News of March 2000

Dates are those of the events (in UT) when available.
 
Commercial Launchers | Heavy-Lift Launchers | Small Launchers
Missile Systems | Advanced Launch Systems | Space Propulsion
Spaceports | Industry | Launch Market


 Commercial Launchers

March 31
The Commercial Space Transportation Cost Reduction Act, a proposed legislation supported by Louisiana Senator John Breaux, was scrubbed before discussion at the U.S. Senate because of a parliamentary procedure problem. The bill proposes to provide government guraantee to bank loans contracted by U.S. space transportation companies.
March 30
European Space Agency's Flight Acceptance Review Board for the Cluster 2 mission delays the shipment of the four spacecraft to Baykonur, Kazakhstan, unless a generic problem reported on their propulsion system is fully investigated. The impact of this delay on the mission schedule is ot known yet. The Cluster 2 satellites are due to fly by pairs atop Soyuz-Fregat vehicles provided by Starsem on June 15 and July 13.
March 29
International Launch Services has postponed the maiden flight of its Atlas 3A launch vehicle from April 14 to mid-May upon request from its customer, Eutelsat. The postponement was decided after problems were reported on the Eutelsat W4 spacecraft's propulsion system. This one-month hold will enable Lockheed Martin Astronautics to conduct further testing on the venting system of the vehicle's redesigned Centaur cryogenic upper stage.
March 29
Sea Launch Co. confirms earlier information about a faulty ground software being at the origin of the failure of the third Zenit 3SL flight on March 12. A logic error in the software appears to have failed to command a valve to close in the Zenit's second stage pneumatic system. This system performs operation and actuation for the second stage's RD-8 four-chamber steering engine. Having lost more than 60% of its pressure, the system could not perform its functions thus reducing the RD-8's capabilities. This led to a significant deviation in attitude, triggering the automatic flight termination system some 8 minutes into flight, shortly before the planned second stage shutdown. Sea Launch plans to complete its failure investigation by mid-May and to return to flight during the third quarter.
March 23
KB Transportnogo Mashinostreniya (KBTM), manufacturer of Sea Launch's launch infrastructure, confirms that the third flight of a Zenit 3SL vehicle on March 12 failed due to a faulty software developed by RKK Energiya which led to a major propulsion malfunction in the vehicle's second stage. According to KBTM, Sea Launch is still able to conduct its next planned launches on June 19, in August and November.
March 23
Sea Launch Co. has assembled a Failure Review Oversight Board to investigate the launch failure of its third Zenit 3SL vehicle on March 12. The Board was announced shortly after Boeing, which leads the international venture, was awarded a Technical Assistance Agreement by the U.S. Department of State. The Board will review and compare results from different investigations conducted by Boeing, RKK Energiya and NPO Yuzhnoye. A final report on the failure is due to be released within several weeks in order to resume launches during the third quarter.
March 20
GKNPTs Khrunichev has decided to delay the launch of a Proton K/DM vehicle, previously announced on April 5, due to quality assurance concerns regarding the vehicle's third stage. During launcher preparation, it was discovered that one of 12 bolts securing the cover of a turbopump bearing on the RD-0210 engine was not correctly wired. A similar problem was reported on the Proton K/DM rocket that failed on October 27, 1999. As a consequence, the whole vehicle will be replaced. A new launch date is tentatively set between April 16 and April 18.
Editor's note: The payload for this flight is Sesat, a communication satellite based on a Russian platform by NPO Prikladnoy Mekhaniki (NPO-PM) incorporating a payload provided by Alcatel Space. Although the final customer is Eutelsat, a Paris-based organization, the launch does not involve International Launch Services. It is provided directly by GKNPTs Khrunichev to NPO-PM on behalf of Rosaviakosmos, the Russian aerospace agency.
 



Fregat boosting Dumsat (Starsem)
March 20
Starsem successfully completed the second flight of its Soyuz U/Fregat launch vehicle. On this validation flight, the vehicle lofted a dynamic mock-up simulating a pair of Cluster 2 plasma science satellites in order to demonstrate its capability to launch the two pairs of satellites in June and July. In its launch contract with Starsem, the European Space Agency requested the Soyuz U/Fregat combination to complete successfully two test flights before actually launching its satellites. In case of failure, ESA had organized an insurance coverage to pay for the transfer of the satellites on an Arianespace Ariane 4. The four Cluster 2 satellites are due to replace the four original Cluster satellites which were lost in the failure of Ariane 5's maiden flight in June 1996.
 
