Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #203

Frontier Status Report #203

May 19, 2000

Dale M. Gray

The population of space got a major boost this past week with the launch of the Shuttle Atlantis -- bringing the population to nine. However, this is only temporary since the Shuttle will return at the end of a 10-day mission and the cosmonauts on Mir expect to return to the ground mid-June. The Russians successfully launched a converted ICBM as a new commercial rocket. The Americans tried three times to launch the hybrid Atlas 3 with its new Russian rocket engine. One of the more interesting items this week comes from the space industry start-up company TransOrbital, which is using the Internet to auction off the rights to put a business card on the Moon.

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Highlights of the week of May 19 include:

  • Atlantis launches on ISS mission
  • Rokot launches demonstration flight
  • Atlas 3 grounded three days in a row
  • ICO Global emerges from bankruptcy
  • Deep Space 1 preparing to resume extended mission

SHUTTLE / ISS - Following a long series of delays and launch pad aborts, the Shuttle Atlantis climbed into the sky from pad 39A on Friday, May 19, at 6:11:10 a.m. EDT. Two and a half minutes later the twin solid rocket boosters completed their task and separated from the orbiter. At T+6:30 minutes the Orbiter rolled to heads-up position so that it could communicate with NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. At T+8:40 Main Engine Cut Off (MECO) was achieved. About half an hour later, the orbital maneuvering system fired to circularize the orbit. The only problem encountered during the ascent was a tank sensor reading on one of two orbital maneuvering system pods. The crew of seven will spend the next two days preparing for an early Sunday morning docking with the International Space Station. The launch was the first use of the $9 million upgrade to the Orbiter that included a new cockpit with flat panel displays. The climb to orbit was textbook perfect with no issues (Spaceflight Now; NASA).

MIR - Citing cost cutting, the Russian Mir management team has announced that the current crew on-board the space station will be leaving in June. Viktor Blagov, deputy head of the Mir program stated that the station will be kept in orbit and will be ready to receive a new crew when MirCorp completes financing. The station will be put into hibernation until Russian production lines can produce enough launch vehicles to satisfy both International Space Station and Mir launch requirements. The 14-year-old station is in good working order (Interfax; MSNBC; Reuters).


Rokot: Despite a heavy snowfall, the Commercial Demonstration Flight (CDF) of the Eurockot Launch system was successfully launched on May 16 at 4:30 a.m. EDT (0830 UT). The Rokot, a converted SS-19 missile, was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome LC133 launch complex. The rocket was outfitted with the commercial Briz-KM upper stage. The first burn of the upper stage put the rocket and payloads into a 200 x 550-km transfer orbit. The second burn of the upper stage circularized the orbit. The rocket successfully deployed to mass frequency simulator satellites (SIMSAT - and -2) into a circular 540-km orbit inclined 86.4 degrees. Following the deployment of the satellites, the Briz- KM upper stage conducted a third burn to lower its orbit to 178 x 556 -- assuring destruction through reentry. The Rokot is a converted two-stage UR 100-NUTTKh rocket (designated as the SS-19 'Stiletto' in the West).

The launch was delayed by half a year when a payload shroud accidentally jettisoned while the rocket was on the pad. An improperly configured cable was found to be the root cause of the problem. A new booster with a different upper stage was subsequently stacked and was launched successfully. The system has had two suborbital launch tests in 1990 and 1991 and successfully launched an amateur radio satellite in 1994. These launches occurred from silos at Baikonur. The May 16 launch was the first commercial- grade launch and the first to occur from an above ground launch pad. Eurockot is a partnership of Astrium GmbH of Germany and the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center in Russia. It currently holds two launch contracts: Leo One and DBSI, but has experienced some problems gaining additional customers in the soft LEO launch market (SpaceViews; Spaceflight Now;; Jonathan's Space Report).

Atlas 3: Three attempts were made this week to launch the new hybrid Atlas 3 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Lockheed Martin rocket, which features a Russia RD-180 rocket engine, was first grounded on May 15 because of a faulty tracking radar in Bermuda. On Tuesday, May 16, unacceptable winds aloft caused the launch to be rescheduled. On Wednesday, May 17, resolution of a series of technical problems used up most of the launch window. The problems included a stuck oxygen valve during fueling, trouble with fuel-tank sensors and suspect temperature readings on the liquid oxygen. These were resolved and the countdown was resumed at the T-5 minute mark. The countdown reached the T-29 second mark because of a problem with the Master Inhibitor Bus electrical system on the rocket. The problem could not be resolved before the close of the launch window. The third launch attempt pushed the Shuttle Atlantis launch back one day to May 19. Because of the launch of the Shuttle and the need to reset the range, the Atlas will be rescheduled for next week (SpaceViews; AP; Spaceflight Now).


