Status Report

Jonathan’s Space Report No. 534 2004 Sep 8

By SpaceRef Editor
September 9, 2004
Filed under ,

Somerville, MA

* Fred Whipple

Fred Whipple died on August 30 at the age of 97. Fred was a pioneer of
the Space Age. He discovered his first comet in 1932; invented radar
chaff countermeasures in World War II; suggested the `Whipple Shield’
meteoroid bumpers now used on spacecraft in 1946; and developed the
now-accepted ‘dirty snowball’ theory of comets in 1950. He was director
of the Smithsonian Observatory (SAO) from 1955-1973 and led American
optical tracking of Sputnik and the other early satellites. The
Moonwatch program made SAO known worldwide as a source of information on
satellites. Fred was scientifically active well into his 90s. Although
after a bicycle accident when he was 89 he had stopped cycling into
work, we often saw the car with the ‘COMETS’ licence plate parked
outside. In recent years he was a member of the Contour comet mission
science team. Fred arrived at Harvard (where SAO is now located) in
1931; he cleared out his office only a few weeks ago and was still
mentally sharp although physically frail. Fred was also well known for
his sense of humour and approachability; we will miss him.

* Nemesis for Genesis

On Sep 8 the Genesis space probe became the first artifact to return
from beyond lunar orbit to the Earth’s surface. Unfortunately, the
parachute system failed to deploy and the capsule hit the Utah desert at
high speed. The capsule is embedded in the desert floor and is split
open; it is not yet clear to what extent the solar wind samples have
been ruined.

After targeting maneuvers on Aug 9, Aug 29, and Sep 6, the Genesis
Sample Return Capsule (SRC) separated from the Genesis spacecraft at
around 1153 UTC on Sep 8, 66000 km above the Earth. At 1215 UTC the
spacecraft made a small separation burn, burning up over the Pacific at
around 1550 UTC. At 1555 UTC the SRC entered the atmosphere over Oregon
at about 11 km/s (Earth-relative) and an angle of 8.25 degrees below the
horizontal, giving an orbital perigee close to zero and an apogee around
1.5 million km. The SRC’s heat shield protected it through atmospheric
entry. A mortar which was intended to release the drogue parachute at 33
km high failed to fire and at 1558 UTC the tumbling SRC impacted the
Dugway Proving Ground at the Utah Test and Training Range at 40 07 40N
113 30 29W. Impact velocity was around 40 to 90 m/s, over 200 times
slower than it was travelling a few minutes earlier but still more than
enough to wreck the vehicle.

* Space Station

Astronauts Padalka and Fincke made a spacewalk on Sep 3 from the Pirs
airlock module using Orlan suits M-25 and M-26. The Pirs was
depressurized by 1621 UTC; hatch open was at 1643 UTC and hatch close at
2204 UTC with repressurization beginning at 2206 UTC for a total of 5hr
46min of depressurization time. They installed equipment on the Zarya
and Zvezda modules. (Thanks once again to Andrey Krasil’nikov for timing
data). The old 70 kg Zarya PIG container with the RRZh1 flow regular
valve panel, removed at 1729 UTC, was jettisoned during the EVA at 2151
UTC. Three more antennas were installed on Zvezda for rendezvous
operations with the European ATV cargo ship; five antenna covers were
ejected at around 2100 UTC, and at least two cleaning towels were
jettisoned at 2110 UTC. A total of five objects have been cataloged
by Space Command, at least one of which is probably the container.

* Chinese satellite

A new Chinese recoverable satellite was launched on Aug 29 by a CZ-2C
rocket from the Jiuquan Space Center into a 165 x 490 km x 63.0 deg
orbit. The satellite is one of the FSW series, and is expected to return
a capsule to Earth after 27 days in space. I’m a bit surprised that it
used the CZ-2C rather than the beefed-up CZ-2D which was used for the
last three FSW launches. The CZ-2C was used for the older FSW-1 model,
rather than the more modern FSW-2 and JB-4 models. However, Chen Lan has
suggested that this CZ-2C is one of the stretched ones left over from
the Iridium program, and may have a larger payload capacity. The new
launch has the highest apogee of any FSW series flight; the satellite
has not yet been given an official name by China.