 
March 16
RKK Energiya denies an earlier statement by NPO Yuzhnoye which announced that a faulty Energiya-designed computer caused the Zenit 3SL launch failure on March 12. According to NPO Yuzhnoye, the computer failed to send the correct commands to the second stage's propulsion system during launch preparations and thus caused the engines to shut down completely eight minutes into the flight. NPO Yuzhnoye claims that future two-stage Zenit vehicles do not need any adjustements before flight.
Editor's note: NPO Yuzhnoye manufactures the second stage of the Zenit 3SL as well as the RD-8 vernier engine which apparently failed to ignite properly during the flight.
March 15
Sea Launch confirms that the failure of its Zenit 3SL launcher during its third flight on March 12 was caused by a problem related to its second stage and not to the RKK Energiya-built Block DM-SL upper stage as initially stated. According to unofficial reports circulating about the failure, a computer glitch shortly before liftoff may have left a pressure valve open on the second stage during launch apparently resulting in two of the RD-8 vernier engine's four chambers to malfunction in flight. The RD-8 provides steering control to the second stage. An onboard safety system automatically shut down the stage some 450 sec. into flight, about 55 sec. earlier than planned, preventing the third stage from gaining enough velocity to reach orbit.
An official investigation is under way.
Editor's note: This Sea Launch statement clears the Block DM-type stages, also used as upper stages for GKNPTs Khrunichev's Proton K launchers.
March 12
The second commercial flight of Sea Launch's Zenit 3SL ended in failure. Telemetry problems were reported during the second and third stage burns. Then the RKK Energiya-built Block DM-SL upper stage was tracked on a lower trajectory than planned and could not achieve orbit. It crashed about 4,300 km downrange, in southern Pacific ocean. The mission's payload, the US$100-million ICO-F1 mobile telephony satellite was lost. ICO Global Communications reports that 'the F1 launch was adequately insured to cover the anticipated costs of building and launching a replacement spacecraft.'
Editor's note: The insurance coverage for this flight is reported worth US$225 million. According to space insurance sources ICO Global Communications has contracted insurance coverage for its 10-satellite constellation as a whole. Insurance will be repaid only after the loss of more than two of its 12 satellites. However it must be noticed that the ICO-F1 spacecraft, which was to be delivered in orbit, was technically belonging to Hughes Space & Communications. Hughes had initially planned two more Zenit 3SL launches to deploy the ICO constellation but, after the loss of a Zenit 2 flight in September 1998, the two additionnal missions were moved to International Launch Services for launches on an Atlas 2AS and a Proton K/DM3 vehicles. The next flights of Zenit 3SL were supposed to launch the PAS-9 and Thuraya 1 satellites during the second and third quarters. Both launches were contracted by Hughes on behalf of PanAmSat Corp. and Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications respectively.
Since 1985, the basic Zenit vehicle has suffered 9 failures in 36 launches resulting in a mere 75% reliability level.
See the Launch Log for more data on the mission.
March 8
Boeing Expendable Launch Systems rolls out its 100th Delta vehicle manufactured in its Pueblo, Colorado, plant, which was inaugurated in 1987.
March 7
The launch of a Lockheed Martin Astronautics Atlas 2AS vehicle (AC-157) carrying a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), initially due on March 20, has been postponed to December 4 due to an unspecified problem with the spacecraft. The launch vehicle will have to be disassembled to clear Cape Canaveral's SLC-36A pad for an Atlas 2A vehicle (AC-137) due to loft the GOES-L meteorology satellite on May 3.
Editor's note: The payload, officially identified as MLV-11 (Medium Lift Vehicle class payload #11), is assumed to be a Hughes-built Capricorn data relay satellite for high-latitude imaging satellites, possibly carrying missile detection sensors. Two other classified Atlas 2AS launches (MLV-10 and MLV-14), from Vandenberg AFB, have also been postponed indefinitely for unspecified reasons.
March 1st
NASA's Johnson Space Center has formally identified the object found on a beach near Corpus Christi, Texas, on February 25 as the nose cone from one of Ariane 503's solid rocket booster which was launched in October 1998. The nose cone had been removed from the beach by a resident who intended to turn it into a hot tub. CNES, the French space agency, which was prime for this qualification flight, has asked for the nosecone to be shipped back to Europe.
Editor's note: According to University of Texas Marine Science Center Institute's Pr. Tony Amos, the nose cone has travelled for about 5,600 km, drawn by the Guyana current into the Caribbean sea from where it crossed the Yucatan canal into the Gulf of Mexico.
March 1st
Arianespace has postponed the launch of the second commercial Ariane 5 flight from March 16 to March 21 in order to allow Alcatel Space, one of the two customers for the mission, to conduct additional tests on its AsiaStar spacecraft, built in partnership with Matra Marconi Space for WorldSpace Corp., of Washington, D.C.

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 Heavy-Lift Launchers

March 28
The Indian Space Research Organisation plans to begin the launch campaign for its first Geostationary Satellite Launch vehicle (GSLV) by late March or early April, in order to conduct the actual launch in July or August. On this maiden mission, the GSLV will loft G-Sat 1, an experimental rural communications satellite.

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 Small Launchers

March 30
The Florida Space Research Institute announces the "Florida Express" program developed in partnership with the NASA-sponsored Florida Space Grant Consortium and the Spaceport Florida Authority to provide annual suborbital launch opportunities to researchers and universities onboard rockets based on U.S. Navy's Terrier booster from Cape Canaveral's SLC-20. The first three launches are planned during the third quarters 2000, 2001 and 2002.
 
