Archived Spaceflight News Items, 1972 - 2000

This page contains archived spaceflight news articles by Charles Radley, John Deans, Simon Harvey, Paul Burt, Michael Haxell, Roy Adams, N Spooner and Wayne Brieske taken from OASI Newsletters. The articles are ordered by the date in which they appeared in the Newsletter.

February 1972

Apollo 16

Apollo 16 was originally scheduled to launch in March 1972. However, NASA postponed the launch until the next launch window on 16 April 1972. The postponement is to enable modification of the Lunar Module's batteries, modification of the spacecraft docking collar jettison mechanism (which is thought to be faulty), modification of the Lunar Module Pilot's space suit and to allow the Lunar Module Pilot to recover from an illness. The crew for the mission are: Charles Duke (Lunar Module Pilot), Thomas "Ken" Mattingay (Command Module Pilot) and John Young (Commander).

NASA has selected a landing site in the mountainous highland region North of the crater Descartes at selenographic latitude 9 East, longitude 16 South. Near the landing site of Apollo 16 are two young craters about 0.8 km across where the astronauts will acquire documented samples. The craters support two distinct primary sampling objectives which are expected to provide material to fill in gaps in current models of the lunar surface. The first sampling objective is material of volcanic appearance which floods many of the old highland craters; geological evidence indicates that this material is older than that at the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 landing sites, but younger than the samples of ejecta from Mare Imbrium returned by Apollo 14. Studies of material from Apollo 16, when combined with samples from Apollo 15 taken from Hadley Apennine will help to develop theories of lunar evolution more fully. The second sampling objective is material from a hilly, grooved and furrowed area thought to be volcanic and of similar age but different composition to the material filling the highlands basins. This uplands volcanic terrain may yield data on interior composition of highlands material.

Young and Duke will use Lunar Roving Vehicle 2 (LRV-2) to explore the landing site. They will deploy the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), containing an active seismic experiment, a far ultra-violet camera / spectroscope, a comic-ray detector, a portable magnetometer and other instruments. The Command Module will also carry orbital sensors to study the lunar environment, including cameras, geo-chemical indicators, etc.

Apollo 16 will largely follow the lines of Apollo 15. The latter was the first fully operational Apollo, using the up-rated version of the Saturn 5 rocket, up-rated version of the Lunar Module and LRV, and a Scientific Instruments Bay (Sim-bay) in the Service Module. Apollo J is the name for these up-rated Apollos. Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 (due to be launched in December 1972 or January 1973) will also be Apollo J missions.

Grand Tour Cancelled

NASA hoped to launch a probe called the Grand Tour in 1977, followed by a second Grand Tour in 1979. Grand Tour 1 would have travelled via Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto. Grand Tour 2 would have travelled via Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. However, for financial reasons, NASA has cancelled this exciting project. The next opportunity to use gravity assist from the planets for this long journey will not occur for another 180 years. It is therefore unfortunate that NASA has cancelled Grand Tour; however it is likely that the USSR will try to launch a Grand Tour probe.

By way of compromise, NASA will launch a single probe in 1977 to fly past only Jupiter and Saturn, but this will not obtain badly needed information on Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (about which we know little compared with the rest of the solar system).

Although Grand Tour will be cancelled, preparations are still going on for the launch of the first probe to Jupiter, Pioneer F. Launch date for Pioneer F is set for 27 February 1972. Pioneer G will be launched towards Jupiter in March 1973.

Probes To Mars

In November 1971, the USSR landed two capsules on Mars. In the same year, the USA placed its orbiting probe, Mariner 9, into orbit around the planet and the USSR placed a further two spacecraft into orbit around the planet. As of February 1972, the three orbiters are still functioning and providing a great deal of data.

March 1972

Pioneer-F To Jupiter

NASA has scheduled the launch of Pioneer-F to Jupiter for 27 February 1972. Pioneer-F weighs 560 pounds. NASA intends to launch a twin probe, Pioneer-G, towards Jupiter in March 1973. The Pioneers are also known as Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11. Both Pioneers are equipped with the following scientific instruments:

  1. A device for detecting and counting meteoritic material by recording punctures made by particles weighing more than 10-9grams.

  2. A device for detecting and counting larger meteoritic material by examining the sunlight which it reflects.

  3. Analysis of the composition of the solar wind.

  4. Measurements of interplanetary magnetic fields.

  5. Counting charged particles.

  6. Counting cosmic rays.

  7. Measuring the intensity of particles in Jupiter's magnetic field.

  8. An ultraviolet photometer.

  9. An infrared radiometer to analyse Jupiter's atmosphere and to record temperatures on Jupiter's cloud tops.

  10. Finally, a novel device, an imaging photopolarimeter, will photograph the disk of the planet. This instrument consists of a telescope of one inch aperture (25mm) that will sweep out a cone as the spacecraft spins slowly at about five revolutions per minute. The light entering the telescope will be split to produce separate red and blue images. The image will be obtained in the form of scan lines (as in television) along the viewing cone and will provide an image of the raster type with a resolution of 200 kilometres.

The total weight of the 11 scientific instruments is 61.5 pounds and none draws more than 4.2 watts. The Pioneers will return digital data to Earth at the rate of 1kb/s. NASA will use three dish antennae of 210 feet diameter at Goldstone, California, in Spain and in Parkes, Australia to receive the data. The spacecraft transmitter has a power of only eight watts. The power for operating the transmitter and other instruments will come from two thermoelectric generators (the probe will be too far from the Sun to use solar cells) each capable of supplying 40 watts at the start of the mission and 30 watts after five years. The spacecraft have to reach a speed of 32,000 mph to reach Jupiter, to do this an Atlas-Centaur rocket with an added solid fuel third stage is being used. This is the fastest velocity yet achieved by spacecraft and will allow Pioneers F and G ultimately to leave the solar system and head out into interstellar space.

Pioneers F and G will take about two years to reach Jupiter. En route, they will spend more than six months passing through the asteroid belt, and should return much valuable information on the asteroids. Once in the vicinity of Jupiter they should transmit much interesting and valuable information about the giant planet and some of its 12 moons. The spacecraft will pass within 100,000 miles of Jupiter's surface and will examine the planet for about a fortnight. 

We know something of Jupiter's external appearance and of its gaseous atmosphere but there is still tremendous mystery about atmospheric phenomena such as the Great Red Spot, the tremendous radio noise storms, the question whether the planet has any surface at all and why it sends out more energy than it receives from the Sun. The Pioneers should throw light on these matters.

First Lunar Astronomy Observatory

Apollo 16 will set up and operate on the Moon a telescope-camera system to obtain ultraviolet and radiation data on Earth's upper atmosphere, aurorae, the solar corona and interplanetary, interstellar and intergalactic hydrogen, the solar wind, nebulae, galactic clusters, the lunar atmosphere and, possibly, lunar volcanic gases.

The observation programme allows for extensive observations to be made by the tripod-mounted telescope camera (to be deployed in the shadow of the Lunar Module) of the M31 Galaxy in Andromeda, the Magellanic Clouds and the Coma cluster of galaxies. Astronauts Young and Duke will re-align the camera several times during each lunar surface exploration period by means of elevation and azimuth and activate the automatic exposure sequencer.

Before entering the Lunar Module for the last time, the astronauts will remove the exposed film for return to Earth; the telescope itself will remain on the Moon. The experiment is expected to add to understanding of Earth's magnetic field, measure the density of interstellar and interplanetary hydrogen and provide evidence of intergalactic hydrogen and provide information on the feasibility of remote-controlled, unmanned, lunar surface astronomical observatories.

Project Moonglow And Apollo 16

There are three main types of TLP (Transient Lunar Phenomenon).

  1. Very brief, brilliant white flashes.

  2. Obscuration of lunar detail covering several square kilometres, lasting from a few minutes to several hours, perhaps due to dust or gas clouds, normally colourless.

  3. Red or occasionally blue glows lasting from several minutes to, more rarely, several hours, covering several square kilometres. This is the type of TLP on which most attention has been concentrated recently.

Type 3 TLPs can be easily detected by using contrasting colour filters, e.g. red/green for red type 3 phenomena and blue/yellow for blue type 3 phenomena.

The S-IVB 3rd stage of Apollo16's Saturn 5 rocket should hit the Moon, with a force equivalent to 11 tons of TNT, about half an hour after Apollo 16 enters lunar orbit. Once the astronauts have finished with the Lunar Module, they will also send it to crash onto the Moon. We hope that members of OASI will attempt to observe the impact of S-IVB and the Lunar Module on the Moon to determine whether they cause TLPs. Observations are required not only of the impact sites but also of any known, nearby TLP-prone areas from a few minutes before to a few hours after each impact. Times of impact will be publicised later.

Russian Moonprobes

Russia has recently launched several lunar probes to the Moon. 

Luna 16 landed on a lunar plain at latitude 0 41' S, longitude 56 18' E in Mare Fecunditatis and returned a sample of moonrock.

Luna 17 landed in Mare Imbrium in November 1970 and unloaded Lunokhod 1, an unmanned lunar roving vehicle.

Luna 18 crashed in a mountainous region at latitude 3 34' N, longitude 56 30' E on the edge of Mare Fecunditatis. Luna 18 was probably meant to retrieve a sample of rock from a lunar mountain to compare with the sample obtained from the lunar plain by Luna 16.

As of March 1972, Luna 19 is orbiting the Moon and transmitting to Earth TV pictures and useful data.

Most recently, Russia launched Luna 20 on Tuesday 14 February 1972. It reached the Moon five days later on Saturday 19 February and went into lunar orbit at an altitude of 65 miles with a period of 118 minutes. On Monday 21 February Luna 20 fired its rocket for a few minutes to slow its orbital speed, then descended by free-fall to an altitude of 2500 feet before firing its rocket again to soften its landing on the Moon, which occurred at 19:19 GMT. The landing site was at latitude 3 32' N, longitude 56 33' E in a mountain plateau region on the North-East edge of Mare Fecunditatis, about 80 miles north of the landing site of Luna 16, very close to the landing site of Luna 18. Luna 20 was probably a backup mission to replace the failed Luna 18.

Shortly after landing, Luna 20 started to bore into the Moon. The drill was at the end of an arm and was in the form of a hollow cylinder which collected a core sample as it drilled, being an improved version of the drill on Luna 16. The rock was the hardest yet encountered on the Moon, and operators on Earth had to switch off the drill at intervals, to allow it to cool down before recommencing drilling. The operators monitored the operation via the TV camera on Luna 20. After finishing drilling, the drill arm retracted and placed the drill bit and its moonrock sample into a hermetically sealed, spherical container at the top of the spacecraft. The upper section of the spacecraft, carrying its precious cargo, then blasted off for Earth at 10:25 GMT on 22 February. The spherical container of moonrock successfully re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, landed by parachute and was recovered as planned in Kazakhstan in the USSR on Friday 25 February amidst conditions of blizzard and cloud.

The lunar sample collected by Luna 20 was formed from ejecta scattered from the formation of the crater Apollonius C. It is thought to be lunar bedrock 100 million years older than any moonrock yet returned to Earth.

The following map shows the landing sites of Luna 16 and Luna 20, marked by large arrows.

Apollo 16 Timetable



(April 1972)



Elapsed Time



Launch 16 17:54 0:00 Y
Earth orbit insertion 16 18:06 0:12 N
Translunar injection 16 20:41 2:35 N
Lunar orbit insertion 19 19:57 74:03 N
Descent orbit insertion 19 23:55 78:01 N
Separation of LM from CM 20     Y
LM lunar orbit circularisation 20 19:00 97:06 N
LM landing 20 20:06 98:12 N
Stand up EVA 20     N
EVA (moonwalk) 1 start 20 23:59 102:05 Y
EVA 1 end 21 06:59 109:05 Y
EVA 2 start 21 21:59 124:05 Y
EVA 2 end 22 04:59 131:05 Y
EVA 3 start 22 21:59 148:05 Y
EVA 3 end 23 04:59 155:05 Y
LM launch from Moon 23 21:04 171:10 Y
LM lunar orbit insertion 23 21:19 171:17 N
LM - CM docking 23 22:50 approx 172:50 approx Y
LM jettison and impact on Moon 24 - - N
Transearth injection 25 23:38 221:44 N
Transearth EVA (spacewalk) 26 19:14 241:20 Y
Re-entry 28 21:17 291:23 N
Splashdown 28 21:30 291:36 Y

LM = Lunar Module

CM = Command Module

EVA = Extra-Vehicular Activity

April 1972

1971 Mars probes

Two American and three Russian probes were launched towards Mars in 1971. In order of launch they were:

Mars 2 reached Mars on 27 November 1971 and then split into two sections. One section parachuted to the Martian surface but crashed because its final retro-rocket failed to provide a soft-landing. The other section successfully entered elliptical orbit around Mars with the following characteristics: altitude 862 - 15,700 miles (1380 - 25,000 km); period 18 hours; inclination to the Martian equator 48 54'.

On 02 December 1971, Mars 3 also arrived at Mars, and, like its predecessor, split into two sections. One section parachuted into the Martian atmosphere and heated up as usual due to descent friction. However, in contrast with Mars 2, the parachute opened successfully and the retro-rocket fired to cushion the landing, and Mars 2 became the first man-made object to land on the surface of Mars intact. However, Mars 2 only transmitted from the surface of Mars for 20 seconds after which ground controllers were unable to regain contact with it. Mars 2 landed at Martian co-ordinates 45S latitude, 158W longitude, between the regions of Electris and Phaetonis. The other section of Mars 3 entered orbit around Mars with a period of 11 days and a minimum altitude of 900 miles (the apapsis was not announced). At the time of writing the two orbiters are still functioning, sending back data on composition, pressure and properties of the Martian atmosphere, day and night surface temperatures, surface characteristics and composition of the Martian soil.

Mars 2 and 3 carried the following equipment:

The two Mars probes are performing tasks similar to Mariner 9 (which was shut down on 18 March until early June). They are returning many photographs taken by two cameras, one fitted with a narrow-angle (4) telescopic lens, the other a wide-angle mapping camera. The probes automatically develop the film, scan each image then transmit it to Earth in electronic form.

The probes have measured very little water vapour in the Martian atmosphere. Electron movement (or temperature) is lower than in Earth's atmosphere. The probes have detected atomic hydrogen and oxygen in the Martian upper atmosphere. They detected a hydrogen corona between 10,000 to 20,000 km altitude and oxygen at 600 to 1000 km altitude.

The probes found individual areas on Mars' sunlit side to have temperatures not exceeding -15C. One of the probes sent a radio transmission to Earth detailing measurements of temperature along a strip from latitude 58S, longitude 330 to latitude 30N longitude 190. The highest temperature in this region was -20C, in a region close to its local noon! Some locations on the night side of the planet were as cold as -90C. On the night side, there are some 'hot spots' with temperatures 20-25C warmer than the surrounding regions.

The photometers detected large differences in brightness of the surface using red, blue and near-UV filters (in the range 300 - 700nm). Measurements in red light showed a sharp fall in brightness near Mars' limb and a gradual decrease near the terminator. The instrument also detected a large bright cloud (a dust storm?), some hundreds of kilometres in length, at latitude 15S longitude 220.

Source: Flight International 02 March 1972, vol. 101, no. 3286, page 334; Science Horizons, February 1972, no. 131; New Scientist 20 January 1972, vol. 53, no. 779, page 128; New Scientist 24 February 1972, vol. 53, no. 784, page 420.

August 1972

Venera 8

In April 1972, the USSR's probe Venera 8 took off from Earth and began its journey to Venus. On 06 April 1972 Venera 8 undertook a mid-course correction to ensure arrival on Venus at the required time and place. Ground controllers held a total of 86 communications sessions with Venera 8 while the probe was in flight towards Venus. On 22 July 1972 the probe entered the atmosphere of Venus after a journey of 300 million km undertaken in 117 days.

Shortly after Venera 8 arrived at Venus and entered the planet's atmosphere, a landing capsule separated (at 10:40 am on 22 July, Moscow time). Aerodynamic braking slowed the landing capsule from 11.6 km/s to 250m/s, causing the vehicle to heat up. The landing capsule slowed its descent by deploying a parachute, and undertook some experiments during its descent. The landing capsule set down on Venus' daylight side and returned data to Earth about the rocks on the planet's surface, temperature and atmospheric pressure for 50 minutes after landing.

November & December 1972

Apollo 17 Timetable

Apollo17 is the last Apollo mission scheduled to land on the Moon. (There is a remote possibility that Apollo 18 may orbit the Moon in 1974). BBC and ITV coverage of previous Apollo flights, although adequate for most purposes, has not been extensive enough for the true spaceflight enthusiast. The Voice of America (VoA) radio station provided coverage of the missions when British radio and TV were off the air. For example, at one point during the Apollo 16 mission, when the spacecraft was in selenocentric orbit a few hours prior to landing, the landing guidance computer appeared to be giving trouble and mission controllers postponed the landing. If the fault were not corrected within a few orbits, mission controllers would have found it necessary to cancel the landing. The problems occurred in the evening after British radio and TV had gone off the air. VoA continued to provide coverage with an extremely informative commentator (better than those on the BBC, with all due respect to Patrick Moore and colleagues who do a really good job!) and live feed from the spacecraft. Listeners to VoA were thus among the first to learn of the correction of the fault.

VoA can be heard on medium wave (AM) at 1190kHz, 245m (very close to BBC Radio 1). It can be found easily in the early morning (breakfast shows start 6:00am and 7:30am GMT) and in the evening (9:00pm GMT onwards). VoA can also be heard on 790kHz, 349m medium wave (AM) and several short wave wavelengths but reception is best at 250m. VoA is broadcast to Europe via a relay, which means that the voices sound as if spoken over a telephone, but they are quite comprehensible.

The following table gives the timetable for Apollo 17. Launch will take place just after New Moon. The Apollo 17 S-IVb Saturn rocket stage will impact on the Moon sometime in the evening of 10 December 1972, when the Moon is a crescent visible in the south-west around sunset. Impact is expected to take place in Mare Crisium and it is just possible that the 26cm refractor at Orwell Park Observatory may be able to see a TLP (Transient Lunar Phenomenon) associated with the impact.



(December 1972)



Launch 07 02:53 Y
Enter lunar orbit 10 19:49 N
Moon landing 11 19:55 N
Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) 1 start 11 23:33 Y
EVA 2 start 12 22:13 Y
EVA 3 start 13 21:33 Y
Lunar lift-off 14 22:56 Y
Start journey to Earth 16 23:33 N
Transearth EVA (spacewalk) 17   Y
Splashdown 19 17:24 Y

Apollo 17 will be manned by Eugene Cernan (Commander), Harrison H Schmidt (Lunar Module Pilot) and Thomas (Ken) Mattingly (Command Module Pilot). Harrison Schmidt is the first scientist to go into space (apart from two Russians in 1965). Mattingly will remain in the command module orbiting the Moon while Cernan and Schmidt will land on the Moon in the region of the Taurus Mountains near the crater Littrow, towards the north-east edge of the lunar disk visible from Earth. Cernan and Schmidt will undertake three moonwalks (EVAs, or Extra-Vehicular Activities) while on the Moon. Each EVA will last for up to seven hours. The Apollo 17 lunar roving vehicle is expected to cover a total distance of some 37km during the three EVAs.

Note that Apollo 17 will lift off at night time on 07 December, and this will be well worth watching on a colour television if possible. The lift off, although of no inherent scientific value, will provide a fitting visual end to a truly magnificent human achievement.

December 1972

Space Probes Shut Down

The American space probe orbiting Mars, Mariner 9, has run out of fuel for its manoeuvring rockets and has been shut down by mission controllers. Mariner 9 took a total of 7329 pictures, covering the whole surface of Mars; it took its last picture on 27 October 1972.

The two Russian Mars orbiters, Mars 2 and Mars 3, were shut down in August 1972.

The next chance to launch space probes to Mars comes in August 1973. The USSR is expected to launch two soft-lander probes but America will not launch any.

The Russian spaceprobe Luna 19, in orbit around the Moon, is still operating, taking photos and scientific measurements. It has made over 4000 lunar orbits. Ground controllers say that Luna 19 is nearing the end of its useful lifetime.

February 1973

Project Skylab

The next manned American space programme is Project Skylab. If all goes well, the Americans will launch the Skylab Orbiting Laboratory (or Skylab) at the beginning of March 1973. A few days later, they will launch a small rocket carrying a crew of three; this rocket will dock with Skylab and the crew will spend 28 days in orbit. One of the major experiments aboard Skylab is associated with the Apollo Telescope Mount which will enable astronomers to make the first continuous photographic study of the Sun and stars in X-ray and Ultra-Violet (UV) wavelengths. The unmanned Orbiting Astronomical Observatories 2 and 3 have previously made UV observations and the unmanned Uhuru satellite has previously made X-ray observations. Sounding rockets have also been used to obtain observations, but they only observe for a matter of minutes whereas satellites and manned spacecraft can make observations over a period of many months.

March 1973

Stratoscope Observes Uranus

Stratoscope 2, a balloon-borne, 91 cm reflector, observed Venus from an altitude of 24 km. The telescope provided a resolution of 0.15 arcsec, some ten times better than that of a similar instrument on the Earth's surface. The telescope also took 17 photographs of Uranus, which showed no detail whatsoever, even after computer processing to improve contrast. The photographs confirm that Uranus does not have the prominent belts associated with Jupiter and Saturn.

From analysis of the distribution of brightness across the planetary disk of Uranus, it seems that the planet is uniformly shrouded by a thick layer of methane clouds topped by a semi-transparent atmosphere composed of molecular hydrogen gas. The estimated equatorial diameter of the planet is 51,800 km, in excellent agreement with earlier estimates; and the planet has a mean density of 1.2gcm-3, only about one quarter that of the Earth. The lack of global circulation belts in the atmosphere of Uranus may be important in understanding the atmosphere of the planet. The axis of rotation of Uranus is almost in its orbital plane, as if the planet had fallen over. This causes very strange seasonal effects and the resulting uneven heating of the planet may inhibit the establishment of stable wind zones.

April 1973

Orange Soil not Volcanic

The orange soil discovered by the Apollo 17 mission was not created by volcanic action after all. Under electron and visible light microscopes, the soil was found to consist of many tiny glass spheres. The orange colour is likely due to high iron and titanium content. This means that none of the Apollo missions succeeded in finding any direct evidence of lunar volcanism (either active, dormant or extinct). However, since almost all the rocks returned by the Apollo missions are volcanic, this raises the obvious question: where did all the volcanic rock come from?

Pioneer 10

Pioneer 10 has left the asteroid belt, and has completed half of its journey to Jupiter. It will reach Jupiter in December 1973, and several years later it will leave the Solar System. NASA will launch Pioneer 11 towards Jupiter in April 1973 and the probe will reach the planet in early 1975.

May 1973

Skylab A & Salyut 2

The USA will launch Skylab A on 14 May 1973, to be followed by three men in an Apollo capsule on 15 May to dock with the vehicle. The crew will stay aboard Skylab for about 28 days. Skylab is crammed with scientific equipment, full details of which are outlined in the October 1970 edition of the BAA Journal and Analog magazine.

The USSR launched Salyut 2 on 03 April 1973, but have not yet sent a crew to man the station. There is, as yet, no explanation for this. The Salyut space stations are similar to, but smaller than, Skylab.

June 1973

Trouble In Space

The USSR launched Salyut 2 on 03 April 1973. After launch, the orbit of the space station was too eccentric, and ground controllers adjusted it on 04 and 08 April. The orbital corrections should have permitted the USSR to launch cosmonauts to the space station on 09 or 10 April, but it did not do so. On 14 April another orbital correction was carried out. Subsequently, ground radar detected fragments, suggesting that either Salyut 2 or the launcher Proton rocket had suffered an explosion. The USSR announced that the space station had 'terminated its mission' on 28 April.

The attempt by the USSR to beat America to a long duration space laboratory, Salyut 1, was launched in 1970. Two teams of cosmonauts visited the craft: the first could not get inside, and the second died of decompression before landing after 23 days (a record) in space.

The Americans launched the space laboratory Skylab A, packed full of scientific equipment and somewhat larger than Salyut 1, at 17:30 UT on 14 May 1973. Skylab A successfully entered Earth orbit; however because of excessive vibration by the Saturn V launch vehicle, a shield against micro-meteors and solar radiation was torn, and this interfered with the mechanism to deploy one of the solar panels. Because of this, the solar cells could not generate electricity, and the cabin, unprotected from solar radiation, became very hot, reaching temperatures in excess of 100F. Ground controllers postponed the launch of a three-man crew in an Apollo Command Service Module on a Saturn 1b launch vehicle. The crew was not allowed to dock with Skylab A because the cabin was too hot. It was impractical for the crew to attempt to repair the damaged shield and solar panel because their umbilicals, providing water and air to spacewalkers, were not long enough to reach the faulty parts. In addition, mission controllers worried that unexploded bolts close to the damaged components might detonate, or the solar panel might suddenly deploy, causing injury to a spacewalker.

Pioneers To Jupiter

Pioneer 10 was launched in February 1972 and should reach Jupiter in early December 1973, where it will return TV coverage of two thirds of the planet's disc. It has successfully passed through the Asteroid Belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Measurements by the spacecraft indicate that the density of asteroids in the Belt is not enough to cause a serious hazard to spacecraft passing through the region. Indeed, a spacecraft in orbit around the Earth is in greater danger from meteors than a spacecraft passing through the Asteroid Belt is from asteroids.

Pioneer 11 was launched on 05 April 1973. It passed the orbit of the Moon after 11 hours and within a few days it had travelled over one million kilometres. In early Summer 1973, Pioneer 11 will cross the orbit of Mars. In August 1973, it will cross the Asteroid Belt and it will reach Jupiter on 05 December 1974 after a journey of 609 days (this is the minimum journey time associated with the most favourable launch window).

Pioneer 11 is identical to Pioneer 10. The two spacecraft were launched 13 months apart in order to provide an equivalent gap in their arrival dates at Jupiter. The planet generates a great deal of radio noise. If this interferes with radio transmissions from Pioneer 10 when it is near Jupiter, the 13 month gap will provide an opportunity for ground controllers to re-programme Pioneer 11 to overcome the problem before it arrives at the planet.

