crew on March 31. The new mission is the result of external funding by the firm of Gold and Appel. The station now has its life span extended at least until August. RSA will use rockets stockpiled for the delayed ISS to reactivate the station. New rockets will then be manufactured for ISS use. In a letter to Dan Goldin of NASA, Yuri Koptev confirmed the continued flight of Mir using private funding. Last month Mir received new support in the Russian Duma (parliament) when four Mir cosmonauts were elected to office (Reuters; Florida Today; UPI;


Despite a threat of winds and showers, an ILS Atlas 2A (AC-138) carrying a Defense Satellite Communications System satellite (DSCS B8) was launched from pad 36A at the Cape Canaveral Air Station on January 20 at 8:03 p.m. EST. About three minutes into the flight the booster package completed its work and was jettisoned. At T+ 4:50 minutes, the sustainer engine shut down and separated from the Centaur upper stage. The Centaur's twin RL-10 engines' first burn continued until T+10:15 and was followed by a 12 minute coasting phase. At T+22:17 minutes the Centaur stage fired again until T+24 minutes. After spinning up to 4.7 rpm, the DSCS payload was released at T+26 minutes into a 19292 x 123 nautical mile orbit inclined at 26.5 degrees. This was the 47th consecutive successful Atlas flight (Spaceflight Now).

The satellite will use its Integrated Apogee Boost Subsystem (IABS) to push it into its final orbital slot. The solar panels will be deployed early next week. The satellite will initially be placed over California for on-orbit testing. This is the seventh DCSC satellite to be deployed by the Atlas system. It is the 11th DCSC satellite to be launched, the last was in 1997 (Spaceflight Now;

The $200 million, 1230-kg satellite was built by Lockheed Martin. The third generation satellite will become part of the Defense Satellite Communications system. Once on-orbit testing is completed in May, the satellite will be moved at 175 degrees East longitude and become operational. The military will then be able to retire one of the charter members of the constellation that was launched back in 1982. The constellation consists of five satellites in geostationary orbit, with a preferred backup for each. The new satellite is the first of four upgraded models that are capable of a 200 percent increase in tactical communications capability and are resistant to jamming. With increased power, the satellite will enable military forces, diplomatic services and the White House to use smaller 33-inch antennas for communications. The satellite also was engineered for a longer service (Florida Today; AP; Spaceflight Now).


An Ariane 42L is being prepared at Kourou, French Guiana for the launch of the Galaxy XR satellite on January 24. The payload, is bound for the 123 degrees West longitude orbital slot. The HS 601 HP model satellite has 48 Ku and C band (24 each) transponders. The satellite is the replacement for the Galaxy X which was destroyed during an August 1998 launch failure. PanAmSat will operate the satellite as part of its fleet of satellites, which deliver cable TV programming, Internet and other communications. Six of the C and one of the Ku- band transponders will be owned by General Communications Inc., which will provide communication services to Alaskan schools and industry (PR Newswire; Business Wire; PanAmSat Web site ; General Communications Web site).


Batteries that ran down during the two January 14 Minotaur launch attempt have delayed the mission until the end of January. The batteries, which are turned on six minutes before launch, power the Premature Stage Separation destruct system that automatically destroys any stage that separates at the wrong time. Once the system is turned on, it stays on until the batteries are drained. A new launch date will be set once the new set of batteries arrives at Vandenberg AFB (; Spaceflight Now).


A NASA ER-2 aircraft has been used to test the X-33 extended test range system. The airplane, based out of Dryden, was equipped with X-33 flight communications equipment. The ER-2 completed two flight paths between Edwards AFB and the Michael Army Airfield. Flying at 65,000 to 70,000 feet, the ER-2 helped verify continuous communications along the flight path. The second flight was used to verify redundant range operations in case of system failures. The ER-2 is similar to the USAF U-2, but has been heavily modified to serve as a research platform (NASA Dryden AFB).