March 27
The European Space Agency may soon revive a project for a medium-lift launch vehicle to complement the heavy-lift Ariane 5. ESA's council, meeting in Kourou on March 22 and 23, decided to set up a strategy for the development of such a vehicle, possibly based on existing elements developed for Ariane 5. The final objective would be the inception of a fully integrated family of European launchers, ranging from small-class (about 1,000 kg to Sun-synchronous orbit) to the heavy-lift Ariane 5 versions. More formal decisions to initiate studies on such a project could be taken as soon as June, during next meeting of ESA's council. If the project is approved, a first launch could occur circa 2004 to 2005.
Editor's note: Plans for such an Ariane Derived Launcher (DLA) have been regularly announced since the late 1980s. Since no budget was available for their actual development, they were eventually scrapped in favor of a cooperation with Russia to market Soyuz vehicles through the Starsem venture. Work on the Italian-led Vega small launcher project will be stopped at the end of the month.


DLA concept (Aerospatiale)
 
 
March 27
DaimlerChrysler Aerospace launches a Matra Marconi Space-built Skylark 7 two-stage suborbital rocket from Esrange, in Sweden, to loft the Texus 37 microgravity payload on behalf of DLR and the European Space Agency. The launch of Texus 38 is planned for April 1st.
March 16
The commission investigating the failure of Brazil's second VLS-1 launch vehicle shortly fater lift off on December 11, 1999, has released its conclusions. According to the commission, a burnthrough in the vehicle's second stage motor, some 56 sec. into flight, led to its explosion. The upper part of the launcher was propelled into a ballistic trajectory and its destruction was commanded by the range safety officer 200 sec. after lift off. To prevent such mishap, an improved thermal protection system will be developped for the motors. The commission was composed of members from Brazil's Aeronautics & Space Institute (IAE), the Aerospace Technical Center (CTA), the Alcântara Launch Center (CLA), the Barreira do Inferno Launch Center (CLBI) and the R&D Department of Brazil's Air Command (Deped).
March 9
The launch of a Darpa Taurus vehicle from Vandenberg AFB, California, on hold since February 25, has eventually been cleared for a March 12 liftoff after it was determined that Maria island (21.88°S, 13.33°W, in the Gambier archipelago), which is located in the vehicle's third stage impact area is actually uninhabited. The U.S. Air Force has been delaying the launch since February 28 upon request from the territorial government of French Polynesia which was actually worrying for the safety of inhabitants on the nearby island of Marutea, an atoll which lies close but not inside the impact zone. The cost for this delay is estimated to be worth US$267,000. The payload for this flight is U.S. Department of Energy's Multispectral Thermal Imager (MTI) spacecraft.
March 7
NASA's Langley Research Center has awarded a US$42,300 contract to Newport News Shipbuilding Inc. to study concept development of a catapult launch assist system that could be used for small-payload launch systems selected by NASA.
 



AirLaunch concept (Boeing)
March 2nd
Boeing and Thiokol Propulsion announce that they are jointly developping the AirLaunch vehicle, a low-cost all-solid three-stage winged booster able to loft either U.S. Air Force's Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV) reusable unmanned spaceplane or up to 3,000 kg of payload to low Earth orbit. The AirLaunch vehicle would be released in altitude by a modified Boeing 747-400F carrier aircraft.
Editor's note: Thiokol has confirmed us that the AirLaunch vehicle is based on a pair of Castor 120 solid rocket motors as first and second stages. The third stage has not been disclosed yet but it could be a large Star kick-motor (Star 48, 63 or 75). The wing-tail assembly will be jettisonned in flight.
 
 
March 2nd
No firm launch date has been set for a Darpa Taurus and a Delta 2-7326 vehicles planned to lift-off from Vandenberg AFB, California, in March. The Taurus launch is delayed due to safety concerns as the Polynesian island of Maria in the impact area of the vehicle's third stage, although considered as uninhabited, was found to actually have a population of 200. The Delta launch is slipping as suspect power converters on its payload are still being examined.

