Frontier Status Report #194
Frontier Status Report #194
March 17, 2000
Dale M. GrayA rough week on the frontier. While the ISS critical Proton rocket managed to put a Russian communications satellite in orbit and a Taurus rocket placed the MTI satellite into orbit, a Sea Launch Zenit failed to deliver ICO Global's first satellite to LEO. The week also marked the end of the Iridium satellite phone service. Other news included new solar cell technology and microgravity genetic material transfer technology. The US passed laws to privatize Inmarsat and Intelsat. Possible defective seals caused a four-day delay on the next Shuttle launch to swap out an engine. Terra released first light images. Mars 98 reports released pushing for "Faster, Better, Cheaper ... and Smarter" missions.
Highlights of the week of March 17 include:
Atlantis: Paperwork problems have caused mission managers to push the proposed launch of the Shuttle Atlantis back from April 13 to April 17. The delay will allow NASA to swap out one of three main engines that contains a turbopump with suspected defective seals. The discovery came when workers at the seal manufacturer discovered two good seals in a scrap heap and NASA determined two defective seals were sent in their place. The problem is related to last December's launch of Discovery on the Hubble servicing mission when a faulty turbopump seal delaminated and was rubbed by a turbopump blade. The faulty seal had flown three times before it delaminated. The Atlantis engine will be swapped out in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Workers are currently awaiting a weather change so that the Orbiter can be transferred to the VAB for the engine work and to be mated with the external tank and solid rocket boosters (Spaceflight Now; Florida Today).
The engine replacement will clear the way for Atlantis' mission to resupply Mir. The Shuttle will carry seven astronauts and a SpaceHab Double Module filled with supplies. This will be the first mission for Atlantis in 2.5 years (Florida Today).
Thiokol: A recent NASA report questions the quality of the propellant used in the Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster. The report claims that the quality of the grains used in the fuel "may not be as thorough as it was in the earlier phases of the program". NASA recommends a test firing every 12 months to assure quality control. Thiokol currently test fires every 18 months. The report was generated by the Shuttle Independent Assessment Team as part of a system-wide investigation sparked by the July 23, 1999 computer system problems encountered during the Chandra Mission. Other areas of concern identified by the Team include the lower case joint for the nozzle and the use of a hydrazine power unit that has the potential to leak the highly toxic fluid during booster recovery (Deseret News).
Service Module: Russia has confirmed that they will be able to launch the Service Module between July 8 and 14 of this year. However, the General Accounting Office has found several important : Inadequate shielding from orbital debris, excess noise levels, and inability of the Service Module and the Zarya Module to function if pressure is lost (Florida Today).
While NASA appears to be convinced that July is a firm launch date for the Service Module, it continues with its production of the Interim Control Module. Toward that end, NASA recently ordered a $4 million pressure dome for the ICM from Energia. The purchase was part of a $14 million deal approved last month by Congress for the purchase of Russian-built space hardware. Should the Service Module fail to be launched or be lost in the launch attempt, the US is preparing for a December launch of the ICM (Florida Today).
X-38: The test of the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle has been rescheduled for March 29 or 30. The drop test from a B-52 was canceled du to an electrical problem discovered in flight, but before drop. Radio interference in the control instrumentation was found to be the cause and has been resolved by use of additional shielding. A test of the parafoil wing will be conducted on April 5. The large fabric structure has a surface area of 7,500 square feet, or 1.5 times that of a 747 (Space.com).
Boeing: Having lost two air tanks that were to have been installed on the International Space Station, Boeing has formally announced that they would reimburse the government for the full cost of the tanks regardless of any responsibility determinations. Investigations continue into how the two oxygen and nitrogen tanks were misplaced and lost from Marshall Space Flight Center. Boeing has taken steps to assure the situation does not recur (Boeing PR).
MirCorp: In a short speech before ProSpace in Arlington, Virginia, the President of MirCorp, Jeffrey Manber, announced that his company would probably go public in 2001. MirCorp is currently owned by private investors and the Russian company Energiya. The money raised would be used to renovate the aging space station for use as a commercial park. It was reported that MirCorp hopes to raise about $800 million with the IPO (Dale Gray; Space.com).
Manber also stated that the Russian Actor Vladimir Steklov would not be on the April 3 commercial flight to Mir. The movie "The Last Journey" appears to have stalled out. Financing for the project may be the culprit, Russia has not been paid for Steklov's training, much less for a flight to Mir. Cosmonauts Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kaleri will take a movie camera with them and may film some sequences for the movie (AP).
