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  • Jeroen Kumeling
    ... Van: jeff@spaceviews.com Aan: undisclosed-recipients:; Datum: maandag 3 januari 2000 19:26 Onderwerp:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4, 2000
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      Van: jeff@... <jeff@...>
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      Datum: maandag 3 januari 2000 19:26
      Onderwerp: SpaceViews -- 2000 January 3 -- the online publication of space

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      | S P A C E V I E W S
      | Issue 2000.01
      | 2000 January 3
      | http://www.spaceviews.com/2000/0103/
      |*** News ***
      | Shuttle Completes Hubble Repair
      | Few Space-Related Y2K Bugs Reported
      | Polar Lander Search to Continue into January
      | Russia Launches Two Military Satellites
      | Mir's Fate in 2000 Remains Uncertain
      | Proton Launches Planned for February
      | Rokot Booster Damaged in Accident
      | Terra Spacecraft Overcomes Early Anomalies
      | Off-Center Dust Disks May Reveal Planets
      | SpaceViews Event Horizon
      | Other News
      |*** CyberSpace ***
      | Cyber Sci-Fi Network
      | Aerospace Database
      | Space Station
      | Think Mars
      |*** Letters ***
      | Who's to Blame?
      |Editor's Note: With the new year we are modifying -- slightly --
      |our publishing schedule. Rather than publish four times a month,
      |on the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd of each month, we will publish
      |weekly, on Mondays, starting with this issue. (This schedule will
      |be subject to minor changes to take into account holidays and
      |other schedule conflicts.) This will give us a more standardized
      |schedule for publishing each issue, and give you each issue on a
      |more regular and frequent (up to 52 issues a year, versus the 48
      |in 1999) basis. As always, please send any questions, comments,
      |or suggestions about SpaceViews to me at jeff@....
      |Happy New Year,
      |Jeff Foust
      |Editor, SpaceViews
      | *** News ***
      | Shuttle Completes Hubble Repair
      | Shuttle astronauts completed repairs to the Hubble Space
      |Telescope during a trio of extended spacewalks late last month,
      |allowing NASA to end 1999 on a positive note.
      | During the three spacewalks, which each lasted more than eight
      |hours, four astronauts replaced critical components on the orbiting
      |observatory which should allow it to return to service within a couple
      | The first and most critical spacewalk took place December 22,
      |when Steve Smith and John Grunsfeld replaced six gyros on Hubble. The
      |failure of four of the six old gyros on the telescope forced it into a
      |protective safe mode in mid-November that ended scientific use of the
      | Smith and Grunsfeld replaced the three Rate Sensor Units,
      |which each contain two gyros, with new models during their eight hour,
      |15 minute spacewalk. The astronauts also installed
      |"Voltage/Temperature Improvement Kits" on wiring between Hubble's
      |solar arrays and its six batteries. The kits are designed to improve
      |the charging of the batteries.
      | On Thursday, December 23, astronauts Michael Foale and Claude
      |Nicollier performed "brain surgery" on Hubble, replacing its outdated
      |computer with a new model. While the new computer is based on a 80486
      |chip -- antiquated by terrestrial standards -- it is 20 times faster
      |than the old one, with six times the memory.
      | "You have to keep in mind that we don't run Windows, we don't
      |have disks, we don't do Internet," Hubble project manager John
      |Campbell said.
      | Foale and Nicollier also replaced one of Hubble's three Fine
      |Guidance Sensors (FGS), used to precisely point the telescope for
      |scientific observations, during their eight hour, ten minute
      |spacewalk. The unit installed Thursday had previously been on Hubble,
      |but was returned to Earth during the last servicing mission in 1997
      |for refurbishment.
      | Smith and Grunsfeld returned to Hubble the following day,
      |Christmas Eve, for the final spacewalk of the mission. They installed
      |a new S-band transmitter and replaced an old reel-to-reel data
      |recorder with a new solid-state model. They closed out the eight
      |hour, eight minute spacewalk by replacing insulation on two equipment
      |bay doors on Hubble.