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 Missile Systems

March 27
Russia's Naval Strategic Nuclear Forces test launch three RSM-54 Shtil (SS-N-23 "Skiff") fleet ballistic missiles. Two were launched from the Karelia submarine in the Sea of Barents and their dummy warheads successfully impacted the target area at the Kura firing range in the Kamtchatka peninsula, after a 32-minute flight over a distance of 8,000 km. One more missile was launched from another submarine, in the Sea of Okhostk, for a 7,000-km flight toward the Kanin Nos test range in the Kanin peninsula.
Editor's note: According to some sources, only two missiles were launched.
March 23
Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space was awarded two contracts, totalling US$29 million by U.S. Navy's Strategic Systems Programs office to support the production and deployment of Trident 2 (D5) sea-launched ballistic missiles. A US$16.2-million contract covers FY2000 support to U.S. Navy's missiles while another contract, worth US$12.8 million, FY2001 support to British Royal Navy's fleet ballistic missiles.
March 21
The National Missile Defense's Integrated Flight Test-5 (IFT-5) mission, which includes the third interception attempt of an incoming dummy warhead at intercontinental range by a Boeing/Raytheon Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), has been delayed from April 27 to June 26. This postponement, presumably linked to the failure of the IFT-4 mission on January 18, will prevent U.S. President William J. Clinton from announcing any decision regarding the deployment of the NMD system in June as planned. The actual decision will be postponed to October or even more likely to next year, after a new U.S. President is elected.
March 16
Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space was awarded a US$19.2-million contract by U.S. Navy's Strategic Systems Programs office for long lead items procurement in order to continue the production of Trident 2 (D5) sea-launched ballistic missiles during FY2001.

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 Advanced Launch Systems

 



X-38/V132 at landing (NASA/DFRC)
March 30
NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center completes the fifth atmospheric test-flight of a X-38 crew return vehicle prototype subscale model. The Vehicle 132 model, was released from a NB-52 carrier aircraft at an altitude of 12,000 m. After 44 seconds of free flight which allowed it to reach a speed of 800 km/h, the vehicle began opening its parachutes, at about the same speed and altitudes as a future operational full-scale Crew Return Vehicle will when returning from orbit. A 18-m diameter drogue chute first decelerated the X-38 model to about 110 km/h before the new 500-sq.m parafoil began to open. The vehicle touched down smoothly and on target although one of its three landing skids failed to deploy. The test also was the first demonstration of the X-38 automatic flight control software.
 
 
March 29
NASA announces that it postpones the launch of space shuttle Atlantis for the STS-101 mission from April 17 to April 24 in order to allow the mission's commander, James Halsell, to recover from an injured ankle.
 
March 25
Russia's International Institute for Advanced Aerospace Studies proposes to develop a 1,500-ton twin-body "Ekranoplan" wing-in-ground effect seaplane as a launch platform for future reusable launch vehicles. Such a vehicle would be able to release launch vehicles at a speed of about 500 km/h. Demonstration tests are planned with a 400-ton subscale Ekranoplan model in 2001.


Ekranoplan launch assist concept (New Scientist)
 
 
March 24
Kistler Aerospace Corp. postpones the first test-flight of its K-1 reusable two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle to March 2001 at the earliest. Kistler still needs US$400 million to complete the development of the K-1.
March 20
According to Space News, NASA may wait until 2002 to decide whether to proceed with an operational Crew Rescue Vehicle for the International Space Station based on the X-38 and could eventually select an evolved design, tentatively known as Crew/Cargo Transfer Vehicle (CCTV) to be developed under the planned five-year US$4.5-billion Space Launch Initiative program due to foster the development of a next-generation man-rated launch vehicle to be decided by about 2005.
Editor's note: the European Space Agency has been studying a X-38-derived vehicle as a possible Crew Transfer Vehicle (CTV) to be launched by Ariane 5 in order to get an independent access to the ISS. The project was shelved in 1997 after its main backer, France, withdrew due to the reluctance of its new minister for space, Claude Allègre, regarding manned spaceflight. Incidentally, Claude Allègre is expected leave his ministry within days.
 



MAKS (Molniya)
March 15
According to Swedish Space Corporation's space events diary, NPO Molniya has developed "a low-cost option" for the completion of its MAKS reusable, air-launched spaceplane. An unmanned version of MAKS could be launched in 2006. MAKS would be released from the back of an Antonov An-225 Mriya aircraft, and would be able to loft payloads to 200-km altitude orbits for a cost of US$1,200 per kg. The Russian government is providing some 37% of the funding, only 17% of which will be in cash. NPO Molniya is trying to attract investors in its project.
 

  

MAKS spaceplane, propulsion system and external tank (Molniya)
 
