Frontier Status Report #188
Frontier Status Report #188
February 4, 2000
Dale M. Gray
The space frontier is in high gear this week with three launches and a Shuttle launch scrub. NASA made the news with Dan Goldin announcing the US was prepared to launch a substitute for the Russian Service Module. NASA has also announced that its downsizing has ended and that it would be hiring to fill critical positions. Action occurred on the GPS, Remote Sensing, Satellite Telephone, and Satellite Radio frontiers. Explorers were also in the news with NEAR slowing to approach asteroid Eros and the search for Mars Polar Lander goes worldwide.
Highlights of the week of February 4 include:
Endeavor / SRTM
With crew, payload and fuel aboard and ready for launch, the clock slowly ticked down on the beginning of STS-99. However, the clock stopped on the January 31 launch of Shuttle Endeavor. The Shuttle was due to be launched at 11: 47 a.m. EST with a two-hour launch window. Weather conditions in the form of low clouds, rain and lightning potential remained out of parameters, keeping Endeavor on the ground at Pad 39A. causing managers to call it quits. Shuttle teams also battled a balking Master Event Controller, which manages the ignition and separation of the Solid Rocket Boosters. The MEC failed a test at T-29. Managers decided to hold the launch at the preplanned T-20 minute hold to allow the MEC problem to be worked out and for weather conditions to improve. The Shuttle has two MECs, and both have to be operational to launch. The problematic unit was communicating intermittently and producing garbled data. Although the unit passed a subsequent test, engineers could not duplicate the problem and the issue had not been resolved with the mission was scrubbed. While NASA at first worked toward a February 1 attempt, the change-out of the MEC caused the mission to be pushed back to 12:30 p.m. EST January 11 launch. Earlier launch dates were already assigned to an Atlas and a Delta launch. Count down will begin on Tuesday, February 8. The 30-kg MEC, the size of a small microwave oven, was swapped out Endeavor's aft engine compartment on February 3. Prior to replacement, the fuel cell tanks had to be drained and explosive devices used for separation had to be disconnected (AP; Space.com; KSC Web Page; NASA Countdown; SpaceDaily; Spaceflight Now).
A technical issue revolving around a turbopump seal originally threatened the January 31 launch attempt. A part of a seal used in the Shuttle Discovery, was found to have been defective when installed, but successfully performed for several flights. NASA managers examined the paper trail for the seals used in Endeavor's turbopumps and found no problems. Documentation could not be found for the two of the 18 seal segments used in Endeavor (Houston Chronicle; AP; Reuters; Spaceflight (NASA)
MIR / PROGRESS
A Soyuz-Progress rocket was launched on February 1 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The rocket left the ground at 1:47 a.m. EST. The Progress was designated M1-1. This was the first Y2K launch from Baikonur.
Two days after being launched on a Soyuz rocket, a Progress supply vessel docked with the orbiting Mir space station on February 3 around 3:06 a.m. EST. The Progress is reported to be filled with fuel, supplies and equipment to be used in the return-to-Mir mission beginning on March 31. Among the supplies is a tank of air to pump up Mir's thin atmosphere. The station has been slowly leaking for some months. The additional air will be added near the beginning of the new mission. Had the docking failed, the crew would have been sent up early to manually dock the freighter as early as February 8. The station's orbit since the August abandonment has slowly eroded from 250 miles to only 200 miles. Starting February 4, a series of maneuvers will begin to raise the station's orbit. The new mission was made possible in part by an investor with plans to use the station as a commercial industrial park in space. Mir's life has been officially extended to August of 2000 when a decision to proceed or abandon will be made (AP; Spaceflight Now; Reuters; Space.com).
Goldin Press Conference
On February, Dan Goldin stated at a press conference at NASA headquarters that his agency was prepared to move ahead with the International Space Station, essentially with or without Russian participation. He said the agency was prepared to launch its own replacement, the Interim Control Module (ICM) for the long-delayed Russian service module. In the past, the ICM has been held in reserve in case the Service Module is lost during a launch accident. Goldin stated "We are at the moment of truth, it is up to the Russians to demonstrate to America and the international partners that they are committed. Goldin's remarks come in the wake of Russia's renewed commitment to the Mir space station and a day after being accused by Congressmen of "coddling" their Russian counterparts. NASA's replacement is estimated to cost $168 million, not including shipping and handling. However, the station would not be inhabitable except when connected to the Shuttle (Florida Today; New York Times; Space.com).
