News of April 2000

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


From funny space fiction to real ground-based business:
Our Iridium April Fool joke became reality!

 Commercial Launchers

April 25
Boeing Expendable Launch Systems holds a customer meeting to announce that its Delta 3 launcher is ready to resume flights after completion of a final major test on its RL10B-2 upper stage engine at Pratt&Whitney's facilities in West Palm Beach, Florida. During the test, the engine experienced high stress at ignition in worst-case conditions. Pratt&Whitney has reportedly completed 16 RL10 combustion chambers for both Atlas and Delta vehicles using revised manufacturing techniques after defetcts were reported on several engines in 1999. Boeing is still looking for customer at a complimentary price for the third launch of its Delta 3 after ICO Global Communications decided to postpone its own launch to October.
April 23
The European Space Agency's Flight Acceptance Review Board has cleared the four Cluster 2 plasma science satellites for shipment to Baykonur. The four identical satellites, built by DaimlerChrysler Aerospace/Dornier, will be flown to Kazakhstan on April 27 and May 3. Their launches on two Starsem Soyuz-Fregat vehicles are now due on July 12 and August 9. The satellites' attitude control thrusters, which had shown minor seepage, are undergoing tests at DLR's facilities in Lampoldshausen, Germany.because of unacceptable weather conditions at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility
April 22
The U.S. Air Force has decided to postpone the launch of a Boeing Delta 2-7925 vehicle to due to concerns regarding the solar array deployment mechanism of its payload, the Lockheed Martin-built US$42-million Navstar 2R-4 global positioning system satellite. A new launch date will be setdepending on range availability at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch was initially due on April 22 and had already slipped to April 23 due to a problem with a ground-based satellite power supply system.
 


    
The RS-20 missile, in its launch canister,
is delivered to the silo (Kosmotras)
April 21
The RS-20 (SS-18 "Satan") intercontinental ballistic missile to be launched circa August 25 by MKK Kosmotras as a Dnepr 1 vehicle has been delivered to its silo at the Baykonur Space Center, Kazakhstan. On its second commercial flight, the Dnepr will loft five microsatellites for Malaysia, Italy and Saudi Arabia.
 
