Frontier Status 123

Frontier Status November 13, 1998

In the week following the press onslaught from John Glenn's return from space, public interest remains at an elevated level--marking events concerning the upcoming first launch of the International Space Station, a spacewalk on Mir, problems with Deep Space 1 and a variety of other space-related issues around the globe. Ironically, there were no launches reported for the week. While early indications show a much lower press interest in the December 3 launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, there is no doubt that we are entering into a new phase of the manned space flight frontier.

Headlines of the week of November 13 include:


On November 8 at 12:04 pm EST, Discovery landed on Runway 33 at the Florida Shuttle Landing Facility. Because the compartment door for the drogue chute was seen to fall off when the engines were fired for launch, the Shuttle was allowed to slow to a stop on the runway without deploying the chute. Although John Glenn appeared to be a little unsteady on his feet later when he was inspecting the Orbiter, in later interviews he appeared normal. The usual press conference three hours after the landing was delayed so that physicians could measure Glenn's adaptations to micro-gravity and monitor his body's response to the return to gravity (NASA; Flatoday).

The pre-International-Space-Station Shuttle program has drawn to a close with the landing of the Shuttle Discovery. While Shuttles will continue to conduct orbital research, they will increasingly give over such research to the ISS. The majority of future Shuttle flights will be used for the construction and equipping of the orbiting research facility. The Shuttle Columbia, which is the heaviest Shuttle in the fleet, will probably continue to provide specialty satellite launching and repair. By 2004 when the station is scheduled to be completed, there is the real possibility that the Shuttle will be replaced by new, cheaper forms of space transportation. It was appropriate, therefore that this end-of-an-era flight crew included John Glenn, the man that began America's orbital space vehicle program.

Shuttle Endeavor is on Launch Pad 39A awaiting its December 3rd space station flight. The payload, the Unity connector node was placed in the payload bay on November 13. Prelaunch propellant loading is slated for November 17, with aft-compartment closeouts to begin on November 19. While 3,791 journalist signed up for John Glenn's launch, less than 100 had been signed up for the December launch by November 10 (NASA; Flatoday).


Only a week remains before the launch of the first element of the International Space Station. The first launch on November 20 from the Baikonur complex 81L, on a Proton rocket carrying the Zarya module, will be followed by a December 3 launch of the Shuttle Endeavor, carrying the Unity connecting node. After the two components are linked with the help of the Canadian Shuttle arm, electrical and other connections will be made during three space walks.

In a surprise move, the Russian space agency asked NASA if they could move the launch of the Proton rocket, carrying the first element, back ten hours. Experts contend that the move would place the space station closer to the Mir station and allow the movement of equipment on Mir to the Space Station. The changed orbit would also allow a Space Shuttle to visit both stations during the same trip into space. The move would also extend the life of Mir. Russia has assured NASA that it would deorbit their space station by next July, but Russian nationalists are reluctant to destroy what is viewed as a national treasure. The change would require reopening a number of plans such as thermal analyses and adapting a new timeline (AP; SpaceNews).

The European Space Agency is preparing to sign an agreement with Aerospatiale on November 25 for the construction of the Automated Transfer Vehicle. Negotiations have been conducted for months with a final contract for 400 Euros ($440 million US). The first use of the cargo vehicle, to carry fuel and supplies to the International Space Station, will occur in 2003 when an ATV will be launched on an Ariane 5. Up to twelve ATVs could be built during the life of the station (SpaceNews)

The station was first proposed by Ronald Reagan in 1984 and has since survived twenty attempts in Congress to kill the program. Boeing, the prime contractor, has 120 major subcontractors employing 30,000 people in 21 states. Over half a million pounds of hardware will be launched from Florida on the Shuttle on the next seven assembly flights. The International Space Station will take 34 American and nine Russian launches between 1994 and 2004. Total cost for the frontier outpost is now estimated at $50 billion. This cost is being carried by a sixteen-nation partnership that includes the US, Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan, Canada and others. Once assembled, the 500-ton station will be twice the volume of two 747 jets. It will be five times the size of Mir and produce four times the electrical power. It will orbit at 220 miles above the Earth at an inclination of 51 degrees. (Gannett; AP).


Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Avdeyev left the safety of the Mir space station to conduct a spacewalk on November 10 at 19:24 UTC. The pair mounted a French experiment that will be used for capturing and studying small meteorite particles from the Leonid meteor shower that peaks November 17. The device will be retrieved sometime next year. During the six-hour walk, the cosmonauts also released "Spoutnik-41" and attached and retrieved other Russian experiments and equipment. After six hours, the walk came to a close at 01:18 UTC November 11 (AP quoting ITAR-Tass; Chris v.d. Berg).

Upon exiting the station, the pair released the student-built "Spoutnik-41." The satellite is broadcasting beeps followed by a short statement by young people, in French, English and Russian, at 145.815 MHz. The satellite is a short distance ahead of the station, with the gulf between slowly widening (Chris v.d. Berg).