Jupiter has an equatorial diameter of 142,800 km and a polar diameter of 133,500 km. Pioneer 10 will pass Jupiter at a distance of 140,000 km and will be accelerated by Jupiter's gravitational field to a speed of 125,000 km/hr. If Pioneer 10 experiences no problems associated with radiation or radio noise through such a close passage to Jupiter, ground controllers may send Pioneer 11 even closer to Jupiter, perhaps as close as 35,000 km, which would accelerate it to a speed of 173,000 km (over 1/400th the speed of light). Pioneer 11 may also pass close to one of Jupiter's four Galilean moons. If Pioneer 11 does pass close to Jupiter, its trajectory will then bring it close to Saturn in 1980. However, if Pioneer 10 suffers difficulties with a close passage to Jupiter, ground controllers will send Pioneer 11 along a comparable trajectory to Pioneer 10, and Pioneer 11 will cross the orbit of Saturn four years after its Jupiter flyby.

Future Launches Of Space Probes

The launch window for sending probes to Mars in 1973 is from 15 July to 10 August. The USA will not launch a probe to Mars in 1973, but it is likely that the USSR will attempt to launch one or more soft-landers. The next launch window for Mars is September 1975. In September 1975 the USA will launch two Viking soft-lander probes and it is likely that the USSR will launch its second generation soft-lander, probably a Mars roving vehicle similar to Lunokhod.

Later in 1973, the USA will launch a space probe which will pass Venus and Mercury in 1974. Mercury is a planet about which little is known, so information returned by the probe will be very valuable. The space probe will be called Mariner 10 Venus/Mercury.

The USA will launch a Pioneer probe in 1977 towards Jupiter and Saturn. In the same year occurs the launch window for the Grand Tour, whereby a space probe could follow a trajectory to visit all the outer planets except Pluto. The USA will not attempt to launch a probe on the Grand Tour, but the USSR may attempt to do so, to survey the outer planets during the 1980s.

Possible Russian Manned Spaceflight?

The USSR launched Salyut I in April 1971, and subsequently sent two manned Soyuz spacecraft to dock with it. On 03/04 April 1973, the USSR launched the space station Salyut II - it is likely that the USSR will soon send a manned spacecraft to dock with Salyut II.

July 1973

Exploration Of Mars

More space probes will likely be despatched to Mars in 1973. Until now, only the Americans have sent probes to Mars, but this may change as the USSR now also has a flourishing Mars programme.

The first American probe to Mars was Mariner 3; unfortunately ground controllers lost control of it before it landed on the planet. In November 1964 NASA launched Mariner 4. It reached Mars in 1965 and returned 22 TV pictures, the first ever from close range. Although blurred and with poor focus, they showed for the first time that Mars was cratered. Mariner 4 also sent to Earth the first data on the Martian atmosphere. Mariner 4 completely changed our views on Mars.

In 1969, NASA launched Mariners 6 and 7 to Mars. (NASA had previously sent Mariner 5 to Venus.) Mariners 6 and 7 provided even better information on Mars, using improved equipment to return clearer TV pictures and to investigate the temperature and composition of the Martian atmosphere and surface.

In 1971, Mars approached closer to Earth than it had since the 1920s. In that year, the USA launched Mariners 8 and 9 to Mars. Mariner 8 enjoyed a ten minute trip culminating in a dive into the Atlantic! However, Mariner 9, launched in May 1971, reached Mars in November 1971 and became the first ever artificial satellite of the planet. The spacecraft orbited the planet twice a day, carrying out long term experiments: it mapped the entire surface of Mars in great detail, discovering huge volcanoes, vast canyons and features resembling dried river beds. NASA shut down Mariner 9 in October 1972, after the probe had exceeded the Administration's wildest dreams.

After analysis of the results of Mariner 9, NASA tentatively selected potential landing sites for the Viking probes which are intended to soft-land instrument packages onto Mars in 1976. NASA selected four potential landing sites (although there are only two Viking probes):

  1. Chryse,  4500 km long canyon, 19.5N, 34W (close to the Martian Equator).

  2. Tritonis Lacus,  20.5N, 252W (backup for Chryse).

  3. Cydonia,  44.3N, 10W (Martian arctic).

  4. Alba,  44.2N, 110W (backup for Cydonia).

There is some controversy about the choice of sites. NASA appears definite about site 1/2 for Viking 1. However, there is some doubt as to what the Viking 2 landing site should be. Once of the main aims of the Vikings is to search for life on Mars. Geologists wanted Viking 2 to land at a geologically interesting site, either 73N or 9S (one site polar, the other equatorial). However, biologists consider the site at 73N to be too cold for life, and the site at 9S to be too dry; they would instead prefer Viking 2 to touch down on the edge of the North Polar Cap at about 44N, which is, they believe, the only site with much chance of finding life. Even so, the dryness of the  biologists' favoured site is comparable to that of a terrestrial desert, and its coldness to that of the terrestrial North Pole. The biologists have won the day, and both sites 3 and 4 are at a latitude of approximately 44N.

Each Viking will carry equipment to detect the presence of life on Mars (thought to be a remote possibility) and also a TV camera, seismometer, meteorology experiment and rock analyser to return data on Mars to ground controllers.

The USA will not launch any more spaceprobes towards Mars during 1973. So let's turn now to the USSR...

The USSR launched its first Mars probe, Mars 1, in 1962, but unfortunately ground controllers lost contact with it shortly before it reached the planet. A similar fate befell Zond 2, which had a trajectory very similar to that of Mariner 4.

The first successes for the USSR came with Mars 2 and 3, which operated at the same time as Mariner 9. Mars 2 and 3 were each in two parts: each spacecraft crash-landed an instruments package onto the surface of Mars - these packages were the first man-made objects to reach the planet. The USSR sent two more spaceprobes to orbit Mars in August 1972. The media gave far less publicity to the Russian probes than to Mariner 9; this was due in part to the fact that the Russians released hardly any of their images of Mars, whereas the Americans released all 10,000 or so Mariner 9 images of the planet. The USSR did, however, release many of the interesting findings of the two probes Mars 2 and 3 (see entry for April 1972 above).

It is likely that the USSR will launch Mars 4 and 5 towards the planet in August 1973, to reach the planet in late 1973 or early 1974. It is likely that these spacecraft will orbit Mars and send landers to the surface of the planet.

The Russians have been optimistically talking about landing Lunokhod-type vehicles on Mars. It is likely that they could land a second generation Mars lander, complete with surface rover, on the planet at about the same time as the American Viking probes; there is therefore a possibility that the Russians will pull ahead of the Americans in the field of Mars exploration.

American Manned Space Programme

After Skylab, there will not be another American astronaut in space until 1975 when a joint Russian-American spaceflight is scheduled. Plans for this great venture are well under way and it has been announced that the mission will begin as follows: an Apollo Command Service Module will take off from America with three Americans on board. It will rendezvous and dock with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying two Russians. It is clear that there will be some differences to the usual arrangements. For the first time, the Russians will have to announce in advance the exact time of a launch and give live coverage of the lift-off. Also for the first time, there will be Russians stationed at Houston Mission Control and Americans at Tyuratam/Biakonur Mission Control in Russia. Diagrams of the mission spacecraft have been published labelled in both Russian and English.

The Americans have announced two of their three crewmen:

Russian mission controllers have provided an unprecedented amount of information about the crews of the mission. They have announced the crew of their spacecraft before the mission and have also announced the back-up and support crews, something that they have rarely done before, even after a mission. The crews are:

Both Boris Andreyev and Alexander Ivanchenkov were born in 1940 in Moscow and both worked in design bureau then entered cosmonaut training in 1970 - could they be friends?

After the joint Soyuz-Apollo mission, NASA does not plan to send men into space again until the first manned tests of the Space Shuttle in the 1980s.

August 1973

Observations Of Skylab

Some indications in early 1973 were that Skylab would not be visible from East Anglia. However, by late June first reports began to circulate around members of OASI of sightings of Skylab. In fact, Skylab, a cylinder some 36m in length, is the largest satellite visible from Britain. It is visible from Southern England travelling West via South to East. Charles Radley was one of the first members of OASI to observe Skylab, doing so on 23 June 1973. To be precise, on that date he observed the following objects:

73/027/01   Sylab itself.

73/027/19   Skylab object K, possibly one of the fairings from Skylab, or the associated Saturn 1b rocket.

Other members of OASI observing Skylab in June 1973 were: Roy Cheesman, Alan and John Cox, John Easty and David Bearcroft.

Other objects associated with Skylab visible from Earth are:

73/027/02   Skylab rocket, the second stage of the Saturn V used to launch Skylab.

73/027/05   Skylab fragment E, a piece of debris associated with Skylab.

73/027/12   Skylab object M, another fragment of debris.

The orbit of Skylab is inclined at 51 to the Earth's equator, so Skylab does not come North of the English Channel. However, because Skylab orbits at an altitude of some 430 km, it can be seen from more northerly latitudes.

September 1973

Russian Mars Probes

The Russians launched Mars 4 at 22:21 (Moscow Time) on 21 July 1973 and Mars 5 at 21:56 (Moscow Time) on 25 July 1973. At 02:00 (Moscow Time) on 26 July, Mars 4 was 1,460,000 km from Earth and Mars 5 was 66,000 km from Earth. The Russians launched Mars 6 on 06 August and Mars 7 on 10 August. Mars 6 carries a French-made solar radio experiment, similar to that carried on Mars 3 in 1971. According to the Russians, Mars 6 will co-operate with equipment on Mars 4: this has resulted in speculation that that one of the probes will soft-land and use the other as an orbiting radio relay station. The probes are now all coasting towards the Red Planet. Mars 4 and Mars 5 are due to reach Mars in mid-February 1974; while Mars 6 and Mars 7 are due to arrive in March 1974.


If a rescue launch is necessary it cannot be made before 05 September 1973. The three-man crew of Skylab-2 are due to return to Earth on or about 22 September.

Mariner 10 Venus/Mercury

America will launch Mariner 10 Venus/Mercury in December 1973. It will flyby Venus between 03 and 06 February 1974, depending on the launch date. It will take approximately 3000 TV pictures of Venus' clouds. Mariner 10 should reach Mercury on 30 March 1974. It will flyby the planet rapidly and will capture approximately 2000 pictures of Mercury in a two hour period. Mariner 10 will map Mercury in resolution similar to that provided by Earth-based telescopes of the Moon - this should capture detail as small as 100m across. After 18 months, in August 1975, Mariner 10 will encounter Mercury again, and if it is still working it will perform further investigations. There is a possibility that the probe may still be functional for a third Mercury encounter.

Little is known about Mercury. It is the planet with greatest density apart from the Earth, its lighter elements having boiled away into space due to the intense heat and low surface gravity. Its surface has the lowest albedo (reflectivity) of all the planets and is composed of hard, dark rock - radar suggests granite.

Visual observations of Mercury and Venus rarely show significant detail, so scientists eagerly await pictures from the TV cameras on Mariner 10.

Pioneer 10

Pioneer 10 will reach Jupiter in December 1973.

Visibility Of Skylab

As of September 1973, there should be a three-man crew aboard Skylab. They are scheduled to return to Earth on or about 22 September. The final Skylab mission is due to be launched on 09 November and return to Earth on 05 January 1974.

The period and inclination of the orbit of Skylab means that the craft is visible from Ipswich at most three times a day, although more usually it visible only once or twice a day. However, often passages of Skylab occur in daylight so are not visible. Skylab was last well placed for visibility from Ipswich mid-late June, early July, and 11 August - 10 September 1973. At night, Skylab appears as a bright point of light moving quickly from West via South to East; each appearance lasts a few minutes.

October 1973

Russian Mars Probes

The Russian Mars probes are still going strong! They executed scheduled course corrections as follows (times are Moscow local time):

The following table gives the distances of the probes from Earth on 17 August 1973 and the estimated arrival dates at Mars.

Probe Estimated Arrival At Mars Distance From Earth (km) on 17 August 1973
Mars 4 mid-February 1974 8,770,000
Mars 5 mid-February 1974 7,420,000
Mars 6 early March 1974 4,110,000
Mars 7 mid-March 1974 2,760,000

November 1973

Skylab 2

The crew of Skylab 2 returned to Earth after a very successful mission, bringing with them some 77,000 photographs, many of them of the Sun and Earth, revealing much new information on the Sun and the resources of the Earth.

Skylab is now becoming visible in skies over the UK once more. Predictions of its visibility are available to members of OASI from Charles Radley, and are occasionally published in the Evening Star. The Skylab 3 mission is due to start on 11 November 1973 and return to Earth in January 1974. It is possible that the Skylab 3 mission will be delayed and/or extended to allow it to cover the period when Comet Kohoutek reaches greatest brilliance, in early January 1974.

Mariner 10 Venus/Mercury

Mariner 10 Venus/Mercury was scheduled for launch on 03 November 1973. During its journey towards Venus and Mercury it will monitor interplanetary space conditions, which will help to explain the appearance of Comet Kohoutek. The probe is scheduled to reach Venus in February 1974 and Mercury in March 1974. When the probe reaches Mercury, it will increase our knowledge of the planet hugely - a few dozen photographs from close range would provide more information than the entire data on the planet amassed during the course of human history to date.

February 1974

Space Probes

February and March 1974 should be two very interesting months:

Manned Spaceflight

The crew of Soyuz 13, Pyotr Klimuk and Valentin Lebedev, ended an eight-day mission during which they performed many astronomical observations, on 18 December 1974. Their mission had been concurrent with Skylab 3. They took X-ray photographs of the Sun (as did Skylab 3). They used a telescope named Orion 2, with a wide angle quartz crystalline lens (to withstand the extreme temperatures of space) to obtain hundreds of ultra-violet spectrograms of stars brighter than magnitude 9.5.

No doubt the two cosmonauts also observed Comet Kohoutek. The Skylab 3 crew reported seeing the comet by naked eye in early December 1973.

The record duration of the Sklab 3 mission (over 80 days) is likely to remain unsurpassed for several years, for the Americans are not planning any more long duration spaceflights until the 1980s at the earliest, and the Russians are still in the experimental stage with their Salyut space station.

March 1974

Mariner 10

NASA launched Mariner 10 on 03 November 1973. The craft passed Venus on 05 February 1974 and then used the 'slingshot' effect of Venus' gravity to set course for Mercury, which it will reach on 29 March 1974. Mariner 10 is intended to pass within 1000 km of Mercury at its closest approach.

Mariner 10 carries television cameras to observe Venus and Mercury and scientific instruments to make measurements  of atmospheric composition, surface temperature, magnetic field and cosmic radiation at both planets. Secondary objectives of the mission include measurement of the interplanetary environment. The probe hosts two TV cameras, fitted to Cassegrain telescopes. Scientists expect that analysis of the TV pictures taken at Venus will show a dense cloud blanket in visible light and ultra-violet wavelengths. Current theories suggest that clouds visible in ultra-violet light orbit Venus every five days.

Mariner 10 is expected to beam back to Earth pictures of Mercury with a resolution similar to that of the Moon taken through an Earth-based instrument. Such images will increase overnight Mankind's knowledge of Mercury, supplying information which is not accessible to Earth-based instruments. Scientists hope to receive 2740 images from Mariner 10 at Mercury, where the TV camera will be capable of producing a frame every 42 seconds.

Mariner 10 carries the following scientific instruments:

Data from Mariner 10 should be interesting and enlightening, especially concerning Mercury, a planet about which our current knowledge is so limited. For further information see New Scientist, 14 February 1974.


So, eventually the Skylab missions are over! There were three missions, lasting 28, 56 and finally, a record-breaking 85 days. The final 85 day mission is likely to remain unbeaten for many years, perhaps until the Russians make their own Soyuz/Salyut spacecraft fully operational. The Skylab programme, although less dramatic than Apollo, has in many ways yielded much more data about spaceflight. It is now clear that the main limitations to Man's endurance in space will be political and financial rather than physiological. The question now poses itself: what is left for NASA to do? A manned mission to Mars, perhaps? Skylab has yielded enough data on long manned spaceflights to make a trip to Mars possible, but it is unlikely that America will launch a manned Mars mission before the turn of the century at least, although it would be technologically possible in the 1980s. It is known that the Russians are very interested in sending men to Mars, but are unlikely to attempt a mission until they have resolved problems with their Soyuz and Salyut spacecraft (two Soyuz missions ended in the death of the crews and Salyut 2 disintegrated after a short period in orbit).

The next scheduled American spaceflight is in June 1975, when an Apollo capsule will dock in orbit with a Soyuz capsule. After that, no more American spaceflights are planned until the Space Shuttle, which will become operational in the 1980s. Without doubt the Space Shuttle will extend man's horizon's in space at relatively low cost, but there do not appear to be any plans for missions beyond the Space Shuttle, largely due to uncertainty about the financial climate that will prevail in the future. There was talk of closing down NASA, but Congress has now granted funding.

NASA Planetary Probes

NASA plans to launch an advanced space probe to Venus in 1978 and an another advanced probe to Jupiter and Saturn, to replace the cancelled Grand Tour mission.


ELDO (European Launch Development Organisation) and ESRO (European Space Research Organisation) are well on the way to merging to form the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA will have three main initial programmes:

Orion 1 Spectrograph

The crew of Soyuz 13 used a telescope named Orion 2, with a wide angle quartz crystalline lens to obtain hundreds of ultra-violet spectrograms of stars brighter than magnitude 9.5 (see above, February 1974, for more details). Orion 2 was in fact a successor to the earlier Orion 1 ultra-violet spectrograph telescope, which flew in the Salyut space station in 1971. In the course of eight days, Orion 1 obtained 10,000 spectrograms of more than 3000 stars. Orion 1 provided clear spectrograms of stars down to magnitude 10, and in one case, in the sky around Capella, to magnitude 11. The spectrograms provided important information for solving many topical problems of astrophysics and cosmology. Pointing accuracy of Orion 1 was achieved by an unique three axis stabilised platform.

Source: Soviet News, 29 January 1974

Space Probes Arrive At Mars

The four space probes launched by the USSR in Summer 1973 to Mars have met mixed fates. Mars 4 approached Mars on 10 February 1974, but missed its target orbit by 2200 km, went straight past the planet and was lost. Mars 4 was intended to work with Mars 6, but it is unclear to what extent, if any, the loss of Mars 4 compromises the latter mission. However, Mars 5 successfully entered Mars orbit. If Mars 7 can successfully enter Mars orbit, the USSR may subsequently attempt to soft land it on the surface of Mars, working together with Mars 5. Mars 6 and Mars 7 are due to reach Mars in mid-March 1974.

The USSR recently admitted using over 1700 American Mariner 9 images of Mars for planning their Mars probes, without releasing any of their own images to NASA.

May 1974

Recent Assault On Mars

The July-August 1973 launch window saw the USSR launch four probes towards Mars. Unfortunately on arrival at Mars in February-March 1974, the probes met with limited success. The entire USSR Mars programme can be described as unlucky - a brief summary is as follows.

Mars 1, launched in 1961 and scheduled to reach Mars in 1962, broke several space endurance records but was lost before arrival at the planet.

Zond 2, launched during the same launch window in November 1964 as Mariner 3 and the famous Mariner 4 (the first probe to return TV pictures of Mars from close range), failed at an earlier stage in its journey than did Mars 1.

The USSR then concentrated on exploration of Venus until the very favourable 1971 Mars launch window, when it launched Mars 2 and Mars 3. Both probes went into orbit around Mars in November 1971. Mars 2 then attempted a landing on the planet's surface, which involved braking by a parachute and a descent rocket: the former appeared to deploy correctly but the rocket did not, and the probe crashed on the surface. Mars 3 had better luck! On 02 December 1971, Mars 3 became the first spacecraft to soft-land on Mars, at co-ordinates latitude 45S, longitude 158W. It transmitted from the surface for 90 seconds, then mysteriously the signals stopped. The orbiter sections of Mars 2 and Mars 3 remained in orbit and gathered much interesting data about the planet before being shut down after some months.

Mars 4 reached the vicinity of Mars on 10 February 1974. Unfortunately, its retro-rocket failed to ignite, and instead of entering Mars orbit, it shot straight past the planet at a distance of 2200 km, taking pictures as it went. On leaving the planet, Mars 4 entered heliocentric orbit.

Mars 5 reached the vicinity of Mars on 12 February 1974 and successfully entered Mars orbit at 06:45 (Moscow Time). The retro-burn went perfectly, and Mars 5 acquired the planned orbital parameters: apareon 32,500 km, periareon 1760 km, period 35 hours, inclination to Mars equator 35. Mars 5 has an orbital period slightly longer than the Martian day (24h 37m 23s). This means that it will be in not-quite synchronous orbit, recessing around the planet by approximately 5 per Martian day, thus provided its cameras are functional it will have an opportunity to photograph every feature on Mars under its orbit at close range once every 76 Martian days (every 75 orbits). The USSR is releasing photographs taken by Mars 5 from orbit - there is one in Flight International, vol 105, No 3395, 04 April 1974, page 440. The picture quality is not good, although slightly better than that obtained by Mariner 4 a decade earlier; it shows some craters which appear to have suffered erosion by wind and sand.

Mars 7 approached Mars on 09 March 1974. However, according to the USSR, because of a hitch in the operation of one of the onboard systems, the probe released its descent module but because the velocity of the probe was too great, the descent module did not approach closer to the surface of Mars than 1300 km. Mars 7 joined Mars 4 in heliocentric orbit.

Mars 6 reached Mars on 12 March 1974, some three days after Mars 7. Mars 6 met with some success. The lander separated from the main craft at a distance of approximately 80,000 km from Mars, and after a descent through the atmosphere of Mars lasting 148 seconds, the lander touched down on the surface of the planet. Mars 6 took photographs of the surface of Mars as it descended; these are the first close-up photographs of the surface, but have not been released at present. The USSR issued a statement: For the first time information about the Martian atmosphere, obtained by direct measurement during the module's descent, was transmitted back to the Earth. The data showed several times more water vapour in the atmosphere than had been expected. Mars 6 touched down at co-ordinates latitude 24S, longitude 25W, and like Mars 3 over two years earlier, mysteriously shut down.

Details of Soviet spaceprobes are not readily available, and information on recent Mars probes has been particularly confused. The following information has been pieced together from Soviet reports and the interpretations of western spaceflight experts. Mars 4 and 5 are orbiter vehicles, intended to perform experiments in Mars orbit similar to those of Mariner 9. Mars 6 and 7 are lander vehicles, with flight programmes more similar to the Soviet Venera probes than the anticipated American Viking probes. That is, they each consist of a main bus and a descent module. The main bus provides interplanetary transportation from Earth to Mars and then flies past Mars (it does not enter planetary orbit). The descent module is intended to land on the planet. Flight plans call for the descent module to separate from the main bus before arrival at the planet, slow down by using a retro-rocket and then atmospheric braking and then descend by parachute to the planetary surface. Mars 2 and 3 were more similar to the planned American Viking probes: each comprised a Mars orbiter and a lander.

Mariner 10

NASA's probe Mariner 10 worked perfectly at Venus. It returned pictures of Venus' cloud deck in ultra-violet light, showing swirling clouds. The pictures of Mercury were fabulous, if a little blurred at first.

Since Mariner 10 and Mercury are both in heliocentric orbits relatively close to the Sun (compared to the Earth), they both have short orbital periods and will re-encounter one another from time to time. The first re-encounter will occur on 22 September 1974, when flight controllers hope that the probe will return more pictures of the planet. There is a second re-encounter on 17 March 1975, but flight controllers are unsure whether the probe will still be operational by then.

Viking Probes

During the 05-20 September 1974 launch window, NASA will launch two Viking probes to land on Mars. They should arrive at Mars in March/April 1976, and touch down on the surface a few weeks later. The average atmospheric pressure on the surface of Mars is around 6mb, the minimum atmospheric pressure for water to be present as a liquid. Viking B is targeted to land in Cydonia, close to the North polar cap, where the average atmospheric pressure is 7.6mb, and therefore liquid water (and perhaps life!) may exist.

Pioneer 11

Pioneer 11 emerged from the Asteroid Belt on 20 March 1974. It should reach Jupiter on 05 December 1974. Following the successful voyage of Pioneer 10, fight controllers have adjusted the trajectory of Pioneer 11 to a more ambitious route. Pioneer 11 performed a mid-flight manoeuvre at the end of March to set course to pass within 40,000 km of Jupiter. (Pioneer 10 passed Jupiter at a distance of 130,000 km.) The close passage of Pioneer 11 to Jupiter will bring it deeper into the planet's radiation belts than Pioneer 10 ventured.  However, Pioneer 11 will accelerate to 160,000 km/h at Jupiter and will pass through the radiation belts more quickly than Pioneer 10, so the dose of radiation that the probe receives should be acceptable. Pioneer 11 will approach Jupiter at a much steeper angle than Pioneer 10, and pass closer to the the pole of the planet, covering a greater range of latitudes than did Pioneer 10.

The close approach of Pioneer 11 to Jupiter will result in it attaining a high exit velocity and will sharply alter its trajectory, setting the probe on a course for a rendezvous with Saturn. On leaving Jupiter, Pioneer 11 will move inwards towards the Sun, reaching perihelion on 1976, then move outwards again, re-crossing the orbit of Jupiter (but with the planet a long way behind!) in 1977. Pioneer 11 will reach Saturn on 05 September 1979, some 6.5 years after its launch. The probe was not designed for an operational life of 6.5 years, but there is a good chance that at least some of its systems will be operational at Saturn and able to send useful data, including hopefully images, to Earth.

The information which Pioneer 11 returns from Jupiter is intended to pave the way for the 1981 Jupiter orbiter probe.

Russian Space Activity

There are factors such as weather and launch windows which influence when the Russians launch manned or planetary probes. There are no launch windows in the near future except for Jupiter and Saturn, but Russian technology is not currently advanced enough to launch a probe to these planets. The Russians' normal launch season for manned spacecraft is April - September; they tend not to launch manned spacecraft in the Winter. They have occasionally launched manned spacecraft in the Winter, for example Voskhod 1 and Soyuz 3, both of which landed in blizzards, hampering recovery operations.