 
April 20
Arianespace has signed contracts to loft two Japanese payloads. JSat Corporation (formerly Japan Satellite System) has contracted for the launch of its 2,400-kg JC-Sat 8 communication satellite atop an Ariane 4 or an Ariane 5 by late 2001 while the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) will launch its Large Deployable Reflector Experiment (LDREX) as a piggyback payload on another Ariane 5 later this year. The LDREX will be mounted on a Matra Marconi Space-built Ariane 5 Structure for Auxiliary Payloads (ASAP-5) to demonstrate the deployment system of future large antenna reflectors planned for NASDA's ETS-8 engineering test satellite in 2003. The deployment will be monitored by an onboard camera.
Editor's note: LDREX was initially planned for launch in early 2000 on the maiden flight of the H-2A launcher which was postponed to early 2001 after the failure of an H-2S vehicle on November 15, 1999.
April 19
Sea Launch plans to resume flights of its Zenit 3SL launcher on June 29 following completion of an interstate investigation on the March 12 failure, NPO Yuzhnoye's general director Stanislav Konyukhov told Interfax press agency. The failure investigation was completed on April 11. An executive summary of the fianl investigation report will be provided to Sea Launch within days and the full final report will be presented to the Failure Review Oversight Board in Moscow next week.
April 13
Sea Launch Co. moves its headquarters from Cayman Islands to its Homeport in Long Beach, California.
April 11
Arianespace postpones the third commercial launch of Ariane 5, previously planned on May 23, due to the unavailability of one of its payloads, the Astra 2B direct broadcasting satellite, built by Matra Marconi Space for Société Européenne des Satellites of Luxembourg. Arianespace's next Ariane 4 flight is still planned for April 19 but no Ariane launch is currently scheduled before July.
April 11
Starsem and SkyBridge LP have signed a risk-sharing partnership agreement for the launch of 32 SkyBridge multimedia satellites on 11 Soyuz ST/Fregat vehicles from 2002 on. This is the first launch commitment for Starsem's new Soyuz ST design which will carry up three SkyBridge satellites per launch except for the first one which will carry only two due orbital plane phasing constraints. Options for additional launches are planned. Under the agreement, Starsem will also become shareholder of SkyBridge.
Editor's note: SkyBridge, through its prime contractor Alcatel Space, has already contracted for the launch of 40 satellites on Boeing Delta 3 and Delta 4 vehicles in December 1999. On the 80 satellites planned for the constellation, only 8 have no launcher assigned yet.
April 7
Boeing's is reportedly looking for a customer for the third flight of its Delta 3 launcher following the demise of ICO Global Communications. According to Boeing officials, a contract could be signed within two weeks.
April 7
Malaysia's Astronautic Technology (M) Sdn Bhd has contracted with MKK Kosmotras for the launch of its 54-kg TiungSat 1 (MYSat 1) microsatellite as part of a multiple payload slated to fly circa August 25 atop a Dnepr 1 vehicle. Also flying on the same Dnepr 1 vehicle will be MegSat 1, a 54-kg technology microsatellite developeed by MegSat of Italy, SaudiSat 1A and 1B, two 10-kg science nanosatellites from the Riyadh Space Research Institute, and Unisat, another 10-kg science satellite from the "La Sapienza" University of Rome. A cluster of four messaging microsatellites operated by SpaceQuest Ltd., of the United States, previously announced for the same launch, may fly on another mission in early 2001. Moreover, MKK Kosmostras announces that it is developping a four-stage derivative of the Dnepr vehicle, to be known as Dnepr 3, to loft up to 500 kg to geostationary orbit or to send some 900 kg to the Moon. A first flight is planned within 2 to 2.5 years.
Editor's note: TiungSat 1 was previously expected to fly a top a Zenit 2 also carrying the Meteor 3M-N1 meteorology satellite. This launch has slipped from late 1999 to April and more recently to September 2000.
April 7
As expected, ICO Global Communications has decided to postpone the launch of one of its Hughes-built ICO mobile telephony satellites atop a Boeing Delta 3 vehicle from May 31 to October 5. The next launch of an ICO satellite is tentatively planned in August on an International Launch Services Atlas 2AS. Boeing is actively looking for a replacement payload for its third Delta 3 but the launcher, which failed on each of its two flights to date, on August 27, 1998, and May 5, 1999, may have to carry a dummy spacecraft on its first flight in order to demonstrate its reliability before it can loft any real commercial payload.
Editor's note: ICO Global Communications lost its first satellite in the failure of the third Zenit 3SL vehicle on March 12.
April 4
Matra Marconi Space has delivered its 100th Ariane 4 Vehicle Equipment Bay to Arianespace. The 100th Ariane 4 is currently due to fly on the V135 mission in September. Only sixteen more Ariane 4s are currently on order. The launcher, which first flew on June 15, 1988, will be phased out in 2003.

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 Government Launchers

April 29
The Indian Space Research Organization has delayed by two years the introduction of the version of f a fully indigenous Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with an Indian-designed cryogenic upper stage due to the failure of the first static firing of the engine on February 16 due to an hydrogen leak. According to a report to the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, the new upper stage was planned for first use on the third GSLV in 2001. It will now fly not earlier than 2003.
Editor's note: Initial GSLV launchers will feature a Russian-built cryogenic upper stage provided by GKNPTs Khrunichev.
April 16
The failure of National Space Development Agency of Japan's last H-2 launch vehicle on November 15, 1999, was probably caused by bubbles in the cryogenic propellant which caused excessive stress in the LE-7 engine turbopump according to officials from the Japanese Space Activities Commission's technical assessment panel. The panel came to this conclusion after examining the engine's wreckage which was recovered at sea in January. More details will be given in the final report on the investigation, to be released shortly. The formation of bubbles in propellant was pinpointed by an expert in 1998 but has not been fully assessed yet but NASDA is taking the problem into account for the development of its upgraded H-2A launcher.
April 13
Assembly of the Proton K launcher due to loft Russia's Zvezda resource module to the International Space Station is underway at GKNPTs Khrunichev facilities in Moscow. The assembly sis due to be completed by mid-May for a delivery at the Baykonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by early June. Launch is due between July 8 and 14.
April 11
Lockheed Martin Astronautics is reportedly overbidding on an existing contract between the U.S. Air Force and Boeing Expendable Launch Systems for the launch of the DSP-23 early warning satellite in 2003. Lockheed Martin proposes to loft the 2,400-kg satellite directly to geostationary orbit on its new Atlas 5-520 vehicle instead of Boeing's larger Delta 4H launcher. Lockheed Martin initially loosed the launch to Boeing during the first round of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle procurement by bidding with its heavy-lift Atlas 5-HLV, now on the verge of cancellation, as the commercial versions of the Atlas 5 (including the 520) were not defined at the time of the selection, in February 1998.
April 8
Russia's NTV International television network reveals that a Vostok launch vehicle (8A92M "Meteor") exploded at lift-off on March 18, 1980, in Plesestsk, causing the death of 48 members of Soviet Military Troops. The rocket was planned to loft an Ikar spy satellite. According to the document, the failure was officially said to hacve resulted from an operator error which caused a liquid oxygen leak. However, an "Independent Investigation" is said to have established that the explosion actually was due to "an oxygen peroxide leakage caused by the poor quality of the rocket's fuel filters."
Editor's note: The failure had actually been reported previously with up to 51 casualties. The launch teaml was first blamed for the fault but the root cause of the failure was eventually identified several months later after another near failure. A change in a solder type from pure tin to lead-enriched tin caused hydrogen peroxide to decompose intensively with a high temperature increase which led to an explosion. The launchh team was cleared from all charges in 1996.
April 6
According to Indian government's principal scientific advisor, Dr. Abdul Kalam, the indigenous cryogenic upper stage (CUSP) under development by the Indian Space Research Organisation for its Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) will be ready in 2001 for the launch of 2,500-kg-class Insat satellites to geostationary orbit. First flight of the GSLV with a Russian-built upper stage is tentatively planned in July.