March 9
The Space Shuttle Independent Assessment Team (SIAT) issues its report after four months of investigations on space shuttle program management at NASA. According to the 144-page report, NASA's workforce at Kennedy Space Center has been shrunk to levels that can no longer ensure minimum safety for space shuttle flights. The team provides 81 recommendations including assessment of the reliability of the damaged wires inspections and better management of aging effects on components and subsystems. The SIAT investigation was ordered in September 1999 by NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin after space shuttle Columbia experienced two potentially serious problems (a short circuit and an hydrogen leak) during ascent on the STS-93 mission.
Download the SIAT report in PDF (8.5 Mb)
March 8
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works reports that a 'significant design-related problem' has again been detected in the propellant tanks manufactured for NASA's X-33 Advanced Technology Demonstrator that might delay even further its planned maiden flight. A report to be issued shortly is expected to point-out that the corrosive effect of liquid hydrogen on composite tanks has been underestimated by the designers. A program 'recovery plan' will be disclosed by late March.
March 8
Roll-out of NASA's space shutttle orbiter Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center has been brought forward from March 18 to March 16 after its damaged Ku-band data relay antenna was fixed. The actual launch date of the STS-101 mission will be discussed at the Orbiter Rollout Review on March 10.
Editor's note: NASA's schedule still plans for a liftoff on April 14 while the launch is slated April 17 on Cape Canaveral's range schedule due to a conflict with Atlas 3A's maiden flight already due on April 14.
March 7
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center formally issues a previously announced sollicitation for proposals regarding risk reduction concepts on multiple competing approaches for full scale development of second generation reusable launch system architectures by 2005 under the Space Launch Initiative program. The proposals will have to cover not only Earth-to-space transportation but in-space orbit transfers as well. Among the program's ambitious goals are a hundredfold increase in safety with a 90% cost reduction as well as minimized technical and business risk for full-scale development while meeting both NASA's and commercial market's requirements.
Editor's note: The first generation reusable launch system was the Space Shuttle.
March 6
A Ku-band data transmission antenna on NASA's space shutttle orbiter Atlantis was damaged during pre-launch processing at Kennedy Space Center. The orbiter's roll-out has been postponed from March 13 to March 18. The launch of the STS-101 mission is apparently still planned for April 14 (NASA schedule) or April 17 (Cape Canaveral range schedule).
 



SHARP-B2 UHTC leading edge (MSFC)
March 1st
NASA has completed the design review of a flight experiment to test Ultra-High Temperature Ceramic (UHTC) material which could be used to design reentry vehicles with sharp leading edges thus improving their aerodynamic behavior in the atmosphere. The Slender Hypervelocity Aerothermodynamic Research Probe (SHARP-B2), developed by the Ames Research Center as part of Marshall Space Flight Center's Future X program, will be flown atop a Minuteman 3 ballistic missile on June 28. It will be based on a modified Mk12A reentry vehicle with four retractable sharp UHTC leading edges and a parachute recovery system.
 
 
March 1st
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center issues a request for information on 'emerging next generation' (i.e. unproven) launch systems in order to prepare for possible future launch services procurement.

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 Space Propulsion

March 31
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center announces that GenCorp Aerojet and Boeing Rocketdyne have completed a series of test on air-breathing rocket engines on behalf of the Advanced Space Transportation Program. The tests, conducted at Aerojet's facilities in Sacramento, California, and the General Applied Science Laboratory (GASL) on Long Island, New York, focused on low-speed performance of the engines. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania State University, which is a academic partner on the program, completed its work on air-breathing rocket development by mid-March and immediatly proceeded with another phase of the program which will focus on the use of hydrocarbon propellants instead of hydrogen.
March 28
According to Russia's Itar-Tass news agency, the U.S. State Department is about to issue the long-awaited license allowing Pratt&Whitney to produce NPO EnergoMash's RD-180 engine in the United States. The engine production will be managed by RD-AmRoss, a joint-venture of Pratt&Whitney and NPO EnergoMash. The U.S.-built RD-180 engines are planned to power the core stage of Atlas 5 launchers when flying U.S. government missions.
March 22
The Boeing Rocketdyne XRS-2200 linear aerospike engine completes a 220-sec. ground firing test at NASA's Stennis Space Center. The test, the 11th in a series of 14, follows an aborted test on March 9. The 220-sec. duration is the longest planned burn-time for an XRS-2200 engine on NASA's X-33 Advanced Technology Demonstrator. Three more tests are due, the next one on April 3, at 250-sec. duration.
March 20
Japan's Institute for Space & Astronautical Sciences (ISAS) plans to use Solid Rocket Boosters built by Nissan Aerospace for the H-2 (7F) vehicle, for basic research on large solid rocket motors following the launch failure of its third M-5 vehicle at launch on February 10. The H-2 (7F) vehicle was the last procured by the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) but its flight was cancelled late last year in order to shift to the more modern H-2A launcher after the failure of the H-2S (8F) launch on November 15, 1999.
March 19
The U.S. Air Force's Research Laboratory conducts a static firing test of a Titan 4B Solid Rocket Motor Upgrade (SRMU) at Edwards AFB's 1C test stand. The US$167-million test was intended to qualify a new fiber pattern for the booster's nozzle as well as a new adhesive due to replace an earlier ozone-depleting material. The 350-ton solid rocket booster, provided by ATK (formerly Alliant TechSystems) delivered more than 7,500 kN of thrust for 140 seconds.
March 18
Boeing Rocketdyne rolls off the assembly line for its RS-68 engine at its brand new SSC Engine Facility in Hancock County, Mississippi. The 10,000-sq.m facility, officially inaugurated on March 17, will eventually have a manufacturing capacity of 40 engines per year.
March 17
NASA's Glenn Research Center has awarded a US$297,744 contract to Hughes Electron Dynamics for the development of a low-power ion propulsion system.
March 16
Thiokol Propulsion completes the last of six static firing tests of a refurbished Minuteman Stage 1 motor at its Northern Utah test facility, as part of the Propulsion Replacement Program (PRP), under the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Prime Integration Program led by TRW.
March 16
The Ariane program board of the European Space Agency has allowed Snecma Moteurs to proceed on its talks with Pratt&Whitney Space Propulsion Operations regarding the possible joint-development of the SPW2000 cryogenic engine.
March 15
NASA will replace the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) No. 1 on the space shuttle orbiter Endeavour during processing in Kennedy Space Center's Vertical Assembly Building after a thorough documentation and inventory review revealed that defective fuel pump tip seals might have been mistakenly mounted in the engine. the suspect SSME will be replaced by another initially planned to fly on Discovery. The swap is not expected to cause any major delay in the launch of Endeavour's STS-101 mission still due not earlier than April 13 (according to NASA) or April 17 (according to Cape Canaveral range schedule).
March 15
NASA's Glenn Research Center has awarded a US$341,403 contract to Boeing Rocketdyne for the development of a Hall-type plasma thruster.
March 13
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center intends to contract with Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee, for Raman ultraviolet scattering spectroscopy measurements of hydrocarbon-fueled rocket engine plumes.
March 13
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center plans to contract with CFD Research Corp. to demonstrate an advanced laser ignition system to be used in hydrocarbon-fueled Rocket-Based-Combined Cycle (RBCC) engines.
 