Therefore, if Russia intends to launch any manned spacecraft during 1974, it will probably start to do so soon. Of course, it could launch an unmanned probe to the Moon at any time.

Soyuz - Apollo Docking Flight

June 1975 will see the joint USSR-USA, Soyuz-Apollo docking flight. This has greater political than scientific value, but is very promising for hopes of future co-operation in space.

July 1974

Luna 22 Launched

Russia launched Luna 22 on 29 May 1974. It entered lunar orbit on 02 June, and was in orbit for the lunar eclipse on 04 June. There is no further information on the probe at present. 

September 1974

Salyut 3 - Soyuz 14 Linkup

On 25 June 1974, Russia launched Salyut 3, an orbiting space station similar to America's Skylab. The vehicle is about 20 metres long and weighs approximately 20 tonnes. The Russians placed it into an orbit with period 90 minutes, inclination 52, perigee 260 km and apogee 275 km.

At 18:15 UT on 03 July, Russia launched two cosmonauts, Colonel Popovich and Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Artyukhin, from the Baikonur Space Centre aboard the Soyuz 14 spacecraft. Soyuz 14 docked with Salyut 3 after a 35,000 km orbital chase lasting some 30 hours. On entering Salyut 3, the cosmonauts first checked it, then for the next 14 days they remained aboard, performing various experiments involving observation of Earth resources; observation of the atmosphere; examination of the biological effects of prolonged weightlessness; and studies of radiation and particle fields.

The crew re-entered Earth's atmosphere on 20 July. There was some speculation that Russia would attempt a maritime recovery, but in fact Soyuz 3 came down on land just two kilometres from the landing site of Dzhezkazgan.

The mission of Soyuz 11 in 1971 ended with the tragic death of three cosmonauts. Soyuz 12 and 13, launched in September and December 1973 respectively tested new designs of the Soyuz vehicle. Soyuz 14 was the third of the modified Soyuz craft, so the Russians expressed relief that its mission had been a success. The fact that Russia used the Soyuz 14 craft for the mission to Salyut 3 probably indicates that the craft is cleared for operational use.

Salyut 3 was at first visible from the UK but its orbit has now shifted, and it is no longer visible. However, in a few months time, due to further orbital changes it should become visible once more.

Apollo - Soyuz Link Up

The date for the Apollo - Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) has been set. The Soyuz rocket will lift-off at 12:30 UT on 15 July 1975. Seven and a half hours later, once the Russian rocket has been confirmed to be functioning satisfactorily, a three-man Apollo crew will blast off from Cape Kennedy. The Russians will have a duplicate rocket and crew standing by should the first Soyuz flight go wrong.

Once in orbit, the Apollo crew will have 32 hours locate and dock with the Soyuz craft. To assist with the location of the Soyuz vehicle, the Russians are building US transponders into the Soyuz craft. Once the craft have docked, the Apollo commander, Tom Stafford, will crawl through the airlock to greet Alexei Leonar and Valery Kubasov in Russian. No special experiments are planned, but the mission will signify the first internationally manned spaceflight. The Soyuz-Apollo craft should be visible from the UK.

Pioneer 11 To Visit Saturn

Pioneer 11 safely crossed the Asteroid Belt in March 1974 and is now speeding towards Jupiter with all its equipment functioning satisfactorily. During April 1974, NASA announced that it had executed a mid-course trajectory adjustment which will result in Pioneer 11 approaching Jupiter on 04 December 1974. The encounter will result in the velocity of the craft being greatly increased by the gravity of Jupiter, and the craft will swing round in a tight curve behind the planet and head off almost at right angles to its original course on its way to rendezvous with Saturn on 05 September 1979. Pioneer 11 will make a much closer approach to Jupiter than did Pioneer 10, which is now heading out of the Solar System.

Pioneers To Venus

NASA is currently planning two Pioneer-type space probes for launch in 1978. Previous expeditions to the inner Solar System have used Mariner-type spacecraft. However, NASA is very pleased with the performance of the Pioneer 10 and 11 craft. The current plan is to launch the first Pioneer (#1) craft in May 1978 and a second (#2) three months later. Pioneer #2 will overtake Pioneer #1 and go into orbit around Venus in December 1978. Some 10-20 days before Pioneer #1 reaches Venus it will launch one large probe and three small probes which will enter Venus' atmosphere approximately one week after Pioneer #2 enters orbit.   The four probes will transmit information back to Earth about the composition of the cloud layers which surround the planet and the characteristics of its magnetic field. Pioneer #1 will itself enter the atmosphere of Venus and transmit information before burning up or crashing onto the planet.

Luna 22

Luna 22 is still orbiting the Moon. On 09 June 1974 it executed a manoeuvre which brought its orbit to within 25 km of the lunar surface at closest approach. For four days, the probe obtained high resolution photographs of the lunar surface. The photographs may be used to choose a landing site for a future Moon probe. On 13 June, ground controllers raised the probe's orbital altitude to 299 x 181 km.


Skylab was visible from the UK during August. The Ipswich Evening Star newspaper sometimes publishes satellite predictions.

December 1974

Pioneer 11

In December 1974, Pioneer 11 should send back more pictures of Jupiter, then swing around behind the planet and start its journey to Saturn, arriving in September 1979.

Soyuz 15

Russia launched Soyuz 15 on 26 August 1974. The craft landed just three days later having failed to dock with the orbiting space station Salyut 3. Soyuz 15 appears to have had difficulty catching up with Salyut 3 in orbit, and in fact only reached to 100 km of the space station. Ground controllers became concerned about the drain on the power supplies aboard Soyuz 15 and terminated the mission.

US Viking Probes To Mars

NASA plans to launch two Viking unmanned robot spacecraft to Mars between mid-August and mid-September 1975. The spacecraft will each use a Titan III rocket as launch vehicle. The Viking probes will arrive at the planet approximately one year later. Each probe will first orbit the planet surveying possible landing sites, then release a landing craft to descend to the surface and (hopefully!) transmit information back to Earth via the orbiting space craft.

The Russians have tried to land the probes Mars 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 on the planet without much success - perhaps the little green men have been shooting at them!

Luna 23

Russia launched Luna 23 on 28 October 1974. The craft entered lunar orbit on 02 November. The original mission appears to have been to land on the surface, collect soil samples and return them to Earth, but recent reports mention that the craft was too badly damaged on landing to continue with the mission as planned.

March 1975

Apollo - Soyuz Test Project (ASTP)

Preparations are well advanced for the launch of an Apollo spacecraft on 15 July 1975 as part of the joint Soviet-American space mission, ASTP (Apollo-Soyuz Test Project). The docking module of ASTP is now at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, where it has joined the Apollo Command and Service Module CSM III which arrived from Rockwell's plant at Downey, California, in Summer 1974.

When the Apollo and Soyuz craft dock in orbit, Apollo will be at one end of the docking module and Soyuz at the other. Apollo will be pressurised with pure oxygen at 34 kPa. Soyuz is normally pressurised with an oxygen/nitrogen mix at 101 kPa; however on ASTP it will be pressurised with an oxygen/nitrogen mix at 69 kPa. The docking module of ASTP, which is 3m long and 1.5m in diameter, is an air-lock through which astronauts can pass from Apollo to Soyuz or vice versa, equalising pressure before they pass from one vehicle to the other.

The Apollo end of the docking module carries a drogue fitting of the type used on the lunar module so that the probe on the CSM III can achieve a rigid docking with it. The Soyuz end of the docking module carries an androgynous system whereby either Apollo or Soyuz can be active during linkup so that both craft can move about. It is intended that all future manned space missions will employ the new androgynous system.

Russia has made several modifications to the Soyuz spacecraft to suit ASTP. At the forward end of the spacecraft is an orbital module for the crew to inhabit during work and rest in orbit. It is 2.2m in diameter and 2.7m in length and weighs 1.2t. Behind this lies the descent module with flight controls and two couches for use during launch and re-entry: it is 2.1m in diameter, 2.2m in length and weighs 2.8t. The instrument module at the rear is 2.3m in length, carries propulsion equipment and weighs 2.7t. Two solar panels are attached to it, positioned diametrically opposite, and spanning more than 10m. The complete Soyuz vehicle is 7.2m long, 2.2m maximum diameter and weighs 6.7t.

Russia will launch the ASTP Soyuz at 12:20 GMT on 15 July into a 123 x 101 km orbit at inclination 51.8. Ideally, only a single orbital manoeuvre will be required to configure the orbit for rendezvous, this being an apogee burn to circularise the orbit at a radius of 123 km on revolution 17. A small trim burn may be necessary to compensate for insertion errors on the fourth revolution - flight controllers will use post-launch information from Russian and American tracking stations to determine whether or not a trim burn is needed.

NASA will launch the ASTP Apollo at 19:50 GMT on 15 July into a 90 x 81 km orbit. The Apollo will consist of the CSM III atop a Saturn 1B SA-210 rocket. Sixty-four minutes after launch the CSM III will separate from the S-IVB stage adaptor, turn around and dock with the drogue on the docking module; 2 hours and 34 minutes into the flight the CSM III will extract the drogue from its truss assembly mounting. Around 21:36 GMT Apollo will begin a series of complex manoeuvres in preparation for rendezvous with Soyuz at 121 km altitude at 15:52 GMT on 17 July.

By 17 July, the orbit of Soyuz will have decayed three kilometres from its circular 123 km orbit. Docking should occur at 16:15 GMT. The first transfer from one craft to another will begin when the Apollo astronauts pressurise the docking module to 34 kPa, then remove the CSM III command module hatch and stow it under a couch. They will then open the hatch at the Apollo end of the docking module, and two of them will enter the module, close the hatch behind them and re-pressurise the module to 69 kPa. The cosmonauts in Soyuz will then open the hatch at their end of the docking module and equalise the pressure. The Americans will then enter the Russian craft. The crews will adopt the reverse procedure when the Americans return to Apollo.

The two spacecraft will separate at about 16:35 GMT on 19 July after 48 hours and 20 minutes of joint activity. The Soyuz de-orbit burn is timed for 10:06 GMT on 21 July with landing at 12:51 GMT. In the meantime, Apollo will conduct an extensive programme of experiments before performing its de-orbit burn at 18:06 GMT on 27 July. Apollo will jettison the docking module five minutes later and CSM III will splash-down at 18:55 GMT. The Apollo flight will last for 11 days 23 hours and 5 minutes. The Apollo flight will be America's 32nd manned spaceflight and will bring to an end, for the time being, the era of conventional manned spaceflight by that country.

Radio enthusiasts may like to note that the following frequencies will be used during ASTP. Soyuz and the Russian ground stations will use VHF amplitude-modulated radios operating on the 121.75MHz band. 2256 MHz and 2077 MHz feeds will be relayed through AST 6 satellite stations from synchronous orbit, and this will improve voice and television coverage.

Source: Flight International

February 1976

Viking Probe To Mars

Reports are coming in that the US Viking probe currently en route to Mars is suffering some technical difficulties with its soil analysis equipment. Strangely enough, the fault appears to have developed in the same region of space as many incidents involving Russian space probes.

According to a film produced by NASA and shown recently on The Sky At Night (BBC1) it looks like some form of organic life might exist on Mars, so it will be interesting to see what results the Viking probe will achieve if it arrives on the planet with its equipment intact.

September 1976

Is There Life On Mars?

The biology experiments on Viking 1 have given ambiguous results. Upon wetting some Martian soil, a large volume of oxygen was released; however it is unclear whether this was of biological or chemical origin (peroxides locked in the soil). Scientists will not resolve the question definitively for some time, weeks, or maybe years. However, whatever the answer, there is now known to be an abundant supply of oxygen locked in the Martian soil which could be used by colonists in future decades.

Viking 2 lands on Mars on 04 September 1976.

Source: New Scientist, 12 August 1976

November 1976

The Viking Mission To Mars

It is widely known that NASA has sent two automatic Viking probes to Mars. The probes have two main objectives:

  1. To search for evidence of life on Mars, either existing now or in former times.

  2. To obtain information that will improve mankind's understanding of how planet Earth developed as a body able to support life, and how best to preserve and protect the Earth's environment.

If a Viking probe found evidence of life on Mars, that would be an incredible achievement in itself, but would also mean that the chances of finding life among the 100,000,000,000 or so stars in our galaxy were also greatly increased.

The Viking spacecraft are designed to make three basic types of scientific study of Mars.

The Viking project is managed by NASA's Langley Research Centre, Hampton, Virginia. The Martin Marietta Corporation designed and built the landers and two Titan III launch vehicles. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California was responsible for building the orbiters and is now responsible for craft tracking and mission control. Eighty scientists in thirteen science teams are responsible for the science projects.

The Lander

The lander is a cuboid-shaped object with three protruding legs. Main features of the lander are:

The Orbiter

The orbiter is the larger of the two modules of the Viking spacecraft, having the lander attached by a truss connected to the Viking Landing Capsule (lander). The orbiter is a larger version of the successful Mariner orbiter, and the lander separates from the orbiter on entry into the Martian atmosphere. The orbiter has a large surface of solar panels which supply 620 watts of electric power for its systems. It also has a large parabolic antenna which it keeps pointed towards the Earth to provide a communications link with NASA's worldwide Deep Space Network.

Source: NASA

December 1976

The Space Shuttle

Recently, NASA rolled out the first Space Shuttle from the Palmdale facility in California. Gerald Ford named the first Shuttle Enterprise, after the Starship Enterprise in the TV series Star Trek. Enterprise is only one third of the height of a Saturn V, yet it represents a new stage in space techniques, rocketry and technology.

The Space Shuttle comprises the Orbiter, an external tank that contains the ascent propellant used by the Orbiter's main engines, and the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs). The Orbiters and SRBs are reusable, whereas the external tank is expended on each mission.

A typical Space Shuttle mission proceeds as follows. The mission begins with the installation of the mission cargo into the Orbiter. The SRBs and the Orbiter's main engines fire simultaneously at lift-off. The Shuttle jettisons the SRBs at an altitude of 50 km. The SRBs descend on parachutes and drop into the sea approximately 300 km from the launch site. The SRBs are recovered, re-conditioned, and re-used. After the Space Shuttle jettisons the SRBs and is set on the correct ascent path, it jettisons the external tank, which falls in either the Indian ocean or South Pacific Ocean depending on the location of the launch site. The Orbiter then continues into orbit. The Orbiter uses the Orbital Manoeuvring System (OMS) to attain the desired orbit and to undertake any desired orbital manoeuvres (e.g. manoeuvring near to a faulty satellite to undertake a repair). Once in orbit, as soon as the payload doors are open, the crew begins payload operations. When payload operations are complete, the crew initiates de-orbit manoeuvres and commences re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere at a height and angle such that when the Orbiter reaches low altitude it glides in to land much like conventional plane. NASA aims for a best turnaround time on the Orbiter of two weeks.

The current Orbiter vehicle is designed to carry a crew of seven into orbit (although the initial baseline crew is four) including scientific and technical personnel and payload specialists. The remainder of the vehicle, the SRBs and external tank, are used only to boost the Orbiter into orbit. While the Orbiter is in orbit, it is powered by rocket motors, with fuel tanks in the rear of the Orbiter. During atmospheric flight, the Orbiter is controlled and stabilised by the aerodynamic surfaces on its wings and the vertical stabiliser (tail fin).

An Orbiter on standby status can attain orbit within 24 hours of the decision to launch. An Orbiter can accommodate a maximum of 10 astronauts, so it is possible to launch a second Orbiter to rescue the crew of an Orbiter which becomes disabled while in orbit.

Technical Data:


    System                                56 m

    Orbiter                                37 m



    System                                23 m

    Orbiter                                17 m



    Orbiter                                24 m



    Gross lift-off                        2,000,000 kg

    Orbiter on landing                85,000 kg



Solid Rocket Boosters (2)        11,800,000 N each

Orbiter main engines                 2,100,000 N each


Cargo Bay Dimensions

    Length                                 18 m

    Diameter                              5 m



    Unmanned spacecraft to fully equipped laboratory


Mission Details
    SRB separation                     altitude 50 km at velocity 5200 km/hr

    Orbit insertion                       altitude 215 km at velocity 28,300 km/hr

    Orbital operations                 altitude 185 - 1100 km, duration up to 30 days

    Atmospheric re-entry            altitude 140 km at velocity 28,100 km/hr

    Landing                                within a zone of plus or minus 2000 km

January 1977

Space Exploration

NASA scientists have developed mobile soft-landers which may be incorporated on future Viking missions to Mars and other planets. The Elastic Loop Mobility System (ELMS) can climb slopes of up to 45 and it is envisaged that such a vehicle could undertake a two year mission covering 500 km. The technology would involve replacing the three landing pads on the current Viking lander with barrel-shaped continuous loops.

Source: New Scientist, vol. 72, p. 388

May 1977

X-Ray Satellite

If all went well, the largest X-ray astronomy satellite yet, HEAO-A, was blasted into orbit on 15 April 1977 from Kennedy Space Centre, Florida. The satellite is only half the size that it was going to be because the US Congress cut NASA's budgets.

Source: New Scientist, vol. 74, no. 1074, p. 76

June 1977

Space Politics

Some equatorial nations have been laying claim to the part of the sky above them, which may be occupied by a satellite in a geostationary orbit. The claim rests on the assertion that the gravitational attraction of the ground beneath has a special influence on a geostationary satellite.

Source: Nature-Times News Service

July 1977

Possible Joint US-USSR Space Mission

NASA and the Soviet Academy Of Sciences announced an agreement to begin tentative discussions about the possibility of undertaking a joint space mission in the 1980s. One possible plan is to ferry astronauts up to the Salyut space station in the Space Shuttle (due to enter service in 1979).

Source: New Scientist

International Messages To Extra-Terrestrials

The two Voyager spacecraft due to be launched later in 1977 will fly-by Jupiter and Saturn, and perhaps Uranus and Neptune. They will leave the Solar System in 1989. They will carry messages from UN delegates in 13 different languages for the benefit of any extra-terrestrials who may intercept the craft in the far distant future! Also included are pieces of music, animal sounds and digital information, all encoded on two copper gramophone records.

Source: New Scientist

August 1977

International Space Programme

The joint Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) mission in July 1975 was the occasion of the first meeting between American and Russian astronauts in space. Recent reports indicate that another joint mission is planned. In 1981, an American Space Shuttle will dock with a Russian Salyut space station. This event should be visible in our skies since the orbit of Salyut (usually 52 inclination) passes over the UK.

In addition to superpower detente in space, there appears to be competition to get the first non-superpower astronaut into space. The USSR is training East German astronauts, and may soon put one into orbit. Similarly, the European Space Agency (ESA) is to supply NASA with two European astronauts (possibly British) to fly on the first spacelab mission. (Spacelab is a small spacestation/laboratory.) ESA is building spacelab, which will be launched by a space shuttle in July 1980.

Source: Flight International

Planetary Probes

NASA has several planetary probes in the pipeline. It will launch two Voyager probes later in 1977, which will reach Jupiter in 1979, Saturn in 1981, Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. Pioneer 11 will reach Saturn in 1979, but its cameras will probably fail before then.

NASA will soon launch a Pioneer probe to Venus. The agency is also planning a lunar polar orbiter which will spend a year mapping the entire Moon.

The Mars orbiters and landers of Vikings 1 and 2 are still functioning, although both probes are in semi-hibernation to conserve power during the northern hemisphere Martian winter which has just started. The probes are only running their mini-weather stations, with all other electricity being used to keep the landers warm. The probes' biology experiments have been switched off for good. There is some concern that the lander of Viking 2 may not survive the Martian winter.

NASA aims to launch two spacecraft for Mars in December 1983 and January 1984. Each probe will consist of an orbiter (like Viking), three hard-landing penetrators, and a soft-landing mobile roving vehicle. Each rover will carry experiments to study the chemistry of Martian soil. Significantly, the missions will carry no biology experiments. NASA hopes to launch a probe in 1990 to land on Mars, collect a sample of soil and rock, and return it to Earth for analysis.

Finally, NASA plans a mission to Halley's Comet in the 1980's. The mission will be driven either by a solar sail or by an ion drive, both forms of propulsion which until now have been confined to the realms of science fiction. The probe will pass through the tail of the comet and then spiral in towards the nucleus. Unless material from the comet damages the probe, it will land on the nucleus of the comet.

The Space Shuttle, augmented by an 'interim upper stage rocket' will be used to launch the missions to Mars and Halley's Comet.

The Space Telescope (ST)

NASA plans to put a 2.4m reflecting telescope into Earth orbit using the Space Shuttle in the 1980's. The telescope will be called simply the Space Telescope (ST). The ST will be of great benefit to astronomy: positioned above the Earth's atmosphere, it will be free from the hazards of the weather, poor seeing and light pollution with which terrestrial astronomers are all too familiar. As a result, the ST will be able to capture images with higher resolution than ever before achieved. For example, the theoretical resolution (diffraction limit) of the Orwell Park 26cm refractor is 0.5 arcsec; however in practice this is worsened to 1 arcsec in good seeing and 5 arcsec in poor seeing. The 5m Palomar telescope has a theoretical resolution of 0.023 arcsec, but typical seeing limits this to 0.5 - 2.0 arcsec. The ST will have a resolution of 0.05 arcsec - ten times better than the Palomar telescope at its best!

The excellent resolution of the ST will yield a wealth of new data for astronomers and astrophysicists. For example, it should yield:

The improved measures of stellar positions and spectra offer some of the biggest potential rewards. Surprisingly little work has been done to date to catalogue stars by parallax/distance. In fact, the catalogue of stars is only complete out to 50 light years, beyond which only bright stars like Rigel and Betelgeuse have had their vital statistics (distance, mass, luminosity, etc) measured accurately. The ST should be able to measure stellar parallaxes out to about 500 light years, enabling astronomers to populate the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram much more fully, and thereby develop improved theories of stellar evolution.


All six Apollo missions which landed on the Moon left behind experiments, called ALSEPs (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Packages).

The Apollo 11 ALSEP was solar powered and only operated for two weeks. However, the other five ALSEPs (Apollos 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17) were powered by small atomic generators and are still working, with their seismometers in particular returning good data on moonquakes. However, the ALSEPs are developing gremlins, and from time to time they stop transmitting data, then without warning start again.

It costs NASA $1 million per annum to collect ALSEP data, and sadly since no further funding is available NASA will turn off all the ALSEPs at the end of the 1977 financial year.

Source: Aerospace Daily

When Is A Telescope Not A Telescope?

Crafty planners at NASA have changed the name of the Spacelab Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope to Starlab. This change is to avoid any sensitivities of the US government, which, after funding the expensive Space Telescope, is likely to be suspicious of any project with the word telescope in its name!

Source: Aerospace Daily

September 1977

Funding For NASA Long Term Projects

Two of NASA's long-term projects which had been threatened with being axed due to budget cuts have been reprieved. The projects concerned are the Jupiter Orbiter, due for launch in 1981 or 1982, and the Space Telescope (ST). The US government has approved $17.7m out of a budgetary request of $20.7m for the Jupiter Orbiter, and has approved the full requested $36m for the ST.

NASA has not yet requested funding for its planned Halley's Comet probe and Mars probes.

Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology, 25 July 1977, vol 107, no 4.

October 1977

Probes To The Outer Solar System

Pioneer 10 returned the first close-up pictures of Jupiter in November 1973. Pioneer 11 returned close-up pictures of Jupiter in December 1974. Pioneer 11 is now on its way towards Saturn, due to return pictures in September 1979. NASA is tracking the trajectory of Pioneer 11 in the vicinity of Saturn and will use the information obtained to refine the trajectory of Voyager 11 past Saturn and onwards to Uranus and Neptune.

NASA aims to launch a Jupiter Orbiter probe in 1981/82. The Jupiter orbiter will launch a probe into Jupiter's atmosphere and will orbit the planet for three years taking photographs of its atmosphere (particularly the Great Red Spot) and the Galilean satellites. Exciting pictures of the Jovian system are now just around the corner!

The following table summarises the status of probes to the outer Solar System as of late 1977.

Probe Event Date
Pioneer 10 Launch February 1972
Pioneer 11 Launch March 1973
Pioneer 10 Jupiter fly-by November 1973 (mission ended)
Pioneer 11 Jupiter fly-by December 1974 (re-targeted to Saturn)
Voyager 2 Launch 20 August 1977
Voyager 1 Launch 05 September 1977
Voyager 1 Jupiter fly-by 05 March 1979 (then re-targeted to Saturn)
Voyager 2 Jupiter fly-by 10 July 1979 (then re-targeted to Saturn)
Pioneer 11 Saturn fly-by September 1979 (mission ends)
Voyager 1 Saturn fly-by 12 November 1980 (mission ends)
Voyager 2 Saturn fly-by 21 August 1981 (re-targeted to Uranus)
Jupiter Orbiter Launch Winter 1981-82
Jupiter Orbiter Jupiter orbit entry End 1983
Jupiter Orbiter Mission ends Approx 1985
Voyager 2 Uranus fly-by 30 January 1986
Voyager 2 Neptune fly-by 1990 (mission ends)

Source: Aerospace Daily, New Scientist, Flight International

NASA Turns A Deaf Ear To The Moon

In September 1977, Houston's Johnson Space Centre announced that after the end of September 1977, due to budget constraints, it will no longer be able to monitor data radioed from the ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Packages) instruments left on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts. The ALSEP instruments have lasted longer than expected. An Apollo 12 seismometer is still returning data. Three other seismometers, a charged particle experiment, a magnetometer, a lunar heat device and a solar wind sampler are also returning data.

All the above instruments will be radioing readings back to Earth, possibly into the early 1980s, but after the end of September 1977, there will be nobody at the receiving end to receive the messages.

Source: New Scientist

First Flight Of The Space Shuttle

The Space Shuttle Orbiter (37m long x 24m wide), which ascends like a rocket and descends like an airplane, had its first subsonic flight on 12 August 1977.

