Status Report

Jonathan’s Space Report No. 562 2006 Mar 17

By SpaceRef Editor
March 17, 2006
Filed under ,

MRO at Mars

On 2006 Mar 8, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter entered Mars’ gravitational sphere of influence at around 577000 km range. At 2112 UTC on Mar 10 the MRO’s Aerojet-Redmond engines (six MR-107N thrusters firing at 170N) ignited to begin the Mars Orbit Insertion burn. Light travel time to Earth was 11 min 58s at the time of the burn; orbit insertion now confirmed. Planned orbit was 279 x 44500 km x 93.3 deg. Over the next several months MRO will use aerobraking to lower its orbit for operational imaging of the surface.

New Horizons

Meanwhile, New Horizons trajectory data is now on the JPL Horizons site. NH is in a solar escape orbit with a perihelion of 0.98 AU, an ecliptic inclination of 0.87 deg and an eccentricity of 1.03. After the February 2007 Jupiter encounter it will have a perihelion of 2.2 AU, an inclination of 2.3 deg and an eccentricity of 1.40. On 2015 Jul 14 the probe passes Pluto, 1.1AU above the ecliptic plane and 32.9 AU from the Sun. As seen from Earth, NH and Pluto will be near the star Xi Sgr.


Japan launched the ASTRO-F infrared astronomy satellite at 2128 UTC on Feb 21. ASTRO-F separated from the M-V-8 rocket final stage in a 301 x 718 km x 98.2 deg orbit; it will use an onboard propulsion system to reach its final orbit and then will eject its optics cover. The satellite has been named “Akari” (light). By Mar 3 it was in a 707 x 716 km x 98.2 deg orbit; this had been adjusted to 695 x 710 km by Mar 16. Because of attitude control problems, ejection of the optics cover has been delayed until mid-April.

Akari carries a 0.67m-diameter liquid-helium-cooled infrared telescope with detectors ranging from the near infrared to 60 and 170 micron channels in the far IR. It will carry out the first far infrared sky survey since IRAS in 1983.

The tiny 3 kg CUTE-1.7-APD satellite built by Toyko Institute of Technology was ejected from the M-V-8 third stage at 2145 UTC. The other secondary payload, a 15-meter-diameter solar sail (SSP, solar sail sub payload, soraseiru sabupeiro-do) deployed from the stage at 2146 UTC but opened incompletely.

Arabsat 4A

A Krunichev Proton-M/Briz-M rocket suffered a launch failure on Feb 28. The Briz-M stage is rumoured to have shut down 27 minutes 31s into a planned 31-minute second burn, according to several sources. This was a very long engine burn, but the AMC-15 launch in 2004 saw a 37.5 minute burn, so it’s not a record for Briz-M.

There are now two objects cataloged in a 505 x 14695 km x 51.5 deg orbit, presumably the Arabsat 4A payload and Briz. Since the failure was before the end of the second burn, the Briz DTB tank will not have separated, and the B object is Briz with the DTB still attached.

Arabsat 4A, also known as BADR-ONE (not to be confused with the small Pakistani Badr-A satellite launched in 1990) is an EADS-Astrium 2000+ satellite with a launch mass of 3341 kg, intended for Middle East communications by Arabsat, the Arab Satellite Communications Organization.

Ariane 5

Ariane vehicle 527 was launched on Mar 11 on flight V170 carrying Eutelsat’s HotBird 7A and Hisdesat’s Spainsat. The EPC core stage flew into a -1141 x 158 km x 6.8 deg orbit, and fell back to Earth. The ESC-A upper stage made a single burn to a 270 x 35748 km x 5.0 deg GTO.

Hot Bird 7A is an Alcatel Spacebus 3000 with an Astrium S400 apogee engine, and will provide television broadcasting services for the European operator Eutelsat. Spainsat is a Loral LS-1300 with an Aerojet-Redmond R-4D engine, and will provide secure X and Ku band communications for the Spanish defense ministry. HB7A has a dry mass of 1740 kg and a solar panel span of 36.9m. Spainsat has a dry mass of 1467 kg and a solar panel span of 31.4m. By Mar 16 HB7A was in a 34124 x 35761 km x 0.1 deg near-geostationary orbit drifting over the Atlantic; Spainsat was still in transfer orbit as of Mar 13.


The carnage continues in the NASA science program. A few weeks ago, the NuStar X-ray mission was cancelled, and now the Dawn asteroid mission has been axed only a year from launch (this decision is apparently under review). This follows a couple years of delays in selecting new small missions. These missions had been approved for development and weren’t suffering from major problems (well, in Dawn’s case I hear different stories from different people) – their cancellation seems to be purely for budgetary reasons. They are being sacrificed to pay for the Exploration initiative and for other science programs which have run into trouble. Rare editorial: this is a bad idea; we really need a wide portfolio of small science missions for the health of NASA’s science program. Having only a few large flagship missions eat the whole budget is not a smart way to go, however wonderful they are. My impression is that the current plan gives a larger fraction of the astrophysics budget to my good (and well-deserving but more professionally flexible) friends at the large aerospace contractors, and a smaller fraction to pay the salaries of astrophysicists, who have no other source of funding to turn to. By the time the budget recovers, our reservoir of world-class expertise will have left science for other careers.

Let me be clear: the problem is both an external one – other pressures on the US federal budget, and pressures to fund the human spaceflight program – and an internal systemic one: the astronomical community’s process for recommending priorities to NASA, which used to work well, now is widely perceived as disconnected from much of the community and as effectively broken in the current budgetary context. The process builds in ‘undercosting’ at all levels of the system, ensures that flagship missions are emphasized above all else, and guarantees that the budget will be hugely overrun. The recent cuts to NASA’s astrophysics program are ill-advised and unfair to the hard-working scientists who dedicate their lives to these missions. But until we astronomers get our own house in order again, it’s going to be hard to convince Mike Griffin and Mary Cleave (the NASA boss and head of science, respectively) that we deserve different treatment.


I am informed that MTSAT-2 has a US-built Aerojet/Redmond R-4D-11-164 apogee engine, not the IHI 500N engine; also that NEC and Toshiba have merged into NTspace (NEC Toshiba Space Systems) and they are the prime contractor for the Daichi satellite. I can also confirm that there have been no launches from pad 2 at Tanegashima. Thanks to Peter Buist, Olwen Morgan and Carl Stechman.

Table of Recent Launches

Date UT       Name            Launch Vehicle  Site            Mission    INTL.  
Feb  3 2302   RadioSkaf         -               Pirs, LEO        Amateur com 05-35C
Feb 15 2335   Echostar 10       Zenit-3SL       Odyssey, POR     Comms       03A
Feb 18 0627   MTSAT-2           H-2A            Tanegashima      Com/Imaging 04A
Feb 21 2128   Akari        )    M-V             Uchinoura        IR Astron.  05A
              CUTE-1.7-APD )                                     Tech/Comms  05C
              SSP          )                                     Tech        05B
Feb 28 2010   Arabsat 4A        Proton-M/Briz-M Baykonur LC200/39 Comms      06A
Mar 11 2233   Hotbird 7A )      Ariane 5 ECA    Kourou ELA3      Comms       07A
              Spainsat   )                                       Comms       07B
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SpaceRef staff editor.