Sea Launch: With elements of a Greek tragedy, the third launch of the Sea Launch system ended in failure. The payload for the mission was the recently revived ICO Global's first satellite launch. The company plans to launch 12 Hughes built cellular telephone and relay satellites. The company failed to achieve final financing in the wake of the Iridium Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was forced to also file for Chapter 11 protection. The company managed to get on track again in recent months due to an influx of cash by Craig McCaw. The company planned to have its service available by 2002. The company has two spare satellites in its system and should be able to make up for the loss (Spaceflight Now; Frontier Status).
The Sea Launch Zenit 3SL lifted off of the floating Sea Launch platform positioned on the equator at 9:49 a.m. March 12. The first stage appears to have performed nominally, but the rocket's second stage suffered a malfunction and shut down after only 7.5 minutes of flight. While the rocket achieved an altitude of over 100 miles, the upper stage did not fire and the $100 million payload impacted the Pacific Ocean. Preliminary indications are that a computer error caused pressure valves on the second stage to remain open during launch. This then caused the vernier jets not to function correctly. When the on-board computer sensed problem, the second stage engine was shut down. Of the 36 Zenit launches since 1985, nine have failed to make orbit with payloads (Spaceflight Now; Florida Today).
Proton: A Proton rocket carrying the Express 6-A communications satellite was launched successfully from Baikonur on March 11 at 11:07 EST. The satellite was released in to geosynchronous transfer orbit about 6.5 hours later. The satellite will be placed in the 80 degrees East longitude orbital slot where it will provide Ku-band communications and digital television services. The Express 6A has 12 C band transponders and 5 Ku band transponders. The Russian-built satellite bus utilizes transponders built by Alcatel Espace of France. The satellite replaces one lost on the October 27 Proton rocket launch failure (Spaceflight Now).
Taurus: On March 11, Orbital Sciences successfully launched a Taurus rocket from Vandenberg AFB. The rocket, containing the Multispectral Thermal Imager (MTI) into Low Earth Orbit. Lift off occurred at 4:38 a.m. from the VAFB Space Launch Complex 576-E after the correction of a small problem with a downrange radar at Point Mugu. The first stage completed its burn and separated about a minute in to the flight. At T+ 2:25, the second stage completed its burn and separated followed shortly thereafter by the separation of the payload faring. The third stage completed its burn at T+3 minutes and 45 seconds and began coasting. Third stage separation and ignition of the fourth stage occurred at T+8:30. The fourth stage burn completion occurred after the rocket was beyond the tracking stations, but occurred around T+12:20 with the satellite separation occurring at that time. The satellite extended its four solar array shortly after separation. The satellite was released into a 384 x 361-mile orbit with an inclination of 97.43 degrees. This was the fifth Taurus flight and the 19th consecutive successful Orbital Sciences orbital launch. The launch was delayed several weeks by an issue over where the spent third stage would land (Spaceflight Now).
The Multispectral Thermal Imager (MTI) was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and will serve as a test bed for multispectral and thermal imaging. The spacecraft will attempt to detect reflected and thermally radiated electromagnetic waves for the first time from space. The technology is useful in detecting facilities that may be engaged in making nuclear of chemical weapons. The telescope's cryogenically cooled telescope will observe US facilities with known conditions in order to calibrate the instruments. The satellite also has a NAOA / Czech Astronomical Institute experiment for space weather research. The satellite is expected to have a three-year mission (Spaceflight Now).
LAUNCH SYSTEMS -
X-33: The recent test firing shutdown for the X-33 linear aerospike engine was caused by a minor software "glitch". The planned 220 second test on March 9 was stopped at only 75 seconds during a phase of testing when the engine was being rapidly powered down for the first time. The software problem is expected to be corrected and managers expect the engine to be ready for its 11th test by the end of the week (Florida Today).
Delta 4: On March 17, Boeing officially opened its SSC Engine Assembly Facility in Hancock County, Mississippi. The new facility is located on the former Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant at Stennis Space Center. Boeing invested $11 million in the 100,000 square foot facility designed to produce its new RS-68 rocket engines. The new engines are capable of producing 650,000-lb of thrust. The plant, which is only two miles from the Stennis rocket engine test stands, will be able to produce up to 40 RS-68 engines a year. The engine will be used in the new Delta IV rocket family and was developed by Boeing's Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power unit (Boeing PR).
Solar Power: Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed a new semiconductor alloy, indium gallium arsenide nitride that has the potential to reach 40 percent efficiency in the conversion of solar light to electrical power. The researches found that by adding one or two percent nitrogen to the alloy, it dramatically increased the optical and electrical properties of the material. The process to produce the material was developed by Normand Modine, Andy Allerman, and Eric Jones (Space Daily).
