The Cosmic Mirror

of News events across the Universe

Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer, Skyweek - older "Mirrors" in the Archive - and find out what the future might bring!

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Current mission news: MGS (science!) + Cassini + Galileo + Prospector

The next MEPCO is coming ... to Bulgaria, in early August, 1999!
For details on this astronomical conference just before the total solar eclipse click here!

New: every page on two servers, in Europe and the U.S.!
Update # 128 of May 4th, 1999 at 18:55 UTC

ABRIXAS in orbit but broken

Power supply down, contact lost after 2 days

The launch was on time, the orbit is perfect - but the mission of the German X-ray satellite ABRIXAS (see previous update for details & links!) could still be over before it began. It seems that the connection between the reloadable battery and the power system is broken: Already 3 hours after launch the first indications of power trouble were seen, two days later communications with the spacecraft were lost. There is still moderate hope: At the end of June ABRIXAS' solar arrays will be baked in sunlight, raising the possibility of reloading the battery. The flight controllers then hope to reestablish control and try to fix the problem from afar.

The launch on April 28 had taken place at 20:30 UTC as planned, and at 21:06 UTC the very first contact was made through Canberra. One hour later, at 22:05 UTC, the signal was aquired at the ground station in Weilheim, Germany, with telemetry flowing 5 minutes later. All systems on board were in excellent condition at that time. But during the 2nd contact two hours later a raised temperature in the battery was noted, and at 0:15 UTC on the 29th a rapid change in voltage indicated major trouble. For two days contact could be held with the help of an additional battery, but late on the 30th the signal from the satellite was lost and hasn't been recovered since, despite international efforts. Even if the power supply comes back in June, it is still questionable whether the complete sky survey will ever be possible.

A Kosmos-3M (11K65M) rocket had carried the 500 kg satellite on the first orbital launch from GTsP-4 (State Test Range 4) at Kapustin Yar since 1988 (and the first-ever launch there for a paying customer). According to Jonathan's Space Report, "ABRIXAS separated from the Kosmos-3M second stage one hour after launch into a 544 x 603 km x 48.4 deg orbit. The 48.4 deg inclination was familiar to Soviet space watchers in the early 1960s, used by Kosmos satellites on 63S1 rockets from Kapustin Yar, but this is the first time it's been used since 1973." A secondary payload on the same launch, to quote Jonathan's Space Report again, "was Megsat-0, a small technology development satellite built and owned by MegSat, the space division of the Gruppo Meggiorin companies based in Brescia (Italy). The 0.4-meter box has a mass of 35 kg. It carries an experimental high bit rate data transmission payload."

New homepage of ABRIXAS (only this page will be updated frequently, I'm told).
The OHB's status & picture page is of little help; try the ABRIXAS pages from DLR (in German) instead.
Technical details and a scientific paper on ABRIXAS.
SpaceViews coverage (the other media around the world basically slept through the event...).
The MegSat secondary payload.

Ikonos 1 lost; replacement coming soon

The payload fairing of the Athena rocket failed to separate, and the additional weight prevented the rocket with the Ikonos 1 satellite to reach orbit. But that's not the end: As John Copple, CEO of Ikonos' Space Imaging company, has said immediately after the launch failure had become clear, there were already "contingency plans in case something like this happened. [...] Our business plan will be delayed, [but] we are confident that with the launch of IKONOS 2 we will achieve our goals." Space Imaging and its prime contractor, Lockheed Martin Corporation, have begun an investigation into the anomaly and will determine as quickly as possible the appropriate corrective actions. IKONOS 2, an identical twin to IKONOS 1, has already been built as a backup in case of an anomaly such as this. No launch date has been set, though.

Space Imaging Homepage
Press Releases on the anomaly and the cause.
Florida Today, Astronomy Now and ABCNEWS coverage.

Another Titan passenger bites the dust

Incredible but true: The third Titan launch in a row has failed to deliver the payload in its proper orbit! While the 1998 disaster was caused by the rocket itself, two more accidents this April were due to malfunctioning upper stages. First an IUS failed (see story below) and now a Centaur: A Milstar military communications satellite launched on a Titan 4B April 30 failed to reach its correct orbit because of a failure of the booster's Centaur upper stage. The satellite (itself the subject of a controversy between the USAF and independent experts because of its questionable uselfulness) appears to be stranded in an 740 x 5000 km orbit instead of the planned geostationary one.

Fla. Today coverage.
Stories from SpaceViews, Spacer, BBC and ABC.

Chandra launch delay inevitable

NASA had no option: Since the X-ray satellite Chandra cannot be mated to its IUS upper stage, pending the investigation into the recent malfuction of an identical stage (see Update # 126), it will no longer be possible to launch the spacecraft on July 9th. NASA had planned to move the IUS from its processing facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to the Vertical Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center this week and attach the upper stage to the Chandra observatory at the end of the month. The upper stage instead will temporarily remain in its processing facility. While the decision will delay Chandra's launch beyond July 9, the specific impact on Chandra's launch date is not yet known. NASA will not launch Chandra on Space Shuttle mission STS-93 until the situation is fully understood.

Chandra Status April 27.
IUS investigation.

"Liberty Bell 7" found - salvage vehicle lost

After 14 years of planning and two weeks of frustrating search, a salvage ship and its unmanned submersible have located "Liberty Bell 7", Gus Grissom's lost space capsule - 5 km deep in the Atlantic Ocean. But so far only a few remarkable video images have been "retrieved": Hours later the cable connecting the ship to the submersible snapped and it tumbled untethered to the ocean floor. After these dramatic hours (late on May 1st) the ship is now heading back to Florida. The plan is to return in a few weeks with a new submersible, try to retrieve the first one - and then the Libery Bell itself. Perhaps then the world will learn why the hatch blew and it sank, 38 years ago, almost taking Gus (who later died in the Apollo 1 fire) with it.

Dispatches from the ship
Coverage from CNN, BBC, ABC, Spacer.
The dramatic day; a first report.

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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
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