In response to Goldin's harsh words, Russia has announced that it is now preparing to launch the Zvezda Service Module in June. Last week the Russian Space Agency announced that they would be able to move the launch from August to July. The timing of the launch is dependent on delivery of second and third stage engines to Baikonur and integration of the stages on the Khrunichev- built Proton rocket. A Joint Program Review will be conducted in Russia on February 10. The meeting will assess the readiness of Zvezda for flight. The official launch date will be announced after the signing of official protocols and notification of the international partners (Space.com; NASA).
The orbiting elements of the ISS are in good health. The station is operating on four of six batteries with a fifth available, if needed. A new issue has emerged on the placement of the Orbital Replacement Unit Transfer Device (OTD) which was installed on the outside of the orbiting Zarya. A photographic survey conducted by STS-96 shows the device, a small crane, is in the wrong position. NASA is now determining if the unexpected position will impair its function in assisting astronauts to move large objects about the exterior of the station. The Station is currently orbiting the Earth at 229 x 244 statute miles and has completed over 7,000 orbits (NASA).
Atlas / HISPASAT
An ILS Atlas 2AS was launched from Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral on February 3. The launch was delayed by 20 minutes because of a voltage jump problem with a range safety receiver (Flight Termination System receiver No. 1) and problems with winds aloft. The Atlas/Centaur-158 rocket left the pad at 6:30 p.m. EST. At T+1:10 minutes the ground lit solid rocket boosters completed their burn and were jettisoned. The two air-lit boosters ignited immediately and continued firing until T+3 minutes when they too were jettisoned. Fairing separation occurred at T+3:30 minutes. The ground-lit sustainer engine continued to fire until T+5:05 minutes. It separated and the Centaur RL-10 upper stage engines ignited. The first firing of the Centaur continued until T+10 minutes, followed by a 14-minute coast period in a parking orbit. During the coast, data from the satellite began to be picked up by NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system. The parking orbit was extremely accurate; within a tenth of a km of predicted values. The Centaur started its final burn at T+24:30 and concluded at 1:47 minutes later. Following spinup, the satellite was deployed 29 minutes into the flight into a 166.761 x 46,000-km orbit inclined at 18.76 degrees. Three engine firings of the satellite's maneuvering system will take it to its circular GEO orbit at 35,000 km. This was the 45th consecutive successful launch of the Atlas II family and the 48th consecutive successful launch overall (ILS PR; Spaceflight Now).
The 3100-kg HISPASAT 1C was built by Alcatel Space of France. The satellite is based upon the Spacebus 3000B2 platform. It will be placed in the same orbital slot as HISPASAT 1A and 1B at 30 degrees West longitude to provide a bridge for Spanish language programming across the Atlantic Ocean (ILS PR).
A Zenit 2 rocket carrying a classified military satellite was successfully launched from Baikonur on Thursday, February 3 at 4:26 a.m. after a 24 hour delay. While Russia is reticent at revealing the payloads of military flights, western observers believe the rocket will be carrying a Tselina satellite (Space.com).
The Zenit rocket was originally scheduled for launch on February 2 was rescheduled after a power outage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. A technical problem with the Kazakh electrical power provider was reported to be the problem. In previous years, Kazakhstan has "blinked the lights" as a way to remind Russia of its overdue rent. The power loss occurred during important tests on the pad of the automated launch system. Managers were reported to be considering returning the rocket to the assembly building for inspection ( Space.com).
Tselina "Virgin Land" is a constellation of signal intelligence satellites that have been flying in 850 - 880 km circular orbits since the first test flight 1984. The system was declared operational in 1990. While the first two satellites in the series were launched on Proton rockets, subsequent launches have been from the less powerful Zenit. The last Tselina was launched in 1998 as Cosmos 2360. The complete system needs four spacecraft. After the 1998 launch there were only three operational Tselina in orbit (Itar-Tass; Space.com).
