Frontier Status Report #195
Frontier Status Report #195
March 24, 2000
Dale M. GrayTwo launches top the news for the week, one from Baikonur and one from Kourou. Preparations are underway for an amateur space shot attempt by J. P. Aerospace. A controversy over the causes of the Mars Polar Lander erupts over an article by James Oberg. A new manifest for delivery of Space Station components was released, even as cosmonauts prepare for the first commercial space mission to Mir. Astronaut Alan Shepard was honored this past week with the unveiling of his statue at the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Frontier Corner "Forging Plowshares into Swords" now on- line at http://www.spacepolicy.org .
Highlights of the week of March 24 include:
SHUTTLE - NASA is contemplating delaying the next mission to the International Space Station by a week. The launch of Atlantis is currently slated for April 17, but NASA managers have pushed back the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test from March 30/31 to April 6/7, which will likely delay the mission at least one day. The test was postponed to allow Commander Jim Halsell's sprained ankle sufficient time to heal. The managers are also considering additional training of the crew which will push the launch back the full week. Three of the crew were not assigned to the flight until mid-February, hardly time enough for NASA to file all the necessary paperwork. The range is booked for April 21 and 22 by a Delta 2 rocket launch at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The new date is tentatively marked in for April 25 or 26. The timing of the flight is not critical since it can be flown any time between now and when the Service Module launches in July (Space.com; NASA).
Atlantis is being prepared for its move from the Vehicle Assembly Building to launch pad 39B on March 25. On March 21, workers replaced the main engine No. 1 due to suspect turbopump seals. Engine shields for the No. 1 engine will be installed once the Shuttle has been moved to the pad. On March 23 the Shuttle Interface Test was successfully concluded -- proving all electrical and mechanical connections between the Shuttle and the External Tank and SRBs. The SpaceHab payload was moved to pad 39-B on March 20 in preparation for installation into the Shuttle cargo bay. NASA officials stated that Atlantis will be ready for launch on March 17 or 18 depending on the position of the International Space Station (NASA; Florida Today; Spaceflight Now).
ISS - As a result of recent assurances by Russia that the Service Module would be launched in the second week of July (8-14), NASA and its international partners have published a new assembly schedule.
The orbiting components are in good health other than the usual battery related problems. A docking test was conducted on March14 in preparation for the Atlantis mission of mid April. Teams also tested the Kurs docking system that will be used in the docking of the Service Module in July. The station has completed 7,645 orbits since its launch in November 1998. It is currently in a 232 x 221 mile orbit with a period of 92 minutes (NASA).
MIR - As part of housekeeping chores to prepare for the arrival of the new Mir crew, ground controllers have switched on the space station's main computer. The system has been dormant for half a year as an energy saving measure. One of the computer's primary functions is to keep the station's solar panels tracking the sun, which in turn allows the station's batteries to be recharged, provides power for environmental systems, and powers equipment used in experiments. The return crew, Cosmonauts Sergei Zaletin and Alexander Kaleri, are slated for an April 4 Soyuz launch that has the distinction of being the first privately funded manned spaceflight in history. The mission is funded by Amsterdam-based MirCorp. MirCorp recently signed a lease for the commercial use of the station. The returning cosmonauts are expected to stay on the station for about 45 days in an effort to stabilize the station for use as a commercial park. Russian officials recently hinted that there is a possibility that the mission may be extended by as much as a month (AP; Reuters).