The Proton rocket appears to be headed back into service. The first launch will be the commercial Garuda communications satellite for AceS Communications Ltd. on February 19. Previously, the Russian government stated that one of its payloads would be the first to fly, but problems with funding have slowed the Russian satellite's final preparations. The return to flight from Baikonur, Kazakstan is provisional to the successful completion of test firing of the upper stage at the Voronezh Mechanical Plant (VMZ). The tests will simulate the conditions encountered during the two 1999 upper stage failures. Russia expects to launch 10 to 12 Proton rockets this year with 6 to 9 of them commercial flights for ILS (Reuters;


Lockheed Martin has received three more RD-180 rocket engines from Russia. The engines, based upon Soviet technology, were developed under the RD AMROSS joint venture between Pratt & Whitney and NPO Energomash of Russia. The three engines represent the 2nd, 3rd and 4th flight articles to be delivered to Lockheed Martin. Each of the three engines has been test fired for a combined 200 seconds at a variety of power settings. The twin- belled rocket engines will be used as upper stages for Lockheed Martin's new Atlas 3/ Atlas 5 program. The first flight article RD-180 has been installed in an Atlas 3A (AC-201) which is slated for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Station SLC 36B in April (Lockheed Martin PR; Spaceflight Now).


Acting President Vladimir Putkin signed a degree earlier this month that gives the go-ahead for the development of the powerful Angara launch system. The new rocket is touted as the replacement for the Proton. Khrunichev, which will build the rocket, will market it through Lockheed Martin via the joint venture International Launch Services (ILS). ILS currently markets the Krunichev's Proton rocket in addition to the Atlas rocket. Under the new venture, ILS has agreed to spend $68 million marketing the new launch system. The Angara, like its American counterparts the new Delta and Atlas systems, will be a family of rockets that can carry a variety of payloads ranging from 4 to 30 tons. The first stage of the Angara will be equipped with jet engines and wings so that it can fly back for reuse. The rocket is expected to debut from Plesetsk, but could also be launched at Baikonur or Svobodny. While the Russian military has priority for launches, the decree clears the way for foreign commercial launches (


ISS Teleconference

Frontier Status author, Dale Gray, was interviewed by Christina Carr of WHRO for a video presentation during the 7th Annual ISS Teleconference Ventures in Space on February 24. Gray will be featured in a pretaped presentation in a segment dealing with frontiers. The filming took place on the Oregon Trail in the desert east of Boise, Idaho. Gray recently published an editorial in that compared 19th Century Fort Boise with the 21st Century International Space Station. This year's Teleconference will focus on NASA's plans to commercialize the space station (Christina Carr).

ISS Teleconference Web Site



Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute has deployed the robotic explorer NOMAD in a search for extraterrestrial visitors. The autonomous robotic rover is searching the Antarctica snows for meteorites. It is equipped with a special robotic hand that is capable classifying its finds in the field. The search is part of the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET). ANSMET has previously collected more than 10,000 meteorites during their annual Antarctic expeditions. A six-member Carnegie Mellon team will act as support for the experiment. The experiment has larger ramifications for planetary exploration -- stretching the capabilities of robots to act as intelligent agents in the field (SpaceDaily).



NASA has called it quits on its efforts to contact the Mars Polar Lander. Controllers had tried one final effort by sending commands on January 6 to place the spacecraft in VHF save mode. The Mars Global Surveyor was then used to listen for a response from the Lander. On January 17, the JPL team ended its efforts to communicate with MPL. The use of Mars Global Surveyor imaging the landing site will continue into February. Scientists hope to spot either the parachute or a shadow of the Lander. The Mars Polar Lander disappeared during its December 3, 1999 final descent to the surface of Mars (Florida Today; NASA; Spaceflight Now ;


The Stardust comet sample return mission is on course after two of three planned maneuvers that are part of the Deep Space Maneuver-1. The Lockheed Martin Flight Team reported less than a 1-sigma execution error on the maneuvers. Stardust was launched last February on a Delta 2 (NASA; Spaceflight Now).