X-33: On May 12, the XRS-2200 linear aerospike engine testing moved forward with a 290 second test firing at NASA's Stennis Space Center. Despite setting a record for endurance, the test was brought to an end 35 seconds early when a flexible seal began to erode. The seal prevents hot gases from entering the engine cavity. The seal has been used in previous firings of the engine and has been exposed to hot gases for 775 seconds -- equivalent to over three flights. The longest previous test lasted 263 seconds. Managers will now determine if test objectives were met, whether an additional single engine firing is needed, or if any remaining objectives can be picked up during the up- coming dual-engine test regimen. This was the last of 14 scheduled test firings for the engine. The XRS-2200 was designed and built by Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power, a subsidiary of The Boeing Company. The engine will be used in the X-33 technology demonstrator being built by Lockheed Martin (NASA Marshall PR).

Sea Launch: The Sea Launch partners have completed their final report of findings and recommendations for change following the March 12 loss of a Zenit 3 launched from the Sea Launch platform in the Pacific Ocean. The report was presented to the Sea Launch Failure Review Oversight Board meeting in Moscow. The report confirms earlier reports that the error was in ground-based software, which lead to a valve closure error on the rocket. An independent commission investigating the failure confirmed the findings. Recommendations for change go beyond the immediate root cause and address problems with associated processes (Sea Launch PR; SpaceViews).

Sea Launch Website


Smart Mirrors: The Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories and the University of Kentucky are developing technologies associated with a new thin-film, ultra-light deployable mirror for use in space. The mirror is made out of a "smart" material that changes shape when struck by electrons fired from a computer-guided electron gun. The mirror could be folded and deployed from a relatively small booster. The electron gun would then be used to correct any imperfections in the mirror to within 10 millionths of an inch. The material is extremely light, weighing less than one kg per square meter, 250 times lighter than the Hubble mirror. The mirror could also be designed and fabricated in a matter of months, instead of the current multi-year process used in traditional space mirrors. The new material would also allow the deployment of large mirrors 20 to 30 meters in diameter using smaller rockets. The use of piezoelectric materials for use in a mirror is the work of John Main of the University of Kentucky and has been developed in cooperation with Sandia National Lab (Space Daily).


Lunar Advertising: Borrowing a page from Robert Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold the Moon", TransOrbital, Inc. has put lunar advertising on the auction block. TransOrbital seeks to place a $15 million spacecraft equipped with a video camera and a telescopic lens into lunar orbit in July of 2001. The "for-profit" venture is seeking to defray its costs by including lightweight memorabilia, balloons and possibly cremated remains as paid cargo instead of using ballast. The company is asking $2,500 to include business cards. At the end of the three-month mission, the Trailblazer spacecraft will impact the Moon, depositing its cargo. As a method of advertising the mission and drumming up a little cash, the company has submitted the right to include a business card to the popular e-Bay on-line auction. The bidding, which closes May 25, had reached $535 as of this writing. The amount is due upon delivery of the business card to the Moon (TransOrbital PR;


Discoverer II: The military space radar project, Discoverer II, appears to be on the brink of losing its funding. The US House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee has voted to eliminate all funds from the project from the FY2001 Defense Appropriations bill. The Senate version of the bill also excluded the project. The project suffered a similar fate last year (Space Daily).

Satellite Exports: Citing a decline of satellite exports of 40 percent, the US Department of Commerce is looking to take back control of satellite exports. Since the US State Department took over the licensing of US satellite exports, the value of exports dropped from $1.06 billion in 1998 to $637 million in 1999. At the same time the US market share for satellite exports has dropped from a dominant 73 percent to 52 percent. The State Department is preparing to issue new rules for satellite export to expedite exports to NATO countries. The State Department neither sought, nor welcomed the change of jurisdiction in 1998. Under its new rules, NATO and major non-NATO allies will be able to obtain four-year umbrella permits that cover multiple shipments. This new procedure will specifically not apply to Russia or the People's Republic of China (AP).