A Boeing 747 jet carried the Orbiter to an altitude of 6.7km above the Mohave Desert. Then, the aerospace navigator Fred W Haise, a veteran of Apollo 13, detonated the explosive attachment bolts which separate the Orbiter from the Boeing jet. There was a slight malfunction when one of the four onboard computers failed at the moment of separation, but apart from that the flight was trouble-free. The flight lasted 5 min 41 sec after the Orbiter separated from the Boeing jet. Haise reported that the Orbiter had very good roll control, more like a fighter than a big aircraft. At least three more landing tests are scheduled for Autumn 1977.

Source: New Scientist, July 1977

November 1977

Space Colonisation

It has been announced at the first European meeting of the L-5 Society (a body which believes in promoting space colonisation) that NASA and ERDA hope to make a joint study of the prospects of building an orbital solar power station to be operational within 20 years. A scientist from Princeton proposed that the minor planet zone would be a better base for space colonisation than would the Moon, since the former contains more carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen.

February 1978


The four Europeans chosen to undergo intensive training for Spacelab - to be launched by NASA's Space Shuttle - will soon begin their two year training at Houston, Texas. Spacelab will usher in a new era of space research, for the crew will comprise trained scientists working in space rather than trained astronauts attempting to to undertake scientific research, as previously.

Seventy-six experiments have been devised for the Spacelab scientists to perform, including the following:

Source: The Times

March 1978

Space Shuttle

The Space Shuttle is NASA's first re-useable space vehicle and NASA has plans for more than 500 flights. NASA scientists are racing to ready the Space Shuttle for operational use, because they wish to use it to lift Skylab into a higher orbit to arrest the gradual decay of its orbit. NASA will send the Space Shuttle into orbit, where it will manoeuvre close to Skylab and then attach itself to the latter via its extendable robot arm. The Space Shuttle will then fire its main motor and push the 85 tonne, 36m long space station into a higher orbit, where it will remain available for use by later missions.

In August 1978, NASA will attach the external propellant tank and booster rockets to the Space Shuttle at Cape Canaveral in preparation for the maiden flight, with a skeleton two-man crew, in 1978.

April 1978


Skylab, NASA's orbiting space station, is in danger of falling to Earth during 1979 if radical action is not taken! In the five years since the launch of Skylab, its orbit has decayed from a height of 440 km to 400 km due to the effect of atmospheric drag.

NASA plans to use the Space Shuttle, due to enter operations in Spring 1979, to attach booster rockets to Skylab. The boosters will power Skylab into a higher orbit, above the denser layers of the Earth's atmosphere. In the meantime, Skylab is tumbling, which cases increased atmospheric drag. NASA is attempting to re-establish radio contact with Skylab, and if successful, controllers will command Skylab to re-orientate itself so as to reduce the effect of atmospheric drag.

Source: New Scientist

July 1978

Spacelab II, 1981-82

It is expected that Bruce Patchett of Appleton Laboratory and Keith Strong of Mullard will be the choice of British personnel, selected from eight candidates, for the seven day space mission, Spacelab II. The final selection will be made in summer 1978.

GEOS-2 Launch

GEOS-2 is scheduled for launch by an American rocket on Friday 14 July 1978. GEOS-1 was launched approximately one year earlier. British Aerospace Dynamics built GEOS-1 and GEOS-2 on behalf of ESA (European Space Agency). The GEOS satellites are intended to study magnetic field and plasma space science.

GEOS-1 was planned to go into a circular, 24-hour orbit. Unfortunately, the launch vehicle went wrong and GEOS-1 ended up in an elliptical 12 hour orbit which has severely restricted its usefulness. GEOS-2 is the back-up, and will be the second attempt to get a GEOS into correct orbit. Let's hope that the launch is successful this time!

August 1978

Jodrell Bank MTRLI Project

The Science Research Council has awarded a grant of 3.lm to Jodrell Bank for the construction of two new 25 metre radio dishes, to complete a facility called the Multi-Telescope Radio-Linked Interferometer (MTRLI). The MTRLI will consist of a total of seven radio dishes, all linked to a central computer, to be used in various combinations to create a radio 'zoom lens' for looking at distant objects (in particular, quasars) with various magnifications.

Source: New Scientist

September 1978

Project Cameo

The main aim of Project Cameo is to find out more about the ways in which ions are transported and accelerated within Earth's magnetosphere. A Delta rocket will launch NASA's Nimbus-G meteorology satellite in late September or early October 1978. The last stage of the launch rocket will release a cloud of lithium vapour into sunlit space at an altitude of approximately 950 km above NW Europe (approximately 25E, 75N) at approximately 01:00 UT on the chosen day.

The cloud will expand rapidly after release and follow the satellite trajectory southward, then disappear into the Earth's shadow south of the UK. The cloud should appear bright, deep red, and should be quite spectacular. It should take some five minutes to reach a near-full-sky diameter of a few thousand kilometres.

The GEOS II satellite, and hopefully a large number of ground-based observers, will observe lithium ions produced by photo-ionisation. For ground-based observers, 35mm cameras with a fast, fairly wide angle lens should be quite suitable using high speed colour film with a two - five second exposure. The BAA is encouraging amateur astronomers to attempt observation of the phenomenon.

The Continuing Saga Of Skylab

After the third attempt in three months, on 19 July 1978, NASA placed Skylab into the correct orbit once more. The 85 tonne space station was directed into the 'solar inertial' position, with all its solar panels facing the Sun. This has stopped the pitching and rolling movements which caused atmospheric drag pulling the craft towards Earth.

Source: New Scientist

Pioneer Venus - A Prospectus

At this time mankind has more or less finished reconnaissance of the inner planets and is now concentrating on exploration. Mariner 10 was the first probe to undertake a reconnaissance of Venus when it flew past in February 1974 at a distance of 5300 km. Its main task was to study the oscillatory movement of the Venusian atmosphere - a one km vertical movement caused by the solar wind. Exploration of Venus is now proceeding apace with currently the two spacecraft of the Pioneer Venus (PV) probe on a multi-million kilometre journey to the planet. These spacecraft, together with their smaller 'child' capsules, should tell us much about the planet's atmosphere and weather conditions.

PV will be the first probe to make a prolonged observation of Venus and its unusual atmosphere. An Atlas Centaur rocket launched the first of the two PV spacecraft, the Orbiter, on 20 May 1978. The Orbiter is expected to arrive at Venus on 04 December 1978. The second of the spacecraft, the Multiprobe, was launched on 08 August and is due to arrive five days after the Orbiter, on 09 December.

Once at Venus, the Orbiter is due to go into a 24 hour orbit, with periapsis of about 200 km and apapsis of 67,000 km, at an inclination 105 to the ecliptic. The Orbiter is expected to have a lifetime of at least 243 days (one Venusian day). The objectives of the Orbiter mission are as follows:

In all, the Orbiter carries 11 scientific experiments intended to study Venus and one designed to pin-point sources of gamma rays in space.

The Multiprobe consists of a main part called the Bus together with four smaller probes. All four small probes will separate from the Bus at the same time, about three weeks before orbital insertion. Each of the small probes will traverse separate but similar paths and plunge into the atmosphere within eleven minutes of each other, impacting the surface within a 20-minute period. Each small probe will transmit data for about an hour. The Bus is expected to enter the atmosphere 90 minutes after the last small probe. The Bus will transmit data all the time until it disintegrates or impacts the surface.

The largest of the small probes will carry seven instruments to obtain data on the composition and structure of the atmosphere and clouds and the temperature of the planet. Each of the other three small probes will carry three experiments to obtain data on the radiation and structure of the atmosphere and clouds. Date from the probes should explain why Venus has such a high atmospheric temperature and pressure, as the so-called greenhouse effect does not account for such high temperatures, given that Venus' atmosphere consists principally of carbon dioxide (97%).

The small probes are designed to withstand impact with Venus, and even if they survive the harsh Venusian environment for only a few seconds after impact they should provide data on the rotation of the planet through analysis of Doppler shifts of the frequency of their transmissions.

Each part of the mission will transmit data direct to the NASA Deep Space Network. The Orbiter and Multiprobe are similar, with 75% of equipment common to both. Louvres keep the internal temperature of the spacecraft and their associated equipment constant. Solar cells on the outside of the spacecraft provide electrical power in the form of 28 V DC, and this is augmented by two 7.5 amp-hour nickel-cadmium batteries.

To date, all problems with the Orbiter and Multiprobe have been overcome. The probes are spin-stabilised at 15 RPM and everything seems act for the encounters with Venus on 04 and 09 December 1978.

October 1978

NASA Satellite To Broadcast UN Conference

The United Nations will use the world's most powerful communications satellite, CTS (Communications Technology Satellite), in a demonstration of satellite communications capability designed to evaluate the feasibility of remote simultaneous interpretation of a conference, and facsimile transmission of conference documents for remote translation.

The conference in question is the UN conference on technical cooperation between developing countries, which will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cooperating in this venture will be ENTEL and COMSAT. Transmissions will be passed by a Lewis Research Centre mobile terminal at UN headquarters in Washington to a COMSAT terminal at Buenos Aires.

Source: NASA

Project Cameo

The original likely launch date for Project Cameo was either 17-18 or 20-21 September 1978. However, launch has been postponed to 22 October 1978, this being the current date for launch of the Nimbus G spacecraft. This date is pending investigation of a suspected fault in the instrumentation of the Nimbus G craft. Project Cameo aims to release lithium vapour into space above the Earth's North Pole to give information about the behaviour of ions in the polar regions.

If all goes well, after 22 October, it is expected that an official answerphone service will be kept up to date with information on potential vapour release for each night, generally likely to be within one hour of 01:30 UT (02:30 BST), the uncertainty being due to orbital variations. The answerphone service will provide information useful for observers of Cameo's lithium vapour releases. It will also enable observers to report local weather conditions to feed in to the decision-making process to decide whether or not to release vapour on a particular night.

A clear NE horizon will be needed to observe the lithium vapour trail just after release. The trail should appear from Ipswich (and most of southern England) at about 10 elevation and 30 azimuth. More accurate figures on this are not available at present owing to the orbital passage uncertainties on different nights.

From release time to release + 2 minutes, the cloud should be small and bright enough to be seen against suburban street lights. Naked-eye scans or binoculars should give the best views of the cloud very soon after release. Observers working photographically on Project Cameo, having been informed of the vapour release time to an accuracy of about one minute or so, will have their cameras set-up and pointing to the general area to best advantage, and should start picture-taking at least one minute before expected lithium ejection time.

A fixed camera mount (with adjustment for better pointing to the new positions of the cloud after about three, five and possibly seven minutes as necessary) should be used, and a camera with a wide angle lens, preferably over 55 to 60, and short focal length, 35mm or below, and wide aperture, F2.8 or more, is really needed to contribute to Project Cameo photography so that exposure times can be kept to a minimum. Also very desirable is a film which will give a high ASA speed rating in the far-red, to capture the 670nm lithium vapour cloud. The 670nm subject will render nominal ASA ratings unreliable - in some cases drastically reduced. Dr Rees, in charge of photo directions for Project Cameo in the UK, suggests that Kodacolor, normal rating 400 ASA, will be effectively only 10 ASA on this subject, whilst the slide film Ektachrome 200, normally 200 ASA rating, is expected to need little de-rating.

A pre-arranged exposure sequence is recommended, allowing perhaps 20 or 30 or so pictures to be taken, accurately timed and evenly spaced. Using fast combinations of equipment, exposure times of two seconds or less should be practicable, lending more accuracy and cloud edge definition to the pictures. All pictures for 'official recognition' should be in colour, though there is nothing to stop anyone taking b/w pictures if they wish!

November 1978

Launch Date For Space Shuttle

After months of continual problems, NASA has finally announced a provisional launch date for the first flight of the Space Shuttle. The date is 28 September 1979, assuming that all remaining tests are successful, and that various adjustments to the Orbiter's manoeuvring system and solid rocket motors are carried out on schedule. (And assuming that NASA can come up with the extra required $100m - $200m!)

The principal problem has been the Shuttle's main engine, which failed its initial firing tests. However, all recent tests have been entirely successful. If all goes well during the coming months, and the 53 hour long first flight is made on schedule, it will considerably improve the chances of saving Skylab, which by present NASA estimates will remain stable in space until June 1980. The second space shuttle mission planned for late 1979 or early 1980 is designed to attach a supplementary engine to the limping space station to boost it into a higher and safer orbit.

Source: New Scientist

Soviet Space Duration Record

The two Soviet cosmonauts on board Salyut 6, Vladimir Kovalyonok and Alexander Ivanchenko, have easily beaten the 84 day record for space duration set by astronauts in Skylab. The cosmonaut's flight began on 17 June 1978, and at the time of writing totals well over 100 days and is still going strong.

Source: NASA

Gamma Ray Satellite Experiments

NASA has selected five experiments to board the gamma-ray satellite due to be launched in 1984. The satellite will study high energy gamma-ray bursts from pulsars and other sources. Experiments should also make clearer the composition of neutron stars. However, funds for this mission have not yet been approved by the US Congress.

Source: NASA

Tiros-N Launch

NASA launched a new generation satellite, Tiros-N, from the Western Test Range in California. The satellite is classified as an operational meteorological monitoring platform, positioned in polar orbit. The instruments on board reflect a considerable technological advance over the previous series of satellites launched by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Functions of Tiros-N are:

  1. Improved weather analysis.

  2. More accurate location of ocean currents.

  3. Advice on fishing and shipping routes.

  4. Data on snow cover, snowmelt and snow flow.

These are just the terrestrial applications, and there are many more experiments designed to analyse the interaction between solar radiation and the Earth's atmosphere.

Source: NASA

Pegasus 1 Re-entry

On 17 September 1978, Pegasus 1 re-entered the Earth's atmosphere. Predictions were that the bulk of the satellite, weighing 9705 kg, would burn up on re-entry, but that a remaining mass of 726 kg would survive descent to the ground. However, there was minimal expectation of damage since the majority of Pegasus' orbit crossed the oceans. Pegasus was designed to gather data on micrometeoroids, small particles drifting in space.

Source: NASA

Nimbus-G Launch

NASA has launched a new generation satellite, Nimbus-G, which is is now in a 955 km high orbit, with an orbital period of 104 minutes. The satellite is designed to monitor, for the first time, man-made and natural pollutants in the atmosphere.  The project in being run in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Nimbus-G is classified as environmental, for monitoring the general surroundings associated with Man's activities on Earth. ESA is also participating in the work with a ground station at Lannion, France, to process Nimbus-G data.

Source: NASA

NASA - Canada Collaboration

Canada's Department of Energy, Mines and Resources signed an agreement with NASA allowing the Canadian authorities to operate a ground station at Shoe Cove, Newfoundland, to receive data from the Seasat satellite.

Source: NASA

Space Shuttle Main Engine

The Space Shuttle main engine, the cause of so much difficulty during mid-1978, has passed the major milestone of 5000 seconds firing time at NASA's space technology laboratories. This is significant, as it is the time required for the engine type to be certified for manual flight.

Source: NASA

Satellite Launches Postponed

Some satellite launches have had to be postponed due to tape recorder and computer troubles. The equipment involved is standard NASA design, and the problems are said to be not serious.

Source: NASA

20th Anniversary Of NASA

01 October 1978 marked the 20th anniversary of NASA. More recently, President Carter visited Cape Canaveral to award the new Congressional Medal of Honour to distinguished astronauts, including Neil Armstrong.

Source: NASA

Voyager Statistics, 06 October 1978

Parameter Voyager 1 Voyager 2
Distance from Earth (km) 705 000 000 669 000 000
Distance to Jupiter (km) 151 000 000 201 000 000
Distance to Saturn (km) 959 000 000 959 000 000
Distance travelled from launch (km) 817 000 000 831 000 000
Velocity relative to Earth (km/hr) 89 530 97 560

Source: NASA

Project Cameo

Project Cameo aims to release elements into space above the Earth's North Pole to give information about the behaviour of ions in the polar regions. Release of the elements over the North Pole is scheduled for daytime on 28 October, and it is thought possible that some phenomena may be visible for circa five minutes to visual observers on the ground at high latitudes as the elements are funnelled along the Earth's magnetic field lines. Scientists running Project Cameo will use photo-discrimination apparatus to record any phenomena.

Source: NASA

December 1978

Space Processing

Steel executives in the US heard the president of Rockwell's Aerospace Division lay down the potential for space processing to be developed on the Space Shuttle. Besides acquainting them with the benefits of zero-G, he emphasized the 'exotic' metals which could be produced in space when the Shuttle becomes fully operational.

Source: New Scientist, 09 November 1978

Pioneer Venus

The two Pioneer Venus craft passed critical in-flight tests, making them ready for a Venus encounter. The timing and separation mechanisms were tested on the Multiprobe, the equipment which should allow four small probes to plummet into the atmosphere of Venus. The essential systems which will place the Orbiter in orbit around Venus have also been tested. 6400 commands have been sent to the Orbiter, and 3600 to the Multiprobe, since their respective launches.

Source: NASA

End Of An Era

The USNS Vanguard, one of the ships designed to fill-in gaps in the deep-space network, is being transferred to a new assignment. The ship supported the Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz projects, totalling 12 years service. The Vanguard was essentially an ocean-borne tracking station, and will now be used for navigational and ocean survey work.

Source: NASA

Seasat-A Hitch

Following the loss of communication from the new ocean monitoring satellite Seasat-A on 10 October 1978, NASA engineers are still trying to revive systems aboard the crippled craft. At Goddard Space Flight Center, efforts are continuing to trace the fault by analysing the data received from the satellite just before contact was lost. The problem is thought to be power failure in the batteries, and engineers are waiting until December 1978 when solar panel alignment will provide 100% power to the batteries which hopefully will overcome the fault.

Source: NASA

Space Shuttle

The target date for the first Space Shuttle launch is now set for 28 September 1979. Measures have been taken to accelerate the installation of the thermal tiles and to speed up assembly of the craft. Testing of the main engines is continuing and between 10 September and 12 October 1978, they were fired for a total of 3800 seconds, most of the time at full thrust. Subsequent inspection proved the engine design to be reasonably sound. Another test firing of a Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) engine was also successful. And for the first time, all parts of the Shuttle system have come together: two SRBs, an external tank and an Orbiter underwent vertical vibration tests in Alabama.

The Shuttle's orbital manoeuvring system was tested for the second time at 6000 lbs thrust (2800 kg), the engine being fired 29 times for a total of 608 seconds. These tests were carried out in what is called an altitude chamber, which roughly simulates the environment of space.

Source: NASA

Nimbus 7

The Delta rocket that was assigned the job of launching Nimbus 7 was successfully fired from Cape Canaveral on 24 October 1978. The launch is associate with Project Cameo, the release of elements into space to give information about the behaviour of ions in the Earth's polar regions. The Delta rocket released barium over Alaska on 28 October. No date was given for the release of lithium over Scandinavia.

Source: NASA

Solar Cells

Ten companies have been selected to begin contract negotiations to build more efficient solar cells. The contract is a joint venture between the US Department of Energy and NASA. The aim is to produce solar cells by 1986 with a cost below $0.50 per watt installed. This would make solar energy competitive with other sources. Currently, the average cost of solar cells for electricity installations per peak watt is in the region of $50 per watt.

NASA - ESA Data Agreement

NASA and ESA have signed an agreement allowing European ground stations to receive and process data from the Seasat, Landsat and Nimbus-G satellites, and to use it in ESA co-ordinated activities.

Source: NASA

The Venus Multiprobe Mission (Pioneer Venus)

The Multiprobe vehicle is a cylindrical, spin-stabilized craft consisting of a transporting vehicle, the Bus, with an exterior array of solar panels, one large conical probe (situated at top centre), and three smaller conical probes placed symmetrically about it. Each probe has a payload of various scientific instruments.

The spacecraft was placed into a 167 km Earth parking orbit by Atlas SLV-3D Centaur rocket on 08 August 1978, and adopted a Venus trajectory 23 minutes later. The craft was given a spin of 5 rpm, increased to 15 rpm three hours later. After contact with the Canberra ground station, velocity corrections of up to 12 m/s were transmitted to the forward antenna of the craft, 5 and 20 days after launch.

Twenty four days before arrival at Venus (scheduled for 09 December 1978), the main probe will be separated, and the craft spin increased to 48.5 rpm with a velocity correction of 5.1 m/s. This will provide a suitable trajectory for the three smaller probes, to be ejected four days later by the release of spring-loaded clamps. Two days after this, the remaining part of the craft, the transporting vehicle, will be decelerated so that it arrives 90 minutes after the probes have impacted. All the probes will transmit data simultaneously for a two-hour period on arrival at the Venusian atmosphere. The large probe will enter the atmosphere on the daylight side, using a parachute to provide an 18-minute descent between altitudes 67 and 46 km. The small probes will be aimed at widely different locations about 7000 miles (11,000 km) apart, two on the dark side of the planet and one on the light side. Each small probe will take 59 minutes to reach the surface, at a velocity of 11.6 km/s, without parachutes. Thirty minutes later, the transporting vehicle will burn up, at a height of 120 km, having transmitted data from its two main instruments. The probes are designed to withstand high temperatures, pressures and accelerations, but not impact. They should, however, provide information about the lower Venusian atmosphere and surface, which will add to theories about the origin of the planets (including Earth).

January 1979

Space Shuttle Tests

Initial tests of the Shuttle, external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters at the Marshall Space Flight Center have assured engineers of the ability of the complete unit to survive noise and vibration caused by the main engines at launch. Development testing of the Orbital Manoeuvring System has been completed successfully. The system was fired a total of 100 times at 6000 pounds thrust.

Source: Rockwell

Space Shuttle Main Engine Tests

The Shuttle's main engine has passed a 16-minute static test firing; the duration is significant as it is the length of time the engine must fire if there is a mission abort during launch. The normal burn-time for a Shuttle main engine is eight minutes; an additional eight minutes in required in the case that one of the engines fails during launch.

Source: NASA


Shuttle crews in 1980 should get tasty meals with a much wider variety than has been previously possible in space, whilst still maintaining a balanced diet of 3000 calories daily. A typical daily menu could be:

Breakfast: orange juice, peaches, scrambled eggs, sausages, sweet roll, coffee.

Lunch: cream of mushroom soup, ham and cheese sandwiches, stewed tomatoes, banana, biscuits and tea.

Dinner: shrimp cocktail with sauce, beefsteak, broccoli au gratin, strawberries, pudding, biscuits and cocoa.

The astronauts will use ordinary eating utensils, and hold their trays on their laps or fix them to the wall!

Source: NASA

Navstar III

Navstar III, a 1003 lb satellite, the third in a series of four, was launched on 06 November 1978 from the Vandenburg Airforce Base and was declared operational on 20 November, orbiting at an altitude of 10,980 miles. The fourth satellite in the series awaits launch. When all four Navstars are operational, they will constitute the Global Positioning System (GPS), which was featured on the BBC1 Panorama programme, The War in Space, in late 1978. The GPS will provide time and position data to users with the appropriate receiving equipment. When the satellite system is eventually completed with the addition of more satellites, it will be possible to pinpoint the location of objects on the surface of the Earth to within 10 metres.

Source: Rockwell / USAF


Seasat-A, NASA's experimental oceanographic satellite, was designed to take photographs and measurements of sea ice, waves, coastal conditions, sea wind speeds and sea surface temperature. Unfortunately, the satellite suffered from a fault on 10 October 1978 which caused loss of power, and after a month of continued unsuccessful attempts to restore full power, the mission has been formally terminated. A failure board working under the chairmanship of Dr Bruce Lundin is trying to determine the cause of the fault. However, the data collected during the satellite's 106 day lifetime will take more than one and a half years to interpret.

Source: NASA

Project LACIE

Project LACIE, which began in 1974 to monitor world wheat production, has come to an end. More than 200 delegates from 22 nations have diagnosed the results of the project at the Johnson Space Center. The project used data from Landsat and weather satellites to predict wheat yields. The major study areas were Canada and the USSR. The project predicted a wheat yield of 91.4 million tonnes for Siberia for 1977. The official figure released by the Russian authorities was 92.0 million tonnes, a prediction error of less than 1%. Such results show great promise for larger projects to plan future global food crops.

Source: NASA

Venusian Experiments

NASA is asking scientists for proposals for experiments to study the surface of Venus. The experiments would be carried to the planet by a spaceprobe called Venus Orbiting Imaging Radar (VOIR), which would orbit Venus during 1984 for roughly one Venusian year, using radar to provide a global map of the surface. The spaceship would be launched by the Space Shuttle, and given an extra impetus towards Venus by the use of an inertial upper stage.

Source: NASA


Canada's fourth domestic communications satellite, ANIK-B, was launched from Cape Canaveral on 15 December 1978. It will replace ANIK-A1, positioned at 109 West. The satellite will participate in social experiments such as tele-medicine, tele-education, tele-conferencing and Eskimo broadcasting.

Source: NASA


Cornell University scientists have produced metallic xenon (xenon in the rarest of the Earth's stable gases). A pressure of 320,000 atmospheres and a temperature of -241C had to be applied to produce the metal. The gas has been termed 'metallic' because during the experiment its electrical conductivity rose by one hundred billion times. The pressure required was six times that used to produce synthetic diamonds.

Source: NASA


The third NATO communications satellite was launched on 15 November 1978 from Kennedy Space Center. Apogee and perigee for the transfer orbit are 35,787 km and 185 km respectively. Eventually a solid propellant rocket on the satellite will fire to circularise the orbit at 35,787 km. At this height the satellite will slowly drift eastward; when it is over the required position, a hydrazine fuelled jet system will boost it outwards a further few kilometres into geosynchronous orbit.

Source: NASA


In early November 1978 NASA announced that it would make further changes to the attitude of Skylab to expose its control moment gyros (which sense the directional movement of the craft and positioning) to more sunlight, to prevent then from freezing. However, as reported on television on 19 December 1978, NASA has abandoned its attempts to save Skylab, and will allow the craft to re-enter Earth's atmosphere in mid-1980.