XRS-2200 (Rocketdyne)
March 9
A ground firing test of a Boeing Rocketdyne XRS-2200 linear aerospike engine was aborted by the engine's controlling software 75.44 sec. into its planned 220 sec. duration at NASA's Stennis Space Center. According to preliminary analysis, the shutdown was attributed to missing a qualification limit on fuel pump discharge pressure in new mixture ratio control software during the first attempt to reach a 30% per second throttling rate from 100% to 72% power level. The test, the 10th in a series of 14, is the first not to go to full duration.
Editor's note: A pair of XRS-2200 engines is due to power NASA's X-33 Advanced Technology Demonstrator to hypersonic speeds.
 
 
March 8
NASA's Glenn Research Center has awraded a US$9.66-million contract to Williams International Corp., an aeronautical turbine designer, to conduct a feasibility study on a low-cost turbo rocket engine concept.
March 6
GenCorp Aerojet has completed three series of static firing tests on Strutjet-type engines in its facilities in Sacramento, California. Strutjet engines combine rocket and scramjet propulsion and could be used to power future launch systems as well as aircraft and missiles. A first series of tests was conducted in early January with hydrogen and oxygen as propellant. A second series, in late January, incorporated a flight-type cooled platelet panel built as part of NASA's Advanced Space Transportation Program Propulsion Technology and Integration Project. The final series, completed on February 10 demonstrated thrust augmentation through minor design modifications as well as hydrogen cooling of the panel.
Editor's note: Aerojet's Strutjet concept is one of the most promising technologies under study bt NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in its effort to develop a Rocket-Based Combined Cycle (RBCC) engine. In a Strutjet engine, the rocket propulsion is used for the initial boost up to Mach 3. The engine then switches to the ramjet mode with its oxidizer supply coming from the atmosphere. When it reaches Mach 8, it switches back to rocket propulsion for the final accelaration to orbit.
 



BA-810 firing test (Beal)
March 4
Beal Aerospace has conducted a 21-second static firing test of its BA-810 engine at its McGregor, Texas, test facility. This 3,600-kN engine, featuring a carbon-fiber thrust chamber pressure-fed with kerosene and hydrogen peroxide, is intended to power the second stage of Beal's BA-2 launch vehicle. This was the third static firing of the BA-810 engine. According to Beal Aerospace, two previous tests, totalling 30 seconds of burn time, have already been performed on another model of the engine.
 
 



Block B firing test (KB-KhA)
March 2nd
KB KhimAvtomatiki successfully conducts the static firing test of a Proton K Block B stage featuring four RD-0210 engines in its Voronezh facilities. The RD-0210 engines have been modified following the Proton launch failures on July 5 and October 27, 1999. These modifications include the addition of screens to prevent contamination from floatting particles and the use of nickel alloys for turbopump casings.
 
 
March 2nd
Thiokol Propulsion successfully test fires a 14-year-old TU-903 solid rocket motor as part of an aging surveillance program. The TU-903 serves as first stage for the MX Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile as well as for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Darpa Taurus military launch vehicle. This was the oldest TU-903 fired to date. The motor was designed for a 25-year lifetime.
March 1st
DaimlerChrysler Aerospace reports the completion of a 5-week campaign of static firing tests on the 46-kN Aestus 2 engine it is currently developing in partnership with Boeing Rocketdyne. More than 700 seconds of cumulative firings were logged at DLR's test facilities in Lampoldshausen, Germany. Rocketdyne is due to begin its own 6-week campaign on the engine at the White Sands Missile Range test facilities.
Editor's note: The Aestus 2 is an advanced version of the Aestus pressure-fed engine currently flown on Ariane 5's upper stage incorporating a turbopump designed by Rocketdyne for its own XLR-132 high-performance upper stage engine. It could be available in 2003. Arianespace has no firm plan to use it on future versions of the Ariane 5.