GeneTech: Genetic manipulation tests in space have shown promising results. Microgravity tests conducted by John Glenn on his 1998 Shuttle flight showed that genetic manipulation was not only possible in space, but that it was more successful than identical processes used on control groups on Earth. Bacteria were used to transfer genetic material to 1000 seedlings. Of the seedlings in microgravity, 9 percent exhibited traits from the introduced genetic material. The rate among the ground-based soybeans was only 1 percent. The results of the experiment were published in the January 2000 edition of the journal Chemical Innovation. A second genetic experiment will fly on the Shuttle Atlantis this spring (Space Daily).
Intelsat: Legislation to privatize American components of Intelsat and Inmarsat was signed into law by President Clinton on March 17. The legislation clears the way for Lockheed Martin to acquire ownership of Comsat, which was prohibited by a 1962 law that was aimed at preventing AT&T from obtaining a monopoly over satellite communications. It is hoped that the legislation will increase competition in satellite services (AP).
Iran Non-Proliferation Act: On March 14, President Clinton signed into law the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000. The Act bars payment of space station funds to Russia unless the US confirms that Russia has not transferred missile, nuclear, chemical or biological weapon technology to Iran. In response, Russia has accused the US of overstepping its powers and undermining the US/ Russian arms reduction efforts (AP).
Florida: The Florida House of Representatives Committee on Business Development and International Trade has approved a sales tax break for property leases for commercial space-flight companies. HB-775 is expected to cost Florida taxpayers $500,000 this year with about $100,000 in subsequent years. The measure is designed to keep tenants in a proposed $30 million space research park at Kennedy Space Center. The Bill is expected to pass in the House (Florida Today).
Movies: While plans to film a movie on Mir appear to have ground to a stop, movies about space continue to roll out of Hollywood. This past week the movie "Mission to Mars" opened to mixed reviews. Spacebuffs found the science to be fiction and movie goers found the plot to be a rehash of other movies. However, several movies are in production in and around Cape Canaveral. Tri-Star Pictures filmed "Race to Space" at the cape from February 15 to 18. The movie is loosely based upon Dr. Werhner Von Braun, but the plot follows a fictional son's friendship with an astrochimp (Florida Today; Dale Gray).
Brain Drain: Western nations have been complaining that many of the best and brightest minds have been romanced away from the space sector by .com enterprises. Now it appears that China is not immune to the siren's call of fast easy money. China has reported that up to 40 percent of its skilled workforce have left government employ in favor of working for foreign companies offering higher wages (Space Daily).
Terra: NASA's has released the first light observation from its Terra Spacecraft. The image of the Mississippi Delta was obtained on February 24 and covers an area 100 x 100-km. The craft reached its final orbit on February 23 with all systems operating nominally. The satellite is now on the same ground track as Landsat 7. Controllers opened the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Earth-view door on February 24 as the satellite passed over North America. The door of the Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer was opened later in the day as the spacecraft passed over Canada. Other instrument covers were then opened allowing first light for a variety of scientific instruments. The Terra spacecraft is expected to provide 6 terabytes of Earth science data on every month (Spaceflight Now).
NEAR Shoemaker: This past week, NASA officially renamed the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission in honor of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker. Shoemaker played a vital role in linking meteor impacts on Earth with geological features and establishing the lunar geological time scale. He and his wife were part of the team that discovered the comet Shoemaker - Levy 9 that impacted Jupiter in 1994. Shoemaker died in a car accident in 1997 (NASA).
NEAR Shoemaker has completed a month of observations of the asteroid Eros. X-Ray detection of Eros show it to be composed of magnesium, iron, and silicon with possible aluminum and calcium minerals present. A solar flare on March 2 allowed the craft to study elements on the asteroid that reacted to the x-rays by emitting fluorescent x-rays that were measured by NEAR's spectrometer. In the last two weeks, the craft's Multispectral Imager has returned more than 2,400 images of the asteroid with a resolution of up to 50 meters. The spacecraft is currently in a slow 200-km orbit around the potato-shaped asteroid. Beginning April 1, NEAR Shoemaker will be lowered into a 100-km orbit (NASA; Spaceflight Now).
Mars Project Reviews: Recent reports issued on the loss of the Mars 98 missions has found that NASA pushed additional responsibility to the contractor, Lockheed Martin with too little oversight. The report found that JPL paid little attention to the spacecraft until they had already been launched. In future mission, the report recommends that JPL play a more active role in mission development in the 2001 missions. This past week the Mars Climate Orbiter Mishap Investigation Board issued its Phase II report and JPL project Manager Anthony Spear issued a report on "Faster, Better, Cheaper". The Phase II report recommends a fourth element of "Mission Success First" or "Smarter" be added to the litany of "Faster, Better, Cheaper (NASA: Space.com; Florida Today; SpaceViews).