Ariane 5 / Asiastar / Insat - On March 21, an Ariane 5 was successfully launched from ELA-3 at Kourou, French Guiana. The payload for the mission was AsiaStar and Insat 3B. The launch of Flight 128 was delayed first by weather at the T-7 minute hold and then by a reading from a sensor in a liquid oxygen feed line and a AsiaStar synchronization problem at T-5:51 minutes. The problem was resolved and the countdown resumed at the T-7 minute mark. The flight lifted off at 6:27 p.m. EST. Two and a half minutes into the flight, the twin solid rocket boosters completed their work and were jettisoned. At T+ 3:30 minutes the payload fairing was jettisoned at an altitude of 112 km to reduce weight. At T+10:10 minutes, the main Vulcain engine shut down and the lower stage separated. Ignition of storable propellant stage occurred immediately thereafter. The upper stage continued to burn until T+27 minutes. After orientation and spin-up maneuvers the AsiaStar was released into orbit 28:15 minutes into the flight. Contact with the satellite occurred only one minute later. Insat 3B, stored in the SYLDA-5 spacecraft module, was released at T+ 34.5 minutes. Insat 3-B was also contacted soon after its release. The satellites were released into a highly accurate 558 x 35,763 km orbit with inclination of 6.99 degrees. This was the fifth Ariane 5 launch and the 128th over all for Arianespace (Arianespace PR; Florida Today; Spaceflight Now).
The $110 million Insat 3-B is owned and operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The multi- purpose satellite will support television broadcasting, telecommunications, and meteorological observations. Using its VSAT transponders, the satellite will be used to connect state-of-the-arts hospitals to hospitals and clinics in remote Indian villages. The satellite has 12 C-band transponders, a mobile satellite service transponder and three Ku-band transponders. It has a design life of 10 years. It will be placed at 83 degrees East longitude (Space Daily).
The $250 million AsiaStar was built by Matra Marconi Space for Alcatel Space Industries for the US consortium WorldSpace Corporation. The 2.7 ton satellite will be placed at 105 degrees East. The satellite will have three beams, one directed at northern Asia, one directed at India and one directed at southeast Asia. The satellite will provide up to 50 channels of digital audio programming that can be received by 10 cm (4 inch) dish antennas. The WorldSpace company is currently developing a computer card that will allow mobile computer users to link directly to the satellite. The AsiaStar satellite is expected to be operational by June 2000. AsiaStar already has one satellite in orbit offering services to the Middle East and Africa. It expects to launch its third satellite in early 2001 to provide services to Latin America (Florida Today; AP; Space Daily).
Soyuz / Fregat / Dumsat - A Soyuz rocket carrying the second Fregat upper stage and a test satellite, Dumsat, was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 20 at 1:28 EST. The first stage fired for about ten minutes and was then jettisoned. The Fregat's S5.92 engine then ignited and burned for three minutes, which put the upper stage and payload into low circular orbit. A second firing occurred at T+1:18 hours for eight minutes to put the Fregat/Dumsat into a highly elliptical transfer orbit. Ground controllers then simulated the release of the Dumsat, which was designed to approximate the weight and characteristics of two of the Cluster 2 satellites. The system has already booked the upcoming Cluster 2 and the Mars Express mission for June 2003. This, the second successful launch, validates the system. The Soyuz/Fregat combination is marketed by the Paris-based Starsem company. The company currently offers the "classic" Soyuz/Ikar launch system. Starsem is a joint venture of Aerospatiale Matra, Arianespace, Russian Aeronautics and Space Agency, and Samara Space Center. Starsem is considering adding a Soyuz/Fregat launch complex to Kourou, French Guiana (Space Daily; Spaceflight Now; Starsem PR).
LAUNCH SYSTEMS -
J.P. Aerospace: J. P. Aerospace of Davis, California is preparing for a March 25 launch of its balloon-launched rocket from the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. The amateur space launch attempt hopes to utilize 10-12 weather balloons to lift a launch box to 100,000 feet. Once at altitude, a launch signal will be transmitted to the launch box to ignite the rocket within. If all goes well, the solid-fuel engine of the rocket will fire for 5 seconds to accelerate the rocket up to Mach 3+. The rocket will then coast upward to space at 92.5 km (57.5 miles) reaching a maximum altitude of 97 km (60.6 miles). The rocket and launch box are both equipped with parachute recovery systems. The altitude of the space shot attempt will be verified using a GPS receiver in the rocket. To date, no amateur-built rocket as reached space. JP Aerospace holds the current amateur rocket altitude record of 22 km (14 miles) in a competition with other amateur rocket groups such as the HALO group based out of Huntsville, Alabama. J.P Aerospace is evolving their balloon-launched rocket system in an attempt to capture the $250,000 CATS prize for launching a 4.4 pound payload up to 200 km (124 miles) and hopes to be the first amateur group to orbit a satellite (JP Aerospace; Space.com).