ASAT: The controversial Anti-satellite space weapon (ASAT) program of the US appears to be headed toward funding. The Senate Armed Services Committee boosted the FY 2001 authorizations for military space programs and technology by $98.2 million. Among the projects funded is the Army's anti-satellite space-based laser weapon, which was funded at $30 million. The program will seek to produce a laser prototype that would test whether an operational system was feasible. The laser would be able to destroy satellites or even missiles during their boost stage


Deep Space-1: After five months of code development and testing, the Deep Space-1 (DS-1) team is preparing to conduct an on-the-fly repair to the DS-1 spacecraft which is nearly 180 million miles away. The repairs were made necessary when an electrical short caused the star tracker to stop working November 11. Since that time the DS-1 team has been working to salvage the mission by converting the science camera into a star tracker. While the problem has caused the technology demonstrator mission to miss a rendezvous with Comet Wilson-Harrington, the repairs will allow the spacecraft to keep its date with Comet Borrelly. The new code will be sent to the spacecraft from May 30 to June 9. It will be tested through June so that thrusting with the ion engine can begin in July. While mission Director Marc Rayman indicated that two more months of software development would have given a more reliable product, the comet rendezvous required that thrusting begin as soon as possible. The original DS-1 mission, which included a fly- by of the asteroid 9969 Braille, ended in September 1999. It is currently on an extended mission (Marc Raymond;

Galileo: As Jupiter emerged from behind the sun, controllers once again were able to send and receive messages from the Galileo spacecraft. The return of communications is fortuitous since it allows the spacecraft to be prepared for its encounter with Ganymede. The spacecraft will pass within 808 km of the moon's surface at 3:10 a.m. PDT. Prior to the encounter, the spacecraft will pass behind Jupiter, allowing scientists to study the atmosphere through changes in radio signals (NASA).

The May 19 issue of "Science" magazine contains colorful images of the volcanoes of Io. The photographs were taken from the Hubble Space Telescope and Galileo. Studies of Prometheus, a long-erupting volcano on Io, show a plume 80-km high. Photos taken over time show that the plume has moved about 85-km west between 1979 and 1996 (NASA JPL).


Terra: The newly commissioned Terra spacecraft has been put to work recording the progress of the New Mexico fires near Los Alamos. Scientists used the Multi-angle Imaging Spectro-Radiometer (MISR) to photograph the fire.


GEOS-11: The GEOS-11 weather satellite launched on May 3 (as GEOS-L), has sent back its first image. The image was the result of on-orbit testing of the satellite in preparation for placing it in orbital storage. GEOS-11 will be used to replace either GOES-8 or GEOS-10 when they reach the end of their lifetime. GEOS-11 will reach its final orbit on May 21 (NASA).


SatSmart: A start-up Israel Institute of Technology business incubator company, SatSmart Ltd. plans to offer a direct or near instantaneous communication service between customers and their remote assets. One of the first applications of the Smart2000 technology would be the real- time tracking of stolen cars using a CarSmart 2000 tracker. A GPS receiver would send information on the position, velocity and direction of a stolen car through a modem to a LEO satellite system that would route the information to a monitoring station. Because it uses narrowband, the unit has a small internal antenna. In addition to anti-theft, the device could also be used to send signals to direct activity at remote locations. SatSmart technology was developed in cooperation with Aerospace Faculty at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (American Society for Technion - Israel Institute of Technology PR).

SETI - On May 17, the popular SETI@Home screen-saver program celebrated its first anniversary. The free computer program utilizes unused computer time to analyze radio signals from space for patterns indicating extraterrestrial intelligence. With 2 million users, the program has far exceeded the original expectations of between 200,000 and 300,000. The program is used in 226 countries and even in Antarctica. All totaled, the project has logged more than 279,000 years of processing time, but has not to-date identified any artificial signals from beyond Earth's influence (SETI@Home;


Nuke the Moon: In one of the Cold War's more bazaar chapters, the US Air Force planned to detonate a nuclear weapon on the moon. Known as Project A 119, the purpose would have been to study the formation and collapse of a mushroom cloud in the Moon's lighter gravity. The Moon was within the capabilities of the ICBMs of the day. Some details of the classified project have emerged in an application for an academic fellowship by the late Carl Sagan and a recent letter to the Journal "Nature" by physicist Leonard Reiffel, who lead the project (