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 Small Launchers

April 18
Russia's Air Launch Aerospace Corp. announces that it will be ready to conduct the first flight of its Progress air-launched vehicle by 2003. The venture, led by Polyot cargo airline, plans to drop its two-stage rocket under a parachute from the rear of an Antonov 124AL "Ruslan" carrier aircraft.
April 14
Ukraine's NPO Yuzhnoye and Italy's FiatAvio are expected to sign a formal agreement this month to set up a joint-venture to market and launch Tsyklon 4 rockets from Brazil's Alcântara Launch Center. Ukraine and Brazil signed a commercial space launch deal in November 1999, allowing Ukrainian boosters to be launched from Brazil's equatorial launch site from 2001 on. A formal technology safeguard agreement will be signed between Brazil and the United States on April 18 to allow the launch of U.S.-built satellites from Alcântara. Brazil is studying the possibility to improve its launch center with a sea port and railroad.
April 2nd
DaimlerChrysler Aerospace launches its second Skylark 7 suborbital rocket of the week from Esrange, in Sweden. The Matra Marconi Space-built two-stage rocket carries the Texus 38 microgravity payload, provided by DLR and the European Space Agency, to an altitude of about 250 km. The launch of Texus 37 was conducted on March 27.

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 Missile Systems

April 30
The U.S. Navy and the British Royal Navay successfully launch two Trident 2 (D5) fleet ballistic missiles from the USS Wyoming submarine off the Florida coast, near Cape Canaveral's Eastern Test Range. With these two test-flights, the Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space-built missile logged its 88th and 89th consecutive successes.
April 25
The deployment and maintenance of a limited National Missile Defense (NMD) would cost almost US$60 billion through 2015 according to a report by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office. This includes US$29.5 billion to deploy 100 Ground-Based Interceptors in Alaska to protect U.S. cities from long-range ballistic missiles launched by "rogue states." The total amount also includes a satellite system to track gliding warheads and the deployment of another 150 GBIs in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The figure is nearly twice the recently revised cost estimate announced by the U.S. Department of Defense on April 4 which reached US$30.2 billion to through 2026 for the first set of 100 GBIs. Moreover, the CBO report confirms that countermeasures to make the interceptors inefficient would be easy to develop for the potential attacking countries.
 



North Korea's Taepo Dong
April 25
Intelligence analysis show that North Korea is very close to reach an intercontinentatal ballistic missile capability according John Holum, senior adviser to U.S. President William J. Clinton on arms control and international security. North Korea is "much closer to an ICBM capability than we are to deployment of a National Missile Defense,'' said Holum.
 