Proton - A problem with the cover a turbopump bearing cover has delayed the launch of a Proton rocket carrying the Sesat satellite. One of twelve turbopump cover lid bolts was not safely wired. A similar problem was found in the turbopump of the Proton that failed in flight on October 27, 1999. The bolt cannot be checked while the engine is in the rocket. While no problems were discovered in earlier tests, Khrunichev has decided to replace the launch vehicle with another Proton. The April 6 launch is now slated for between April 16 and 18, 2000. Sesat was originally slated for a fall 1999 launch, but has been delayed due to the grounding of the Proton launch system (Space.com; Spaceflight Now).
Sea Launch: Boeing has received a license from the U. S. Department of State to begin work on uncovering the cause of the March 12 failure of the Sea Launch Zenit 3SL's second stage. The launch failure destroyed the payload, ICO Global's F-1 satellite. The license, in the form of a Technical Assistance Agreement, will allow the Sea Launch Failure Review Oversight Board to begin investigations. The Board is expected to take several weeks to review the data and determine the cause of the failure. Their work will culminate in return-to-flight activities. Despite the failure, SeaLaunch expects to launch again this summer (Sea Launch PR).
Delta / Image: A Delta 2 rocket is slated for launch at Vandenberg AFB SLC-2 on March 25. The rocket will be carrying the IMAGE satellite, which will study Earth's magnetosphere. The satellite will be placed into an elliptical orbit over the poles with a 13.5 hour period. The launch will be webcast at http://www.ksc.nasa.gov (NASA; NSS).
Launch Safety: A report produced by the National Academy of Sciences has come to the surprising conclusion that America's launch system's are too safe. The 55-page report stated that no launch site workers or member of the public have been killed in any of the 4,600 launches on the American ranges (they apparently did not include the workers who died when they entered a nitrogen-filled room after a Kennedy Space Center launch). The high degree of safety has come with a hefty price tag. The report concludes that simplifying "overly cautious risk-avoidance" practices would make American companies more competitive in the world market, while having little impact on the safety of the ranges. The report also recommended replacement of aging radar tracking stations and switching over to GPS based systems (Space.com).
Mars Air: Last week engineers at the Johnson Space Center began testing a prototype of the Mars In-situ Propellant Production Precursor (MIP). The device was placed in a chamber filled with simulated Martian atmosphere, a thin mixture composed mostly of carbon dioxide. The devise then was used to produce oxygen. The MIP is part of a program to demonstrate the production of rocket "fuel" from local resources on Mars. The device yields oxygen that could be used for the launch of return missions. An identical MIP is slated for launch on the Mars Surveyor 2001, but could be bumped to 2003 by the problems with the 1999 Mars missions (CNN).
Zero-Gravity, Zero-Tax Act of 2000: A bill was introduced on March 16 to provide a 25-year moratorium on taxes derived from new space activities. The bill, named the Zero- Gravity, Zero-Tax Act of 2000, was introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California). If enacted, the bill would provide a temporary tax-free zone in space -- a powerful investment incentive for terrestrial US tax payers. The bill is being promoted by ProSpace, which consists of private citizens who travel to Washington D. C. on their own time to promote space-related legislation that will open the space frontier (Marc Schlather; Space.com).
Shuttle Science: Concerns over the lack of Shuttle flights dedicated to microgravity research and life science experiments is leading Congress to consider a "Congressional-mandated" shuttle mission. Shuttle flights in the near future will be dominated by the construction of the International Space Station. However, as the schedule slips, space scientist have had to increasingly cope with a lack of access to space. Representative Dana Rohrbacher (R-California) and Representative Dave Weldon (R-Florida) voiced their concerns during a March 22 hearing on NASA's life and microgravity research programs in the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics (Space.com).