Comet Tempel-Tuttle has left a legacy in its wake through the inner solar system. The comet, which passes through every thirty-three years--most recently in February of 1998--has strewn Earth's path with bits of dust and sand that boiled off of the comet's surface. The Earth is about to pass through the comet's wake. This cloud of particles usually burns up harmlessly in the atmosphere, creating the annual Leonid "meteor storm." This year, however, is a little different. Unlike the last heavy storm in 1966 when 100,000 shooting stars were observed per hour, there are now hundreds of fragile satellites in orbit (SpaceCast; NASA).

Many of the scientific instruments in orbit will be turned to protect their most sensitive instruments. Solar arrays will be turned edge on to the storm. The Advanced Composition Explorer located at the L-1 point will be subject to an even greater storm than Earth. Controllers will ramp down power supplies in addition to the other precautions. Other satellites such as the Tracking and Data Relay satellites will be left fully operational. The European Space Agency plans to monitor the Hubble Space Telescope to analyze any disturbances from dust impact. Response of private satellite controllers is expected to be less cautious than their governmental counterparts so as to continue to provide services (NASA: SpaceCast; ESA)

During the height of the Leonid micrometeor storm on November 17, the two Mir crew members will retreat to the Soyuz TM28 capsule. The station will be positioned to place the length of the complex between the men and any meteor strikes (Chris v. d. Berg).

Scientists are planning to launch a helium balloon carrying a video camera. The balloon is expected to rise to 100,000 feet where it can obtain a clear and unobstructed view of the Leonid shower. Images will be available at


The National Space Development Agency (NASDA) of Japan has announced that controlled explosion tests will be conducted at the Australian Woomera research facility. The solid fuel to be tested will be used in the two Nissan solid-rocket boosters used on the H2A launch vehicle. The tests, which will be conducted on November 9 and December 4, will study the explosive power of solid-propellant fragments that might crash to Earth after a launch (SpaceNews).


Deep Space 1

After only four and a half minutes of operation, the cutting-edge ion engine employed on the Deep Space 1 probe shut down November 11. To prepare for the firing, the spacecraft was turned on October 30 to point the ion engine toward the sun, to heat the thruster core and warm the xenon-feed system. A small amount of xenon was then fed through the thruster to assure that there were no blockages. On November 5, a heater in the thruster's cathode was turned on, and the xenon system was pressurized. Xenon was ionized inside the thruster on November 9, but was not accelerated. The engine was to be tested November 11 on different thruster settings over the course of sixteen hours.

The $152 million mission, which is to field test 12 new technologies--including the ion engine, was launched on a traditional Delta 2 rocket on October 24, and has since been coasting away from Earth. The solar-powered engine was to slowly accelerate the small explorer over a period of months to rendezvous with asteroid 1992 KD next July. The new ion engine utilizes a tenth of the propellant of its chemical counterparts, but its small thrust requires extended firing. Ion engines have suffered similar shutdowns during Earth tests. Controllers have tried several times to restart the engine, collecting diagnostic data. Controllers reportedly have a number of remaining options to get the ion engine restarted (AP; NASA).

On Wednesday, November 12, software on board the Deep Space 1 detected an unusual event in the star tracker and placed the craft into the "safe" mode. The star tracker stopped working at 11:41 AM PST--eight minutes later the software shut the star tracker off and on. When the star tracker did not resume tracking, the off/on switching was repeated. When this did not restore the star tracker to function, the craft was placed into a safe mode with the solar panels pointed toward the sun and the craft slowly rotating. Shortly thereafter, the star tracker resumed tracking. The craft was returned to normal mission configuration on November 13. Engineers are now studying the star-tracker problem along with an apparently unrelated powering on of the solar panel deployment devices. Since the solar panels are already deployed, there was no effect. Following the resumption of normal operations, mission managers continue to work on plans to restart the ion engine next week (NASA).


The multispectral imager on the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) has returned the first images of the asteroid 433 Eros. The photograph was taken from a distance of 4 million km from the asteroid. The spacecraft which was launched February 17, 1996, passed within 1200 km of Asteroid 253 Mathilde and is now over 321 million km from Earth. Three firings of the craft's motors beginning on December 20, will slow NEAR to a velocity relative to the asteroid of only five meters per second. Eros orbital insertion is expected for January 10, 1999 (SpaceCast).


The Stardust spacecraft arrived at Kennedy Space Center to begin prelaunch processing. The spacecraft is scheduled to be launched on a Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Station Complex 17 on February 6, 1999. The mission hopes to send the Stardust through the coma of Comet Wild 2 in January, 2004. The craft will send back photographs and analysis of the composition of the material coming off of the comet. Aerogel mounted on the exterior of the craft will be used to capture and preserve particles. After the encounter, the craft will swing back to Earth where a reentry capsule with the aerogel will be sent back to Earth and recovered by parachute at a site in Utah. Stardust, built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics, weighs 385 km and is 1.7 meters long. It is the fourth of the NASA Discovery series (NASA).