 
April 24
Kazakhstan officially asked Russia to stop missile testing near its border after a runaway Russian Strizh 3 target missile, launched from the Ashuluk military test range, Astrakhan oblast, on April 22 crashed about 2 km from the village of Primorye, in western Kazakhstan. No casualty were reported.
April 19
The Russian Federation Council, Russian parliament's upper house, has approved the ratification of the START-2 disarmament treaty by a 122-15 vote. The lower house, the Duma had voted the ratification on April 14.
April 15
Russian president Vladimir Putin annouce that Russian Strategic Missile Forces will implement START-2 limitations simply by decommissionning missiles whose service life has already expired. "Not a single missile, not a single charge will be removed from duty until the expiration of the final guaranteed time of their use" he added.
April 14
Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space, Alliant TechSystems (ATK) and Thiokol Propulsion, in partnership with U.S. Navy's Strategic Systems Programs have conducted their second successful static test-firing of a Fleet Ballistic Missile solid rocker motor incorporating low-cost commercial technology in its nozzle section at the Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California. The nozzle component used in this test is reportedly 60% cheaper in direct material and processing cost.
April 14
According to U.S. senator Jon Kyl, a leading arms control opponent, the United States do not need to make significant concessions in follow-on negotiations (i.e. START-3) to further reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. Kyl estimates that the Russian arsenal will shrink of its own accord since the country simply can't afford to maintain strategic forces greater than 1,000 warheads. "I'm all for bringing the numbers down," said Senator Kyl, "but it's all going to happen naturally and we don't have to give away the store."
April 14
Russian parliament's lower house, the Duma, has approved the ratification of the START-2 disarmament treaty by a vote of 288 versus 133. The ratification still has to be voted by the parliament upper house, the Russian Federation Council. Under the treaty, already ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1993, the United States and Russia will limit the number of their deployed nuclear warheads to 3,500 each by 2007 from around 6,000 currently.
Editor's note: Russia is expected to deploy its 3,500 warheads on 500 to 800 single-warhead ICBMs, of Topol (RS-12M) and Topol M (RS-12M2) types, about 1,750 on RSM-52 Rif and RSM-54 Shtil submarine-launched ballistic missiles on some 25 submarines, and the rest on bombers. By 2007, all RS-18 (Rokot and Strela), RS-20 (Dnepr), RSM-40 (Vysota) and RSM-50 (Volna) missiles will thus have to have been destroyed.
April 11
The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology together released an independent assessment report on the proposed U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) system. According to a panel of 11 experts, the proposed missile defense system could be easily defeated by "predictable and practical" countermeasures developed by attacking countries such as cooling systems, disguises (to make a warhead look like a decoy) or fractionable "bomblets".
April 10
The Russian Duma has agreed to put the long-delayed ratification of the START-2 disarmament treaty to a vote this month. Under the treaty, the United States and Russia would limit the number of its deployed nuclear warheads to 3,500 each by 2007 from around 6,000 currently. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in 1993.
April 6
Russian Navy test-flies a sea-launched ballistic missile, possibly a RSM-54 Shtil, from a submarine in the Sea of Barents. Newly elected Russian president Vladimir Putin watched the launch from the Karelia submarine.
April 4
The U.S. Department of Defense has revised its cost estimate for a limited National Missile Defense (NMD) system consisting in 100 Ground-Based Interceptors based in Alaska to protect U.S. cities from long-range ballistic missiles launched by "rogue states." According to the revised estimate, such a system would cost US$30.2 billion to implement and maintain through 2026 (including funds already spent since 1991). A previous figure of US$12.7 billion had been reported but it covered only expenses from 1999 to 2005 to deploy a first set of 20 GBIs.

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 Advanced Launch Systems

April 26
NASA has cancelled its third attempt to launch space shuttle Atlantis for the STS-101 mission due to unacceptable weather conditions at the Transatlantic Abort Landing sites in Moron and Zaragoza, Spain. Another launch attempt will be set in May depending on range capability.
Editor's note: A tentative launch date is proposed on May 18, but the launch could be organized as soon as May 3 if NASA decides to bump a previously planned Atlas 2A flight due to loft the GOES-L geostationary meteorology satellite on behalf of the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
April 24
NASA has scrubbed the launch of space shuttle Atlantis for the STS-101 mission due to unacceptable crosswind conditions at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility. Another launch attempt is planned for April 25.
April 21
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is consulting the industry regarding a possible study for an alternate resupply vehicle to the International Space Station. NASA is considering two classes of cargo capabilities, one equivalent to that of RKK Energiya's Progress spacecraft ("heavy class") and a smaller one with an on-demand launch capability ("light class"). A formal sollicitation for a contingency resupply service study might be issued in May.
April 13
NASA has completed the on-pad replacement of a faulty rudder power drive unit (PDU) on space shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center. The PDU was replaced with one from space shuttle Columbia, currently undergoing its Orbiter Maintenance Down period (OMDP) at Boeing's facilities in Palmdale, California. Atlantis should be ready for launch on April 24 for the STS-101 mission as planned.
 