Alan Shepard: On March 20, the memory of Alan B. Shepard Jr. was honored at a ceremony in Titusville, Florida. The occasion marked the unveiling of a slightly larger than life bronze statue of Shepard at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Shepard was one of the original Mercury Seven and later would walk on the Moon as the Commander of the Apollo 14 mission. The event was attended by the surviving four of the original Mercury 7. Shepard helped found the Astronaut Hall of Fame (Florida Today).
Compton: NASA managers had decided to bring the $600 million Compton Gamma-ray Observatory into a fiery reentry on June 3, 2000. The decision was made on March 25, to control the reentry while it was still possible. The Observatory, which was launched on a Space Shuttle in April of 1991, has long out lived its original design life of two to five years. During its time in orbit it increased the number of known gamma ray sources from around 40 to over 400. It also recorded over 2,500 gamma ray bursts. While the observatory's four instruments are still in working order, the spacecraft is down to only two gyroscopes. Another gyroscope failed in December, 1999. While the massive satellite does not have enough fuel to boost to a higher, more stable orbit, it does have enough fuel for a controlled reentry. At 35,000 pounds, Compton is the largest non-classified satellite to be deployed by the Shuttle. Because of its size some of the spacecraft will reach the surface. NASA plans on bringing Compton down in a remote portion of the Pacific about 2,500 miles southeast of Hawaii (NASA; CNN).
XMM: The commissioning and testing of the X-Ray Multi- mission (XMM) is complete. In a March 8-9 ceremony at Villafanca, the orbiting observatory handed over to the science team that will operate it. The XMM telescope was launched into space on an Ariane 5 rocket on December 10. The first images were officially presented on February 9. The observatory is controlled through the Mission Operations Centre (MOC) at Darmstadt. XMM will now undergo two months of calibration to prepare it for the start of its scientific mission (ESA).
Integral: For the past two weeks the European Space Agency's Integral ground control system has undergone intense testing. The four-tonne International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (Integral) is slated for launch on a Proton rocket in 2001. The tests were conducted at the Mission Operations Centre (MOC) at Darmstadt. On March 21, the ESA completed the first phase of System Validation Tests. The MOC will be used to handle telemetry and telecommunications with Integral once it is in orbit (ESA; Spaceflight Now; Frontier Status 11/27/97; 10/1/99).
TPF: A design team at Lockheed Martin Space Systems has been awarded one of four contracts by JPL for the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF). The mission is part of NASA's Origins Program and is scheduled for launch in 2011. Its mission will be to identify Earth-like planets around nearby stars. Lockheed Martin's team includes the University of Arizona and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By reducing the glare of parent stars, the TPG will be able to study planetary systems up to 50 light years away. To obtain resolution 100 times better than the Hubble, the TPG system will require flying multiple spacecraft in formation (Lockheed Martin PR).
NEAR Shoemaker: Photographs taken on March 7 by the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft have been linked together to form a movie. Available on the web, the short clip shows about a half an orbit around the asteroid Eros at an altitude of about 205 km.
The spacecraft is currently in a 200 x 209 km orbit around Eros. A repeat of the Momentum Control Maneuver performed on March 15 was planned for March 23. The MCM is utilized in weeks when no Orbit Correction Maneuvers are planned (Space Daily).
Mars Polar Lander Controversy: An article by James Oberg published by UPI has NASA snarling. Oberg stated that two mission-ending defects were known to exist on Mars Polar Lander prior to its launch. Experiments conducted to validate the Lander's breaking rockets had to be redefined when the hydrazine fuel did not consistently decompose violently (ignite) when passed over catalyst beds at low temperatures typical of the mission. Oberg contends that middle management redefined the mission parameters without benefit of chain of command. The problem was uncovered during the final days of the mission. Reports from the period show that NASA determined that cold fuel lines might be a problem, but that heaters could be used to raise their temperature. Oberg also cites an issue raised last month that the activation of the landing legs was sufficiently hard as to trigger sensors that were designed to detect planet touch down and cut off the motor. As a result, the motor may have shut down prematurely while the spacecraft was well above the Martian surface (UPI; Frontier Status).