Mars Express

The European Space Agency's Science Programme Committee has resolved to back a project to send a spacecraft to Mars in 2003. The Mars Express project is conditional on sufficient funding for the science programme. At 150 ECU, the mission would be the cheapest Mars mission to date. Launched in early June 2003, the craft would go into orbit in late December of 2003. The craft would carry seven scientific instruments including a high- resolution camera, a range of spectrometers, and a surface penetrating radar. Scientists hope to detect sub-surface water. The craft will also carry an independently funded lander--dubbed Beagle 2--which would search for signs of life (ESA).



A cooperative study between American military agencies has conducted a ballistic "penetrator" test at White Sands Missile Range. During the test a 500-pound penetrator survived a 4000 foot-per-second impact into granite. The prime contractor was Orbital Sciences with assistance from Applied Research Associates and Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. While the project has direct military applications, it will also prove useful for designing several space missions such as Deep Space 2 mission to Mars, which plans to fire two penetrator probes into the Mars surface to analyze water vapor in subterranean soil, and perhaps to launch a mini-submarine into Europa's ice-covered oceans (SpaceCast).



In the wake of problems with unauthorized technology exchanges, new launches of American satellites on Russian boosters have been put on hold. The moratorium on approval of such launches has created a delay in possible launches of the Globalstar mobile telephone satellite constellation. Because of the failure of a Zenit rocket with twelve Globalstar satellites on board, Loral had approached Russian launch providers to launch their satellites on Soyuz rockets. Because of the bureaucratic delay, Loral Space and Communications is now in negotiations with Arianespace to launch some of their satellites on Ariane 5 rockets. The first commercial flight of the Ariane 5 system is expected to be of Eutelsat W-4 and Indonesia's Telkom satellite in March or April of 1999 (SpaceNews).

Russian Rocket Engines Unlimited

The Russian space agency has been reported to be planning to unite Russian rocket engine companies into one company. A joint stock company will unite ten rocket engine manufacturers including Energomash and Khimmash (SpaceNews).


SpaceDev, the private company developing the Near Earth Asteroid Prospector (NEAP), recently entered into a non-binding letter of intent with the University of Arizona. Under the agreement, two scientific instruments from the University will be placed on NEAP. The instruments are likely to be a multi-band CCD imaging camera and a neutron spectrometer. The camera is being designed by Peter Smith, who provided cameras for Mars Pathfinder Sagan Base and the Sojourner Rover. The neutron spectrometer is similar to the one on Lunar Prospector that confirmed the presence of water on the Moon. SpaceDev will provide a free ride for the instruments to the asteroid 4660 Nereus, but reserves the right to sell the data they produce with the University receiving a percentage (SpaceCast).


NEC of Japan recently announced that it padded its billing for 33 of 71 equipment orders from the Japanese space agency, NASDA. The announcement came two weeks after NEC's chairman announced plans to resign during a "stepped-up" investigation into allegations of overcharging. During a five-year period, NEC billed NASDA a total of $665.2 million including the excess billing of nearly $14.2 million for military equipment. The company has stated that it regrets the action and has pledged to refund the excess money. This latest scandal comes in the wake of allegations of double bookkeeping at NEC and two of its affiliates. The space agency was said to have known about the overbilling, but was willing to overlook it in exchange for "cushy" jobs for retiring agency employees (AP).



The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which regulates the placement of spacecraft into GEO orbital slots, announced that it will begin assessing fees to satellite operators. The ITU coordinates orbital slots to prevent interference between spacecraft. This service was previously paid for by the 188 member states of the organization, but the services benefited relatively few of the members. A rate schedule has not been determined, but costs to satellite operators are expected to be small compared to the costs normally associated with the construction, launch and monitoring of GEO satellites (SpaceNews).


Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke

Flatoday: Florida Today
  • CBS
  • SpaceCast
  • LS:
  • JSR: Jonathan's Space Report
  • HCSF: Houston Chronicle Space Forum
  • SN: Space News
  • NASA:
  • (AW&ST): Aviation Week & Space Technology
  • Archimedes Institute (space law)
  • Space Statistics
  • Space Population
  • Spaceviews Update
  • Mark Wade's Encylopedia Astronautica


    (c) Copyright Dale M. Gray November 13, 1998.

    Dale M. Gray is the president of Frontier Historical Consultants. Frontier Status reports are a free weekly annotated index chronicling progress of the emerging"space frontier". Editorial assistance by Rick Bier. Timeline computation courtesy of Simone Cortesi. Send comments/corrections or subscription requests (subscribe FS or unsubscribe FS) mailto: Previous postings are archived at ( tier/ or http://

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