X-33 (Lockheed Martin Skunk Works)
April 12
NASA will release a report on the failure of a composite liquid hydrogen tank built for the X-33 Advanced Technology Demonstrator before mid May. The report is expected to recommend the replacement of the faulty tank by an heavier one, made of aluminium. This replacement would delay the vehicle's first flight to late 2001 or early 2002. A restructured cooperative agreement is also being negotiated with NASA's partner on the program, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works.
 
April 10

 

NASA's Office of Aeronautics plans to issue a RfP for aerospace technology studies in order to assess some aeronautical and space technology topics such as trade policy, air traffic management, and an independent assessment of NASA's activities in this field.
April 8
NASA plans to replace a faulty rudder power drive unit (PDU) on space shuttle Atlantis with an equipment removed on space shuttle Columbia, currently under extensive refurbishment at Boeing's facilities in Palmdale, California. The replacement will be performed on the launch pad, at Kennedy Space Center, and should allow the STS-101 mission not to slip beyond its planned April 24 launch date.
April 7
Kelly Space & Technology (KST) has shelved its plans to develop a reusable air-towed launch vehicle, the Eclipse Astroliner. KST was trying to raise US$500 million to complete the development. Officially, the announcement is a result of the collapse of the Iridium venture as KST claimed to have signed a contract worth some US$89-million to launch clusters of Iridium satellites. The company now plans to focus its efforts on designing a second-generation space shuttle system in order to bid for NASA's upcoming efforts on the development of future reusable launch systems.
April 5
NASA officially sets the launch date for space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-101 mission on April 24. However, a problem reported on an actuation system due to drive Atlantis' rudder might cause a new delay. The rudder's drive unit (PDU) likely will have to be removed but this may require a roll-back of the shuttle to the Vehicle Assembly Building. In this case, the launch could be postponed for two weeks.
April 4
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center has awarded a 3-year technology contract, worth US$3 million, to Thiokol Propulsion's Science & Engineering Huntsville Operations (SEHO) for fabrication of complex composite structures in support of several programs, including the Advanced Space Transportation Program. Thiokol will develop composite structures such as fiber-placed honeycomb materials, liquid engine combustion chambers, composite elbow ducts and composite insulated tanks. New structural or technology development projects are expected to be added during the course of the contract.
Editor's note: Thiokol's SEHO plant conducted a similar technology development project for MSFC that involved fabricating nozzle chambers for the X-34 hypersonic demonstrator.

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 Space Propulsion

 



Pulse detonation engine concept (MSFC)
April 28
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center has begun testing at compoenent level on a small scale pulse detonation engine that uses an automotive ignition system to initiate supersonic combustion waves through a 10-cm-long tube. A larger, 1-m-long primary tube will be conected to the initaitor tube to help evaluating the engine performance.
Editor's note: Pulse detonation engines, using transient extra performance from thrust waves (detonations) could lead to the development of low-cost, lightweight propulsion systems.
Download MSFC's Pulse Detonation Rocket Engine Technology Summary (in pdf)
 
 
April 28
CNES, the French space agency, plans to test-fire a modified Ariane 5 EAP solid booster stage in Kourou on May 10. The static firing, conducted on behalf of European Space Agency's Ariane 5 Technological Accompaniment (ARTA-5) program will allow to test a 6-year-old nozzle and an overloaded upper propellant segment. This will be the first EAP test firing since the development program was completed in July 1995. The operation was initially scheduled in April but had to be postponed after heavy rains in French Guiana flooded the test stand's exhaust evacuation trench.
April 27
Alliant TechSystems has successfully performed the second of three static firing tests for its new enlarged Graphite Epoxy Motor. The test was conducted at cold temperatures and included the first use of thrust vector control systems. The 630-kN thrust GEM-60 is intended too provide extra lift capability to Boeing's Delta 4M+ series of launchers.
 



HyShot experiment in flight (University of Queensland)
April 17
The University of Queensland plans to conduct in-flight testing of an experimental scramjet propulsion system in October under the AU$1.05-million HyShot international program. Two Terrier Orion rockets will be launched from the Woomera Rocket Range, Southern Australia, to an altitude of 350 km. The scramjet will be operated during reentry at a velocity of 2.4 km/s (i.e. Mach 8), between 35 km and 23 km of altitude. Also participating in the project are British Aerospace Australia, the British Defence Evaluation & Research Agency (DERA), NASA's Langley Research Center, the Australian Department of Science & Technology (DSTO), South Korea's Seoul National University, Gernany's DLR, the Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI), Alesi Technologies, AECA and Luxfer Australia.
 