      | With all the planned repairs successfully completed, Hubble
      |was returned to its own orbit on Christmas Day when shuttle astronaut
      |Jean-Francois Clervoy released the telescope from the grip of the
      |shuttle's robot arm.
      | "What a great Christmas present," Mission Control announced as
      |the shuttle pulled away from Hubble. "It's just what we wanted."
      | "The HST is now orbiting freely once again and is in fantastic
      |shape," said Campbell. "The Hubble team is very grateful to the
      |Discovery crew, to the launch and flight teams and to all those who
      |made this mission so successful."
      | The three spacewalks were the second, third, and fourth
      |longest in shuttle history, and combined consumed 24 hours and 33
      |minutes. Astronauts attributed the length of the spacewalks to a
      |number of minor glitches that the astronauts had to overcome during
      |the spacewalks, ranging from bolts that were difficult to loosen to
      |components that initially didn't fit properly.
      | "We weren't surprised by any of" the glitches, Smith said in a
      |December 26 Reuters interview. "We were just surprised by so many of
      |them. In my recollection, that's the most anomalies that's ever come
      | With their mission complete, the crew of mission STS-103
      |returned to Earth December 27 with a landing at the Kennedy Space
      |Center at 7:01 pm EST (0001 UT December 28.) The landing was delayed
      |by one orbit when crosswinds at KSC were just above safety limits.
      | No problems were reported with the shuttle after landing other
      |than the discovery of a missing tile, which apparently came off after
      |reentry but before landing. Shuttle systems were shut down as planned
      |prior to January 1, to avoid any Y2K-related glitches.
      | Engineers plan to test Hubble and its new systems for an
      |additional one to two weeks, before turning the observatory back over
      |to astronomers by the middle of January.
      | NASA will now turn its attention to the next shuttle mission,
      |STS-99, the flight of Endeavour on a radar mapping mission. Launch of
      |Endeavour is currently planned for late January.
      | Few Space-Related Y2K Bugs Reported
      | NASA and other space agencies and companies reported few
      |problems with their computer systems during the transition to the year
      |2000, although one of the most significant Y2K bugs of any kind
      |reported worldwide involved the failure of a ground station supporting
      |an American military satellite.
      | The Washington Post reported Saturday, January 1 that a
      |computer problem brought down a ground station used to receive data
      |from a Defense Department satellite, disrupting the system for a few
      | "For a short period we were not able to process the
      |information the satellites were sending us," Deputy Defense Secretary
      |John Hamre told the Post. Hamre did not identify the satellite system
      |in question other than to say it was not an early warning missile
      |launch detection system. A backup system was used for a few hours
      |until technicians were able to correct the problem.
      | The glitch was one of the few reported worldwide involving
      |computer systems, confounding predictions of massive computer failure
      |as software, originally designed to use the last two digits of the
      |year, misinterpreted "2000" as "1900".
      | The Post called the Defense Department satellite problem the
      |most significant among the handful of Y2K-related problems reported in
      |the United States by Saturday afternoon.
      | CNN also reported that France encountered some minor Y2K
      |problems with the ground stations used for its Syracuse II series of
      |military communications satellites. The glitch, which affected the
      |stations' automated fault protection software, had no operational
      |impact, French officials said.
      | NASA computer systems, on the other hand, reported few
      |problems of any kind. The only Y2K-related anomaly reported by NASA
      |was a minor problem with an unspecified piece of planning software.
      |That software was not mission-critical, NASA said. A few other
      |anomalies were reported during the rollover, but none of those
      |appeared to be related to Y2K.
      | NASA monitored the Y2K rollover starting early in the morning
      |of December 31, Eastern U.S. time, as tracking stations in Antarctica,
      |Guam, and Australia were the first to enter the new year. No problems
      |were reported at these or other tracking stations.
      | No problems were reported at 4 pm EST (2100 UT) December 31,
      |when the International Space Station control center in Moscow made the
      |transition without any problems.