Source: NASA

Pioneer Venus

The Pioneer Venus orbiter was placed in orbit around Venus at 07:55 Pacific Standard Time on 04 December 1978, and the five atmospheric probes successfully completed their mission on 09 December. To the delight of NASA scientists, one of the three smaller probes survived intact, and relayed data for a further hour before succumbing to the intense pressure and heat on the surface of Venus. Preliminary data from the probes has revealed large amounts of Argon-36 gas in the atmosphere, which has thrown doubts on existing theories of planetary formation. Infra-red measurements have shown that clouds over the polar regions are 5.5C warmer than those over the Venusian equator.

Source: NASA, New Scientist

February 1979

Pioneer Venus Orbiter

The orbiter spacecraft of Pioneer Venus vent into orbit around Venus on 04 December 1978. At periapsis the spacecraft comes within 150 km of the planet's surface. This means that it is flying through the upper reaches of the atmosphere, enabling samples to be taken and analysed, as well as enabling radar maps of the surface to be obtained. Apoapsis of the orbiter is 66,600 km. The spacecraft takes ultra-violet and infra-red pictures of Venus' atmosphere throughout its entire orbit, the latter enabling scientists to determine the location of 'hot-spots' on the planet's surface and in its atmosphere. The spacecraft has no visual cameras, an they would be unable to observe surface features through the dense cloud cover. By making precise measurements of the orbiter's path around Venus, scientists hope to detect variations in the density of the planet immediately below the orbit. In this way it is hoped to learn much about the internal structure of Venus and whether it contains heavy metals, and pockets of high density similar to the mascons (mass concentrations) found on the Moon.

Source: NASA


NASA has decided to fit all the experiments and equipment for Spacelab at the launch site rather than at other individual NASA centres. The main reason for the decision is to reduce costs. When Spacelab becomes fully operational, the fitting of equipment for its missions is expected to require 100 man-years of work each year.

The five European and American scientists selected for the first Spacelab flight began training in January 1979. Their itinerary will take them to nine cities throughout North America where they will gain familiarity with the experiments to be conducted during the first flight in 1981. However, only one American and one European will eventually be selected for the mission, the others backing then up in different situations at Mission Control. The scientists selected are: Michael M Lampton (US), Byron K Lichtenberg (US), Ulf Merbold (W Germany), Claude Nicollier (Switzerland) and Wubbo Ockels (Holland).

Source: NASA


General Electric of Philadelphia has been awarded the contract, worth $77 million, to build Landsat-D, the most advanced satellite in the Landsat series to date. The contract contains an incentive clause, worth $4.3 million, payable on the satellite delivering specified performance in orbit. Landsat satellites provide pictures of the Earth's surface taken at various wavelengths, providing information on crop yields, types of crop, geological formations, positions of mineral deposits, etc. Landsat-D is due to be launched in Autumn 1981, into a 640 km orbit. The satellite will carry a multi-spectral scanner (MSS) as did the previous three Landsats and also a thematic mapper, which should give a resolution three times better than the MSS.

Source: NASA

Agreement on Chinese-American Co-operation

Following a visit by Dr Frank Press to China in July 1978, Dr Jen Hsin-Min of the Chinese Academy of Space Technology has signed an agreement with NASA to increase the exchange of information between China and the US. The Chinese are most interested in using Landsat-D data, as their large agricultural industry is in need of better planning.

Source: NASA

Intelsat Launcher Decision

Intelsat, the 95-strong group of countries concerned with advancing satellite telecommunications, has chosen ESA's Ariane launcher to put its sixth satellite in the Intelsat V series into orbit. This is the first commercial sale of Ariane, and the decision was made because of continuing delays in the schedule for the Space Shuttle. Intelsat wanted its satellite launched in 1981-82, but because NASA can now offer only the older Atlas and Delta launchers, costing twice as such as the Shuttle or Ariane, the only alternative was to buy Ariane.

Source: Flight International

Shuttle 099 Tests

Initial analysis of results from vibration tests at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center on Shuttle 099 indicate that the Shuttle exceeds its design stiffness requirements. Loads of 3000 psi were applied to various parts of the Shuttle, and stress variations measured. Shuttle 099 will shortly be returned to Rockwell to be made operational.

Source: Rockwell

American Defence Agency Launches

Two new American defence satellites were launched by Titan IIIC rocket on 13 December 1978. As in many satellite systems nowadays, these represent two satellites in a complete network. Each satellite when fully operational will be able to re-transmit 1300 voice channels simultaneously. Their main purpose is to provide communications between command posts and ships, aircraft, tanks, etc.

Source: Flight International

Skylab Abandoned

NASA announced on 19 December 1978 that it was abandoning attempts to save Skylab from falling back to Earth. The decision was taken following several set-backs in the plans for rescue attempts. Skylab's gyroscopes were malfunctioning and increased sunspot activity meant that the Earth's atmosphere had grown in size and Skylab was therefore experiencing increased atmospheric drag. Further, the rocket motor designed to boost Skylab to a higher orbit has fallen behind schedule, as has the entire Space Shuttle launch schedule.

Source: NASA

NASA Launches in 1978

NASA conducted a total of 20 launches in 1978, mostly for other users. One of the highlights, of course, was the Pioneer Venus mission, as significant in scientific importance as the 1976 Mars Viking landings. 1978 also saw tests of the Shuttle's return to Earth, arranged by dropping it from a Boeing 747 jet. NASA launched HEAO 2, adding to the results obtained by HEAO 1 on the high energy radiation emanating from all directions in space.

Source: NASA

Forward to 1979

NASA plans to undertake 16 launches during 1979, of which 11 are for other agencies or corporations. The main highlights will be the first launch of the Space Shuttle (currently scheduled for 28 September 1979), the Voyager encounters with Jupiter, and the Pioneer 11 fly-by of Saturn on 01 September 1979.

In 1979 the UK will be launching a satellite called UK-6. It will be put into orbit by a Scout rocket from NASA's Wallops launch area.

Source: NASA

Voyager Statistics, 01 January 1979

Parameter Voyager 1 Voyager 2
Distance from Earth (km) 598 975 000 544 445 000
One-way communication time (minutes) 33.3 30.2
Distance to Jupiter (km) 62 381 000 134 393 000
Distance to Saturn (km) 891 356 000 888 486 000
Distance travelled from launch (km) 931 872 000 936 428 000
Velocity relative to Earth (km/hr) 70 830 68 540
Date of closest approach to Jupiter 05 March 1979 09 July 1979
Date of closest approach to Saturn 12 November 1980 27 August 1981

Source: NASA

March 1979

Kennedy Space Center Prepares for the Shuttle

Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) will play a critical role in Shuttle operations and has undergone considerable development in recent years in preparation for this. Work started in April 1972 on converting the equipment and buildings at KSC from the then Saturn V launch facilities of Project Apollo to those required by the Shuttle. The main launch pad used by the Apollo Moon missions was stripped and restructured for Shuttle launches. The most prominent building at KSC is the giant Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), of which high bays one and three will be used for the final assembly of the space shuttle, external tank and two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs), collectively called the Space Transportation System (STS). High bays two and four will be used to service and store incoming external tanks and SRBs. The only completely new buildings and structures that have had to be built are the two Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs) and the landing runway. Each OPF consists of a building just outside the VAB, where Orbiters that have landed will be processed ready for re-assembly in the VAB.

After re-entry, Orbiters will land on one of the largest runways in the world, 1500 feet long by 300 feet wide, with a 1000 feet long over-run at each end. Connected to the main runway at KSC is an aircraft parking apron 550 x 450 feet in size, where the Boeing 747 used to carry the Shuttle throughout the US will unload the Orbiter ready for processing for launch. Once unloaded, the Orbiter will be taken along a two mile long tow-away to one of the OPFs. There is another tow-way which will be used to carry the external tanks to the VAB (the external tanks are shipped to KSC by barge). A landing control building opposite the apron will control runway operations, and will also help Orbiter pilots to land the 68 ton Orbiter with minimum trouble. Alternatively, a microwave scanning beam landing system can be used: it is able to land the Orbiter from orbit with the astronauts asleep if they so wish!

When Shuttle Orbiters return to Earth, they must be made safe by removing explosive elements from the vehicle, removing payloads and draining residual fuels. The forward reaction control system pods, hypergolic pods and auxiliary power fuel tanks are also removed. These procedures are undertaken in the OPF and VAB. (Some of these operations are carried out in a dust-free, environmentally controlled section of the OPF.)

During Orbiter re-entry, the thermal protection tiles on its underside are subject to searing heat (as were the heat shields of the Apollo capsules on re-entry). However, the Orbiter heat shield is repairable, as any damaged tiles can be removed and replaced with new ones. The Orbiter heat shield comprises 34,000 tiles, manufactured from material named LI-900, in various shapes. The tiles are made from 99.7% pure silica fibre, and can shed heat so readily that it would be possible to hold a block of LI-900 at a temperature of 1300C in one's bare hand. (It is hardly believable!)

Also in the OPF, communications equipment and instrumentation and the delicate landing gear will be checked. Each of the two OPF buildings consists of a 2700 square metre 'high bay' and a 2320 square metre 'low bay'. The Orbiters never enter the low bay areas, which are used for storing spare equipment, and are divided into several workshops each responsible for a particular task, for example replacing a faulty engine or checking new spacesuits for leaks. With so much liquid gas being pumped around the OPF, it is possible that chemical reactions might occur resulting in explosions or the generation of poisonous fumes. To protect against these eventualities, an emergency ventilation system is fitted in the high bays and an extensive high pressure water sprinkler system covers all areas.

The Orbiters are not the only part of the STS to require attention during landing and launch. The recoverable SRBs are also processed at KSC. When the SRBs exhaust their fuel at a height of 50 km, they fall back to Earth by parachute. Specially equipped vessels will move to the splashdown position and take the SRBs in tow back to KSC where they are split into segments for shipping to Thiokols factory, Utah. Here they are cleaned and refilled with propellant. The parachutes meanwhile are refolded in an old hangar at the nearby Canaveral Air Force Station. After shipping the segments back to KSC, the whole sequence starts again, with another launch.

If the present schedule is maintained, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle will take place on 28 September 1979. The two crew on the maiden flight will be John Young and Robert Crippen. They will blast off from Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) at Cape Canaveral and land 53 hours later at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, California.

April 1979

GARP Off To A Good Start

The Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP) is continuing well. The aim of the 147-nation project is to gather the greatest amount of data possible to enable a model to be built of the Earth's weather systems, enabling improved prediction and forecasting. Although results are, of course, lacking at present, the 40,000 ground observations, 10 satellites, 50 research vessels, 110 aircraft, 300 high-altitude balloons and 300 experimental buoys must be producing enough data to keep somebody busy!

Source: NASA

Columbia To Be First Shuttle To Orbit

Columbia, the name chosen for the first shuttle that should travel into orbit, on 09 November 1979, has prompted Dr Robert Frosch, NASA administrator, to think back to Neil Armstrong's immortal words one small leap for Man, one giant leap for mankind. In this retrospective view, the Roman numeral II might now be added to each craft, giving weight to the fact that prophesies are coming true. Columbia was moved on 09 March from Rockwell's plant at Downey to the Dryden Research Centre, where it was mounted on a Jumbo-jet for transport to Cape Canaveral.

Source: Rockwell


ESA has shipped the first of two spacelab pallets to Kennedy Space Centre, Florida. Major electrical equipment and sub-systems will be fitted while the spacelab awaits its first shuttle flight.

Source: Rockwell

Soyuz 32

Russia launched the manned spacecraft Soyuz 32 during February 1979. Cosmonauts Vladimir Lyakhov and Valerg Ryumin linked-up with the already orbiting Salyut space station.

Source: Daily Telegraph

China - Vietnam War

The war between China and Vietnam is inevitably being watched closely by the superpowers. The Americans have in orbit their Big Bird satellites for photographic surveillance. Russia, in her attempt to analyse the war situation, has launched a few more Cosmos satellites than usual, with orbits that take them over the conflict area. The Russians seem to prefer the short-lived satellites for their spying purposes, using film that is ejected at certain points in the satellite's orbit. America favours 'televised' pictures, although they are of a lower resolution. Spy satellites are now so advanced that they can reputedly resolve a man from a height of 500 km.

Source: Guardian

Background Radiation Temperature

An American Airforce U-2 spy-plane is operating from Jorge Chavez airport in Peru, detecting the background radiation from space. The plane flies at night and contains a differential microwave radiometer which measures temperatures, 60 apart, of the cosmic microwave background radiation. A similar experiment in 1976-77 found that our galaxy is travelling against the background at about one million mph.

Voyager Jupiter Encounter

Voyager 1 has returned magnificent pictures of Jupiter as it passed by on 05 March 1979. Curious plumes can be seen in the Jovian atmosphere, and the Galilean satellites appear to exhibit very different albedos and visual properties. Pre-encounter measurements of radiation found that there is an extremely strong radio emission (one billion watts) from the region of Io. Photographs of Jupiter taken four days before closest encounter show a combination of perfectly straight bands combined with other, much larger belts containing swirling vortices of gases. The Great Red Spot seems in particular to have an effect on the gases similar to that of air moving over and behind an aircraft wing. The photographs also show several small white spots. A recent photograph of Jupiter taken in the infra-red part of the spectrum by the Hale 200 inch telescope shows 'hot spots' on Jupiter's visible face and indicates when examined in conjunction with Voyager images that the 'vortex' regions of Jupiter are much hotter than their surroundings, and that the Great Red Spot is considerably cooler. Scientists have created a four day time-lapse movie from Voyager's images of Jupiter, which also shows the moons travelling in orbit.

Voyager 1, travelling at over 80,000 mph, passed within 170,000 miles of Jupiter, surviving radiation levels 1000 times greater than those allowed in nuclear power stations.

Source: JPL

NASA Puts Out The Cloth Cap For The Shuttle

NASA is asking the US Congress for an extra $185 million. Dr Yardley told the Senate that without the money, the first launch of Columbia would be delayed by four to six months. He also said that production of other shuttles would be disrupted causing an eventual increase in costs of $1 billion.

Source: Flight International

European Communications Satellites

The European Space Agency (ESA) has given a 73 million contract to the MESH Consortium, led by British Aerospace Dynamics. MESH will build two European communications satellites and two maritime communications satellites.

Source: Flight International


Ariane's second stage engine undertook a 'burn' of more than 140 seconds at Germany's space centre in Hardthausen in late February 1979. The engine is called Viking IV, and it produces a thrust in vacuo of 725,000 Newtons.

Source: Flight International

Cargo Spaceship

Russia recently launched Progress 5, a cargo-carrying space vessel, to link up with the Salyut 6 Space Station.

Thunder & Lightning

Bolts of lightning have been registered in the atmosphere of Jupiter. Voyager 1 imaged flashes nearly 20,000 miles long. The only other planets known to exhibit lightning are Earth and Venus.

Source: Daily Telegraph

Skylab De-Orbit

John F Yardley, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Transportation Systems, said at a recent US House Science and Technology sub-committee hearing: On the day Skylab drops out of orbit, the odds of being hit by lightning will be about 3000 times higher than those of being hurt by Skylab debris. The odds of sustaining a gunshot wound will be about 200,000 times higher. This tells us as much about American society as it does about Skylab!

Source: Aviation Week, Space Technology

Pioneer Venus, The Story So Far

The Pioneer spacecraft have sent back a tremendous amount of information about Venus' atmosphere, and have uncovered several major findings. Despite recent speculation to the contrary, evidence now seems to confirm that the extremely hot atmosphere is due to the so-called 'runaway greenhouse' effect. Venus appears to have three atmospheric layers, resulting from a possible sulphur-hydrogen-oxygen reaction. Instruments aboard the probes have found the main constituents of the atmosphere to be oxygen, steam and sulphur dioxide. Although the orbiter's imaging radar has poor resolving power compared with terrestrial instruments, it has shown that Venus has mountain ranges and flat plains similar to the type of topography found on Earth.

One unexpected result to come from the atmospheric probes was that argon and neon were found to be several hundred times more abundant in Venus' atmosphere than in Earth's. This finding conflicts with current theories concerning formation of the Solar System. The currently favoured theory is, of course, the 'primordial gas cloud' model, whereby the planets and Sun formed at about the same time. The theory says that the inner planets are much more rocky because the early Sun had a much stronger solar wind, which pushed the lighter elements (hydrogen, helium, neon and argon) further out to form eventually the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Any lighter elements trapped in the inner planet formations 'degassed' from the surface thus helping to create an atmosphere. Further, temperature dropped with increasing distance from the centre of the solar nebula, so that light elements could only exist in liquid form in its outer regions. The Pioneer findings may support a theory that the temperature distribution was even throughout the solar nebula. Gravity would then bring the lighter elements toward the proto-Sun region, collecting on dust grains in the process. The pressure, however, would be high, so planets would form and subsequent outgassing would occur.

Source: New Scientist

May 1979

Spacelab Costs Soaring

The ESA is seriously considering increasing funding for for Spacelab. Current costs stand at 12% of the $370 million valuation made in 1973. The main reasons for the increase are changes in the cargo bay design of the Space Shuttle and an underestimation of the complexities of building a space laboratory with human life support systems.

Source: Flight International

Shuttle SRBs Are OK

A Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) motor has successfully completed the last of its development firings, achieving a thrust of 13 million Newtons. NASA is now proposing three qualification test firings to make absolutely sure that the SRBs are ready for the first Shuttle flight. Meanwhile, NASA is studying the best way to increase the payload-to-orbit capability of the Shuttle. The aim is to be able to launch a Shuttle (from Vandeburg Airforce Base) with a payload of 32 000 lbs to a height of 150 nautical miles at 98 inclination. The plans are to add mini-SRBs to the current ones; this has probably been necessitated by the reduction of design standards during construction of the Shuttle, due to Rockwell's inability to meet the original standards.

Source: Rockwell

Shuttle Budget

The US Congress has granted NASA $27 million in its 1980 budget to keep open the option of a fifth orbiter. Dr Frosch said that interest was growing, particularly in the Air Force, in the Shuttle and its uses. If the money had not been forthcoming, Rockwell might have had to scrap special orbiter construction equipment, which would have been very expensive to recreate for any further orbiters, if needed. If the fifth Shuttle is not procured, the money will buy spare parts for the four Shuttles.

Source: Rockwell

Columbia Tiles In False Alarm

Despite reports in the news, the thermal protection tiles on the Columbia Shuttle did not fall off during its test flight. They apparently lost tiles in fact were merely some foam tiles used to make the surface smoother during transportation, held on by the space-age method of sticky-tape, which inevitably came away. Engineers later resorted to the more technological method of using glue, and Columbia was able to continue its move to Kennedy Space Centre, Florida.

Source: Rockwell

Pioneer Venus Award

The man in charge of the Pioneer Venus mission, Charles Hall, received the annual Astronautics Engineer award at the Goddard Memorial Dinner on 30 March 1979. The Pioneer Venus orbiter is still taking measurements and one of the atmospheric probes survived for an hour after impact. Pioneer Venus must undoubtedly be one of the most successful space science missions over launched.

Source: NASA Ames

Ariane Mock-Up

The Ariane propellants mock-up has been successfully erected on ESA's Guiana launch pad. However, although the importance of the test should not be minimised, engines were not fired and ballast took the place of a satellite. All the electrical systems were tested and all the tanks successfully filled with fuel, and the launch control bunker worked perfectly. The first Ariane launch in scheduled for 03 November 1979.

Source: ESA

June 1979

Skylab Demise

NASA has announced that it expects its infamous failing space station to fall to Earth by mid-July 1979. NORAD (North American Radar and Defence) expects re-entry to occur between 15 June and 02 July, with maximum likelihood on 21 June. British experts have pin-pointed the most probable date as 05 July. NASA cannot state exactly where the fragments will come to Earth, only that the sites will be within the boundaries of Skylab's orbit, 50N to 50S. NASA does, however, add that there is a 75% chance that Skylab will come down in the sea. Perhaps this statistic simply mirrors fact that the Earth's surface is three-quarters covered with water?

July 1979

Ariel-6 Launch

Ariel-6, the all-British, Marconi-built cosmic- and X-ray satellite (known before launch as UK-6) was launched on a Scout rocket, after a 10 day delay. Built at Portsmouth, it was launched around 02 June 1979, and is now travelling around the Earth at an altitude of around 600 km, circling the planet every 97 minutes.

August 1979

Skylab Re-entry, 1979 July 11 At 16:32 GMT On Orbit 34,981

Well, it's all over at last, except possibly for some shouting by folk who paid highly for insurance cover without first bothering to calculate what the real chances were of their property being hit. Some reports, which may be exaggerated, spoke of near panic as people tried to obtain insurance cover in Cornwall. Just one Cornish headland was said to lie in the possible fall path of Skylab, and this might have an area of only a few square km. Had the worried people compared this small area with that of the whole fall area, some 13,000 km by 20,000 km, giving a total area of 260,000,000 square kilometres, and further applied a reasonable factor in regard to the potential for a Skylab fragment to crash-land nearby and cause physical damage, I doubt that they would have attempted to obtain insurance cover! Even so, a great deal of damage could have been done.

According to Aerospace Daily (13 July 1979) NORAD confirmed that Skylab was still intact at 11.53 am USA Eastern Daylight Time (15:53 GMT). A few minutes later, sensors indicated the Apollo telescope mount batteries were at a temperature of 100 C rather than the usual 60 C indicating that a great deal of overheating had taken place in the solar cells. At 11.58 am EDT, NASA officials reportedly expressed some surprise that Skylab's solar panels were still attached. 

At 12:51 pm EDT, NASA received news of visual sightings of hot debris from airports in Perth, Kalgoorlie, Albany and Esperance in Australia. The Kalgoorlie sighting of 20 to 50 fragments took place at 12:33 pm EDT. Such reports were first phoned in to NASA's Canberra tracking station. And so occurred the demise of Skylab, perhaps symbolically in the circumstances on the opposite side of the Earth to its birthplace, in the dark over the Australian desert, just over six years after its launch. Skylab's main components plunged into the Indian Ocean to the great relief of NASA (and lots of other people!) as on its next orbit its 85 tonnes could have fallen on heavily-populated areas of the US.

A San Francisco newspaper has offered a $10,000 reward for the first sizeable chunk of Skylab found, delivered to their offices. (There is no quantification of sizable in this context!) 


Hughes has been awarded a contract to help build two new communications satellites for Telesat of Canada. Under the direction of the prime contractor, Hughes will supply propulsion systems, solar panels, spinning structures and bearing assemblies. The satellites, designated Anik-D, will operate in the 6/4 GHz frequency range. They will provide extensive  television and telecommunications coverage to most of Canada.

Source: Hughes Space and Communications Group

An Orbiting Space Platform

NASA has awarded General Dynamics Convair Division a contract to outline the feasibility of an orbiting space platform. The idea is to to have a device whereby many separate satellites of different types way be localised for easy servicing by the Space Shuttle. The platform would provide power and facilities for telemetry as well as stabilisation. In return, NASA would charge rent.

Source: NASA

Voyager 2 Encounter With Jupiter

Voyager 2 is due to take a close look at Jupiter on 09 July. The results from Voyager 1 suggested many new objectives, some of' which are shown below:

Source: NASA

ATS-6 Retires

ATS-6, the communications satellite which has provided five years service, three more than expected, has been finally switched off. Through the last five years, it has demonstrated the use of satellites in education, telemedicine and teleconferencing. It will soon be boosted into a higher orbit than the geostationary one that it currently occupies

Source: Lockheed MSC

Space Shuttle Main Engines

A Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) has accumulated 4422 seconds, just short of the 5000 second burn required for it to last its design lifetime. Another engine has been certified flight-worthy for Shuttle use at the National Space Technology Laboratories. SSMEs numbers 2005, 2006 and 2007 have been shipped to Kennedy Space Centre.

Source: Rockwell SSG

Enterprise on Pad 39A

After three weeks on Launch Pad 39A at Cape Kennnedy, the Shuttle Enterprise with two SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) and its ET has been moved back to the Vehicle Assembly Building. The aim of the exercise was primarily to determine whether there were any obstructions between the Shuttle and the rotating service structure.

Source: Rockwell SSG

Space Shuttle Radios

Two types of radio are now being tested for use on the Shuttle. Based on Apollo hardware, one set is for astronaut - cockpit communication and the other is for use while gliding to Earth. The astronaut sets also allow heart-beat and life-support systems status information to be relayed to the Shuttle. The Shuttle communications sets, as well an providing astronaut - cockpit communications, will serve as the means of contact between Shuttle and aircraft. This set also has a facility to automatically broadcast on the international distress frequency at 243 MHz.

Source: RCA G&CS

Pioneer 10 Crosses Orbit Of Uranus

Pioneer 10, the 259 kg spaceprobe, crossed the orbit of Uranus on 11 July 1979. It is headed in the direction of Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus, but radio communications can only be maintained up to 1987. By late 1979, Pioneer 10 will be the first man-made object to enter interstellar space.

Galileo To Jupiter

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is awarding contracts to industry for construction of the Galileo probe to explore the planet Jupiter. The probe will be launched in l982 and placed in orbit around Jupiter. Its mission will include extensively photographing Jupiter and its moons and launching a 'sounding' probe into the Jovian atmosphere.

Source: TRW D&SS

Pioneer 11 Encounter With Saturn

After its fly-by of Jupiter in December 1974, Pioneer 11 will fly-by Saturn on 01 September 1979.

Targeting options for the spacecraft were considered in 1975, 1976 and 1977. The 1977 manoeuvring decision was the most crucial, to pass the craft outside the ring system rather than flying between Saturn and its innermost ring. Scientists concluded that the 'inner ring' path gave a significant chance of Pioneer 11 being destroyed. Consequently, the closest encounter distance will be 2.7 times the radius of Saturn (i.e. a distance of some 160,000 km). Pioneer 11 will descend towards the ring system at an angle of 6.5, then Saturn's gravity will swing it around and it will ascend, once more crossing the ring plane.

