Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #189

Frontier Status Report #189

February 11, 2000

ASI Web Team

One of the busiest weeks ever reported on the high frontier with the first manned mission of 2000, three rocket launches and an ICBM test. While no word has been heard from the Mars Polar Lander, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission has made good on its second chance and is only one thruster firing away from orbiting Eros on Valentines day. Craig McCaw continues to buy into the satellite phone frontier. The International Space Station is moving closer to action as Kazakhstan lifts its ban on Proton rocket launches and the Russians officially set a date in July for the Service Module launch.

Highlights of the week of February 11 include:

  • Shuttle Endeavor launches radar mission
  • Soyuz / Fregat launches inflatable reentry shields
  • Delta 2 launches 4 Globalstar satellites
  • M-5 rocket fails to deliver telescope to orbit
  • McCaw may bail out Iridium
  • NEAR approaches Eros
  • Kazakhstan lifts ban on Proton launches


Endeavor / SRTM

After months of delays from scheduling, wiring problems and a count-down scrub from weather and technical issues, Endeavor finally climbed into the sky on a pillar of fire on February 10. After a 13-minute extension to the preplanned T-9 hold, Endeavor lifted off of pad 39B at 12:43 p.m. The launch was delayed to resolve three technical issues including analysis of cracks in the External tank foam, a pressure leak test of the crew compartment and a flawed sensor on a hydraulic pump. In the week between launch attempts the Enhanced Main Events Controller #2 and a faulty GPS box were replaced. The climb to orbit was nominal with Solid Rocket Boosters separating at and descending under parachutes to the Atlantic. Both boosters have been recovered and are in the process of being towed back to Kennedy Space Center. (NASA; Doug Pratt @ CompuServe Spaceflight forum; NASA Shuttle page; .


On Thursday, February 10, NASA and Russian Space Agency officials met in Moscow to set a timeline for the construction of the International Space Station. NASA and other ISS partners also sought assurances that Russia would not redirect its meager resources toward the Mir space station. Mir was recently given a reprieve from de-orbit in part due to American businessmen seeking to turn the space station into the first orbital industrial park. RKK Energia assured NASA that it was prepared to supply one Soyuz and two Progress cargo ships for use in connection with the ISS. The launch date of the Zvezda Service module was readjusted for the third time in three weeks and set for around July 12 and docking with the orbiting station on July 20. The actual launch date and time will be determined in the weeks just before the launch (SpaceDaily; .


Delta 2 / Globalstar

On February 8, a Boeing Delta 2 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Pad 17B at 4:24 p.m. EST at the end of its launch window. The rocket carried four Globalstar satellites as payload. The $100 million mission was delayed by rain and thick clouds. The four solid rocket boosters fired for 1:15 minutes then were jettisoned as planned at an altitude of 12 miles. At T+4:30 the main engine completed its burn and then separated. Thirty seconds later the payload fairing separated to reduce the weight of the spacecraft. AT T+11:20 minutes, the second stage engine completed its first burn -- placing the stage and payload into a parking orbit. At T+62:20 minutes, the second stage reignited for only 19 seconds to put the satellite payload into the proper 541 mile orbit for deployment. The first two Globalstar satellites deployed. The second set of two satellites was deployed four minutes later. This launch completed the Globalstar satellite deployment. Over the next 11 to 12 days, one of the four satellites will be boosted to a new 879-mile orbit where it will become the 48 and final operational Globalstar satellite. The other three satellites will be used as on-orbit spares. Two additional Delta rockets have been ordered beginning in 2001 to launch replacement satellites. There have been no major problems with the orbiting satellites to date. The completion of the system comes only 17 months after losing 12 of its satellites during a Zenit launch. The system deployment was then stalled by a change in US satellite export laws that caused delays in getting approval for launches on six Soyuz rockets. An additional seven Delta rockets were used (Spaceflight Now; Florida Today;; Spaceflight Now).