      | The third, and perhaps most critical, milestone was three
      |hours later, when the year 2000 arrived at Greenwich Mean Time (also
      |known as Universal Time, UT). UT is used as the standard clock for
      |many NASA systems and spacecraft, as well as a computer at NASA's Ames
      |Research Center that is the agency's Internet name server. All those
      |systems made the transition successfully.
      | By midnight Eastern time (0500 UT), NASA's Goddard Space
      |Flight Center had made successful previously-scheduled contacts with
      |11 spacecraft, including the Hubble Space Telescope, Landsat 7, and
      |the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory. Other spacecraft, not scheduled for
      |communications at the time of the Y2K transition, will be contacted
      |over the next few days.
      | Commercial satellite companies, such as Intelsat and PanAmSat,
      |also reported no Y2K glitches. "All satellite operations continue to
      |function normally," said PanAmSat spokesman Dan Marcus early Saturday,
      |January 1. "We have encountered no technical issues."
      | NASA's good news about Y2K transition echo reports from around
      |the world, with few major problems related to Y2K reported. Systems
      |ranging from missile tracking networks to electrical power grids made
      |the transition with none of the major problems predicted by some.
      | Polar Lander Search to Continue into January
      | NASA plans to continue the search for the Mars Polar Lander
      |(MPL) spacecraft into January, despite the remote chance of recovery,
      |project officials reported late last month.
      | The MPL project team plans to continue to search for a signal
      |from the spacecraft until mid-January, at which time they will have
      |"exhausted all possible recovery modes," a JPL statement said. Any
      |possibility of recover is considered remote, the team believes.
      | While the project continues to search for a signal from the
      |spacecraft, the Mars Global Surveyor continues to take images of the
      |projected landing site near the south pole of Mars, looking for any
      |evidence of the lander.
      | While the spacecraft itself is too small to be resolved by
      |MGS's camera at even its highest resolution, other parts of the
      |spacecraft, such as the parachute used to slow the spacecraft down
      |during landing, would be large enough to show up as a few light pixels
      |on images of the dark landscape.
      | Those images will be used by investigators to help determine
      |the likely cause or causes of the mission's failure. Last week JPL
      |appointed a 12-member internal panel, headed by veteran spacecraft
      |manager John Casani, to investigate the mission.
      | The board will be charged with determining the "root cause" of
      |the loss of MPL and the two Deep Space Two microprobes, and decide
      |what steps should be taken to prevent similar failures from occurring
      |in the future.
      | Certain to come under scrutiny by the panel is the role
      |Lockheed Martin played as the builder of MPL. In an article published
      |in the Sunday, December 26 issue of the Los Angeles Times, company
      |executives said that cost and schedule constraints kept them from
      |completing all the tests they had planned for the spacecraft.
      | Among the spacecraft components not thoroughly tested by
      |Lockheed Martin engineers was the spacecraft's descent engine,
      |designed to slow the spacecraft during the final seconds before
      | "We did what we thought was good enough," Edward A. Euler,
      |director of Lockheed Martin's Mars program, told the Times. Given
      |more time and money, though, he added that "we would have put it to
      |more testing. I am worried that we may have gotten fooled."
      | JPL's report is due by March 3. Its findings will also be
      |given to an independent panel appointed by NASA headquarters earlier
      |in the month to look into NASA's overall Mars exploration program.
      | Russia Launches Two Military Satellites
      | Russia closed out 1999 with a pair of launches of military
      |satellites during the last week of December.
      | A Ukrainian-built Tsyklon-2 lifted off Sunday, December 26
      |from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to the Itar-TASS
      |press agency. No exact time of launch was given, but news reports
      |indicated that the launch was a success.
      | The launch was planned for several days earlier, but was
      |postponed by weather and technical problems. The payload was only
      |reported to be a military satellite, Kosmos 2367. Outside experts
      |believe the satellite is a new EORSAT naval reconnaissance satellite,
      |designed to locate and track naval fleets by monitoring radio, radar,
      |and other electromagnetic emissions.
      | A four-stage Molniya-M booster lifted off at 2:12 pm EST (1912
      |UT) December 28 from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia.