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 Spaceports

March 30
The Brazilian Foreign Office and the U.S. State Department have concluded an agreement allowing U.S. companies to lease launch facilities at Brazil's Alcântara Launch Center for their own use. A formal document will be signed shortly.
March 24
The U.S. National Research Council issues a report, entitled "Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety" addressing launch range safety issues with respect to the expected increase of launch activity at U.S. launch sites. Among its recommendations, the report proposes to eliminate Cape Canaveral downrange tracking stations in Antigua and Ascension islands and to replace outdated tracking radar with satellite-based global positioning systems. The report also proposes to increase control on restricted areas prior to launches in order to reduce launch postponements related to intruding boats and planes.
Read the report on-line.
March 17
Floridian Senator Bob Graham is reportedly preparing a new legislation proposal, designated the Commercial Space Partnership Act, to allow commercial companies to lease NASA-owned property for full-time launch and satellite operations. If approved, this law may foster non-shuttle commercial launch activities, such as VentureStar or other proposed reuasable launch systems, out of Kennedy Space Center and other NASA sites.
March 2nd
Boeing and Lockheed Martin will unveil their new launch complexes in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on March 2 and 3, respectively. Boeing is investing US$250 million in the refurbishment of SLC-37 for its Delta 4 family of launchers. SLC-37 was used for the launches of 6 Saturn 1 and 2 Saturn 1B vehicles from 1964 to 1968. Meanwhile Lockheed Martin is leading a US$300-million effort to turn SLC-41, the former Titan 3/4 launch complex, into a modern facility to handle its new Atlas 5 series of vehicles.

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 Industry

March 29
GenCorp, parent company of Aerojet, plans to make an acquisition in the space propulsion industry by year's end. According to its chairman & CEO Robert Wolfe, talking after a shareholder's meeting, GenCorp is currently discussing with several space propulsion companies "about a merger, acquisition or some other form of business combination."
Editor's note: GenCorp has been reportedly trying to form a space propulsion joint venture with Pratt&Whitney in 1999 but the actual deal never materialized.
March 21
The European Commission has given its approval for the merger of Matra Marconi Space and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace's space businesses into a new entity to be known as Astrium. However, Astrium will have to sell its patents on satellite propulsion systems in order not to become a European monopoly that could harm its Alcatel Space, its main European competitor in the manufacturing of satellites and a long-time customer for DaimlerCrysler Aerospace thrusters.
Editor's note: Astrium will be involved in several major programs regarding space transportation, such as Ariane 4, Ariane 5, Rokot and LeoLink, and space propulsion with the Aestus, Viking, Vulcain and SPW2000 engines among many other space activities.
March 14
Alcoa Inc. has agreed to acquire Cordant Technologies, the parent company of Thiokol Propulsion, for US$2.9 billion.
March 13
India plans to increase its budget for launch vehicle development by 40% during the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2001. The Indian Space Research Organisation's budget related to space transportation, which was relatively unchanged for the last two years, is increased from INR 5,548 billion (US$128 million) to INR 7,744 billion (US$178 million). This budget will cover the development of an improved version of the GSLV launcher. It also includes a INR 830-million (US$19-million) budget to initiate the manufacturing of six more PSLV vehicles. The production and launch of these vehicles will cost about INR 2.2 billion (US$50 million) through 2002. A INR 1.2-billion (US$28-million) budget will be dedicated to the building of a second launch pad in Sriharikota which will cost INR 2.9 billion (US$67 million) to complete. The overall Indian space budget for FY2000/2001 is growing by 17%, from INR 17,259 billion (US$397 million) to INR 20,192 billion (US$464 million).
March 13
Two Republican members of the U.S. Congress, Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, and Representative Benjamin A. Gilman, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on International Relations, have asked the U.S. State Department to impose conditions on the license agreement between Pratt&Whitney Space Propulsion Operations and NPO EnergoMash for the joint production of RD-180 engines. The two lawmakers request an annual determination that NPO EnergoMash is not involved in missile technology proliferation, particularly with Iran. Both the U.S. State and Defense Departments are expected to issue licenses shortly to clear the way for a five-year U.S./Russian cooperation on the RD-180 engine. NPO EnergoMash is under contract to produce 101 RD-180 engines for the core stages of Lockheed Martin Astronautics' Atlas 3 and Atlas 5 vehicles. Pratt&Whitney will build 25 RD-180s for Atlas 5 vehicles to be flown with U.S. government payloads on behalf of U.S. Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.
March 3rd
The Spanish government has given its final approval for the integration of the state-owned aerospace company, Construcciones Aeronauticas SA (CASA), into the new European Aeronautics, Defense & Space (EADS) venture to be formed by mid-year with the merger of France's Aerospatiale Matra with Germany's DaimlerChrysler Aerospace.
March 1st
Construcciones Aeronauticas SA (CASA) has awarded a US$1.5-million contract to Northorp Grumman Corp.'s Integrated Systems and Aerostructures sector to manufacture '8 launch vehicle composite cones'.
Editor's note: CASA produces structural elements for the Ariane 4, Ariane 5 and Atlas 5 launchers.