Soyuz / Fregat

On February 8, a three-stage Soyuz rocket was launched from Baikonur. The rocket's new Fregat upper stage fired twice; once to put the payload into a 200 x 600 km orbit and again at apogee to circularize the orbit at 600 km. A 1 tonne dummy-mass satellite was placed into a 581 x 606 km x 64.8 degree orbit. After three hours and five orbits, the Fregat made a third burn to lower its orbit with a fourth firing to deorbit. The Fregat and an instrument package then deployed new inflatable shields. The instrument package was an off-the-shelf product that was bumped from the Russian Mars 96 program. The Fregat and package were projected to have landed in Russia at no more than 47 km/hr (13 meters/ sec) about 17 minutes after the fourth Fregat burn. Radars tracked the two shields to the ground. However, a severe snowstorm depositing 1.5 meters of snow at the landing site disrupted recovery efforts in the Orenburg region of the Ural Mountains. Because no transmitter signal has been received, the quest for the pair of reentered objects has been restricted to direct visual search (Jonathan's Space Page; SpaceDaily).

The launch features two new technologies: the new Fregat upper stage and the Inflatable Re-entry and Descent Technology (IRDT). Two of the new shields were included in the payload to protect the Fregat and a 110-kg technology demonstrator payload. A 4-meter shield will protect the demonstrator while a 14-meter shield will protect the Fregat. The ESA embedded a small experiment known as "Stone 2" in the IRDT of the Fregat. The experiment tests the effects of reentry on a variety of materials: basalt, dolomite and a cement/carbonate compound. The Fregat upper stage is built by Lavochkin Associates and is based upon the propulsion system used in the USSR's Phobos missions to Mars and about 30 other interplanetary spacecraft. Equipped with a triple-axis steering system and capable of up to 20 restarts, the stage can theoretically deliver 20 satellites to 20 different orbits. It uses unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. It is capable of carrying payloads of up to 4.2 tons to an altitude of 875 miles (the Ikar upper stage can only orbit 3.3 metric tons). This was the first use of the Fregat system, which can be used on Proton, Zenit, Soyuz or Dnepr boosters. It will be used later this year in a pair of launches to boost the replacement Cluster II satellites and in the ESA's Mars Express mission in 2003 (Reuters; SpaceViews;

M-5 / Astro-E

On Thursday, February 10, at 8:30 p.m. EST, Japan launched a 3-stage solid-fuel M-5 rocket from the Kagoshima Space Center launch site on the island of Kyushu. The rocket was carrying the Astro-E telescope for delivery to an elliptical orbit. About 40 seconds into the flight, the rocket began to veer off its designed flight path and controllers were unable to compensate. The rocket's first stage completed its burn and separated with a nominal second stage ignition. The third stage was also nominal, but the latter two stages were not able to make up for the defective first stage burn. Engineers analyzing the flight telemetry suspect the first stage nozzle cracked at T+40 seconds. As a result, the $62 million rocket could not achieve the designed orbit of 343 x 125 miles. Instead, the flawed launch placed the $105 million telescope into an elliptical orbit with a low point of only 50 miles. Low enough for the 1,650-kg satellite to be pulled down by atmospheric friction half way through its first orbit (Reuters;; Spaceflight Now).

Astro-E contained the X-ray Spectrometer (XRS), which was created in a joint Goddard / Institute of Space And Astronautical Science (Japan) project. The unique instrument was designed to measure individual X-ray photons. The instrument had to be cooled to 0.060 Kelvin to operate. The XRS was originally slated for launch on the Chandra X-ray Observatory, but was bumped because of budget considerations. Also lost were four X-ray Imaging Spectrometer instruments and the Hard X-ray Detector (NASA).



As expected, the Kazakh government has lifted the ban on Proton launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The lifting comes as a result of the completion of Russia's investigation into the causes of two nearly identical Proton upper stage failures on July 5 and October 27, 1999. Russia has paid Kazakhstan $375,00 for damage caused by falling rocket debris. In anticipation of the return to flight status, Russia has been preparing for the launch of the Garuda-1 and ACeS satellites on March 12 (4:10 a.m.). The return to flight status also sets the stage for the July launch of the Service Module on a Proton rocket (SpaceViews; Interfax;


On February 3, a linear aerospike engine completed a 125- second full-power test. The test at Stennis Space Center was 30 seconds longer than any previous tests and was the first demonstration of the engine's thrust vector control The XRS-2200 engine will be used in the Lockheed Martin X-33 technology demonstrator. The engine is under development by Boeing Rocketdyne. In all four XRS-2200 engines will be tested. At the completion of testing, two of the engines will be shipped to Palmdale, California for integration into the X-33 (NASA).