      |Russian officials identified the satellite only as Kosmos 2368.
      | The satellite is believed to be a reconnaissance satellite of
      |the Oko class, designed to provide early warning of missile launches.
      |Such satellites have been launched in the past by Molniya boosters
      |from Plesetsk and placed into highly elliptical orbits with perigees
      |of less than 1,000 km (620 mi.) and apogees of nearly 40,000 km (24,
      |800 mi.)
      | Space News reported in its December 20 issue that the Oko
      |satellite launch would help fill a critical gap in Russian
      |surveillance of American missile sites. Starting in 1997 a lack of
      |functioning satellites meant that there were gaps of as long as seven
      |hours a day in Russia's coverage of American sites.
      | A Zenit-2 booster was also planned to launch a Tselina signals
      |intelligence satellite in late December. Space News reported that
      |this launch was planned for December 20 to 23, but there has been no
      |news about this launch, just as there was no advance word about the
      |Tsyklon or Molniya launches.
      | Mir's Fate in 2000 Remains Uncertain
      | The fate of the dormant Russian space station Mir in the year
      |2000 remains uncertain as corporations and the Russian government
      |debate whether to deorbit or restore the station.
      | That uncertainty may be exacerbated by the surprise
      |resignation Friday of Russian president Boris Yeltsin, who will be
      |replaced on an interim basis by prime minister Vladimir Putin until
      |elections are held in early 2000.
      | Two plans have been reportedly drawn up for Mir in the year
      |2000. One plan, endorsed by the Russian Aviation and Space Agency
      |(formerly the Russian Space Agency and known by its Russian acronym
      |RAKA), would deorbit the station at the end of June.
      | The RAKA plan would include one final manned mission to Mir, a
      |two-month stay by Russian cosmonauts starting in late April and ending
      |just before the station is deorbited over the Pacific Ocean. Two
      |unmanned Progress cargo spacecraft would also be launched in January
      |and May to help deorbit the station.
      | A second plan, endorsed by Energia, the company that operates
      |Mir for RAKA, would keep the station in orbit throughout the year
      |2000. This plan would also include sending a crew to Mir in late
      |April, but in this case the crew would remain on Mir for six months
      |until relieved by a second crew launched in October. Four Progress
      |cargo spacecraft would be launched to Mir during the year, although in
      |this plan none would be used to deorbit the station.
      | Money, or the lack thereof, is likely to be the deciding
      |factor. RAKA officials have argued that the agency needs to deorbit
      |the station as soon as possible to concentrate its limited resources
      |on the International Space Station and satellite launches.
      | The Russian legislature, the Duma, appropriated 4.8 billion
      |rubles (US$175 million) for RAKA for the coming year. However, the
      |Duma specifically instructed the agency to spend nearly a third of it
      |-- 1.5 billion rubles (US$54.5 million) -- to keep Mir operational.
      |RAKA officials have countered that it needs every ruble of its budget
      |for other projects.
      | Energia has been actively seeking Western investors who could
      |provide the money to keep Mir in orbit without the need of government
      |funding. The company is reportedly studying attaching a tether
      |designed by an American company to the station to keep the station in
      |orbit without the need of conventional reboost techniques.
      | A wild card in all of these plans will be the Russian
      |presidential election in early 2000. That election was triggered by
      |the surprise resignation December 31 of Boris Yeltsin, who had been
      |president of Russia since 1991.
      | Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will serve as the interim
      |president in Yeltsin's place until a presidential election is held by
      |the end of March. Putin, who has been popular with the Russian people
      |since becoming prime minister in August, would be the leading
      |candidate in that election.
      | Putin's handling of the renewed war with rebels in the
      |breakaway republic of Chechnya has tapped into a vein of nationalism
      |in Russia and boosted his popularity, leading some to speculate that
      |Putin may be more open to proposals to keep Mir in orbit than recent
      |Russian leaders.
      | Proton Launches Planned for February
      | With an inspection into two failures in the last four launches
      |nearly complete, Russia will return the Proton booster to service by
      |mid-February, International Launch Services reported in late December.