 
April 17
Kelly Space & Technology (KST) plans to use a US$2.63-million grant from the California Space Technology Alliance to refurbish San Bernardino Airport's Building No.726 into a rocket engine test site. If approved, the grant would go to the Inland Valley Development Agency and the San Bernardino International Airport Authority which would conduct refurbishment worlk and lease the facility to KST.
April 17
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center plans to contract with Boeing's Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power Division for continued Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) support over the period from January 2002 through September 2006. Rocketdyne will provide SSMEs readying for flights, refurbishment of flown engines, anomaly resolution, and continued development. A flightworthy fleet of at least 12 SSMEs will be maintained at Kennedy Space Center to support a mean rate of seven Space Shuttle flights per year.
April 12
Groupe SNPE, France's state-owned chemical group, reports a 26% increase of its aerospace sales in the high-energy materials business in 1999 which grew to 216 million Euros. This business was boosted by a 49.7-million-Euro bill for the 8-year-long development of Ariane 5 solid rocket boosters' propellant load. Groupe SNPE expects a decision soon on the building of a third well for propellant casting at the Guiana Propellant Plant in Kourou, where Regulus, a joint-venture of Groupe SNPE and FiatAvio, produces large solid rocket motor segements for Ariane 5. This third well would allow to increase the Ariane 5 launch rate to 8 flights per year and beyond.
April 11
Pratt&Whitney Space Propulsion Operations plans to market a new 100-kN cryogenic engine, the RD-0146, developed by Russia's KB KhimAvtomatiki since 1998 for possible uses on future Proton or Angara vehicles upper stages. Under an agreement signed by Pratt&Whitney and KB-KhA, the U.S. motorist holds exclusive rights to market the RD-0146 outside of the CIS. Two engines will be shipped to Pratt&Whitney's West Palm Beach facilities in 2001 for modifications and testing. With an estimated Isp of 470 seconds, the RD-0146 will fit a niche between the 75-kN RL10 series and the proposed 200-kN SPW2000 engine to be developed in partnership with Snecma Moteurs in France.
April 10
China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) issues a statement denying U.S. State Department allegations regarding unauthorized technology transfers by Lockheed Martin Corp. on a technological assessment of the EPKM solid perigee kick motor. According to CGWIC, "China has developed the EPKM entirely relying on its own efforts. We have never acquired from Lockheed Martin or other party any technical assistance in this regard."
 



XRS-2200 (Rocketdyne)
April 6
Boeing Rocketdyne's XRS-2200 linear aerospike engine has successfully completed its longest ground firing test to date at NASA's Stennis Space Center. The test, the 12th in a series of 14, lasted 250 seconds.
Editor's note: A pair of XRS-2200 engines is due to power NASA's X-33 Advanced Technology Demonstrator to hypersonic speeds.
 
 
April 6
SpaceDev was selected by the California Space and Technology Alliance (CSTA) to receive a grant to perform firing tests on hybrid rocket motors designed to power an Orbital Transfer Vehicle. SpaceDev has developed OTV concepts, ranging from 25 to 100 kg, on behalf of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. The initial NRO study was completed in March.
Editor's note: In 1998, SpaceDev acquired intellectual rights on hybrid motor designs developed by American Rocket Corp. (AmRoC) in the early 1990s.
April 4
The Washington Post reveals that the U.S. State Department has charged Lockheed Martin Corp. with violating the Arms Export Control Act by providing a scientific assessment of the Chinese-built EPKM solid rocket motor. Also known as GF-46, the 210-kN motor was built by China's Hexi Corp. and used as a perigee kick stage atop the CZ-2E vehicle for the launch of the AsiaSat 2 satellite, built by Lockheed Martin Astro Space, in November 1995. If charges are confirmed, Lockheed Martin may have to pay a fine of up to US$15 million and be prevented from exporting satellites or satellite technology for three years. According to Lockheed Martin, a team of scientist went to China in 1994 to review the EPKM upon request from Hong Kong-based Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co. Ltd. (AsiaSat). The team reportedly identified flaws in Chinese testing procedures. After review and editing by the U.S. Department of Defense to remove sensitive information, 10 copies of a 50-page report were forwarded to AsiaSat and shared with China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) which markets Chinese launch vehicles. According to the State Department, the copies sent to AsiaSat were unedited versions of the report and even the edited report should not have been sent to CGWIC.