Deep Space 1

On January 14, the Deep Space 1 spacecraft successfully pointed its main antenna toward Earth. The maneuver allowed the transmission of scientific data collected by the spacecraft. The transmission session was made possible, despite the loss of the star tracker, by analyzing the strength of the radio signal from the slowly rotating spacecraft as it was received by the Deep Space Network. Controllers were able to correctly determine to orientation of the spacecraft by calculating the sweeps of signal -- allowing for the transmission delay. The spacecraft was then instructed to stop its rotation pointing toward Earth. High-speed communications with the spacecraft will allow a more permanent work-around for the star tracker. The spacecraft's computer will be reprogrammed to use an on-board science camera as a replacement for the star tracker (NASA).


The NEAR spacecraft has successfully photographed its target asteroid Eros. The photograph was taken on January 12 and released on the NEAR Website on January 18. Due to the extreme distance of 45,350 km, Eros appears as a white dot in the photograph. The asteroid measures only 33 x 13 x 13 km. The image will be used to help navigate the spacecraft to its February 14 rendezvous with the spacecraft. Controllers hope to place the spacecraft in orbit around Eros (SpaceDaily).

Mars Express

Despite lingering doubts caused by the disappearance of the Mars Polar Lander, the European Space Agency has gone ahead and given approval for the design of the 150 milion euro Mars Express. The Mission will consist of an orbiter and a lander. The lander is named Beagle 2 in honor of the Darwin's ship of discovery (Spaceflight Now).



A meteor appears to have exploded over remote Alaska/Yukon Territory at 9:00 a.m. January 18. Witnesses described the event as resembling sheet lightning and watched a large greenish object crossing the sky. While no damage was reported, the explosion rattled windows from as far away as Juneau, 190 km to the south. Data from seismic recorders in the area helped scientists determine that the meteor exploded in the air and did not impact. NASA is planning to send a high-altitude aircraft into the area in an attempt to recover particles from the meteor (Reuters; Sp

Black Holes

The American Astronomical Society met in Atlanta last week. Featured was a new contest to find the closest black hole to Earth. An X-ray burst discovered by Australian Rod Stubbings led X-ray astronomers to deduce the presence of a black hole in a star labeled V4641 Sgr in the constellation Sagittari -- only 1,600 light years away. The X-ray event was detected on September 14, 1999 when four two-hour bursts of X-rays were recorded. Another black hole only 1,000 light years away has been found by a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory team lead by Charles Alcock (AP; Economist Magazine).



Plans to launch the $8.5 million High Energy Transient Explorer 2 have been put on hold. NASA officials conducting a flight readiness review determined that there was too much risk involved in the mission and have ordered the satellite back to MIT for further testing. Additional time was also needed to prepare primary ground stations in Cayenne and Singapore. The flight readiness review found that the satellite had completed only one week in thermal vacuum testing. A soft X-ray camera and a printed circuit board replaced late in the testing process had inadequate follow-up vibration testing. HETE-2 was being prepared for launch this coming week from a Pegasus rocket based out of Kwajalein, Republic of the Marshall Islands. The flight could be recycled for launch as early as May ( Spaceflight Now).


Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences has announced that it has completed development and testing of its CNS-12 airborn digital communications system. The system will provide low-cost digital communications for regional airline fleets and private aircraft. The system integrates ground-based digital communications with satellite based communication systems such as Orbcomm. Combined with GPS capability, the system allows smaller commercial air operations and private aircraft owners to tap into the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) which has previously been available only to larger commercial airlines. Full-scale production of the CNS-12 system is expected in early 2001 (Orbital Sciences PR).