      | The company, which markets the Proton booster to Western
      |markets, said that a final report into the cause of the October 27
      |Proton accident, the second in less than four months, should be
      |released before Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7.
      | The company did not discuss what the cause of the October
      |accident was, but earlier reports said it appeared to be similar to
      |the July 5 accident. That failure was blamed on a faulty weld in a
      |turbopump, which caused an explosion that destroyed the second stage
      |of the booster, causing it and its payload to crash to earth in
      | New second-stage engines for the Proton are currently being
      |tested, and should be ready by the end of the year, ILS said in a
      | That would clear the way for returning the Proton to service
      |with a launch tentatively planned for mid-February. A Russian
      |government payload should be ready for launch at that time, ILS said,
      |although it was not clear whether that would launch before or after a
      |commercial payload, the ACeS Garuda-1 communications satellite.
      | When the Proton returned to service in September after the
      |July accident, it was first used to launch a pair of domestic
      |communications satellites before launching a Western communications
      |satellite later in the month.
      | Not mentioned in the ILS statement is the status of arguably
      |the Proton's most important payload in recent times, the Zvezda
      |service module for the International Space Station. That launch was
      |previously scheduled for late December to early January when the
      |Proton was grounded after the October accident.
      | Russian officials have previously said Zvezda would not launch
      |before mid-February, although they claimed it was delays on the
      |American side, and not problems with the Proton, that forced the
      |delay. However, with government and commercial payloads being planned
      |for launch in February, it appears unlikely that Zvezda would launch
      |before March.
      | Rokot Booster Damaged in Accident
      | A Russian booster undergoing preparations for a January launch
      |was damaged earlier this month, Russian sources reported.
      | A Rokot booster, a modified version of an SS-19 ICBM, was
      |being prepped for a late January launch of a Russian military
      |satellite from Plesetsk when pyrotechnic charges designed to separate
      |the three stages of the booster accidentally fired.
      | The explosive charges reportedly caused the nose cone, the
      |Briz-K upper stage, and its satellite payload to fall from the
      |booster. The extent of the damage to the rocket and satellite were
      |not reported.
      | The Russian aerospace company Khrunichev blamed the accident
      |on the failure of a "countdown graph" during launch preparations
      |December 22, according to the Interfax news agency, although other
      |sources said the incident took place two days later. Khrunichev plans
      |to examine the booster and satellite and determine if they can be
      | The Rokot booster has been flown three times: two test flights
      |in December 1990 and 1991, and an amateur radio satellite launch in
      |December 1994. All three launches had been from silos at Baikonur;
      |the Plesetsk Rokot launch would have been the first from an above-
      |ground pad.
      | Khrunichev had entered a joint partnership with
      |DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa) called Eurockot to market the Rokot
      |to Western markets. Although the booster has a small capacity -- 1,
      |900 kg (4,180 lbs.) to low-Earth orbit -- Eurockot has contracts with
      |Iridium, DBSI, and Leo One to launch communications satellites.
      | Eurockot had planned the first commercial Rokot launch in
      |early 2000 from Plesetsk. However, both the recent Rokot problems and
      |the fact that the first commercial launch is for financially-troubled
      |Iridium may delay the launch.
      | Terra Spacecraft Overcomes Early Anomalies
      | NASA managers are confident that engineers have resolved two
      |early problems with the Terra Earth-observing spacecraft launched in
      | Checkout of the new spacecraft has been hindered by two
      |problems which cropped up within days of its December 18 launch: a
      |glitch that caused the spacecraft's high-gain antenna to stop
      |tracking, and a computer problem that put the spacecraft into a
      |protective "safe-hold" December 21.
      | The antenna tracking problem was first noticed within hours of
      |launch. Engineers first assumed it was a transient, one-time
      |phenomenon, especially when other tests showed no mechanical problems
      |with the antenna. However, the tracking problem has been noticed
      |several times since then.