LAUNCH SYSTEM NEWS
The Sea Launch consortium has delayed its Sea Launch second commercial flight from February 19 to March 10-15. The delay was apparently not related to technical problems. The Ukrainian Zenit-3SL rocket launched off the Sea Launch platform stationed on the Equator is capable of placing up to 5,250 kg into GTO. The launch site, at 154 degrees West longitude, is near Christmas and is near the point where the magnetic equator crosses the geographic equator (Reuters).
Sea Launch has signed an agreement with PanAmSat for up to five launches. The first launch will occur in the second quarter of 2001 with up to four additional launches through 2003. The first launch will carry a Boeing-built HS 702 satellite as payload. The satellite is designated Galaxy IIIC. The sale of the Hughes satellite manufacturing division to Boeing, was recently announced, but is awaiting regulatory approval. Boeing is also a leading partner in Sea Launch. PanAmSat is a subsidiary of Hughes. The Zenit rocket is manufactured by KB Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash of Ukraine and it outfitted with a Blok DM upper stage built by RSC Energia of Russia (PR Newswire; SeaLaunch Web Page).
Preparations for the launch of several Proton rockets from Baikonur continues despite no formal approval from the Kazakhstan government. However, there are signs that the approval is in the works now that the cause of the two Proton upper stage failures has been determined. On February 3 Nurlan Utembayev, the deputy director of the Kazakhstan National Space Committee told Reuters that Russia had completed its post-crash obligations and the ban would likely be lifted in time for the February 12 Garuda-1 launch for Indonesia (Reuters).
After a year of waiting, the maiden flight of the new, more powerful variant of the Atlas rocket has been announced for April 14. The rocket will carry the Eutelsat W-4, which was built by Alcatel. The Atlas 3, considered to be a stepping stone, to the more powerful Atlas 5 family of rockets, features a new upper stage, the two-belled RD-180. The engine is based on a four-belled Russian rocket and was produced as a joint venture between Pratt & Whitney and NPO Energomash. The rocket was first stacked in April of 1999, but was grounded in the wake of the American launch failures. Its intended first customer Telstar 7 eventually was transferred to Kourou and launched on an Ariane 4 on September 25. International Launch Services, which markets the Atlas, now has five contracts for the Atlas 3 (Space.com; Frontier Status).
On January 19, NASA's X-38 team tested the new parasail to be used on the Crew Return Vehicle. The new sail has a wingspan of 143 feet and a surface area of 7,500 square feet, making it the equal of a 747 jumbo jet. The parasail was tested at the Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. An 18,000-pound pallet was dropped from the back of a C- 130 aircraft flying at 21,500 feet. A newly designed high- speed 80 foot diameter drogue chute was used to stabilized the load and slowed the descent rate to 62 mph. This slower speed enabled the five-stage parasail deployment. The load was then carried to the ground under the parasail in an 11- minute "flight" that ended with a soft landing of less than eight miles per hour. The parasail, dubbed "Sampson" was stitched by Pioneer Aerospace in Columbus, Missouri. The new parasail is 50 percent larger than previously used parasails used in the landing tests of the X-38 prototypes. Sampson will be test-dropped one more time this summer at Yuma, then integrated in an X-38 prototype for a late 2000 drop test. The first unmanned test flight of an X-38 from space is expected to occur in 2002 (NASA Dryden AFB; Spaceflight (NASA).
Snecma / Pratt & Whitney
France's state-owned Snecma Motors has entered quiet discussions with the American Pratt & Whitney over the possibility of a joint project. Together the two companies would design and develop an improved upper stage engine that could be used on the upgraded Ariane 5 beginning in 2005. The engine could also be used to enhance performance of the Delta 4 and Atlas 5 families of rockets. By joining forces, the companies hope to reduce the costs of a development program and enjoy the economy of scale benefits of having larger production runs. Any agreement would have to run a gauntlet of French, European Space Agency and US State Department regulations and approvals. The need for a more powerful upper stage is being driven by rapidly increasing mass for commercial satellites (Space.com; Arianespace PR).