Car thieves stole the wrong car last week when they drove away in a Chrysler Intrepid from a Kitchener - Waterloo, Ontario Thrifty car rental agency. When the car was found to be stolen, Thrifty contacted NavLynx Technology which had installed a GPS / cellular anti theft system. Though the system, the three teenagers in the car were informed that they were driving the car illegally and to pull over. The thieves threw the car phone out the window and accelerated up to 160 km/hr trying to elude police, but they were already caught. NavLynx vice- president Frank Bunn, who was tracking the car using GPS technology informed the police of its position. He then waited until the car was stopped at an intersection and disabled the car remotely. The system is also capable of raising windows and locking doors. The youth were arrested immediately thereafter. The rental car agency is part of a NavLynx pilot project. NavLynx is based out of Toronto (Toronto Star Peel).


AeroAstro is offering reduced price GPS tracking units for only $45. By limiting GPS information to only one or two measurements, the streamlined units can be offered at lower costs. The units can be connected to sensing devices -- providing detailed coverage yet minimizing bandwidth for uplink. Information from the Sensor-Enabled Notification System (SENS) can then be viewed inexpensively through the Internet. While AeroAstro is currently awaiting the launch of its first communications satellite for the system, the system is currently enabled through ground based antennas. With falling GPS chip prices, the company expects to eventually market the units for as little as $10 (


A joint venture between Computer Associates International and United Microelectronics of Taiwan has been established to develop and market next- generation GPS devices. The EverTrac venture will develop "location aware" e-business applications. One potential market is the development of lightweight security technology to track children. The company will be under the direction of Imran Anwar, who is best known for introducing e-mail services to Pakistan (SpaceDaily).


Radio Satellite Integrators has announced the release of its new V-Track 2000 vehicle tracking system. The advanced system uses GPS technology and the ability to utilize multiple communication mediums to update vehicle information for fleet managers. The system can utilize VHF/UHF two-way radio, analog cellular, CDPS, BellSouth Wireless Data CDMA and satellite communication systems and can select the most cost-effective solution. The vehicle units contain an Intel 386EX based modem controller and can be linked to a number of different in-vehicle devices and sensors (Radio Satellite Integrators PR; SpaceDaily).


The Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) television frontier has evolved to the point that it no longer qualifies as a "frontier". Major milestones have been passed with the consolidation of the major DBS television providers into just two competing systems, the passage of the Satellite Home Viewers Act and the separation of DirecTV from Hughes satellite manufacturing. As a result, DBS television has become an inte gral part of the American economy and society. Frontiers are fertile ground for speculators to work to control resources, this is no longer the case for DBS in America. While DBS television in the rest of the World retains aspects of frontier, Frontier Status will no longer routinely cover news generated by DirecTV or EchoStar. DBS joins the ranks of other former space-based frontiers including: satellite transmitted telephone, satellite distributed network broadcast television and satellite distributed cable television (Frontier Model, Dale M. Gray).



The @Home In the Sky company iSKY has achieved financing for its system through an investment by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, TV Guide and Liberty Media. The system's first satellite, which will provide two-way Internet connection, is slated for launch in the 3rd quarter of 2001. The first of two Loral-built satellites will be positioned at 103 degrees West longitude orbital slot. The system will also be able to provide television programming through its Ka/Ku - band dishes. The dishes are expected to be marketed nationally between $100 and $200 and the service is expected to debut at around $40 per month. iSKY is a privately held company based out of Denver, Colorado (Denver Post; Skyreport; iSKY Web site).



Boeing announced that fourth quarter earnings rose 42 percent above the same quarter last year. Total profits from 1999 were reported at $1.2 billion -- 106 percent above last years profits. This translates to $0.74 per share. The earnings beat Wall Street estimates, causing share prices to rise 81.25 cents per share. Most of the earning came from the airplane portion of the business that delivered a record 620 airplanes (AP).