      | Each time the antenna stopped tracking, the spacecraft was
      |passing through the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA), the area of the
      |inner Van Allen radiation belt closest to the Earth, centered over the
      |South Atlantic Ocean. Engineers believe that high-energy particles in
      |the SAA triggered computer upsets that stopped the high-gain antenna
      |from properly tracking.
      | "An interesting feature of this behavior so far is that the
      |resets only occur during the nighttime or ascending passes through the
      |South Atlantic Anomaly," noted Terra project manager Kevin Grady.
      |Project officials will meet with space scientists to better understand
      |why this is the case.
      | In the meantime, Terra's computers will be reprogrammed so
      |that the high-gain antenna systems will be automatically restarted in
      |the event of future glitches, allowing the antenna to resume tracking
      |of the TDRSS communications satellites without human intervention.
      | Engineers have also found the solution to a problem with
      |navigation software that caused control of the spacecraft to be handed
      |over to a separate safe-hold processor on December 21.
      | "The time [of the failure] was within one minute of the time
      |in which the winter solstice occurred," said Grady. That gave
      |engineers a clue of what went wrong: the unique position of the Sun at
      |that time, couple with the method used to handle mathematical
      |computations on Terra, led to a simple math error.
      | The error was triggered when the navigation software attempted
      |to take the arcsine of a number slightly less than -1. The arcsine
      |function is valid for numbers only between -1 and 1, so attempting to
      |take the arcsine of a number out of this range would lead to an error.
      | Since a similar problem could also occur at the time of the
      |summer solstice, a software patch will be installed on the spacecraft
      |to fix the problem. "A simple flight software fix has been developed
      |and tested, and will be loaded after the New Year," Grady said. At
      |that point the navigation computer will take over again.
      | The resolved problems will allow the Terra project team to
      |complete the checkout of the spacecraft over the next several weeks
      |and start turning on the spacecraft's instruments by late January.
      |"Science data is just around the corner," promised Grady.
      | Terra, formerly known as EOS AM-1, is the first in a series of
      |ten spacecraft to be launched in the next decade to study the Earth
      |and its environment from orbit as part of NASA's Earth Observing
      |System. Terra carries five instruments that will study various aspects
      |of the Earth's land and water masses and its atmosphere.
      | Off-Center Dust Disks May Reveal Planets
      | Dust disks that are not centered around their stars may be
      |evidence of planets orbiting those stars, Florida astronomers reported
      |last week.
      | In a paper published in the December 20 issue of the
      |Astrophysical Journal, the astronomers say that off-center dust disks
      |may reveal the presence of Earth-like planets, an improvement on
      |current techniques.
      | The most commonly used method of finding extrasolar planets is
      |the "radial velocity" method. Astronomers take spectra of stars and
      |look for periodic variations in the location of the star's spectral
      |lines. These shifts are caused by a wobble in the star created by the
      |motion of an orbiting planet.
      | While astronomers have enjoyed some success with the radial
      |velocity method, with over two dozen planet discoveries since 1995,
      |there are limitations to the technique.
      | "If the planet is too small, then the wobble may not be large
      |enough to be detectable," said Mark Wyatt of the University of
      |Florida. "If a planet is a long way away, then the period of wobble
      |may be too long to detect."
      | Wyatt and colleagues at Florida proposed an alternative method
      |in their recent paper, based on observations of the star HR 4796A.
      |Astronomers discovered a dust disk around the star, but found that one
      |side of the disk was brighter than the other.
      | The Florida astronomers believe this difference is caused by
      |the donut-like disk being offset from the star, so that once side of
      |it is closer to the star than the other. "Because the center of the
      |donut is offset, one side is closer to the star, so that side is
      |hotter and brighter," Wyatt said.
      | This technique is far more sensitive that the radial velocity
      |method, capable of detecting planets as small as ten Earth masses, and
      |at distances of dozens of astronomical units (AU) from the star. The
      |putative planet around HR 4796A is believed to be 50 AU from the star,
      |farther than Pluto is from the Sun.
      | However, the Florida team is not yet convinced such a planet
      |orbits the star. HR 4796 is a binary star system, and the second star
      |may contribute to the offset nature of the disk, Florida astronomers
      |note. Further observations are planned to pin down the size and
      |location of any planet orbiting the star.