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 Launch Market

March 29
According to Jane's Defense Weekly, the Israeli Ministry of Defense plans to test microsatellites to complement the Ofeq military observation satellite systems.
March 29
Following the release of an independent report on the management of its ill-fated Mars exploration program, NASA's Office of Space Science has officially cancelled the Mars 2001 Lander mission which was due for launch in April 2001 atop a Boeing Delta 2/7425 vehicle.
March 28
The Italian ministry of Defense has contracted with the SITAB consortium, led by Alenia Aerospazio, to procure a back-up satellite bus for its first military communication satellite, Sicral 1, due for launch on an Arianespace vehicle late this year. The industrial consortium, which includes FiatAvio and Telespazio, pushes for the full procurement of a Sicral 2 satellite but the ministry is reluctant since it would like to fulfil its future needs through international cooperation programs.
March 23
Space Systems/Loral has been selected to manufacture the MT-Sat 1R meteorology and air traffic control satellite for Japan's Ministry of Transport and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). Based on the LS-1300 bus, MT-Sat 1R, due for launch in 2002, will replace the MT-Sat 1 satellite that was lost in the failure of Japan's H-2S (8F) launcher on November 15, 1999. The contract is reportedly worth J¥16.3 billion (US$152 million).
March 21
An incident during ground testing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has significantly damaged the US$75-million High Energy Solar Spectroscopy Imager (HESSI) spacecraft. According to JPL, the satellite's structure has been damaged and solar arrays have been cracked during a vibration test at 20 gs instead of 2 gs of acceleration.. The 388-kg satellite, built by Spectrum Astro, was slated for launch on a Pegasus XL vehicle on July 5. Its launch is now postponed to January 2001 at the earliest.
March 17
Iridium has decided to give up its efforts to find a qualified buyer and plans to use its remaining US$8.3 million to close down. The decision still has to be approved by the bankruptcy court. Pending launch contracts with Boeing (Delta 2), Eurockot (Rokot) and China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CZ-2C/SD) will presumably be rescinded without any repayment.
March 15
Iridium has been awarded an extension through March 27 to find a qualified buyer. The U.S. Department of Defense has announced that it has no intention to bail the ill-fated venture out. Iridium still holds launch contracts to loft several satellites with Boeing (Delta 2), Eurockot (Rokot) and China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CZ-2C/SD).
March 13
Alcatel Space Industries has signed a contract with AirTV Holdings Ltd. for the manufacturing of four geostationary satellites based on its Spacebus 3000 platform and designed to provide direct broadcasting to in-flight aircraft. Alcatel Space Industries will provide in orbit deliveries of the 3,800-kg AirTV satellites on launchers yet to be selected. The first launch is slated for 2003.
March 8
The U.S. National Research Council releases a report on NASA's controversial Triana mission to provide continuous imaging of the Earth's daylight hemisphere. According to this report, the Triana concept is technically and scientifically sound. The mission, backed by U.S. Vice President Albert Gore, was suspended by the U.S. Congress last year. If the mission is allowed to proceed, launch is planned onboard space shuttle Columbia on January 11, 2001. A Thiokol Star 48B stage would boost the 591-kg spacecraft to the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrangian point, 1.5 million km from Earth, where it would enter a Lissajous ('halo') orbit.
March 8
The Canadian Space Agency has awarded a C$13-million contract to Bristol Aerospace to build its SciSat 1 ozone monitoring satellite. Launch is due during the third quarter of 2002 on a Pegasus XL launch vehicle booked by NASA in December 1999.
March 6
In a final attempt to bail-out the company, Iridium creditors have agreed to put another US$3 million in the venture to keep it operating through March 17 before it has to provide a recovery plan or to face bankruptcy. In this latter case, Iridium will have to provide a plan for deorbiting the whole constellation.
March 3rd
Eagle River Investments LLC, the investment group led by cellular phone magnate Craig McCaw, eventually announces that it will not pursue its investment in Iridium LLC. Eagle River recently invested US$5 million in Iridium to keep the company operating through March 6. Iridium still holds launch contracts with Boeing (Delta 2), Eurockot (Rokot) and China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CZ-2C/SD).
March 2nd
Intelsat's board decides to buy a second New Intelsat-Alpha (NI-Alpha) satellite from Matra Marconi Space. NI-Alpha 2 will be based on Matra Marconi Space's new EuroStar 3000 bus and delivered in late 2002. It will weigh about 5,000 kg at launch. The original NI-Alpha contract still includes options for six more satellites.
 


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