A high-tech oxygen tank to be used in the X-34 has completed its curing process in a large oven at Marshall Space Flight Center. It is one of two composite tanks constructed for the program. One of the tanks is a test article, but the second will be used on flight hardware for the reusable rocket technology demonstrator. The flight article will be placed in the third X-34 while aluminum tanks will be used in the first two X-34s. The tank was cured in an autoclave for 4 hours at a pressure of 92 pounds per square inch and a temperature of 350 degrees F. The technology is cutting edge since traditional composites become brittle when exposed to liquid oxygen. The tanks will be tested over the summer (NASA; SpaceDaily).


NASA Budget

On February 7, a briefing on NASA's fiscal year 2001 budget was held at the James E. Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. NASA's budget request included a 3 percent increase ($435 million) and the hiring of 2000 new employee. The budget also includes $300 million for "Alternative Access" to fund transport to the International Space Station using US launch vehicles other than the Shuttle (NASA; ProSpace).



The University of Illinois recently conducted experiments that show that fluorine can enhance the combustion of energetic boron particles. The experiments could result in new rocket fuels that could replace the current generation of fuels developed in the 1960s and 1970s. Boron has a low molecular weight and high energy, but boron oxide tends to inhibit combustion. The use of fluorine removes the oxides and increases the rate of combustion. Experiments in boron / fluorine combustion took place at the U of I's 12-meter shock tube. Significant decrease in ignition delay time and total combustion time in a boron propellant occurred when only a small amount of fluorine was introduced in the shock tube (Combustion and Flame -December issue;



The U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new commemorative stamp on February 5 honoring John Glenn's 1998 flight on the Space Shuttle Discovery. The stamp is one of 15 selected during May 1999 balloting for stamps to commemorate the 1990s. Drew Struzan of Pasadena, California illustrated the stamp. The stamps are to be issued May 2, 2000 (USPS PR;



The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory has reached a new milestone in the detection of comets. On February 4, the spacecraft detected its 100th comet. The comet, like many detected before was revealed as a streak of light on images taken by the LASCO Instrument. Kazimieras Cernis of the Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy in Vilnius, Lithuania identified the cometary image. He detected a fuzzy image and then watched it move on six successive images. He then sent the details to SOHO scientists for verification. An amateur astronomer, Maik Meyer of Frauenstein, Germany, detected comets SOHO-98, 99 and 101. Of the first 100 comets detected, 92 entered the solar atmosphere and were vaporized. Brian Marsden of the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, theorizes that SOHO is seeing the remains of a great comet observed by Greek astronomer Ephorus in 372 BC, which he reported to have split in two. The group of comets originating from the same direction is known as the Kreutz sungrazers (ESA; Florida Today; Space.c om ).



The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission is slowly closing in on Asteroid 433 Eros. A 23-second thruster firing on Tuesday, February 8 pushed the spacecraft onto its final track for a close encounter on February 13. A final thruster burn on February 14 to put it in orbit around the potato- shaped rock. The final thruster firing is slated for 10:33 a.m. EST. Once in orbit, the spacecraft will spend a year studying the asteroid (Florida Today; Reuters).

This, the second attempt to orbit Eros, nearly ended with another fly-by when a thruster firing to slow the craft relative to the asteroid triggered a safing event. Controllers were able to bring the craft on-line in time for the rescheduled thruster firing last week and the adjusting firing this week. The cause of the safing event has been determined to be incorrect data input into the attitude control system. The problem triggered a brief thruster burn known as an "auto momentum dump". Engineers have created a work-around the problem by leaving the accelerometers on during the rest of the rendezvous activities (SpaceViews).


The search for the missing Mars Polar Lander remain in limbo as observatories around the world analyze data collected following activation signals sent by NASA last week and again on Tuesday February 8. No evidence of the Lander has been found to date from observations made on February 4. The new data analyzed through February 11 showed no sign of the signal. The facility at Jodrell Bank in United Kingdom dropped out of the latest round due to local high winds. NASA intends on ending active listening next week, but may resume again at the end of the month (NASA).