      | SpaceViews Event Horizon
      |January 3 Galileo flyby of Europa
      |January 4 Peak of the Quadrantids meteor shower
      |January 14 Orbital Sciences Corportation Minotaur launch of the
      | JAWSAT multi-satellite payload from Vandenebrg Air
      | Force Base, California, at 9:54 pm EST
      | (0254 UT Jan. 15).
      |January 21 Atlas 2A launch of a military communications satellite
      | from Cape Canaveral, Florida
      |January 24 Ariane 4 launch of the Galaxy XR communications
      | satellite from Kourou, French Guiana
      | Other News
      |X-33 Engine Test: The linear aerospike engine designed for the X-33
      |passed its first full-power test December 18, NASA reported. The
      |Rocketdyne XRS-2200 engine was throttled up to full power during the
      |18-second test at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. A post-
      |firing inspection showed only minor damage to the engine that was
      |within expectations. Further full-power tests of the engine are
      |planned before two of the engines are installed on the X-33, a
      |suborbital vehicle designed to test new technologies for future
      |reusable launch vehicles.
      |Sun Quietly Celebrates Y2K: Despite predictions and fears to the
      |contrary, the Sun entered the new year quietly. Scientists reported
      |only mild sunspot and storm activity on the Sun, a far cry from rumors
      |circulating on the Internet and elsewhere that a massive solar storm
      |would erupt January 1. The rumors do contain a grain of truth, as
      |2000 should see the peak of the Sun's 11-year cycle of activity, but
      |predicting the exact date and intensity of that peak is virtually
      |impossible. "I still have confidence in the techniques that say the
      |cycle ought to peak in the middle of [2000], although it may be in
      |2001," NASA scientist David Hathaway said last month. "It looks like
      |this cycle, while bigger than usual, is certainly no record setter. In
      |fact, it keeps looking wimpier than expected."
      |Second X-34 Reaches Milestone: The assembly of the second of three X-
      |34 vehicles reached a critical milestone last month when the
      |spacecraft's wing was attached to its fuselage, NASA said. While the
      |wing attachment is a key development in the construction of the
      |vehicle, designated A-2, it is only temporary. After the A-2 is fully
      |assembled, the wing will be removed and shipped to NASA's Dryden
      |Flight Research Center in California. The fuselage will go to Holloman
      |Air Force Base in New Mexico to be integrated with the Fastrac engine
      |that will power the vehicle. The fuselage and engine will then be
      |shipped to Dryden for the first powered flights of the X-34 in the
      |middle of the year. Unpowered drop tests using a modified version of
      |the first X-34, the A-1A, are planned for this spring at White Sands,
      |New Mexico.
      |Orbital Wins (Potentially) Big Contract: Orbital Science
      |Corporation's stock price soared more than 20 percent when the company
      |announced December 28 that it had won a contract worth as much as $1.5
      |billion to provide spacecraft buses to NASA for future spacecraft
      |missions. However, the emphasis should be on "as much as": Orbital
      |was one of six companies selected for NASA's Rapid II Spacecraft
      |Acquisition program, which gives spacecraft designers a catalog of
      |pre-selected spacecraft components they can choose from, shortening
      |development costs of missions. For Orbital to see any money, they
      |need to have their components picked by designers of future missions,
      |such as GLAST gamma-ray telescope, the Constellation X array of X-ray
      |telescopes, and the Magnetospheric Multi-Scale (MMS) mission.
      |Briefly: There is a one-in-ten chance that the International Space
      |station will lose a crew member to a serious illness or death,
      |according to a study by the Futron Corporation published in the
      |December 25 issue of New Scientist magazine. The study also concludes
      |there is a five to ten percent chance of a catastrophe destroying the
      |station over a 15-year period, with a micrometeorite impact the most
      |likely cause... President Bill Clinton said in a recent interview he
      |is "real interested" in traveling into space himself. Clinton told
      |"60 Minutes II" interviewer Charlie Rose that he believes that by 2050
      |there will be "large, permanent platforms sustaining life in outer
      |space" that will be waystations for journeys to "distant planets and
      |maybe even beyond." When asked if he himself was interested in going
      |into space, Clinton responded that he might. "I'm real interested in
      |it. I like it a lot. I think it's important," he said. One wonders
      |how many Republicans are raising money to send Clinton on such a trip
      |-- one way, of course...