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 Spaceports

April 23
NASA and United Space Alliance plan to test the use of a one-man submarine to replace divers on some risky operations during the retrieval of spent Solid Rocket Boosters at sea after the launch of space shuttle Atlantis for the STS-101 mission.
April 20
The California Trade and Commerce Agency announces that the Harper Dry Lake area has been selected as California's primary launch site candidate for the VentureStar reusable launch vehicle. Three other sites were competing: Lancaster, Merced and Vandenberg AFB. Harper Dry Lake will have to compete with proposed sites in 15 other states.
Editor's note: A decision whether to develop the VentureStar was expected by late 2000 after completion of the X-33 test flights program. As the maiden flight of the X-33 is unlikely to happen before 2002, no firm decision regarding the VentureStar should be expected for the next two years.
 



Alcântara launch pad (CLA)
April 18
Brazil and the United States have signed a technology safeguard agreement which will allow the launch of U.S.-built satellites from Brazil's Alcântara Launch Center (CLA), in the Maranhão Province. The agreement is a major step toward the introduction of commercial launchers, such as the Ukrainian-Italian Tsyklon 4, in Alcântara. Npo Yuzhnoye and FiatAvio are reportedly about to sign a cooperation agreement on the project and will begin the building of a launch pad shortly. According to Brazilian daily newspaper Gazeta Mercantil, FiatAvio is negotiating with Motorola for the launch of some 60 satellites, presumably as part of the Teledesic program. Orbital Sciences Corp. (OSC) too is planning to launch its Taurus series of rockets from Alcântara as soon as 2001. Talks have also been reported with LeoLink for the launch of Shaviyt-derived LK vehicles. Both the Taurus and the Shaviyt are operated from mobile launch platforms and do not need specific launch facilities. The Brazilian government will provide R$40 million (US$23 million) to Infraero, which operates the Alcântara Launch Center, for improvements to make the facility available for commercial launchers.
 
 
April 18
Russia has paid the full rent for the use of the Baykonur Space Center for the first quarter 2000, according to Kazakh authorities. Russia has to pay a yearly fee of US$115 million to use the Kazakhstan-based facility. In the past years it often failed to do so, argueing that the amount was actually removed from Kazakhstan's national debt to Russia.
April 16
The Russo-Kazakh Cooperation Commission's subcommission for the Baykonur Space Center will meet April 17 to discuss telecom and post tariffs for Kazakh organizations based in the Russian-controlled enclave and the joint use of radioelectronic and high-frequency systems of the cosmodrome. Despite numerous disagrerements over the last year following the crash of two Proton K vehicles in Kazakh territory, no major change in the bilateral agreement is expected.

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 Industry

April 28
Aerospatiale Matra and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace, due to merge into the European Aeronautics, Defense & Space (EADS) company in July, are planning to restructure their space launchers activities into a single subsidiary. This subsidiary would integrate the current Aerospatiale Matra Lanceurs as well as space transportation businesses from Astrium, the company to be created in May from the merger of Matra Marconi Space and DASA's Raumfahrt Infrastruktur and Dornier Satellitensysteme units.
April 10
Boeing denies a rumor of aerospace alliance with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries earlier reported by Japanese press.
Editor's note: Boeing and Mitsubishi are alerady collborating in the development of structural parts for their Delta 3, Delta 4 and H-2A launch vehicles.