New ICO: The former ICO Global Communications has emerged out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of a $1.2 billion investment by Craig McCaw and other investors. The company will likely merge with ICO-Teledesic Global Limited per a proposal that will be offered next week. On May 12 Teledesic's board of Directors approved a merger with ICO-Teledesic Global. Craig McCaw will serve as chairman on Teledesic, ICO Teledesic Global and New ICO. Richard Greco will resign as CEO of ICO to pursue his own telecommunications venture. Russell Daggatt will become CEO of the three companies. The company will likely begin launching ICO's 12 satellites, which will provide voice and data transmission to fixed and mobile devices. This service is expected to be in place by 2002 or early 2003. This will be followed by a second phase, which will feature about 100 Teledesic satellites. Teledesic is counting on learning important lessons in deploying and operating satellite telecommunications systems by using the stepped approach (SpaceViews; Florida Today; Dow Jones News Wire;

SPACE STOCKS - The stock listing is for informational purposes only and not intended for trading purposes. Frontier Status shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Additional stocks may be listed by request (

Company              Ticker          Friday Close     Prev. Friday

Boeing                   BA              36.9375             37.125
EchoStar                 DISH            42.3125             45.4375
GlobalStar               GSTRF            9.8125              8.8125
Hughes Electronics       GMH             89.4375             86.75
Lockheed Martin          LMT             24.3125             25.5625
Loral Space              LOR              8.25                8.25
Motorola                 MOT             90.125              96.0625
Orbital Sciences         ORB             12.625              12.3125
Sirius                   SIRI            37.125              43.00
SpaceDev                 SPDV             1.125               1.625
SpaceHab                 SPAB             4.625               4.75
TRW                      TRW             52.8125             55.875


Courtesy J. Ray, and J. Foust

Spaceflight Now - Tracking Station: World Wide Launch Schedule
Spaceviews Website

May 20 - Atlas 3A, Eutelsat W-4, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Inaugural Launch.

May 24 - Minuteman III, FTM-02, Vandenberg AFB.

May 24-26 - 5th ISU International Symposium, The Space Transportation Market: Evolution or Revolution, Strasbourg, France.

May 26-29 - International Space Development Conference, Tucson, AZ.

May 29 - Landing, Shuttle Atlantis, Kennedy Space Center.

May 31 - Cosmos-3M, CHAMP, MITA, BIRD, complex 132 Plesetsk, Russia.

Late May - Proton / Briz, Gorizont 45, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

June 1 - Minuteman III, GT-172-GM, Vandenberg AFB.

June 3 - Zenit-2. Kosmos, Baikonur.

June 8 - Proton, Intersputnik Express-3A, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

June 10 - Silicon Valley Space Enterprise Symposium, San Jose, California.

June 15 - Delta 2, NAVSTAR GPS satellite, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

June 29 - ILS Proton, Sirius 1 (CD Radio), Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan (Will likely slip to July).

June 29 - SeaLaunch Zenit-3SL, PanAmSat PAS-9, Odyssey launch platform, equatorial Pacific Ocean.

June 29 - Atlas 2A, TDRS-H, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station pad 36A.

Late June - Proton / Briz, Geyser data-relay satellite (Russian Ministry of Defense), Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Late June - X-43A-1, hypersonic test flight, Edwards AFB.

July - Ariane 5, Astra 2B and GE-7, ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana.

July 1 - Minotaur, MightySat II, Vandenberg AFB.

July 10-14 - Proton / Briz, ISS flight 1R, Zvezda Service Module, Baikonur, Kazakstan.

July 20 - Lunar Development Conference, Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Delayed - Pegasus XL, TSX 5, Vandenberg AFB.

CENSUS - With the launch of the Shuttle Atlantis, the population of space has risen to nine: two Russian cosmonauts on board the Mir space station, one cosmonaut on the Shuttle and six American astronauts are on the Shuttle Atlantis. Mir has been occupied for 44 days. Humans have spent a total of 164.75 man-days in orbit in the year 2000. The first element of the International Space Station has been in orbit for 547 days. The occupation of the International Space Station is expected to begin in the fall of 2000.

Index for Frontier Status Report 2000

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