      | *** CyberSpace ***
      | Cyber Sci-Fi Network
      | Science fiction shows are nothing new, of course, an efforts
      |to broadcast shows over the Internet have been made for several years
      |as well. However, the Cyber Sci-Fi Network combines the two,
      |particularly with "Mars and Beyond", an upcoming show starring Majel
      |Barrett Roddenberry that depicts a human mission to Mars in 2014.
      |While the show hasn't started yet, you can check trailers previewing
      |the show, learn more about it, and sign up for updates at the site.
      | Aerospace Database
      | This site, operated by Andrews Space & Technology and
      |associated with the SpaceDaily online publication, offers a
      |comprehensive database of launch vehicles and satellites. The site
      |includes comprehensive technical information about launch vehicles,
      |rocket engines, satellite buses, and constellations of satellites. A
      |useful resource for anyone interested in indepth technical
      | Space Station
      | The two-part PBS show "Space Station", which aired last month,
      |claims to offer "a rare inside view of the next frontier in space
      |exploration." The companion Web site to the show offers the usual set
      |of information about the International Space Station and the show, as
      |well as some interesting special features, including a quiz and free
      |space station "wallpaper" for your computer screen. Also on the site
      |are "Web Markers", or links to related sites referred to during the
      |show itself.
      | Think Mars
      | While the world's attention focused recently on the Mars Polar
      |Lander mission, some wonder when human missions to Mars can take
      |place. Those who do should check out the Think Mars Web site. Think
      |Mars started as an entry by MIT and Harvard students in a NASA-
      |sponsored competition to develop a business plan for human Mars
      |missions, but has grown into a real effort to promote human
      |exploration of Mars by "overcoming the financial, managerial and
      |political barriers that currently exist." Check out their Web site
      |for more information about Mars exploration in general and their
      |efforts in particular, and how you can get involved, including signing
      |a petition calling for human exploration of the Red Planet.
      | *** Letters ***
      | Letters to the Editor: Who's to Blame?
      |[Editor's Note: Letters can be sent to letters@....]
      | I had to comment about the letter printed in the December 22
      |issue of SpaceViews from Jim Rohrich concerning the policy of Faster,
      |Better, Cheaper. I highly disagree that Goldin is the cause of the
      |"Faster, Better, Cheaper" (FBC) failure and also of the cost overruns
      |and other problems associated with ISS. First, remember that Goldin
      |pointed out at the beginning of FBC that there would be failures along
      |the way as we pushed the envelope, but with FBC the loss would be
      |tolerable and we should learn from our mistakes. We could then
      |quickly move on to the next mission. Now that his warning has come to
      |pass, everyone is up in arms saying that we can't tolerate a single
      |failure. I definitely agree that the loss of MCO/MPL/DS2 was
      |preventable, but what caused those failures was squeezing the budget
      |and eliminating personnel. This goes directly to Congress, not to
      |Goldin. What he has done is provide us with some hope of exploration
      |through FBC in a Washington budget environment that would have all but
      |eliminated regular missions. As for ISS, its problems began many
      |years before Goldin became Administrator and can again be attributed
      |to numerous congressionally-demanded redesigns and redefinitions of
      |its purpose. Mr. Rohrich mentioned Goldin putting the Russians into a
      |position of importance on ISS and he has forgotten that this edict
      |came directly from the White House and was a condition mandated to
      |keep ISS from being cancelled. I don't agree with all of Goldin's
      |decisions and methods, but he has kept NASA alive when many in
      |politics wanted the agency scrapped.
      |Larry Evans
      | This has been the January 3, 2000, issue of SpaceViews.
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