NASA has adamantly denied Oberg's report, stating that it is "bunk". When questioned by a Senate sub-committee, Dan Goldin stated that the report was "based on a whole bunch of rumors" and that it contained no new news. Senator McCain (R-Arizona) is investigating the claims to determine if "the trust between the government and its citizens has been violated". A full report on the loss of the Mars Polar Lander was presented to NASA on March 15 and will be made public on March 28 (NASA; Space.com; Spaceflight Now).
Iridium: While the ambitious Iridium network has been counted out, services for remote users will remain. Motorola has asked the operators of the system's gateways to stay open for those dependent on the satellite telephone service. Though the system officially closed to the 55,000 customers at the end of day on Friday, March 17, callers were still being routed through the system two days later.. Motorola expects limited services to remain until the satellites are deorbited (Space.com).
GMH: The success of DirecTV, owned by General Motors subsidiary Hughes Space and Electronics, has not gone unnoticed. Rumors are flying of a take-over of General Motors by News Corp. and Liberty Media so that they can gain control of DirecTV. GM has not indicated any willingness to part with satellite television provider and denied that it was in negotiations with News Corp. However, shares in GMH stock jumped nearly 17 points on speculation over the take-over (AP; Skyreport.com).
World Satellite Network: World Satellite Network signed an agreement this past week with Loral Skynet for the use of transponders on Telstar 6. The company has also signed an agreement with AT&T's Head-End-In-the-Sky for programming transport. Beginning April 12, World Satellite Network will begin offering 190 digital video, music, movie and pay-per-view channels to users through a single mini- dish antenna. The service will be offered through established video service providers, private cable operators serving multiple dwelling units, small and rural cable operators and wireless cable operators. The satellite-based system will allow cable operators to tap into the rural satellite loan program now being considered by Congress (WSNet PR).
Spectrolab: Spectrolab has received approval from the U.S. State Department to market its advanced solar cell products to European spacecraft manufacturing companies. The high efficiency triple-junction gallium arsenide solar cells are widely used by US satellite manufacturers. There are currently 85,000 watts of Spectrolab solar cells in orbit. The current generation of cells deliver 24.5 percent efficiency with the next generation delivering 27 percent efficiency. Spectrolab has increased its production to nearly 1 megawatt of spacecraft solar cells per year and has 393,000 watts delivered and ready for flight. The opening of European markets is expected to significantly boost Spectrolab sales (Space Daily).
Astrium: The European Commission (EC) has given tentative approval for the Astrium joint venture. While contracts between Matra Marconi and DaimlerChrysler were signed in October of 1999, the contract was subject to approval by the EC. The combined workforce at Astrium will be around 8,000 and will produce sales of 2.25 billion euros ($2.4 billion US). The move is similar to the mergers in the American aerospace industry in the 1990s and will help it compete against the American giants. The EC approval was necessary due to fears that Astrium would monopolize satellite and space infrastructure business in Europe. Matra Marconi Space will sell off its mechanical wheels operations to ease competition concerns on the venture. Astrium will be the world's third largest aerospace company behind Boeing and Lockheed Martin (AP; Space.com).
HESSI: Something went awry on March 21 during the vibration tests of the High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager spacecraft (HESSI). During the test at the JPL facility in Pasadena, California, the spacecraft experienced 20G forces, which is exponentially greater than the forces expected during the launch. The spacecraft was placed on a shake table and experienced the excessive forces for about 200-milliseconds. HESSI was damaged as a result and two of four solar arrays were cracked. The craft continued to function through the test. While the structure, instrument boxes and detectors did not appear to be harmed, engineers will carefully examine them to determine if they too were damaged. The spacecraft would have been launched on a Pegasus XL rocket in July of 2000, but the damage will likely push the launch back to no earlier than January of 2001. The cost to repair the $40-million satellite has not yet been determined. The 850 -pound satellite will study solar flares from an orbit of 360 miles. The project is a Small Explorer mission managed by Goddard Space Flight Center with partners in Switzerland, Scotland, Japan, France and the Netherlands (NASA; AP).