NASA has revealed two images of asteroid 2685 Masursky that were taken by the Cassini spacecraft on January 23. The photos were taken at a distance of 1.6 million km. The images are available at: JPL Website or Arizona State.



On February 8, controllers at the Aerospace Corporation were able to establish contact with twin tethered pico- satellites deployed by the Orbiting Pico-satellite Automatic Launcher (OPAL). OPAL was launched on an Orbital Sciences Minotaur rocket on January 26. The satellites measure 4 x 3 x 1 inches and weighs less than 8 ounces. The controllers were able to both receive data and send commands. The Aerospace Corporation - built satellites were commanded to switch to low-power mode except when over the ground station. The satellites were also commanded to exercise microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) radio frequency switches. Deployment of the tethered picosats was delayed until February 6 due to the use of the Stanford 45-m antenna in the search for the Mars Polar Lander. Gold strands in the tether allow the picosats to be tracked on radar. OPAL will deploy four other pico satellites in the near future (; SpaceDaily).



Loral Space & Communications has announced that it has begun its $3.5 billion investment strategy to enter the consumer broadband service market. The company plans on offering high-speed, two-way Internet service using a hybrid network of satellites and fiber optics. The Loral CyberStar system will be capable of serving 10 million homes and small businesses (Reuters).



Craig McCaw has stepped forward once again to bail out an ailing satellite phone system. He has reportedly offered to pay $600 million to the beleaguered Iridium network. and has agreed to provide $74.6 million in emergency funding. McCaw is working to obtain voting control of the satellite phone service provider. Iridium LLC filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August of 1999 with debts of over $4.4 billion. McCaw in recent months has also been instrumental in moving ICO Global out of bankruptcy with $1.2 billion aid package. Analysts say that it is likely that McCaw will integrate the satellite system with his other properties (New York Times; cnet; Space. com ).


Russia ICBM

On February 9, Russia test fired a Topol-M Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The missile launch occurred at 12:59 p.m. local time and struck a target 8,000-km away at a military base in Kura, Kamchatka. This was the tenth test firing of the 22.7-meter missile. The missile has a range of 11,000 km and can be launched from either silos or mobile launchers. The single- warhead missile was designed to replace the SS-19 missiles per the START II treaty. There are currently 20 Topol-M missiles in the Russian inventory (Itar-Tass, Mark Wade's Encyclopedia Astronautica; SpaceDaily).


A post-mortem has discovered the cause of the failure of the US Army's Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) test. During the January test, the interceptor missed a target missile at the last second due to a sensor failure. A tube carrying liquid nitrogen to cool the sensors failed. The next test of the system, previously slated for May, will be delayed by several weeks to assure that a similar problem will not occur (Reuters).


Courtesy J. Ray and SpaceViews

  • February 12 - ILS Proton, Garuda, Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
  • February 16 - Ariane 4, Superbird 4, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • February 22 - Shuttle Endeavor, landing, Kennedy Space Center.
  • February 24 - Start-1, EROS (Israeli Remote Sensing Satellite), Plesetsk, Russia.
  • February 24 - 7th Annual ISS Teleconference - Ventures in Space.
  • February 28 - Taurus, MTI, Vandenberg AFB.
  • February 29 - Proton, Express A2, Baikonur, Kazakstan
  • March 2 - Delta 2, IMAGE, SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
  • March 13 - 17 - ProSpace March Storm in Washington, D.C.
  • March 12 - Sea Launch Zenit 3SI, ICO Mobile Satellite F1, Odyssey platform, equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • March 16 - Ariane 5, Insat-3B and Asiastar, ESA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
  • March 20 - Atlas 2AS, MLV-11, pad 36A, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
  • March 24 - Pegasus XL, TSX 5, Vandenberg AFB.
  • March 31 - Soyuz TM, Mir 28 crew, Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
  • April 3 - Titan 4B, DSP Payload, SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
  • April 14 - Atlas 3, Eutelsat W-4, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
  • Moved to July 10-14 - Proton, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.


With the launch of the Shuttle Endeavor, there are currently 6 humans in orbital space. Humans have spent a total of 3 man-days in orbit in the year 2000. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 449 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin in the fall of 2000.

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