Rhombic Corporation reported that it is pursuing a plan to design, build and test a radio nuclide battery. The development of the commercial radionuclide battery is being fueled by market demand for compact high-energy power sources for satellites. Construction of a demonstration model is set to begin this summer (SpaceDaily).
Japan is exploring the possibility of working with the French national space research centre (CNES) on it Hope-X unmanned shuttle. CNES would provide facilities, equipment and a balloon for a drop test in 2002 to be held in Sweden. The test would be of a sub-scale mode of the shuttle. The tests would lead to a final launch test of the Hope-X on an H-2A rocket in 2004 (SpaceDaily).
The joint program between Japan and the US to develop a new technology of X-ray observation will come to fruition On February 8 with the launch of the Astro-E X-ray telescope. The telescope features the X-ray Spectroscope, which was developed by NASA Goddard and the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science of Japan. The instrument measures heat produced by X-ray photons instead of converting X-rays to electrical charges. The new technology is about 10 time more sensitive. To work, the detector must be cooled to 0.060 degrees Kelvin (-260 degrees F). The instrument will study the spectra of the X-rays -- complimenting the missions of the XMM and Chandra observatories. The 1,650 kg satellite will be launched on a Japanese M-5 rocket from the Kagoshima Space Center, Japan (Space Daily).
The European Space Agency announced on February 2 that the XMM space telescope had taken its first images. From January 19 - 24 all three EPIC cameras were activated to take views of two different extragalactic regions. The official presentation of the images will occur on February 9. The X- ray telescope was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana on December 10 (ESA PR).
After six weeks in orbit, Terra remains in good health. Testing and outgassing operations have proceeded. The MODIS instrument space-viewing door has been opened, but the Earth-viewing door will remain closed until the first engineering image is taken in late February. The anomaly discovered during the first ascent maneuver has been analyzed and a plan created to eliminate the anomalous thruster performance. A series of four thruster firings in the coming weeks will boost Terra into the proper orbit. Another problems was revealed during a recent solid state recorder playback when the playback hung-up. The recorder was reset to clear the anomaly. The Earth Observing Terra satellite was launched on an Atlas 2AS from Vandenberg AFB on December 18, 1999. The mission is managed by NASA Goddard SFC (NASA; Spaceflight Now).
The renewed search for the Mars Polar Lander went international in the first week of February. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory enlisted the aid of the fourteen 25 meter antennas at the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope facility, The Netherlands; the 76 meter antenna at Jodrell Bank, Manchester, England; and with an array near Bologna, Italy. The Dutch array is the most powerful in the world in the 401.5 megahertz frequency used by the Lander The arrays were set to listen for a response from the Lander after signals were sent to Mars by JPL on February 1 and 2. The message transmitted tells the MPL to reset its clock and call home on February 4. Transit time for the signals is about 16 minutes to cross the 300 million-km between Earth and Mars. Sorting out any signal from background noise is a complex process since the signal previously detected by Stanford was broadcast at about 1 Watt.
The Mars Polar Lander disappeared during its descent into the Martian Atmosphere. Although the search for the lander was given up by JPL on January 17, Stanford astronomers using the 45 meter antenna announced last week that they had twice picked up a weak signal on December 18 and January 4. When the Stanford antenna could not repeat the acquisition of signal, the international arrays were brought into the search. NASA has repeatedly stated that it is unlikely that any portion of the Lander would still be active after 60 days. For the signal to have occurred, very unusual malfunctions would have had to happen to both the Mars Polar Lander and the Mars Global Surveyor, which was to be used to boost and relay the signals from the Lander. MGS was pressed into service as a relay satellite after the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter. Should contact be established, it is even more unlikely that any science could be recovered, however, the Lander may be able to reveal clues to its fate. This information is of vital concern to mission planners (NASA JPL; Spacescience.com; New York Times; Space.com).
As a side issue, news services reporting on the search for the Mars Polar Lander were forced to leave the Westerbork facility when their communications equipment began to interfere with the sensitive radio telescope. The facility is now off-limits to all but staff (Space.com; SpaceScience).