Titan is the main moon to be observed by Pioneer 11 at Saturn. It is the largest moon in the Solar System, with a diameter estimated at 4700 km. Titan is interesting not only because of its size, but because it has an atmosphere (composed primarily of methane). However, the current programme calls for Pioneer 11 to observe other moons too:

Date Time Event
August 02   Pioneer 11 is tracked 10 hours a day by NASA's Deep Space Network
22   Pioneer 11's imaging photopolarimeter begins imaging. (It records measurements of  the intensity of reflected sunlight and its degree of polarisation.)
27 01:02 Closest encounter with Phoebe at 9,453,000 km
28 11:05 Closest encounter with Iapetus at 1,039,000 km
30 18:34 Field of view now too small to photograph Saturn's ring system in its entirety
31 05:31 Closest encounter with Hyperion at 674,000 km
September 01 09:04 Closest encounter with Dione at 291,000 km
09:34 Closest encounter with Saturn at 21,400 km. Speed now 108,000 km/hour.
11:00 Saturn's rings seen in full splendour
11:34 Closest encounter with Enceladus at 225,200 km
15:34 Closest encounter with Rhea at 341,900 km
2 11:05 Closest encounter with Titan at 356,000 km
October 01   Saturn encounter activities cease

After encountering Saturn, NASA will maintain radio communication with Pioneer 11 until 1987. Thereafter, the probe will pass into the depths of interstellar space.

September 1979

A New Power Source For Satellites

The next generation of communication satellites may have power provided by flywheels spinning at 40,000 rpm. During the next eighteen months, the French company Aerospatiale will develop the flywheel for Intelsat, and it is hoped that the device will replace conventional electric batteries in satellites of the mid-1980s. Present satellites have a life of about seven years, limited by the life of the batteries which store energy for use when the satellite is on the dark side of the Earth and cannot rely on solar cells for power. The new flywheel should have a life of about 15 years, doubling the life of satellites. The wheel will be about 40 cm in diameter and made of Kevlar, a strong but very light epoxy material. The storage capacity of the flywheel will be similar to that of present day batteries, around 0.3 watt-hour/kg.

Solar cells will provide the power to set the wheel spinning, and the satellite would tap into the rotational energy for the maximum 72 minutes that the satellite would be in the Earth's shadow. To ensure minimum friction losses, the wheel will be suspended by magnetic bearings.

Source: New Scientist

Another Major Discovery By Pioneer Venus

The Pioneer Venus Orbiter, still circling Venus taking measurements of all aspects of the planet and its atmosphere, has discovered two giant impact craters. Both are several hundred miles in diameter and have a central peak. Unlike other craters of similar size, both are in a lowland region. The craters were discovered by the radar mapper positioned on the side of the Orbiter vehicle's bus.

A New Design In Earth Stations

You can now buy your own Earth station for about 5770 ($13,000). The Earth station is completely self contained, can swivel through 360, and can move in elevation from 0 to 70 degrees. It has an unique ability of expanding from five to six metres in diameter to obtain extra gain for the receiver. Just how it achieves the change in diameter I do not know, although I believe that the reflector can inflate and deflate like a balloon. The Earth station has two antenna feed options - a Cassegrain and a focal point system. The system will first be used in the cable TV industry whence it gets its name - CATV (Common Antenna Television).

Helping To Increase World Food Production

Everyone has heard of communication satellites in space, space telescopes, Spacelabs and solar power stations but now plans are being drawn up to place a greenhouse in space. NASA's Ames Research Centre gave a contract to Lockheed to develop a. payload to fly aboard the Shuttle in which 96 plant seedlings would be monitored as oxygen and gravity were varied. The aim is to decrease the amount of lignin in plants. Lignin has no food value, and by decreasing the proportion of lignin in a plant, the result might give us more to get our teeth into.

Source: Lockheed MSC

The Communication Satellite Industry

Until a few years ago the only methods of inter-continental communication were telephone cables and microwave links. Today we also have satellites to handle the large increase in communications traffic.

On 06 April 1965, the first communication satellite, called Early Bird, was launched. It enabled live transatlantic TV to become a reality. Early Bird, although only capable of carrying 240 two-way telephone calls and a TV channel, increased transatlantic communications traffic by 66%. On 18 June 1965, it kept communications flowing when an undersea cable broke.

Today we have come from the primitive Early Bird (or Intelsat 1 series) to the Intelsat IV - a series of satellites which operate in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean regions. Each satellite, launched by Atlas Centaur rocket, can handle 6000 two-way phone calls and 20 simultaneous TV channels. A major characteristic of the Intelsat IV series of satellites is their 'spot beams'. Instead of the satellite radiating the transmitted signal to the entire surface area below it, the spot beam directs the signal to a small area allowing the same frequency to be used in several places. The satellites amplify the signal transmitted by the Earth station using what are called 'travelling wave tubes'. (I would like to hear from anyone who knows how these work!) To save weight, engineers are now considering using Gallium Arsenide field effect transistors in their place.

In 1977 the Intelsat organisation gave a contract to the Ford Group to build a new generation of satellites, Intelsat V. These will each have a capacity of 12,000 telephone calls and will be placed into orbit by both the STS (Space Shuttle) and Ariane. The great increase in capacity over the Intelsat IV-A series is due mainly to polarizing the radio waves. Thus it is possible to use the same frequency twice, since the electromagnetic vibrations are at right-angles to each other. The frequencies used will be 14/11 GHz and 6/4 GHz. In order to prevent the satellites from wandering, they are stabilised in all three axis. If the sensors discover a 0.5 variation in any direction, small hydrazine thrusters fire to correct the variation.

An important factor in international space co-operation stems from the fact that Intelsat, being an international organisation, has chosen a contractor that has sub-contracted integral parts to non-US companies including Aerospatiale and GEC-Marconi.

Of course there are many other communications satellite networks. The Marisat series is used by ships all over the world for communications purposes. (The receiving and transmitting antennae on board ships are gimballed to compensate for pitch and roll of the vessels.) There have been many national networks such as Comstar, Westar, Anik, Syncom and Palapa to name but a few.

The years ahead will see the continuation of the boom in satellite communications. A major change will be a shift from analogue to digital transmission, already begun in American Satellite Corporation. Satellite Business Systems, a new company formed by IBM Comsat and Aetna Life and Casualty, will soon have its three satellites in orbit. Communication rates by satellite will soon leave the kilobit/second range and enter the megabit/second era. This will bring with it even lower communication costs and more transmission of data from computer to computer.

One US president said that communication is the only way to bring about world peace. If this is so, the communications satellite industry will be doing an ever more important job in the years to come.

Trouble Ahead For Voyager 2?

During Voyager 2's encounter with Jupiter, two instruments seem to have suffered radiation damage. The spacecraft's only remaining command receiver (the others have previously failed) will not lock onto the frequency of radio signals transmitted from the Earth. As Voyager 2 is constantly changing speed due to gravitational effects, radio messages received by it seem to change in frequency due to the Doppler effect. It is this failure that is causing worry. Probably more important from our point of view, the imaging photo-polarimeter, the instrument that sends us pictures of the planets and satellites, seems to be having trouble with its filter wheel. Various colour filters seem to be missed every rotation of the filter-carrying wheel, meaning observations at some wavelengths may be impossible. However, JPL say that colour photometry may still be possible.

Source: NASA JPL

October 1979

Sensor To Be Built For Military Spacecraft

Hughes Aircraft Company, under a contract from SAMSO (Space and Missiles Systems Organisation of the USAF), will build a microwave imaging sensor for application on US meteorological satellites. The sensor will, for the first time, be able to see through clouds and inclement weather. The $10.8 m contract calls for a flight on a satellite around 1982. The sensor works by recording the emission of microwave electromagnetic radiation from such objects as icebergs, the sea and land masses, etc. The 45 kg package should provide 'timely' information to military commanders anywhere in the world.

Source: Hughes Space and Communications Group

Pioneer Venus Clocks 5832 Hours Around Venus

Pioneer Venus was a recent NASA mission which placed a spacecraft in orbit around the planet Venus. On 04 August 1979, the Orbiter clocked 5832 hours, or one Venusian day (equal to 243 Earth days). The Orbiter has discovered large amounts of primordial argon in the planets' atmosphere, causing current theories to be revised. Instruments have also detected what seems to be the largest mountain range in the Solar System, as well as the largest rift valley. In February 1979, NASA decided to extend the mission by another Venusian day. However, the makers, Hughes Space and Communications Group, has noted there is still enough propellant aboard to power another day beyond that.

Source: Hughes Space and Communications Group

Shuttle Status

Over 600 high and low temperature tiles are being fitted to the Shuttle each week, consistent with the present schedule to launch in January 1980. All three Space Shuttle Main Engines have been installed, RCS tests have been initiated and the Orbital Manoeuvring System pods are now being readied for acoustic vibration tests.

Source: NASA

Space Sled Being Prepared For Spacelab Mission

A reduced Space Sled concept has been approved by ESA. The Sled, to be used as a tool for monitoring the body's reaction to weightlessness in zero-gravity, will be mounted on one rail inside the Spacelab pressure module. A test operator will have complete control over the Sled, except if the subject gets dizzy or sick. The rail has crushable shock absorbers at either end which should prevent serious accident.

Source: ESA

NASA To Begin Regular Astronaut Recruitment

NASA is requesting applications during the period 01 October - 01 December 1979 for astronaut training. Prospective astronauts must meet several conditions before being sent into space. Pilot applicants must have at least a BSc in biological, physical or engineering science or mathematics, must be between 64 and 76 inches tall, pass a physical and have at least 1000 flight hours in high performance aircraft. Due to Federal Government regulations, NASA will give first priority to US citizens.

Source: NASA

Out Of This World, Quite Literally!

The first phase of the International Solar Polar Mission (ISPM) has begun with development and design of the US spaceprobe. Under the ISPM agreement, NASA will build one probe and ESA the other. Both will be launched by Shuttle in 1983 with the aim of examining the Sun from the north and south polar regions. They will both use the influence of Jupiter to bring them out of the plane of the ecliptic, each passing 180 million miles above or below the Sun. It will take upwards of 3.5 years before the spacecraft send back data. (The project was previously called Out of Ecliptic, and ESA's contribution was called Exosat.

Source: TRW D&SS

Experiments Selected For LAGEOS Satellite

The Laser Geodynamics Satellite (LAGEOS), put into orbit on 04 May 1976, is to be used by 25 investigators to study the movements of the Earth. The last few years have been spent working out the exact parameters of the satellite's orbit. In order to research such topics as continental drift, polar wobbles, plate tectonics and gravity variation, Earth stations will fire lasers at the satellite and record the time taken for the light to return to Earth. The satellite has no electrical equipment but will reflect the laser pulse back upon its incident path by means of any one of 426 optical reflectors.

Source: NASA

Viking Lander 2 Still Working, Discovers Unusual Frost On Mars

Viking Lander 2 is surprisingly still working in Utopia and has photographed Martian frost once more. Although Utopia is in the grip of winter, there are no clouds to be seen anywhere. The winter of 1977 was associated with clouds. The clouds are thought to be the principal cause of frosts. This finding has caused scientists to speculate that dust particles in the atmosphere attract specks of ice. These then fall to the ground and the carbon dioxide evaporates in the sunlight. This leaves a layer of frost only one thousandth of an inch thick. The observation in one of many that are being made by the Viking Lander, three years after it landed on Mars in the summer of 1976.

Source: NASA

Planetary Probe Diary

Planetary Probe Event Date
Voyager 1 Saturn flyby 12 November 1980
Voyager 2 Saturn flyby 21 August 1981
Galileo Launch by Space Shuttle January 1982
Galileo Mars flyby April 1982
Solar Polar Mission Launch by Space Shuttle February 1983
Venera X (USSR) Launch Spring 1983
Venera X (USSR) Balloon descent through Venus' atmosphere Autumn 1983
Venus Orbiting Radar Launch by Space Shuttle December 1984
Solar Polar Mission Jupiter flyby Winter 1984/85
Venus Orbiting Radar Venus orbit insertion Spring 1985
Comet Probe Launch by Space Shuttle June 1985
Galileo Jupiter orbit insertion July 1985
Comet Probe Halley's Comet flyby December 1985
Voyager 2 Uranus flyby January 1986
Galileo Mission ends Early 1986
Venus Orbiting Radar Mission ends 1986 or later
Comet Probe Comet Tempel 2 rendezvous 1988
Voyager 2 Neptune flyby 1990

Other planetary probe missions are being studied for cost and feasibility, including a possible Saturn orbiter, Lunar Polar Orbiter (POLO by ESA in 1985), Mars soil sample return mission and possible asteroid probes. However the governments concerned have not yet committed the necessary funding.

Source: NASA & ESA

Pioneer Saturn Makes Major Manoeuvre Before Encounter

On 15 August 1979, some two weeks before the Saturn encounter, Pioneer Saturn was ordered to make a 1.1 turn to the left. Two one-second burns of Pioneer Saturn's thrusters allowed NASA technicians to maximise the quality of data transmitted at Saturn and keep communications open under the influence of the planet's gravitational field.

Source: NASA Ames Research Centre

Spaceship Columbia Undergoing Modifications

Columbia, presently awaiting the first manned Shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center, has been comprehensively tested for any faults in flight control electronics and onboard computers. Thermal protection tile placement is said to be proceeding at the scheduled rate, getting nearer all the while to the magic figure of 23,000. The next major milestone is the hot firing of the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). The APUs provide power for the payload as well as for the operation of the body flap, main engine gimbals & control subsystems, landing gear, brakes, steering, etc.

Meanwhile, all three Space Shuttle main engines have been installed, having passed the 520 second firing time requirement for launch into orbit. They are at present undergoing checkout while the Shuttle is in the Orbiter Processing Facility.

Source: Rockwell Space Systems Group

SAMSO To Be Reorganised

The Space and Missiles Systems Organisation (SAMSO) of the US Airforce will, from 01 October 1979, be split into two organisations: The Ballistic Missiles Office and the Space Service Division. Secretary of the Airforce, Dr Hans M Mark, said that the move would have the minimum impact on SAMSO programs.

Source: Rockwell Space Systems Group

Pioneer Saturn Makes First Major Discovery

Pioneer Saturn has discovered that there is some material in the Cassini division. The quantity of material is still to be established. Dr Tom Gehrels, University of Arizona, says that there is still a major chance of discovering material between Saturn and the rings and outside the rings.

Source: NASA Ames research Centre

LEASAT Antenna Array Is Tested

Tests of the UHF antennae are now underway for the new LEASAT (Leased Satellite Services) satellite. LEASAT will be the first communications satellite owned by a contractor providing leased services to the U.S. Navy.

Source: Hughes Communication Services Inc

November 1979

Plans Being Laid For Cometary Probe

If you can think back so far, over six years ago the Skylab astronauts observed what was supposed to be the comet of the century - Kohoutok. Now investigations are in train into a mid-1985 launch of a probe to visit first comet Halley and then comet Tempel 2. On encountering Halley, the probe would send a small explorer plunging into the comet's coma relaying to the probe details of composition, pressures, temperatures, particle sizes, etc. When the probe encounters Tempel 2, it will coast alongside the comet sending back information on the latter as its orbit carries it around the Sun.

Source: Vectors, Hughes Aircraft Company

Investigations For Spacelab Flights

NASA has selected 33 investigations from US concerns and seven from outside the US to be studied for eventual flight on Spacelab missions during 1983 to 1985. The investigations are in the fields of astronomy, atmospheric physics, space plasma physics, solar physics and high energy astrophysics.

Source: NASA

New Mode Of Transatlantic Mail

For a month-long period starting in mid-July 1979, electronic mail has been transmitted via an Atlantic region Intelsat IV satellite between the US and GB. The cost of each page sent is $5 dollars (3.00). The US postal service hopes to decrease the price if there is an increase in use.

Source: Hughes News, Hughes Aircraft Company

Contract Awarded For Environmental Control Equipment

Rockwell International, prime contractor for the Space Shuttle has awarded the Space Systems Group of United Technologies Inc a $28m contract to provide environmental systems for the Shuttle Orbiter. The equipment provides air conditioning, a comfortable temperature and removal of CO2.

Source: Today, Hamilton Standard Division of United Technologies Inc

US Experiments On Russian Cosmos Satellite

Thirteen US experiments designed to find out more about physiological effects of space travel on animals were due to be flown aboard a Cosmos satellite in mid September 1979. The USSR will pay the cost of the spacecraft and associated activities.

Source: NASA

NASA Announces Launch Of HEAO-3

On 04 September 1979, NASA announced the launch date for the HEAO-3 (High-Energy Astronomical Observatory - 3) as 20 September. The observatory, weighing 2948 kg, is due to be launched by Atlas Centaur rocket. It carries three scientific experiments: a gamma ray spectrometer, a cosmic ray isotope experiment, and a heavy cosmic ray nuclei experiment. One of the major aims of HEAO-3 is to undertake a search for theoretically predicted chemical elements beyond the range of the present periodic table of elements. The observatory will operate in the same way as its predecessors in the HEAO series: it will analyse particles emitted by the most violent bodies in the universe, i.e. pulsars, quasars and Seyfert galaxies. The HEAO series of observatories is constructed from what is termed 'off the shelf hardware', the aim being to reduce costs. Although the design lifetime of the observatories is six months, experimenters will not be surprised if they exceeded this by another 12 months.

Source: NASA and TRW Defense and Space Systems Group, Inc

Navstar Satellites To Perform Extra Duties

The 24 Navstar satellites of the USAF's Space Service Division are due to become operational in the mid 1980s. They will provide a Global Positioning System and also provide advanced warning of atmospheric nuclear blasts. The equipment to detect atmospheric nuclear blasts will be installed on Navstars No 6 onwards. The detection equipment, using X-ray techniques, will be activated as soon as a secondary sensor detects a blast and will be switched off once the blast subsides. At present, Navstar 5 is awaiting launch while Navstar 6 is in the final stage of construction.

Source: Rockwell Space Systems Group

Intelsat Orders Another Intelsat V Satellite

In anticipation of increased transatlantic telecommunication traffic, the International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (Intelsat) has ordered an extra Intelsat V satellite from Ford Aerospace & Communications Corp, the contractors. The satellite will be the eighth in the series and will carry a package enabling ship/shore/ship communications. The satellite will cost $38m.

Source: Intelsat

Voyager Status

At mid-September 1979, a six-week solar occultation period was coming to an end. Communications with the spacecraft during the occultation have been poor and scientists took the opportunity to study the effect of the Sun on radio signals from the spacecraft.

Source: NASA JPL

Satellites To The Rescue

NASA, the Canadian Communications Department and France have agreed to co-operate on a satellite-aided search and rescue system. Each country will provide various parts of the system. France and Canada will provide spacecraft transponders and receiving equipment and compact distress beacons to be placed on ships. The space-based equipment will eventually ride on board US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration satellites from 1982.

Source: NASA

Pioneer Saturn Returns Data

Images acquired by the Santa Barbara Research Centre's imaging photopolarimeter aboard Pioneer Saturn have revealed new rings around Saturn. Measurements of radiation have indicated an intensity around Saturn similar to that around the Earth. Professor Tom Gehrels has said that another remarkable discovery is that the poles of Saturn appear blue. Although the planet has cloud bands similar to those on Jupiter they are not quite so pronounced.

Source: Hughes News

Spacelab Prototype Undergoes Temperature Tests

Multilayer insulation blankets are at present surrounding Spacelab 1 in the integration hall at Bremen. As external and internal temperatures change, the environmental control system must respond to maintain a habitable temperature inside Spacelab. One hundred and sixty sensors record temperature variations - measurements which show whether the internal temperature can be maintained within the intended range: 18 - 20C. 

More Power For Shuttle Orbiter

Under a contract from the Johnson Spaceflight Centre, McDonnell Douglas is studying a device called Power Extension Package (PEP) which should be able to increase an Orbiter's stay in orbit from 6 to 20 days. The device essentially consists of a solar panel 238 x 13 feet  to be deployed from the Shuttle cargo bay. The panel will provide up to 26 kilowatts of power.

Source: McDonnell Douglas Spirit

Further Energy Module Project Under Study

Wright Patterson Airforce Base, Ohio, has awarded Lockheed a $272,000 contract to study the feasibility of constructing a 10-50 kw power unit to be carried in the cargo bay of the USAF's Shuttle Orbiter. (See the preceding article.)

Source: Lockheed Missiles & Space Company

In-Orbit Repairs Of Shuttle Heat Shield

NASA is conducting studies on the ability of astronauts to repair the Shuttle heat shield in orbit. NASA stresses that it has total confidence in the structural integrity of the heat shield, but says that the need for speedy turnaround times may mean that it is not possible to check all tiles on the ground before launch. Astronauts would search for damaged times in orbit by means of a camera attached to the end of the remote manipulator arm, which would  would move over the surface of the Orbiter. An astronaut would latter spray an epoxy foam into the damaged area during a spacewalk.

Source: NASA

Astronauts May Use Manned Manoeuvring Units

A manned Manoeuvring Unit (MMU) backpack may become standard equipment for all orbital extra-vehicular activities by Shuttle astronauts. The unit will allow an astronaut to manoeuvre free of the Shuttle hull. Small hydrazine gas jets will enable the astronaut to move in any direction. The main use to which the MMU would be put is the repair of damaged heat shield tiles on the Orbiter.

Source: NASA

Shuttle Status Is Excellent

Shuttle Columbia is now being readied for rollout to the Vehicle Assembly Building for mating with an external tank and two Solid Rocket Boosters. Shuttle facilities at launch pad 39A should be ready by 0l January 1980. Heat shield tiles are being fitted at the rate of 600 per week, and approximately 3000 remain to be fitted. All three Space Shuttle Main Engines have been installed, and the cargo bay radiator doors are about to be fitted. Launch is scheduled for some time between March and July 1980.

Source: Rockwell Space Systems Group

Solar Maximum Mission

A satellite was due to be launched from Kennedy Space Centre on 18 October 1979. It will be used to study solar flares during the 1979-1981 period. In its 500 km high orbit, the satellite will address such questions as: where do solar flares originate, how and where does the energy for solar flares come from, and what triggers the release of energy in a solar flare?

Source: Grumman Aerospace Horizons

January 1980

Colonising Space With Ants

No, there are no plans to colonise Mars or any other planet for that matter! A group of High School students from Camben NJ has won a competition under a NASA programme, sponsored by RCA, to place aboard a 1981 Shuttle flight several thousand ants with a view to studying their behaviour. The ants will be housed in three sections of a five cubic foot chamber. One section will provide the weightless environment, another reduced gravity and the third gravity that is half that of the Earth. NASA considers the experiment a timely contribution to the study of possible long term habitation of human beings in space.

Source: NASA

Experiments For First Shuttle Flights Arrive At KSC

A number of experiments packages have arrived at Kennedy Space Centre (KSC), Florida, for mounting on or to the British Aerospace built Spacelab pallet. The experiment OSTA-1 (NASA's Office of Space and Terrestrial Applications experiment #1) has already been mounted on the pallet in the operations and checkout building. Columbia's second flight will carry among other things a 2.1 by 9.1 imaging radar antenna. The antenna works on a similar principle to that of the Seasat-A satellite. Since the Spacelab pallet arrived in December 1978, McDonnell Douglas technicians have been fitting it out with command, thermal and electrical subsytems.

Source: Spaceport News (Kennedy Space Centre / NASA)

Intelsat Inundated For 1980 Olympics Coverage

Intelsat, the 102 member organisation established to provide global satellite communications, anticipates capacity bookings for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. Present estimates put the potential television audience at two billion! Mr Santiago Astrain, Intelsat Director General, said that of the 3,072 TV hours available from eight satellite channels over the period of the games, over 77% (2357 hours) had already been booked. Television broadcasts will emanate from the Lvov Earth station near the Polish border and from a new Earth station at Dubna, north of Moscow. Atlantic major paths 1 and 2 are to be used, as well as major channels of the Indian Ocean Intelsat IVA satellites.

Source: Intelsat

Shuttle Engine Failure Post Mortem

NASA announced on 19 November 1979 that the failure earlier in the month of an SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) hydrogen line at the National Space Technology Laboratories is attributable to the use of improper welding wire. The rupture occurred at the base of one of the engines, at a place called the steerhorn. Engineers will now perform simple acid etch tests on all engines to test whether they could be affected by the same problem.

Source: NASA

New Shuttle Schedule Tentatively Posted

First Shuttle launch is now 'fixed' for 30 June 1980. This date is dependant on achieving the following goals:

  1. Late March: Columbia rollout from OPF to VAB.

  2. Mid April: complete STS moved from VAB to launch complex 39A.

  3. Mid May: second flight readiness firing of Columbia's SSME conducted on launch pad.

  4. 30 June: First Orbiter flight.

Source: NASA

Sky High Investment

Hughes Communications Inc (HCI) has filed an application with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) requesting authority to build and operate a new US domestic satellite system. The subsidiary of Hughes Aircraft Company is also searching for interest among foreign nations, so as to provide a leased satellite system. Plans call for HCI to invest $190m in building three C-band satellites to be launched by either Thor-Delta or Shuttle no earlier than 1981. One of the three satellites will be kept as a spare.

Source: Hughes Aircraft Company

RCA Satellite Launches

The US Department of Defense's third Fleet Communications Satellite, Fltsatcom C, has been rescheduled for launch by Atlas Centaur not later than 17 January 1980. The delay was due to a leak detected in the high pressure pneumatics of the booster.

RCA's Satcom C was launched 06 December 1979. The 2000 lb satellite will serve users in the Cable TV industry, The satellite has 24 channels, each capable of carrying an FM/colour TV transmission.

Source: RCA Commercial Communications Systems

February 1980

Shuttle Spacesuit: Spacecraft Unto Itself

Everything is proceeding satisfactorily with the Shuttle spacesuits or EMUs as they are known by the astronauts. The suits have a protective 'fuselage', life support subsystem, displays, controls, instruments and even an on-board computer. Once manoeuvring units have been added to the EMUs they will even have propulsive capability. NASA's Johnson Space Centre (JSC) is responsible for producing the suits from inception to completion. Sixty suits will be maintained at the JSC and shipped to Kennedy Space Centre once needed.