On January 18, the US conducted a test of its National Missile Defense (NMD) system with a paired launch of a Minuteman target rocket launched from Vandenberg AFB and a 63 kg kinetic energy "kill vehicle" launched from Kwajalein Missile Range. The Raytheon-built weapon crossed 1,400 miles to narrowly miss the ICBM target. The NMD system utilizes smart technology to avoid decoys, determine its location using a star tracker, and to activate thrusters to guide it to its rapidly moving target. The $100 million test was part of development of a $12.7 billion anti ICMB system that could be deployed in Alaska as early 2005. An October 2 test of the system successfully hit its target. This test was the first utilization of a new computerized battle management system that communicated with the interceptor during its flight. The next test of the system is slated for April. The interceptor must hit the target missile in two out of three tests in this round of development for a proposal for further development to be forwarded to President Clinton in June. The Pentagon will take several weeks to determine the cause of the miss. While the missile was able to "see" the target, apparently problems developed with two heat-seeking (infrared) guides only six seconds before impact. While the system is designed as protection against rogue states such as North Korea, both Russia and China adamantly protested the test (Gannett; Florida Today; preview ; report).

North Korea

The emerging Remote Sensing Frontier has scored its first victory. The New York Times published photographs taken by Space Imaging of the North Korea Nodong rocket launch site. The photographs of the secret East coast facility show a primitive site with no propellant storage facilities, no offices or lodging for scientists and engineers and only primitive roads (New York Times as cited in January 12, 2000 The Times: World News).



A piece of space history will come down Saturday, January 22 when the launch tower at Space Launch Complex 3 West at Vandenberg AFB is demolished. The tower, an A-frame mobile service structure, was used for Atlas launches. Only 20 pounds of explosives will cause the tower to topple. The obsolete tower has not been used in five years. The demolition was preceded by months of salvage operations. Safety concerns sparked the tower's removal. While the future use of the site is unclear, a similar demolition of a tower in Florid (Complex 41) last year will make room for a new Atlas 5 launch complex ( Spaceflight Now).


Mir Memorabilia Fraud

A January 11 article in the Russian newspaper The Trud (the Labour), has pointed to fraud in the marketing of Mir memorabilia. While there is no legislation that controls the marketing of items that have flown, official items bear the signatures of the crew and a black seal. The article states that items bearing a red-colored space station seal are being distributed. Envelopes distributed by the Russian Aviation and Space Agency have been seen with the red seal. Cosmonauts are known to have carried space memorabilia as part of their 3 - 4.5 kg of personal items as a way to boost personal income. This practice has been closely monitored since more than 30 kg of space memorabilia was found on a capsule returning on January of 1994 (SpaceDaily).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • January 22 - Vandenberg AFB Titan tower demolition.
  • January 24 - Ariane 4, Galaxy 10R, ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • January 27 - Starsem Soyuz, Russian military satellite, Baikonur, inaugural flight of Fregat upper stage.
  • January 27- Orbital Sciences, Minotaur, JAWSAT, FalconSat, ASUsat-1 and OPAL (with picosats), Vandenberg AFB.
  • January 31 - Shuttle Endeavor, STS-99, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center.
  • January 31 - Soyuz / Progress, Mir resupply, Baikonur.
  • February 3 - Atlas 2AS, Hispasat 1C, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • February 6 - Delta 2, Globalstar 7, SLC-17B Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • February 8 - M-5, Astro-E, Kagoshima Space Center, Japan
  • February 8-9 - FAA Commercial Space Transportation Forecast Conference, Arlington, VA
  • February 11 - Shuttle Endeavor, landing, Kennedy Space Center.
  • February 15 - Delta 2, IMAGE, SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • February 19 - ILS Proton, Garuda, Baikonur.
  • February 20 - Taurus, MTI, Vandenberg AFB.
  • February 21 - Titan 4B, DSP Payload, SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • February 24 - 7th Annual ISS Teleconference - Ventures in Space.
  • February 28 - Sea Launch Zenit 3SI, ICO Mobile Satellite F1, Odyssey platform, equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • March 13 - 17 - ProSpace March Storm in Washington, D.C.
  • Delayed to July - Proton, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
  • Delayed - Pegasus, HETE 2, Kwajalein Missile Range (first orbital launch from range).


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 428 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin sometime in 2000.

Index for Frontier Status Report 2000

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