Iridium: Unable to find a qualified 11th hour investor, Iridium officially shut down operations of its global satellite telephone network. Several bids to save Iridium were received by the New York Bankruptcy Court, but none were seen as suitable investors. One bid, by Crescent Communications of California would have arranged for General Dynamics to take over operation of the satellites after 60 to 90 days. It is not known why this bid was not accepted. Iridium also approached NASA to take over the system, but NASA had no budget or authority to nationalize the system. The service to the 50,000 Iridium customers was shut off at 11:59 p.m. March 17. Some limited services remain for telephone users dependent on the system. Among customers affected by the move are 3,000 Department of Defense users, researchers in Antarctica and a man rowing across the Pacific Ocean. The company will now proceed with plans to de-orbit its functional, but non- income generating, satellites from their 485-mile orbits. Thrusters on the 66 satellites will be used to lower their orbits and bring the 662-kg satellites to a fiery reentry over the remote Pacific. However, it may take up to nine months to re-write the software to use the thrusters to deorbit the satellites and up to two years before all the satellites have been deorbited. Iridium has debts amounting to about $4.4 billion. On March 17, Judge Arthur Gonzalez approved a liquidation budget of $8.3 million to cover expenses through April 30 to allow liquidation of assets and begin deobiting procedures for the satellites. It is expected to cost between $30 - $50 million to deorbit all the Iridium satellites (AP; Reuters; SpaceViews).
AirTV: Alcatel Space has signed an agreement with AirTV to build a direct broadcast satellite service for receivers placed in aircraft. In addition a MOA was signed that made Alcatel's Spacecom one of AirTV's strategic partners in the first round of financing. The AirTV system will include four S-band GEO satellites , satellite control centers and several uplink stations for transmitting programming. The satellites will be built on the Spacebus platform and will provide up to 40 television channels and 300 audio channels. AirTV antennas will be manufactured by BAE Systems of Canada. No launch provider has been announced for delivery of the 3,800-kg satellites. The system is expected to be operational by 2003 (Alcatel PR).
Mission Sponsorship: The European Space Agency has broken with tradition and will seek corporate sponsorship for its Beagle 2 mission to Mars. The agency hopes sponsorship will generate about 10 million pounds of the 25- 30 million pounds necessary to land the scout probe on the Red Planet in 2003. The 30-kg probe will piggyback on the Mars Express orbiter. The sponsorship would work similar to corporate sponsorship of American football bowls with the sponsor's name preceding Beagle 2 in the official name of the probe. Funding for the probe is not possible without the funds generated by corporate sponsorship. Three companies have already expressed interest in the sponsorship (Space Daily).
ERS-1: Having completed nine years of on-orbit service, the ERS-1 satellite experienced a failure of its on-board attitude control system on March 10. The satellite was launched on July 17, 1991 and has since that time acquired 1.5 million images with its Synthetic Aperture Radar. ERS-1 was joined in space by ERS-2 in 1995. ERS-2 took over operational services of ERS-1 in 1996 (ESA).
Galaxy XR: The Galaxy XR satellite has reached its position at 123 degrees. It is now operational and is transmitting television programming and telecommunications services. It is the fifth PanAmSat cable television platform in the Galaxy cable neighborhood (SkyReport).
SATELLITE RADIO FRONTIER -
XM Radio: XM Satellite has signed an agreement with LiveTV for the transmission of XM radio signals to commercial airline passengers beginning in 2001. The 10- year agreement would allow LiveTV to incorporate XM receivers in its in-flight entertainment equipment. LiveTV recently announced a similar agreement with DirecTV to provide up to 24 channels of television for airline passengers (SkyReport).
COMING EVENTS -
Courtesy J. Ray, and J. Foust
March 20 - Starsem Soyuz - Fregat, Cluster-2 satellites, Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
March 21 - Ariane 5, Insat-3B and Asiastar, ESA-2, Kourou, French Guiana.
March 25 - Delta 2, IMAGE, SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
April 3 - Soyuz TM, Mir 28 crew, Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Late March - Eurockot Rokot, Experimental payload, Plesetsk, Russia.
April 3 - Soyuz TM, Mir-28 crew, Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
April 3-6 - 16th National Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, CO.
April 5 - Proton, Sesat, Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
April 9 - Titan 4B, DSP Payload, SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Station.
April 14 - Atlas 3A, Eutelsat W-4, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
April 15 - Pegasus XL, TSX 5, Vandenberg AFB.
April 17 - Shuttle Atlantis (STS-101), ISS flight 2A.2A, Kennedy Space Center.
April 18 - Ariane 4 - Galaxy 4R, Kourou, French Guiana.
July 10-14 - Proton, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.
CENSUS - There are currently no humans in orbital space. Humans have spent a total of 67.5 man-days in orbit in the year 2000. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 484 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin in the fall of 2000.
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