Source: Hamilton Standard Division of United Technologies Inc

Spacelab 2 'Go' Looks Favourable

NASA and ESA have both looked favourably on the cost estimate put forward by the contractor for a follow-on Spacelab. The German firm ERNO put forward a value of DM 292 million as the very minimum for a basic Spacelab. Under the memorandum of understanding signed by the two space agencies in 1973, NASA will procure one Spacelab from European industry for sole use by itself and US firms. At a Bremen press conference, ERNO's commercial managing director, Bernd Kosegarten, said that the contract would virtually assure the jobs of the Spacelab team.

Source: ERNO Raumfahrttechnik Gmbh

Polyester/Resin Compound A Promise For Space

A Sun-sensitive material that offers a large step forward in the construction of large space structures is under development and examination at the Electro-Optical and Data Systems division of Hughes Aircraft Company. The material is stored as a flexible material and when exposed to ultraviolet light soon hardens, becoming rigid. It takes 30 minutes for the material to stiffen and six hours for it to become completely rigid. The material would in fact harden of its own accord but the UV light acts as a catalyst speeding up the hardening process. Many different types of material were investigated before the present material was chosen, the selection being based mainly on weight and storage factors. The composite could be stored in a Shuttle cargo bay, inflated outside the bay, and left to harden.

Source: Hughes Aircraft Company, HughesNews

Thrust Augmented Shuttle Tests Underway At MSFC

Marshall Spaceflight Centre (MSFC) recently received 20 small scale strap-on motors (SOMs) to determine the effectiveness of attaching motors to the Shuttle's solid rocket boosters (SRBs). The solid propellant motors, 60 inches high by eight inches in diameter, are a 6.4% scale representation: the full scale solid propellant motors would measure 78 feet by 10.4 feet. The SOMs are to be tested in ten simulations at MSFC laboratories, Tomahawk missiles taking the place of the SRBs.

Source: Chemical Systems Division of United Technologies Inc

Intelsat III(F-3) Takes Honourable Retirement

A mere radio signal was all that was needed to send a faithful satellite hurtling 4000 - 5000 km from its geostationary orbit. Intelsat III(F-3) was first placed in geostationary orbit in February 1969. Its initial assignment was over the Pacific Ocean, but a few months after launch it was decided to re-position the satellite at 66 E longitude over the Indian Ocean. One of the first tasks of the satellite was to relay the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales. In July 1972 the satellite ceased to be the primary Indian Ocean satellite and its circuits were leased to Algeria. On May 1977 the satellite was placed on standby, but with the de-spun antenna array stalling the decision was taken to boost it out of geostationary orbit using what fuel was still available to the craft's thrusters.  The satellite operated for a total of approximately 2.1 million minutes and was inoperable for 69.7 minutes! It will take four to five million years for the satellite to once more reach its original stationary orbit altitude.

Source: Intelsat

Contractors Push For VOIR Contract Award

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has awarded similar half million dollar contracts to Martin Marietta Aerospace and Hughes Space and Communications Group for conceptual designs of NASA's Proposed Venus Orbiting Imaging Radar (VOIR) spacecraft. Both designs will be submitted and compared in 1981 so that a contract for the whole spacecraft can be awarded, a craft built and hopefully launched by Shuttle in 1986, subject to approval from Congress. VOIR will use radar to map the surface of Venus, and studies of a suitable synthetic aperture radar are already underway.

Source: Martin Marietta Aerospace, NASA

Radio Contact Lost With Voyager 1

Late on Thursday afternoon 14 December 1979, scientists at JPL lost contact with Voyager 1 following a manoeuvre to refine its trajectory to Saturn. A faint signal was gained later but soon lost again. The loss of contact happened when the spacecraft was commanded to orient itself with its dish antenna pointing directly towards Earth. Studies are underway into how to alleviate the trouble without the use of too much manoeuvring gas.

Source: NASA

International Solar Polar Mission Contract

Martin Marietta Aerospace has been awarded a one million dollar contract to design and build a solar wind analyser under the auspices of JPL. Dr Devrie of the University of Southern California is principal investigator for the instrument. The analyser will fly on the International Solar Polar Mission (ISPM) spacecraft to be launched by Shuttle in 1983. Under the mission definition, there will be two space probes, one to fly above and one to fly below the Sun's poles. The analyser will attempt to measure the charges, intensity and direction of the stream of ions (high energy particles) emitted by the Sun. The data should provide astronomers with a better picture of solar surface movements.

Source: Martin Marietta Aerospace

Japan Launches Second Experimental Communications Satellite

Ford Aerospace & Communications Corporation jointly with Mitsubishi Electric Corporation of Japan have announced that the second Experimental Communications Satellite, known as ECS-b, will be launched from Japan's Tanegashima range in February 1980 This satellite is the second in a series to investigate the higher frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum for a possible future Japanese domestic satellite system. ECS-b is spin stabilised, l.4 m in diameter and 1.9 m long.

Source: Ford Aerospace & Communications Corporation

Perumtel Announces Follow-On Satellite Network

Perumtel, the Indonesian government-owned company, has announced that Hughes Aircraft Company will build a new system of Palapa satellites to succeed the first generation at present in service. Designated Palapa B-1 and B-2, they are twice as big and four times as powerful as the first generation of Palapa satellites. Both will resemble the Anik C, D and Satellite Business System satellites at present under construction. The power available in orbit is almost doubled by a solar cell jacket that slides down the outside of the satellite once in goostationary orbit leaving solar cells on the actual body of the satellite still able to receive sunlight. The derivation of the name Palapa is interesting: in 1975 President Suharto decided on the name after remembering that Prime Minister Gajah Mada, six centuries earlier, had vowed not to eat the national delicacy, Palapa, until all the islands were unified.

Source: Hughes Aircraft Company

Space Telescope Science Institute

NASA is seeking proposals for a Space Telescope Science Institute to handle the data from the 9100 kg telescope to be placed in orbit by Shuttle in the early 1980's. A contractor will build, staff, provide investigator facilities, archive data and control the telescope. Data will flow from the space telescope via a tracking and data relay satellite to Goddard Spaceflight Centre and thence to the Space Telescope Science Institute. The space telescope will operate for at 1east 15 years, every five years being taken from orbit for major refurbishment. Minor repairs will be undertaken by Shuttle about every 30 months.

Source: NASA

First Ariane Launched 24 December 1979

Like many space launcher programmes of the day, Ariane has been forced to postpone its launch time and time again. However, finally at 17:14:38 GMT on 24 December 1979, the first Ariane took to the sky, with ESA and CNES describing it as a complete success. The launch site, in Kourou, French Guiana, is only 5 north of the equator, imparting to the launch vehicle nearly the maximum velocity obtainable from Earth spin.

Ariane can place a 1700 kg satellite plus apogee motor into a 35,800 km (geostationary) orbit. ESA's plans call for an increase in that capability to 2300 kg by 1983. This will enable Ariane to place in orbit two spinning solid upper stage payloads (using payload assist module type-D, with one payload carried above the other) - the ability to launch two payloads together in this way is a feature unique to Ariane among expendable launch vehicles.

Although ESA and CNES only expect two of the four launches in the flight test series to be successful, ESA has scheduled major payloads for the flights, including METEOSAT B on test flight 3 and MARECS on test flight 4. This will attract business and commercial interests to examine Ariane as an alternative to NASA's launch capability. As of December 1979, fifteen launches had been scheduled. At present, one of the most important payloads to ESA is the Intelsat V communications satellite. Intelsat is likely to use Ariane for other launches in future if all goes well with the launch of Intelsat V.

Undoubtedly, ESA is placing great confidence in Ariane. ESA together with the contractors has set up the organisation Arianespace whose purpose is to make it easier for potential customers to use Ariane.

Ariane's next flight, LO2, is scheduled for May 1980. LO2 carries a German satellite to undertake an experiment called Firewheel and instrumentation to record all parameters of the flight.

Source: ESA

May 1980

On The Space Shuttle Main Engine

Now it would be wrong to claim that everything was satisfactory with the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) in days gone by. Indeed, things were not. One notable incident involved damage to an engine during shut down when excess pressure was measured in the oxygen turbo-pumps. But I think that we are now seeing the fruits of the last few years' labour. Only recently, one engine underwent a 535 second, 109% RDP test and Columbia' s engines are soon to be installed, after which they will put into orbit the first reusable manned space vehicle. Here is a little piece, intended to be topical, about the SSME.

After the contract for STS (Space transportation System) Orbiter integration had been assigned to Rockwell's Space Systems Group, NASA looked for a SSME contractor and decided that Rocketdyne was suitable. Rocketdyne had proposed a 2MN thrust liquid propellant engine.

In the design stage it was recognised that in order to meet STS goals, one of which was to reduce the cost of space traffic, the SSME would have to be reusable. In addition, STS structure and flight profile meant that the SSME had to be significantly throttleable. Flight plans call for the SSME to be fired for approximately 8 minutes in conjunction with two solid fuel boosters to place the 68 tonne Orbiter in orbit around the Earth.

Like the Saturn-V F1 engines, the SSME uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The two propellants are not stored in the Orbiter, but in two sections in the extremely large external tank. During count-down, fuel and oxidizer are prevented from entering the engine by pre-valves located in the Orbiter. Near launch time the pre-valves are opened and propellants pass through low pressure turbo-pumps, high pressure turbo-pumps, and propellant valves before passing through a bulkhead into the Orbiter's three main engines. Prior to the fuel reaching the engines, the engine feed lines are cooled ready for the continuous flow of very cold propellants.

The SSME has another very interesting characteristic. It contains a device called a pogo suppressor which damps out any pulsing oscillations which can put undue strain on the Orbiter. The brain of the SSME is the controller which controls valves, transmits sensor data to the Orbiter and generally ensures that the SSME does just what the pilot needs of it without too much strain.

The SSME is 4.24m in length and the exit nozzle is 2.39m in diameter. However, despite this relatively small size, each SSME develops more power than 23 Hoover dams!

Source: Rocketdyne Division of Rockwell International

Improved Orbiter Thermal Protection System

NASA is approaching private industry to develop a new technology tile, part of the Orbiter's thermal protection system. If developed, the new tile will not affect present Orbiters, but will be used for 'later applications'. NASA's Langley Research Center will manage a study contract with two aims: to reduce the costs of tile production; and to see if the present ceramic tiles are the best available. The study is expected to include evaluation of metallic and reinforced carbon/carbon re-usable insulation.

Source: NASA

Columbia's Systems Come Under Test

A series of tests of selected Columbia equipment began today and will last for two weeks.

The Orbital Manoeuvring System and Reaction Control System Pods have been installed aboard Orbiter Columbia following checkout in Kennedy's Hypergol Maintenance Facility. The Auxiliary Power Units are now also installed and this has permitted active testing of aerodynamic control surfaces. During the middle of March 1980, shuttle astronauts took part in tests to evaluate the shock caused to the Orbiter by separation of the External Tank once in near Earth orbit. SSMEs have been installed in mid-March following modifications.

Source: Rockwell Space Systems Group

Intelsats To Get Insured Just In Case

Intelsat is, for the first time, taking out insurance against failure for the new Intelsat-V series of communications satellites. It has only recently become possible for Intelsat to do this, as insurance has become available at acceptable costs and conditions. Terms have been agreed on the launch of five satellites using Atlas Centaur launch vehicles. The insurance covers the launch and 180 days in orbit. Each launch is insured for $65 million, that is $325 million for the five. Third party insurance for the five Intelsats, covering damage caused to the general public, is put at $500 millions for the five.

Source: Intelsat

IUS System Completes Successful Tests

The Thrust-Vector Control System (TVC), which provides steering for the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) was tested successfully recently. The test was conducted at a development centre in Tennessee using a small IUS solid propellant motor. During the tests, the TVC system gimballed the IUS motor +/- 7degrees flawlessly according to an official. The TVC system takes commands from the IUS guidance and navigation subsystems to keep the upper stage on target. The tests used a 63 inch diameter motor which was fired for 108 seconds at 107,000N. The conditions simulated an altitude of 100,000 feet. This is the second time that the motor has been tested, the first test taking place on 05 December 1979 at the same development centre.

Source: Chemical Systems Division of United Technologies Inc

July 1980


Both Voyager space probes continue to enjoy 'good health' as they cross the gulf between Jupiter and Saturn. The spacecraft are within their power requirements: the plutonium dioxide power cells (half life 87.8 years) will provide the 99 watts of power needed by the science instruments at Saturn.

Voyager 1 is taking images of Saturn and both spacecraft are sampling the interplanetary medium. Voyager 1 performed a cruise control manoeuvre on 20 February 1980 which was completely successful, however, there were slight differences in the commands issued by JPL to those relayed by the on-board computer. This is the fourth such trouble since Voyager 1's encounter with Jupiter and JPL has established a team to diagnose any faults.

JPL has programmed an updated backup mission load aboard Voyager 2. The programme will ensure that if the single remaining functioning command receiver fails, Voyager 2 will continue to send data to Earth from Saturn and Uranus, albeit at a slightly reduced level.

Source: NASA JPL

Ariane LO2 Fails Shortly After Launch

It is painful, but none the less true. Ariane launch number two failed to achieve orbit after a shut down of one of' the first stage engines. Ariane plunged into the Atlantic some time later. Lost in the launch were two satellites, one of which was the amateur radio satellite, Amsat. The most that officials at the Kourou Space Centre could say about the cause of the failure was that it seemed that one of the engines went out a minute into the flight causing the other three to lose pressure forty seconds after that. When this happened, the range safety officer took the decision to cause LO2 to self-destruct.

Source: Comsat, New York Times

August 1980

Comsat And De-regulation

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has ruled that Comsat (The American Communications Satellite Corporation) should be restructured. The FCC states that:

  1. Comsat should be split in two to give one company for international communications and another for domestic;

  2. Comsat should be able to sell its international services direct to US customers;

  3. Comsat and other US international carriers should be able to sell both current and advanced technology to their customers.

Comsat is troubled by the prospect of splitting its business, although at present there are two organisations: Comsat Corp. and Comsat General Corp. both handling slightly different tasks. It is most likely that Comsat General would be reshaped for the future. However, Congress still has to approve the FCC ruling.

Source: Comsat, Electronics

There Is Another New Star in the Sky

Navstar VI has been successfully launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base into a 10,900 mile circular orbit and is soon to be declared operational. Following the launch, by an Atlas F Launcher, a spokesman for the contractors (Rockwell International) said that the transfer orbit trajectory was almost perfect, and that no proposed orbital manoeuvres would have to be performed. The Air Force Satellite Control Station, California, has responsibility for controlling Navstar's eight major sub-systems. This launch is one of a series in the test and evaluation of the GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) system. Provided that there are no major hitches, twelve to eighteen Navstars will be launched, providing world-wide accurate position and velocity fixes.

Source: Rockwell Space Systems Group

Mexicans Look To Space

Mexico's Minister for Communications and Transport, Miguel Angel Barberena, announced recently that Mexico is undertaking in-depth studies to build its own domestic communications satellite. He revealed that Mexico has a specialised team already working towards that goal. He was speaking at the inauguration of the first domestic ground station, gifted to Mexico by Japan. The Japanese Ambassador to Mexico, Nabuo Matsunaga, said that the station had been specially fitted out for Mexico's own satellite and that use of the most advanced technology available made the earth station small in size.

Mr Barberena also revealed plans to install 200 similar ground stations within two years. Mexico joined Intelsat in 1968 with its Tulancingo, Hidalgo Earth station which is now saturated. Mexico is currently negotiating with Western Union for use of one of its Westar satellites. With this gift by the Japanese Government, and Japan's newly developed launcher soon coming into the market, one wonders who might be in the forefront to launch Mexico's satellite.

Source: Comsat, The News (Mexico City)

Findings From International Ultraviolet Observer Presented

Hosted by the Goddard Space Flight Centre, IUO (International Ultraviolet Observer) investigators have given accounts of the main discoveries made over the last two years. For instance, astronomers have used IUO observations to learn more about the 'halo' which surrounds our galaxy. They estimate the 'halo' to have a temperature of about 100,000 K and to be composed of oxygen, sulphur, iron, silicon and carbon. Scientists have also studied X-ray binary stars. X-rays are emitted by material that due to gravitational effects spirals into one or other of the stars. Investigators also found that quasars lying close to each other in the sky were in fact the same object.

Source: NASA

Nuclear Waste In Space

NASA has awarded a $296,000 contract to Boeing Aerospace to study methods of disposing nuclear waste in space. It is hoped that disposal in space could get rid of long-lived waste which is unwanted on Earth. If the programme looks promising, Marshall SFC together with the Department of Energy will conduct studies into the impact of the option. Boeing will study payload protection procedures, identification of final destination, the type of space transportation and possible launch sites.

Source: NASA

Many Miles To Go, But Another Milestone Reached

The Qualification Test 1 of the forward reaction control system (RCS) at White Sands, New Mexico, has enabled it to be qualified for a first flight aboard Orbiter Columbia in 1981. Altogether 3847 seconds firing was accumulated over the fourteen thrusters. 10,428 seconds were also accumulated on the two small Vernier engines. The pod will now undergo Qualification Test 2 to make it completely ready for operational use.

Source: Rockwell Space Systems Group

Finding Some Space

Scandinavia is looking for its own satellite system and a Franco-German TV satellite design is thought to be front runner. Officials of the Swedish government decided that the satellites should have two areas of coverage, different numbers of channels being allocated to each. The East-West area, that is Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, would have eight channels while Iceland and the Faroes would be allocated five. Sweden would bear the bulk of the bill. The satellite system, to be called NOROSAT, would eventually consist of three satellites, the first to be launched by Ariane 3 in 1985. A 'go-ahead' decision is expected later in 1980.

Meanwhile, Australia is looking for a satellite to cover the northern and central regions of the continent. Tenders for the contract were to be submitted in April 1980. A large delegation from Canada is being led by Telesat, the state owned telecommunications organisation. Australia would require significant technology transfer into its own industry. The ANIK-C type satellite may be a strong contender for the contract.

Source: Comsat, Satellite Week, Financial Post

September 1980

It's Plink... Plink... Fizzle! for Ariane LO2, Bbut ESA Presses On

Following the failure of Ariane LO2, ESA is to continue the flight certification program on the original schedule, treating the failure as an 'anomaly'. The third test is scheduled for November 1980. CNES officials have begun an investigation into the failure, believed to reside with one of the Viking 5 engines, and will only halt LO3 launch preparations if they conclude that hardware modifications are necessary. It appears that a very high frequency resonance built up in engine D causing the pressure in the chamber to fluctuate. After many fluctuations, a measured temperature gradient of 100 degrees C at flight time 63.8 seconds caused the pressure to fall. Although LO2 was still on course, at 104 seconds the roll rate reached 60 degrees/minute and engines A and B lost pressure. Investigators believe that at 108 seconds, when the chamber pressure of engine C began to fall, monitoring instruments recorded undue strain and actuated the self-destruct sequence.

A flotilla of boats is now working at Devil's Island, 20 miles downrange, to salvage the engines. So far they have recovered parts of the engines, but not critical parts. The amateur radio satellite OSCAR and the German science satellite Firewheel were both lost in the launch.

Source: Comsat, Aviation Week, Satellite News

Search and Rescue Terminals

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre has selected a Canadian firm to provide Local User Terminals to process signals from the search and rescue instruments to be placed aboard certain satellites. The contract is worth $3m. The first terminal will be installed at Kodiak, Alaska, and must be installed within 19 months. The contractor must also provide 15 months of maintenance post-installation. The terminals will eventually receive signals from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) satellites F and G, to be launched in the early 1980s.

Source: NASA

NASA Awards Contract To USBI For SRB Retrieval

NASA has awarded United Space Boosters Incorporated (USBI), a division of United Technologies Corporation, a $7.2m contract to retrieve spent solid-fuel rocket boosters (SRBs) from the Atlantic Ocean. The contract is in addition to to payments already made by NASA of $78.8m which provide for similar operations at the USAF Vandenburg Airforce Base. USBI is now responsible for assembly, integration, checkout, launch, recovery and refurbishment of the SRBs.

Two specially-equipped ships have been constructed to recover the SRBs from the Atlantic Ocean. Called UTC Liberty and UTC Freedom, each vessel has a displacement of 1081 tonnes and is able to maintain a speed of 14 knots with a range of 6000 nautical miles. The ships are each equipped with two engines each generating 2900 HP and 425 HP water jet thrusters for navigation up the Banana River to Canaveral Airforce Base. Thrusters are used in preference to propellers in the Banana River in order to avoid the threat that propellers would pose to the endangered manatees living in the waters. The ships are fitted with all modern features, including satellite navigation. UTC Liberty will be operational during the third quarter of 1980 and UTC Freedom during the first quarter of 1981.

Source: Chemical Systems Division of United Technologies Inc

Comsat General Forms New Subsidiary

Comsat General has formed a new subsidiary company called Satellite Television Corporation. The move follows an earlier attempt to create an alliance between Comsat and Sears to provide direct-to-home pay-TV services. Comsat General states its aim is to provide multiple channels of entertainment and information to US customers for a monthly subscription. John A Johnson, heading the new subsidiary company, said: Comsat General is committed to the concept of a direct broadcast service.

Source: Comsat

October 1980

Shuttle Launch Date Announced

After an intensive study, NASA has decided to commit itself to a first Shuttle orbital flight test on 31 March 1981. NASA's Administrator, Dr Robert A Frosch said that the decision took account of the recent disturbing engine fire. Braving all the outcomes of a report on the fire, Frosch said that nothing would deter NASA from the announced launch date. The date was announced after extensive discussion between NASA management and contractors; it was difficult but achievable, and Frosch was counting on all involved to work to make the date a reality.

Columbia is expected to leave the Orbiter Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Centre on 23 November 1980. Although problems with the Thermal Protection System have largely been resolved, the Orbital Manoeuvring System has started to present problems. Colombia will be checked in the Vehicle Assembly Building and on the pad prior to launch.

Source: NASA

Paine On The US Space Program

Former NASA Administrator Dr Thomas O Paine told Congress recently that if the US is to maintain a vigorous involvement in space it must re-energise manned spaceflight and establish promising new, large goals in scientific, economic and technological applications. He went further, adding: we must initiate low-cost, Shuttle-based transportation to orbit, followed later by a practical, re-useable inter-orbit and lunar transportation system. Paine also cited disillusionment with the space program after the Apollo era: in short he said that space has become not limitless but limited by Man's expectations. He went on to say that NASA's present budget was a pittance compared with that of the 1960s. Above all, Pain saw a bold new goal as being essential to a vigorous space program, not unlike the 1961 mandate from John F Kennedy to go to the Moon.

Source: Comsat / Aerospace Daily

USAF Awards Launch Services Contract

The USAF has awarded a $17m contract to Chemical Systems Division (CSD) of United Technologies Corporation to provide all launch services for Titan III and the new generation Titan 34D. The Airforce Space Systems Division, based at Vanderburg Airforce Base, signed the agreement to cover launches in both western and eastern continental US. The services agreement expires on 31 December 1982. The contractor will assemble the boosters and check pressure and electrical sub-systems on board, and give the booster rockets the OK for flight.

CSD has produced, in the period 1965 - 1979, 118 boosters used in conjunction with launches of Titan III C, D and E. The boosters are giants: 120 inches in diameter and consisting of five stackable segments. Now, following a record 100% success rate, CSD is building a larger, more powerful, six-segment booster for the new Titan 34D. The first launch of Titan 34D is scheduled for mid-1981 from Canaveral Airforce Base.

Source: Chemical Systems Division of United Technologies Corp

November 1980

Boeing Tells Of Solar Cell Breakthrough

Being's Engineering Technology Organisation has produced a new thin-film solar cell with an energy conversion efficiency of over 9%. The cells are composed of Copper Indium Selenide / Cadmium Sulfide. Twelve months ago they achieved 6.7% efficiency, but now this has risen to 9.4%. The new cells are expected to cost circa 50 cents per watt by 1990. Silicon solar cells have an efficiency of 15% and cost $10 per watt.

Now Boeing is trying to devise ways of mass producing the cells as well as reducing or omitting some of the constituent elements to decrease costs. It is possible, depending on factors such as cost, power and weight, that thin film cells will be used to provide solar power for satellites.

Boing is under contract to the Department of Energy's Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) for the work. SERI aims to produce cells with an efficiency of 10%.

Source: Boeing Aerospace Company

Contract Awarded For Communications Equipment

Hughes Aircraft Company has been awarded a contract to supply components and technical services for 20 rural Earth terminals for the Indonesian government. Indonesia is soon to have the services of two national domestic satellites presently being built by Hughes: designated Palapa B-1 and Palapa B-2 their signals will be compatible with the Earth terminals being supplied.

Hughes has already supplied ten Earth terminals in a previous contract. Those stations use single channel per carrier, frequency division multiplexing and demand assignment multiple access. By this means Hughes provided Perumtel (the Indonesian state-owned telecommunications carrier) with a system whereby any user could obtain use of the satellite channel without having to pay the whole-year price for a satellite channel. Perumtel currently owns and operates 40 Earth terminals and those ordered under the new contract are expected to be commissioned in late 1981.

Source: Hughes Aircraft Company

Satellite Business Systems Takes Another Step

Satellite Business Systems (SBS) has filed an application for approval of tariffs with the US Federal Communications Commission to provide certain innovative services through its satellite network. The filing comprises three services:

  1. CNS-A, the name for SBS's high volume, single user system designed for organisations which require high data rates. Available January 1981.

  2. CNS-B, a service based on CNS-A but designed for users requiring lower data volumes and involving the sharing of facilities between users. Available January 1982.

  3. A system providing cheap inter-state metropolitan communications, which could provide an alternative to the current telephone system.

SBS already has eight customers signed up for CNS-A, one of which is Boeing. The first satellite of the network is due to be launched in November 1980. To date, Comsat General Corporation, Aetria Life and Casualty and IBM Corporation have invested $375 million in the venture. Hughes Aircraft is building three satellites for the network, two of which will be placed into orbit, and one of which will be spare.