The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission has survived yet another near miss in the mission plan. As the spacecraft was preparing to reduce its speed relative to the asteroid Eros, the spacecraft went into safe mode. The event was triggered on February 2 soon after the accelerometers were activated for the burn. Controllers maintained contact with the spacecraft and were able to restore the spacecraft to normal function in time for a recalculated burn on February 3. The medium-sized thrusters burned for 90 seconds, changing the relative velocity of NEAR and Eros 433 from 69 km/h to only 29 km/h. A second burn will now be necessary on February 8 to push the relative velocity up slightly to 35 km/h to put the spacecraft on track for its low- level fly-by on February 14 and its Valentine's day orbital insertion. Testing for the cause of the anomaly will wait until sometime after the spacecraft reaches orbit at 10:33 EST on February 14 (Spaceflight Now; NASA JPL; Space.com).
On January 29, February 1, and February 3, the NEAR spacecraft photographed Eros from a distance of 17,199 km, 11,600 km and 8,950 km. The images have resolution of 1.7 km, 1.2 km and 0.6 km respectively. The images will be used as part of the calibration of instruments as the spacecraft approaches the asteroid. The $224 million NEAR was built by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and launched on February 17, 1996 (Spaceflight Now; NASA JPL; Space.com).
The spacecraft Cassini has passed a milestone on its way to Saturn. On January 23, the spacecraft flew past asteroid 2685 Masursky at a distance of 1.5 million km. Observations were used to study the asteroid's size, dimensions, albedo and spectrum. The encounter also served to help calibrate instruments, establish alignment of three instruments and determine limits to observing faint objects. The Cassini spacecraft is in good health and is on course for its Saturn mission beginning in 2004 ( JPL).
The recently launched Galaxy satellites have reached geostationary orbit. Galaxy XR telecommunications satellite is at 127 West longitude. Galaxy 11 is at 78.5 West longitude. The satellites will now begin a period of testing before becoming operational (Dishnut; PanAmSat).
General Motors is working on an agreement with Toyota Motors to place the Onstar cell phone - GPS service in new Toyota vehicles. The service provides a link between drivers and service centers to provide travel assistance or help. The system automatically notifies the center in the event of airbag deployment. The evolving system is expected to add wireless phone and limited Internet access later this year. The service costs between $199 and $399 with phone and Internet fees expected to be extra (Dow Jones News Wire).
INTERNET IN THE SKY FRONTIER
The satellite Internet service provider iSky has formed a strategic alliance with Arianespace for the launch of iSky-1 and iSky-2 satellites in the 3rd quarter of 2001 and mid- 2002. The satellites will be built by Space Systems/Loral The Ka-band satellites will be placed in geostationary orbits at 109 degrees West and 73 degrees West longitude. Arianespace Finance will provide iSky with over $100 million of construction period and long-term financing ( iSky; Arianespace).
Datron Systems announced this past week that it had successfully linked with the Internet in a moving vehicle using their satellite television antenna. The high-speed Internet link was achieved using a production model DBS- 4500 In-Motion satellite television antenna system in a van traveling at highway speeds (Reuters).
SATELLITE RADIO FRONTIER
Sirius Satellite Radio announced an agreement to bring its services to DaimlerChrysler customers next year. Under the terms of the agreement DaimlerChrysler will buy $100 million of Sirius stock and will exclusively install Sirius receivers in DaimlerChrysler cars and light trucks. The companies will also work together to utilize the satellite communication system to also provide additional wireless security and navigation services. DaimlerChrysler sells 4.8 million vehicles around the world each year (PR NewsWire; Sirius Radio Web Page).
XM Satellite Radio
A 15-year contract has been awarded to Telesat Canada to manage the satellite infrastructure of XM Radio. The service will provide 100 radio stations via two Hughes 702 satellites. The satellites will be controlled through the Telesat control centre in Ottawa with back-up centers in Calgary, Alberta and Washington D.C. The service is expected to begin in 2001. XM has a 12-year distribution agreement in place with General Motors (PR Newswire; Telesat Web page; XM Radio Web page).