* Israeli launch failure

The ‘Ofeq-6 spy satellite failed to reach orbit on Sep 6.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the third stage of the Shavit
launch vehicle failed to operate and the payload fell in the
Mediterranean. The launch time was reported as 1:53pm local,
which I believe corresponds to 1053 UTC. The lower two stages
separated and at 1102 UTC and 260 km high the AUS-51 third stage
was meant to fire for 92s to put the satellite in a retrograde
260 x 770 km x 143.5 deg orbit. (Most countries launch east to
gain energy from the Earth’s rotation; Israel launches west
over the Med to avoid misunderstandings with its eastern neighbours.)
Without the third stage burn, the vehicle was probably in
a roughly -5700 x 260 km orbit and would have impacted around 1106 UTC,
probably somewhere south of Crete.

* Atlas Centaur IIAS AC-167

AC-167, the final Lockheed Martin Atlas IIAS, was launched on Aug 31 at
2317 UTC, placing a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload in
an elliptical orbit of around 400 x 40000 km x 63 deg at 0030 UTC on Sep 1.
The payload is probably a communications satellite used to relay data
from imaging spy satellites. The Centaur upper stage dumped its
remaining fuel around 0100 UTC, creating a cloud which was spotted by
amateur observers. The launch was given the codename NROL-1, and the
USA 179 satellite is the second elliptical orbit NRO Atlas launch, following
137 in Jan 1998. Two geostationary NRO Atlas launches, in Dec 2000 and
Oct 2001, might be part of the same data relay satellite series.

There were two unusual things about the Atlas missile, first launched in
1957, at which time it was a product of Convair/San Diego (later
GD/Astronautics, later Martin Marietta, finally LockMart; production was
moved to the old Martin Titan plant in Denver during the 1990s). One was
the stage-and-a-half construction of the MA-1 propulsion system (whose
more recent versions were designated MA-2, MA-3 and finally today’s
MA-5), in which common propellant tanks were used to feed three
engines, two of which were in a ‘booster package’ jettisoned two minutes
into flight (this was actually only a dummy system in the 1957 Atlas A
launches, and was first used for real on Atlas B in 1958). This gave
high initial thrust, and let you get rid of some heavy machinery early
on; the Atlas main ‘sustainer’ stage could reach orbit with a
significant payload, as it did on Mercury missions like John Glenn’s.
The second unusual thing was the `balloon tank’ of the sustainer stage.
The stage has a very thin wall and must be kept pressurized at all times
– using nitrogen when the stage isn’t fuelled – or else it will crumple
under its own weight, folding in half with spectacularly unwanted
results (and indeed this was demonstrated on a couple of occasions.)
Today was the last flight of the MA-5 stage-and-a-half propulsion
system. There is one more flight scheduled for the balloon tank, AC-206
in January – this Atlas 3 uses a Russian RD-180 engine instead of the
MA-5, but still has many elements of the traditional Atlas. The Atlas 5
now coming into service is really a completely different vehicle, with
neither booster package nor balloon tank.

Table of Recent Launches


Date UT       Name            Launch Vehicle  Site            Mission


Aug 3 0616 MESSENGER Delta 7925H Canaveral SLC17B Probe 30A Aug 4 2232 Amazonas Proton-M/Briz-M Baykonur LC200/39 Comms 31A Aug 11 0503 Progress M-50 Soyuz-U Baykonur LC1 Cargo 32A Aug 29 0750 FSW CZ-2C Jiuquan Imaging 33A Aug 31 2317 USA 179 (NROL-1) Atlas IIAS Canaveral LC36A Comms? 34A Sep 6 1053 'Ofeq-6 Shaviyt Palmachim Imaging F01

.-------------------------------------------------------------------------. |  Jonathan McDowell                 |  phone : (617) 495-7176            |
|  Somerville MA 02143               |  inter :   |
|  USA                               |       |
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SpaceRef staff editor.