Source: Satellite Business Systems

December 1980

Four Shuttle Astronauts Undertake CEIT Tests

Columbia astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen together with Joe Engle and Dick Truly are about to undertake the third and final crew equipment interface tests (CEIT) with the shuttle. The tests are part of the run up to the first shuttle flight (STS-1, OFT-1) scheduled for March 1981. The tests are all based on operation of the shuttle vehicle while in orbit. Amongst other activities, the crews will assure procedures for checking that shuttle cargo bay doors are latched shut.

Source: Rockwell Space Systems Group

NASA & TRW Joint Sponsors In Shuttle Payload

NASA and TRW Inc are jointly sponsoring the Explorer Club of the Boy Scouts of America to place experiments in orbit on the Space Shuttle. The experiment or experiments will be self-sustained and comprise what NASA calls a get away special, a small payload occupying spare capacity in the Shuttle cargo bay. The get away special was designed to allow small companies, groups and institutions access to space on a relatively cheap basis. The joint sponsors will judge all national entries made by bonafide Explorer groups. Project Postar as the initiative is called even provides for winning entrants to visit Goddard Space Flight Centre to examine their experiments. However, groups must raise their own funds for experiment design and construction. The panel of sponsor representatives will include among others the former astronaut Jim Lovell.

Source: TRW Defense and Space Systems Group

First Commercial 14/12 GHz Service Begins

Telesat, the Canadian National Satellite Telecommunications Organisation, is about to embark on what it calls the world's first commercial 14/12 GHz satellite service. Telesat will use the RCA-built ANIK-B satellite to re-transmit French language programmes to several Quebec cable TV companies. The antenna has already been installed on top of Bell Canada's building in the centre of Montreal. The system is the forerunner of the communications system that will be in common use with the launch of the first ANIK-C satellite in 1982. The higher frequency band enables earth terminals to be placed in urban areas without encountering the interference associated with the current 6/4 GHz satellite systems. Both TV and digital data will be transmitted over the satellite links.

Source: Telesat

Studies For Space Operations Centre

Boeing, under contract from NASA, is to study the feasibility of placing a permanently manned space station in low earth orbit. The space station or Space Operations Centre (SOC) would be placed in a 200-250 mile orbit and would support space-based re-supply and maintenance. From the SOC, engineers could check and service both satellites and manned orbital vehicles such as the Space Shuttle. The SOC would also serve to refuel orbital transfer vehicles. The SOC differs from all previous space station plans in that it will exist primarily to support space operations rather than scientific study. Space Shuttles would be used to transport units of the station to the required orbit. The modules would be 14 feet in diameter and 40 - 50 feet long. Power for the station would be provided by two large solar arrays. If NASA decides to adopt the study, a four man crew could be inhabiting the space station by the late 1980s.

Source: Boeing Aerospace Company

GOES-D On Its Way Into Orbit

The GOES-D satellite has been successfully launched from Complex 17 at Kennedy Space Centre on 19 September 1980. The satellite is now on station over the South American country of Columbia at 75 degrees West longitude and at an altitude of 22,300 miles. GOES-D is largely an experimental satellite and its mission is to monitor severe storms, floods, typhoons, hurricanes and all adverse weather conditions. Hughes Aircraft Company is building three identical GOES satellites under a $39.4m contract from NASA, which is procuring the satellites for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA will process and disseminate data from the satellites. GOES-D will transmit 'whole earth images' every thirty minutes.

Source: Hughes Space and Communications Group

January 1981

NASA Administrator To Resign

Dr Robert A Frosch, NASA Administrator, is to resign in January 1981. Dr Frosch will take up a post as the first President of the American Association of Engineering Societies which was itself created in January 1981. The Association covers 39 professional engineering societies representative of over one million engineers.

Dr Frosch was nominated by President Carter in May 1977 to the office of Administrator and has been a driving force in the readying of Shuttle Columbia for its first flight in March 1981. Dr Frosch's resignation is not expected to impact the current timetable for the first flight of Colombia.

Dr Frosch received degrees from Columbia University, New York, and gained his doctorate in theoretical physics in 1952. 

Source: NASA

Failure Of Major Shuttle Engine Test

Main propulsion test number 11, a Shuttle Columbia main engine certification, was held in early November 1980 at NASA's National Space Technology Laboratories, Mississippi. The test was intended to certify that the engines will function satisfactorily at 102% of rated thrust with no pulsing. The engines were tested using full flight nozzles, each weighing 1000 lbs, of the sort Columbia will use on her maiden voyage in March 1981. The engines are due to be fitted to Columbia soon, ready for her maiden flight.

The test was scheduled to last 9.5 minutes, but abnormally high temperatures in the hydrogen coolant tubes in the number 2 nozzle triggered a command to abort the test only 22 seconds into the firing. 

Source: Rockwell Space Systems Group

British Aerospace Chosen For Comet Project

The European Space Agency has chosen BAeD to build its first extra-terrestrial probe. The probe is named Giotto and it will rendezvous with Halley's Comet in 1985-86. Giotto will be based on experience gained with the GEOS 1 and GEOS 2 projects which were also managed by BAeD.

Halley's Comet visits the Earth every 76 years. Giotto will carry several scientific instruments mainly aimed at studying the comet's coma, and it will also take measurements of the comet's magnetic properties and photograph its nucleus. Giotto will remain in proximity to the comet for several years. The total value of the contract is 27 million.

Source: British Aerospace Dynamics

Skylark Rockets In Lower Atmosphere Exploration

Two Skylark rockets will play a prominent part in finding out more about the energy budget of the Earth's atmosphere. A total of 57 rockets will be launched in three stages to measure the effects of magnetic storms on the Earth's atmosphere. British Aerospace is supplying two Skylark 7 rockets. They will each carry 372 kg of scientific instruments to an altitude of 234 km. The 57 rockets will be launched either from Andoya, or Kiruna in Sweden. Launching began on 05 November 1980. The study of the atmospheric energy budget has turned from its original form as a purely German undertaking into a joint European effort.

Source: British Aerospace Dynamics

Britain Prepares For INMARSAT Service

British Telecom has placed a contract worth 6.05 million with Marconi Ltd to supply a steerable antenna and associated electronics for the Goonhilly Downs Earth station complex. The new antenna will be 13.7 meters in diameter, the smallest of the four antennae at Goonhilly.

The new antenna will serve satellites of the INMARSAT system. INMRSAT plans to launch its satellites in 1981. The satellites will operate in the new high-frequency ranges. Britain has an 11% share in INMARSAT, which has its headquarters in London. By the mid 1980's it is projected that 2000 ships will be using the INMARSAT service. Present maritime satellite communication is provided by the MARISAT satellite network operated by the US company Comsat General Corporation.

Source: Comsat, Telecom Highlights

Dr Thomas (Tim) Mutch Dies

Dr. Thomas (Tim) Mutch was killed on 06 October 1980 while on a Himalayan mountain trip. He suffered a fatal fall while climbing with seven other Americans. Dr Mutch was Professor of Geology at Brown University before joining NASA. In 1979 he became NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Science and in this role he was the prime driving force within the space science field. His achievements in recent years include: head of 'Viking' lander imaging team, chairman of the post-Viking Mars planning committee, and he was involved with both the Pioneer and Voyager probes.

Source: NASA JPL

Intelsat Ensures Compatibility With Other Systems

At its recent meeting in Venice, signatory representatives of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (Intelsat) agreed to measures both technical and economic to enable its satellites to be 'compatible' with various national systems. The systems which Intelsat aims to interwork with include: the European Eutelsat, German TV-SAT, Indian INSAT, Indonesian Palapa, Russian InterSputnik, Japanese GMS-2 and the ArabSat systems. Intelsat considers the Eutelsat and Palapa networks to be least problematic economically, as they are largely regional systems. The meeting gave a great deal of attention to the Algerian request to connect to the InterSputnik network, since the joint network would carry not only specialised communications but also ordinary public telephone communications. On closing the meeting, Intelsat expressed a hope that there would continue to be a single global communications satellite system.

Source: Intelsat

Intelsat V Ready to Go

The first in a series of high capacity satellites called Intelsat V (Flight-2) was shipped from the California manufacturers to Kennedy Space Centre during mid-October 1980 ready for launch during early December. Nine satellite orders have been placed to date. The Intelsat V network will replace the aging Intelsat IVs and Intelsat IVAs. Flight 2 will be placed in a standard geo-stationary orbit above the Atlantic Ocean. Each Intelsat V is capable of relaying 12,000 simultaneous telephone calls plus two TV channels. The worldwide Intelsat satellite network now carries an estimated 67% of global inter-continental communications traffic. Although Intelsat placed the order for its satellites with a US firm, approximately one-quarter of the satellite components originate in other countries.

Source: Intelsat

Remote Manipulator System Contractor Assigns Sub-Contractorships

Unknown to many, Canada has a major share in the Space Transportation System project (the Space Shuttle). Spar Aerospace of Canada is manufacturing the highly specialised arms or Remote Manipulator System (RMS). The RMS is fifty feet long and displays incredible dexterity. By the use of three joints, resembling the human shoulder, elbow and wrist, the RMS is able to position itself with the assistance of a dedicated computer to within two inches of the intended position.

Spar Aerospace manufactured, under the auspices of the National Research Council of Canada, one RMS for the Shuttle Orbiters. Spar delivered the RMS to Rockwell International and it has now been installed on the Shuttle Columbia. Spar recently announced that it had received follow-on contracts to build RMSes for another three Orbiters and has subsequently named sub-contractors for this major undertaking. Spar named CAE Electronics of Quebec to build the display and control subsystem. CAE is a leader in the aircraft flight simulator field.

Four shuttles are currently scheduled to be built, although there is a possibility that government and military sources in the US may press for a fifth.

Source: Spar Aerospace Ltd

Boeing In Joint Effort To Build Sweden's Viking Satellite

Boeing Aerospace has been awarded a contract to build the platform for Sweden's first satellite. The satellite, called Viking, will be used to investigate the interaction of the Sun's plasma with the Earth's magnetosphere. The interaction is associated with the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). The Swedish Space Corporation awarded the prime contract to Saab-Scania of Sweden with Boeing producing the superstructure. Viking will be launched by Ariane in 1984 in tandem with the French Earth resources satellite (SPOT).

Source: Boeing Aerospace

February 1981

SBS -1 Now In Orbit

The first in a series of three satellites being built for Satellite Business Systems (SBS) is now in orbit. The satellite was launched on 15 November 1980 from Cape Canaveral aboard a McDonnell Douglas Delta 3910 vehicle. When SBS-1 becomes fully operational during January 1981 the digital satellite will provide telephone, computer, teleconferencing and electronic mail services to SBS customers. On 16 November the satellite's antenna platform was de-spun, the antenna was deployed and the solar cell drum was deployed. The drum took about an hour to fully deploy. On 19 November orbital operations were transferred from Comsat's new tracking centre in Washington DC to SBS's ground station at Castle Rock, Colorado. SBS-1 is now on station at 106 degrees West longitude in line with El Paso. In addition to the three spacecraft, Hughes is building 100 Earth terminals for use on customer premises.

SBS-1 is the first of fifteen orders placed for Hughes Aircraft's HS 376 satellite design. Already work is assured through to 1986, with such companies as Western Union, Perumtel and Telesat on the order books. The unique solar panel skirt configuration provides the spacecraft with over 900 watts of power. SBS was the first customer to order such a satellite from Hughes.

SBS is a private company jointly owned by Comsat General, IBM Corporation and Actna Life and Casualty.

Source: Hughes Space and Telecommunications

March 1981

Experiment Underway On Metals In Space

Presently, the White Sands Missile Range is not  enjoying the attention given to the Kennedy Space Centre. Ever since the days of the WAC Corporal the range has been relatively quiet. Now, however, NASA is initiating a number of space experiments, using high altitude sounding rockets, aimed at investigating how high temperature metals react in the low gravity conditions of space. The Marshall Spaceflight Centre is using Black Brant rockets with built-in electric furnaces to study the metals tin and lead under such conditions. During the five minute flight time, while the rocket encounters zero-G, the metal is cooled rapidly by flooding it with liquid helium. Once on the ground, scientists can examine the effect of rapid changes on a metal's temperature in weightlessness.

Lockheed built the furnace which is about 17 inches in diameter and 31 inches long. The program as a whole is part of NASA's long term research into materials processing in space.

Source: Lockheed Space and Missiles Company

Spacelab Engineering Model Hailed During Move

At the recent roll-out of the Spacelab Engineering Model during December 1980 at ERNO's Bremen works, both NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) officials praised the spirit of European dedication involved in getting the project this far. Although it was only the engineering model that was on its way to the Kennedy Space Centre, the few feet that it was moved proved symbolic of the heights to which both it and US-European co-operation will eventually rise. After ceremonies, the model was towed by a tractor to Hanover airport for shipment to the US. The Director general of ESA said that the construction industry was to be congratulated for a job well done, noting that the work was the result of successful teamwork by almost 40 firms in ten European countries.

The Spacelab Flight Unit is still in the integration room, and many of the experiments are in their last stages of development.

Source: ERNO Raumfahrttechnik GmbH

NASA Releases Voyager 1 Findings

Following the flyby of the planet Saturn by NASA's deep space probe Voyager 1, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has issued a review of the major findings, summarised below:

  1. Although Saturn's zone/belt cloud structure extends almost to the poles, the overall structure resembles very closely that of Jupiter.

  2. The estimated wind speed at the equator is 1600 km/hr - four times that of the same region on Jupiter.

  3. Temperatures at the surface of Saturn range between 86 K and 92 K, highlighting the large distance of Saturn from the Sun.

  4. Saturn's dark side receives sunlight reflected from its rings.

  5. Although no image recorded lightning bolts, the electric field detector on board Voyager 1 indicated that there were periodic discharges.

  6. Saturn's rings comprise several hundred 'ringlets', some of which are elliptical in shape.

  7. Voyager 1 measurements of the D, E and F rings suggest particle sizes vary between 4E-5 and 1 metre.

Source: NASA JPL

Voyager 2 Targeted For Encounter With Uranus

Following the unparalleled success of Voyager 1 in its encounter with Saturn, NASA has officially decided to target Voyager 2 for a flyby of the planet Uranus. Under the plan now approved, the craft will fly within 107,000 km of Uranus, and thereafter fly a course for Neptune (subject to approval). The encounter with Uranus is scheduled for 24 January 1986 - this will be the first time that a spacecraft has visited Uranus. Currently, Voyager 2 is en route to encounter Saturn on 25 August 1981. In order to preserve a trajectory suitable for the flyby of Uranus, there will be no occultation by Saturn's rings nor a close approach to Saturn itself.

Source: NASA JPL

NASA Takes Delivery of Shuttle Radios

The first of two cockpit radios for use aboard the Shuttle Orbiter were recently delivered to the Kennedy Space Center. A fallback set and four back-pack radios (for use by astronauts while suited) have been delivered to the Johnson Spaceflight Center. Each back-pack radio weighs 4kg and is about the size of a loaf of bread. The larger cockpit radios weigh 11.3kg. It is these that will enable the shuttle pilot or commander to communicate with astronauts outside, with traffic control towers on re-entry and with chase plans once in the lower atmosphere. Manufacturers RCA stress that the astronaut back-pack radios will also transmit medical telemetry to the Shuttle Orbiter. The radios also give a warning when life-support equipment is running low.

Source: RCA Government Systems

New Help For Disabled Planes and Ships

Starting in 1982, crashed planes and ships in distress will have the help of a new search and rescue tool - based in space. Under the auspices of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, search and rescue payloads will be placed on all weather satellites in the NOAA series beginning with NOAA-E in 1982. The weather satellites will still undertake their regular day and night meteorological duties. If a plane finds itself in difficulty or a ship is disabled an on-board beacon will transmit a message to the orbiting satellites which in turn will transmit it to the weather data receiving station. Computers at the receiving station will be able to fix the site of the emergency to within 13 miles. If the countries initially participating - Canada, France and the US - find the system up to expectations, then it is hoped that talks will begin on an international space-based search and rescue system.

Source: RCA Astro-Electronics

Indonesia Signs Shuttle Launch Agreement

Dr Weiss, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Transportation Operations, has signed an agreement with Dr Suryadi of the Department of Posts and Telecommunications of Indonesia for an option to launch two satellites from the Space Shuttle. The agreement covers the launch of Indonesia's new generation of satellites - Palapa B-1 and B-2. However, Perumtel (the Indonesian owner company) reserves the right to have the satellites launched by Delta rocket. If Perumtel decides to launch by Shuttle, Palapa B-1 will be launched during January 1984 with Palapa B-2 following in March. In both cases launch by Delta is possible before launch by Shuttle. Indonesia will be responsible for satellite check-out and integration with the SSUS (Spinning Solid Upper Stage or Payload Assist Module). When in orbit, Palapa B-1 and B-2 will provide high speed data services to the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Source: NASA

July 1982

Space Shuttle Final Test Flight

The Space Shuttle Columbia performed well on its fourth and final test flight from Cape Canaveral. However, due to a minor fuel problem, it orbited at a lower altitude than planned.

Source: The Guardian, 28 June 1982

April 1984

Success For Ariane

NASA was dealt a blow last month by Europe's space engineers, as an Ariane rocket launched the world's largest telecommunications satellite, an Intelsat V satellite,  into geostationary orbit after a flawless launch from French Guiana. The Intelsat satellite weighs two tonnes and can deal with 12,000 telephone calls simultaneously. The large number of satellites in geostationary orbit (36,000 km above the Earth) meant that European space controllers first had to free a slot in this orbit by firing the redundant GEOS2 satellite into a higher orbit.

This success came just a month after NASA sent two satellites into incorrect orbits. Ariane's promotional period has now ended. All further launches will he carried out by Arianespace, a private company.

Source: New Scientist, 08 March 1984.

Solar Sailing

Over the past year several people in the UK have shown interest in designing a solar sail capable of reaching the Moon, in response to the proposal of the French group Union pour la Promotion de la Propulsion Photonique (U3P) for an international solar sail race to the Moon. The theory and technology of solar sailing are both at such an early stage that it is desirable to encourage the development of as many different approaches as possible.

Our present aim is to produce the equivalent of a 'Phase A' design study. Those who have attended meetings to date have produced a preliminary orbit analysis and a preliminary spacecraft configuration (copies of which are available by sending a SAE to the address below). These now need further refinement in order to permit progressively more detailed analysis and specification of subsystems. If the design process progresses satisfactorily through the Phase A stage it might later be realistic to attempt to build a flight model - the success of UOSAT shows that the various problems involved, including financing and obtaining a launch, can be overcome.

If you would be interested in attending meetings on the subject or in contributing to the analysis of specific subsystems and/or problems that arise, please contact Dr Trevor Williams at the School of Electronic Engineering & Computer Science, Kingston Polytechnic.

Subjects in which we currently require help are structural analysis (especially experience of using NASTRAN), the communications payload and power/mass budget calculations.

September 1984

Twenty Years Of ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) celebrated its 20th anniversary in May 1984. The 11 member nations - Belgium, Denmark, France, West Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, can boast successes such as IUE, COS B, the Ariane booster rocket, and numerous scientific satellites.

It was in 1964 that Europe first agreed to design and construct sounding rocket payloads, satellites, and space probes as the ESRO (European Space Research Organisation) consortium. ELDO (a parallel agency for the development of launch vehicles) was a six-nation cartel pledged to reduce European dependence on American Delta and Atlas launchers. The two agencies created a mixed record of successes and failures over the following decade, and eventually the financial strains of maintaining two separate space programmes led to a merger in 1975. The merger created ESA, which has has existed in the same form since its creation.

The 10 years since 1975 have seen the realisation of many of the original goals of ESA. Ariane has fulfilled Europe's need for an independent launch vehicle. The International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE), a joint venture with NASA, has proved an indispensable workhorse for astronomers since its 1978 launch. COS B monitored gamma ray sources in the Milky Way for 6.5 years. The current projects of ESA are Spacelab & Exosat. Exosat (an X-ray satellite) has been in orbit over a year and has expanded our knowledge of white dwarfs and neutron stars.

Coming next from ESA are the International Solar Polar mission, Hipparcos (a satellite to measure star positions to unprecedented accuracy), Giotto (a probe to Comet Halley in 1986) and the Infrared Space Observatory or ISO (an instrument hundreds of times more powerful than the IRAS satellite). ESA may also participate in NASA's planned space station.

October 1984

Mission To Search And Recover

America's space shuttle may make its second salvage journey into space on 02 November 1984. Encouraged by the rescue and repair of the Solar Maximum Mission Satellite by shuttle astronauts on 10 April, NASA is planning a similar attempt. This time, astronauts would hook on to at least one of two malfunctioning communications satellites now drifting uselessly 1100 kilometres above the Earth.

The satellites are Palapa B-2, owned by the Indonesian government, and Westar 6, owned by Western Union. In  February 1983, shortly after the two craft were released from the cargo bay of the shuttle Challenger, both of their upper-stage rockets misfired. Neither satellite has worked since.

NASA has signed an agreement to rescue Palapa with the mission's major insurance underwriters, Merrett Syndicates of London and International Technology Underwriters of Washington DC. Should the rescue succeed in bringing back one satellite, the insurers will pay $4.8 million for that satellite. If both satellites are brought back and repaired the total payment becomes $5.4 million, equating to $2.7 million for each satellite. The Palapa satellite alone is valued at about $40 million.

According to a tentative flight plan for November 1984, the Shuttle Discovery will first launch two new communications satellites. It will then approach the marooned Palapa and Westar satellites. An astronaut will fly over to Palapa and attach a docking device. Then, Anna Fisher, working inside Discovery, will manipulate the shuttle's mechanical am to snare each satellite and haul it aboard the shuttle.

February 1985

Galileo To Visit Asteroid

Galileo, NASA's spaceprobe to explore Jupiter, could take the first close-up photographs of an asteroid during its journey. Project planners have assessed a proposal to fly Galileo close to the asteroid Amphitrite seven months after launch in May 1986. But they will make the final decision on a detour to observe Amphitrite only after Galileo's launch.

NASA says that a detour to pass within 10,000 km of Amphitrite carries no risk of colliding with asteroid fragments. However, it would impose an extra month in the flight time to Jupiter, and would reduce the number of orbits that the probe could make around Jupiter from 11 to 10.

March 1986

Latest On The Space Shuttle Explosion

The booster rockets that may have caused the space shuttle Challenger to explode were known to contain a fault. Attention has focused on the right hand rocket booster. Smoke was coming from this booster 1.4 seconds after launch. 53 seconds later, flames were seen at this same point which eventually engulfed the craft. Documents dating back to 1982 warn that the boosters' seals were faulty. On 23 past occasions the seals have suffered varying amounts of erosion.

The heart of the seals are two O-rings, vulcanised rubber strips 0.71cm thick. These are stretched like a pair of 5 metre long rubber bands around the booster. They sit in grooves, set inside one arm of a U-shaped joint on one booster segment. The arm mates with the joining segment in tongue-and-groove fashion. Each joint is secured with 177 metal pins, which are then sealed under cork and a final metal band.

The four main segments of each booster rocket contain solid fuel that is 70% ammonium perchlorate, 16% powdered aluminium, a binding agent and a trace of iron oxide to control the rate at which the fuel burns. A zinc chromate putty is applied to the point where the fuel segments meet. When the rocket is fired the putty is compressed and squeezes the primary O-ring into the gap in what NASA calls a pressure activated seal. The secondary is a backup. Without a perfect seal the fuel burning at 3204 degrees Celsius would burn and possibly melt the steel easing. Overall, O-rings were damaged or eroded on 13 of the first 24 flights, the erosion being caused by the hot exhaust gases.

Source: New Scientist, 20 February 1986.

July 1995

Launch Of Space Shuttle Discovery Postponed

The launch of STS (Space Transportation System; or colloquially, Space Shuttle) Discovery, scheduled for June 1995 has been delayed until at least August 1995. NASA is mourning the fact that despite attempting to deter woodpeckers with owls and other deterrents, the birds persisted in damaging Discovery's fuel tanks. How the woodpeckers cam to be so misguided is not known!

Source: BBC Radio 2 News, 03 June 1995.

June 2000

A Tale Of Two Satellite Systems

Astrophotographers around the world will not mourn the demise of the Iridium satellite system. The fleet of 88 satellites (plus spares) provide mobile phones around the globe. Physical chemists will know that the name Iridium comes from the element with the atomic number 88 - this relates to the number of satellites in orbit.

The Iridium satellites often appeared very bright in the evening sky, having very reflective solar panels and being in relatively low orbits. Anyone planning a long exposure astrophotograph would have to check first that no Iridium satellites were due to flash through the area being imaged.

The Iridium system has not proved to be commercially viable and the satellites will be deliberately sent down to burn up safely in the Earth's atmosphere. Amateur astronomers interested in artificial satellites will miss the Iridium flashes. They can, however, console themselves with the thought that if they manage to get to Antarctica in 2003 to see the total eclipse of the Sun, the spectacle will not be diminished by someone walking past with a mobile saying Hello dear, I'm on an iceberg...

Another set of satellites in the news this month is those of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Originally built for the US military, GPS allows anyone with a small handheld device - available from many high street shops - to find their location on the Earth's surface; and it also provides accurate timing signals. It is a great navigation tool for sailing, hill walking, etc. It can be used for setting up a computerised telescope (ETX, NexStar, etc.) It's potentially useful for any observational activity for which you need to be in a particular place at a particular time - a grazing lunar occultation, for example.

Until recently, however, the usefulness of GPS was diminished by 'selective availability' (SA), introduced by the military for security reasons, which meant that civilian users experienced reduced positioning accuracy. This reduced the usefulness of GPS for applications requiring extreme accuracy.

Since GPS was introduced, civil uses of it have multiplied with, for example, commercial aircraft and shipping using the navigation facility and telecommunications networks using the timing information. Perceiving the value of the commercial users in ensuring continued support for GPS and with reduced fears about misuse, the US made a decision to remove SA by 2006. Things have changed more quickly than expected and SA was turned off on 01 May 2000. As a result, the accuracy of civilian GPS has improved ten-fold to around 6 to 10 metres making it a very useful tool for amateur astronomers.


J Appleton
Original: Newsletters February 1972 - June 2000
Updated: 24 October 2005