GPS FRONTIER - A state of the arts GPS system has been installed in New York City's 4,300 buses. The navigation system was installed by Orbital Sciences at a cost of about $11 million. The system enables managers to use satellites to pinpoint the locations of its buses and thereby provide accurate arrival times for the buses. However, the system is not running smoothly, the culprit is the massive building canyons that are the city's trademark. Apparently, the satellite signals are having trouble navigating their way into and out of the depths. Although the system is operating smoothly in 15,000 buses world-wide, Orbital Sciences is finding New York more of a challenge than anticipated -- resulting in over two years of delays. City Hall is less than pleased with the results and has given Orbital until the end of March to get the system fixed. Orbital has installed gyroscopes on 30 of the buses to provide locational information when the GPS signal is bad. If the fix is acceptable, the new system will be installed on the fleet. The system of predicting the arrival of buses is seen as a great boon to New York commuters (Space.com).
REMOTE SENSING FRONTIER -
Wal-Mart: One of the hallmarks of the evolution of frontiers is the gradual transition of activities from the exotic to the mundane. Remote sensing has seen the exotic with its use in military applications, now it has reached new levels of mundane application. Wal-Mart in its continued quest for retail supremacy has turned to satellite remote sensing to spy-out its competition. The company has approached Space-Imaging to help it study new sites for its super- centers. Using satellite imagery, Wal-Mart hopes to rapidly assess the location of its competition. The imagery brings such information as the number of cars in competitor's parking lots, information on flood and earthquake hazard, and information on traffic patterns in new residential neighborhoods (Space.com).
Missile Test: The USAF has pushed back the test of an Anti Ballistic missile system from April 27 to June 26. The delay will allow the military time to assure the system works. A successful third and final test of the system is needed before President Clinton can decide whether to proceed with the deployment of the controversial National Missile Defense system. The first test of the interceptor last fall "killed" its target launched from the Kwajalein Atoll. However, the second test on January 18, veered off-course at the last moment and missed its target. A malfunctioning coolant line leading to a sensor was later determined to be the cause of the miss. With the delay of the last test, it is not entirely clear if President Clinton will have enough time to make the decision for deployment of the $38 billion system (Space.com).
COMING EVENTS -
Courtesy J. Ray, and J. Foust
March 25 - Delta 2, IMAGE, SLC-2, Vandenberg AFB.
May 31 - 11th Advanced Space Propulsion Workshop, JPL, Pasadena, California.
April 3-6 - 16th National Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, CO.
April 4 - Soyuz TM, Mir 28 crew, 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. Inaugural Launch.
April 16-18 - Proton, Sesat, Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
April 17 - Shuttle Atlantis (STS-101), ISS flight 2A.2A, Kennedy Space Center.
Mid-April - Eurockot Rokot, Experimental payload, Plesetsk, Russia.
April 18 - Ariane 4 - Galaxy 4R, Kourou, French Guiana.
April 21 - Delta, NAVSTAR GPS 2R-4, pad 17A, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
April 27-29 - Space Access 2000 conference, Scottsdale, Arizona.
April 28 - Cosmos-3M, CHAMP/BIRD/MITA, Complex 132, Plesetsk, Russia.
April 28 - Pegasus XL, TSX 5, Vandenberg AFB.
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 491 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin in the fall of 2000.
Additional web formatting by Simone Cortesi. FSR is also archived on the web at cortesi.com.
Copyright © 2001 Artemis Society International, for the contributors. Updated Sat, Oct 20, 2001
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