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 Launch Market

April 27
Space Operations International LLC (SOI), a joint-venture of Ball Aerospace & Technology and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), has signed Memoranda of Agreement with Rotary Rocket Co., Kistler Aerospace Corp. and Lockheed Martin Astronautics to use the proposed Roton and K-1 low-cost reusable launch vehicles as well as the Atlas 2, Atlas 3 and Atlas 5 series of expendable launchers to loft secondary payloads to orbit.
April 20
Teledesic is expected to announce a revised strategy and new investors by late May or early June according to USA Today. The US$10-billion Ka-band multimedia constellation, initially designed as a 924-satellite system, has already been reduced to 288 satellites and might well be shrunk again to about 140 satellites, i.e. a little larger than its Ku-band competitor SkyBridge.
Editor's note: Teledesic has already contracted with International Launch Services (ILS) for three Atlas 5 and three Proton M launches.
April 20
Due to delays in the completion of its science instruments, the European Space Agency has decided to postpone the launch of its International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (Integral) from October 2001 to April 2002. The Integral spacecraft, built by Alenia Aerospazio, will ride a Proton K/DM launcher procured by Rosaviakosmos directly from GKNPTs Khrunichev.
April 19
According to Space Daily, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is reshuffling launch plans for its Fire & Ice program. Launch of the Europa Orbiter probe is postponed from November 2003 to January 2006, while the Pluto/Kuiper Express mission is moved forward from December 2004 to November 2003 to provide more margins for potential delays as the Jupiter Flyby window closes in late 2004 and does not come back for about 10 years.
Editor's note: Both missions are planned for launch on a yet-to-select expendable launch vehicle (Delta 4 or Atlas 5) with a Thiokol Star 48V kick stage.
April 17
Télésat Canada has selected Hughes Space & Communications to build its new Anik F2 satellite. The HS-702-type spacecraft, featuring Xenon Ion Propulsion System for station-keeping, will carry a payload incorporating 24 C-band, 32 Ku-band and 52 Ka-band transponders. Selection of a launch service for the 14-kW satellite is expected shortly. Anik F2 launch is planned for late 2002.
Editor's note: Télésat Canada's Anik F1 is slated for launch atop an Ariane 4 vehicle during the third quarter.
April 11
Space News reports that a generic seepage problem on 10-N thrusters provided by DaimlerChrysler Aerospace will cause delays in the delivery of numerous satellites built by European manufacturers Matra Marconi Space, Alcatel Space, and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace/Dornier. Among the satellites affected by such delays are the four Cluster 2 science satellites, to be launched on Soyuz U/Fregat by Starsem, Eutelsat W4, slated for launch by International Launch Services on Lockheed Martin Astronautics' first Atlas 3A in May and Astra 2B, Nilesat 102, Eurasiasat 1 and Eutelsat W1, which are scheduled for launch on Arianespace's Ariane 4 and Ariane 5 vehicles in the coming months. A report on the cause of the flaw, which is reportedly harmless to the satellites, is expected by April 17.
 



ICM (NRL)
April 5
NASA officials claims that the US$210-million Interim Control Module (ICM) will be ready for a launch "no earlier than December" in case Russia fails too launch its own Zvezda ressource module in time. The 15-ton module, manufactured by U.S. Navy's Naval Research Laboratory, is based on the propulsiuon module of a classified naval ocean surveillance satellite system and would provide reboost and maneuvering capability to the embryonic International Space Station.
 
 
 

APRIL FOOLS DAY SPECIAL

There is an old tradition in French aerospace publications to insert fake news in the first issue to be published in April. The stories are usually almost credible but they are easily identified as they include numerous references to fishes (in French, an April Fools Day joke is called a "Poisson d'avril", litterally an "April fish"). We followed that tradition by inserting the two stories below on April 1st. We know that at least a few people took the Iridium story seriously, we apologize for any inconvenience that may have resulted from this joke.
April 1st - Fake News
Pelleas Industries, of Corbenic, New South Wales, Australia, proposes to develop a new concept of launch assist system to boost an experimental air-breathing hypersonic vehicle. The Steam-Assist Launch Monorail would consist in a sledge accelerated along a 20-km-long track by high-pressure steam provided by a 50-cubic-meter water tank heated by electrical induction to reach a speed of about 500 km/h. The SALMon sledge would then release the experimental scramjet-powered vehicle, dubbed Hypersonic Air-breathing Kick Experiment, to be developed by Lirpa Labs, of Kikmee, Queensland. Test-runs of the SALMon on a ground track built in the Nullarbor Plain are due to begin in April 2001. Test-flights of the HAKE design are planned at the same time with decommissioned Exocet missiles providing initial boost to the subscale demonstrators.
Editor's note: Pelleas of Corbenic is the "Fisher-King" in the Arthurian stories. "Lirpa" is "April" spelled backward.
April 1st - Fake News
Egyptian billionnaire Saïd al-Samak has issued a proposal to acquire the 66-satellite Iridium constellation from bankrupt company Iridium LLC in order to turn it into a worldwide broadcasting system to beam Muslim prayers worldwide with respect to local times. The system, renamed MuezzinSat, would also provide positioning data through Iridium pagers to enable worshippers to locate the direction of Mecca.
Editor's note: Saïd al-Samak means litterally "Mister the Fish". The correct Egyptian spelling seems to be Sayeed El-Samak.
UNEXPECTED FEEDBACK: A MuezzinSat-like system has been set up by a British company using WAP internet mobile phone protocol and terrestrial cellular networks. It seems that Iridium was defeated by ground-based mobile phone systems again.
More details at: www.patelscornershop.com
 
 


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