SATELLITE TELEPHONE FRONTIER
Preparations are underway for a February 6 launch of a Delta 2 rocket carrying the last four Globalstar satellites. The satellites will complete the 48-satellite system by serving as on-orbit spares. Globalstar began voice, data and paging services in November of 1999. The launch of the Delta 2 with four strap-on booster rockets will take place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station pad 17B (Spaceflight Now).
Globalstar announced that its stock offering closing February 1 would include an additional 1,050,000 shares. Since the deployment of its Satellite network has already been funded, the extra money would be used for increased support of services, development of new services and possibly repayment of debt (SpaceDaily).
ICO Global Communications
Barring last minute objections from federal bankruptcy courts, ICO Global has renegotiated the purchase of 12 satellites from Hughes Electric and is working on an option for four more. The $3 billion deal (including options) provides better purchase terms. The new focus of the satellite enterprise will be on Internet and data services. The reworked deal will result in satellites that can support Internet connections through mobile handsets (Dow Jones Newswire; Wall Street Journal; Reuters).
US aerospace companies reported increased fourth quarter earnings in 1999, capping increased earnings for the year. Raytheon and TRW reported 1999 revenues up 2 percent. Textron earnings were up 51 percent. Northrup Grumman's income jumped 149 percent. Pratt & Whitney income increased 19 percent, Aerojet earnings increased 21 percent. Only Lockheed Martin reported lower earnings with a reduction of 3 percent (Space.com).
SpaceDev, the commercial space exploration company, announced a teaming agreement with the Boeing Corp. The Boeing Space and Communications Group will team with SpaceDev's Space Missions Divisions to investigate small, low-cost, deep space missions to the Moon, Mars and near- Earth asteroids using small satellites of 250 kg (SpaceDev PR; Spaceflight Now).
SpaceDev also reported that its has released its subsidiary Space Innovations Limited (SIL). Its management has reacquired the company. The reason cited for the move was the inability of the companies to conduct basic marketing discussions because of US State Department restrictions. SpaceDev acquired SIL in October of 1998 in a stock exchange deal. SIL will maintain its relationship as a customer of SpaceDev (PR Newswire; SpaceDev).
Nissan of Japan is preparing to sell its aerospace division to IHI of Japan. The $370 million deal, which will be closed in March, will help Nissan reduce its $29.9 billion debt and refocus the company on its automotive core. IHI constructs heavy equipment, nuclear plants and ships. Aerospace comprises 20 percent of IHI's business (AP).
The General Services Administration announced that it had awarded a second Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) Government-Wide Agency Contract (GWAC) to Hughes Global Services for a wide variety of satellite based services. The award has a ceiling of $490 million over six years. The first GWAC awarded to Hughes was for only one year/ $100 million. Over 40 governmental agencies utilized satellite services in over 100 orders under the successful pilot program with the Department of Defense responsible for a quarter of the orders (SpaceDaily).
After a seven-year hiring freeze, NASA has announced that it will be lifting the freeze at four of its field centers. Critics have long protested that the deep employment cuts and hiring freeze has compromised the safety of the NASA's manned space programs. As a result of the change, 751 engineers and Quality Control inspectors will be hired at Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center. The change in policy will help NASA fill gaps in "critical skills" areas (Space.com).
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
On February 4, the US Air Force issued special order GB- 005, which renamed Cape Canaveral Air Station to its former name of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The order issued by the Air Force Space Command also redesignates eight other air stations as Air Force Stations (45th Space Wing News Release; Spaceflight Now).
The USAF has awarded TRW a contract to refurbish Stage Four rocket engines in 30 of the nation's Minuteman III missiles. Under the $107.2 million contract, TRW will refurbish the liquid-fueled Propulsion System Rocket Engine (PSRE). TRW currently is working a contract to refurbish stages 1 through 3 on the missiles. During the 10-year life of the contract, TRW will design, develop and deliver seven components to be integrated into the missiles by governmental workers at Hill AFB. The work will extend the service life of the 30-year-old missiles to 2020 (SpaceDaily).
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 435 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin sometime in 2000. Humans have spent a combined total of 0 days in orbit this year.
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