Orbital Sciences Corp. has had another launch success, placing the DoD's MSTI-3 satellite in orbit aboard a Pegasus. The Lockheed L-1011 carrier aircraft took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base's runway 30/12 and proceeded to the drop point at 36 deg 0 min N, 123 deg 0 min W over the Pacific. The Pegasus rocket was released and a few seconds later ignited the first of its three stages. It is the 'Pegasus Hybrid' version, a standard Pegasus with modified fins to accommodate the L-1011 carrier plane instead of the original B-52.
MSTI 3 will test out new sensor technology for ballistic missile defense. The satellite is built by Spectrum Astro Inc, and carries three sensors: a mid wave IR camera, a short wave IR camera, and a visible imaging spectrometer. Its goal is to study the IR emission from the Earth to determine if tactical ballistic missiles can be spotted during their coast phase against the bright Earth background. Initial checkout of the satellite is reported to have gone well.
The Galaxy 9 comsat was launched on May 23 by a McDonnell Douglas Delta 7925 rocket from Cape Canaveral. The Hughes HS-376 satellite will provide communications for the Hughes Galaxy network. It has 24 C-band transponders which will be used for cable TV feeds.
The Russian Space Forces launched a Krunichev Proton-K rocket on May 25 with an RKK Energiya Blok DM-2 upper stage. The vehicle placed an NPO Prikladnoi Mekhaniki `Gorizont' communications satellite in orbit, reportedly nicknamed `Prezidentskiy' since it will provide coverage of the Russian presidential election campaign to Western Siberia and the Ural region.
The initial orbit of the putative USA 119 payload, as derived by Rainer Kracht from amateur observations, was 312 x 622 km x 63.4 deg. The payload was later found to have moved to a 1050 x 1150 km x 63.4 deg orbit, characteristic of the US Navy ocean surveillance triplet spacecraft. Four objects have been cataloged by Space Command, including 1996-29D = USA-122, but no orbital data have been officially released.
The Italian Satellite per Astronomia a raggi X has been renamed BeppoSAX in honor of Guiseppe 'Beppo' Occhialini, a pioneer in Italian gamma ray and cosmic ray astronomy.
The first launch of the new Ariane 5 rocket, mission V501, ended with destruction of the rocket after 40 seconds of flight, at an altitude of 4000 m. The vehicle pitched over and then was destroyed by the range safety officer. It is not yet known whether the problem was in the main stage or the solid boosters.
Ariane 5 consists of two P230 Aerospatiale EAP (Etage Acceleration a Poudre) solid strapon boosters, the Aerospatiale/SEP EPC (Etage Principal Cryotechnique) cryogenic main stage, and the Daimler-Benz EPS (Etage 'a Propergols Stockables) storable liquid propellant upper stage with an L9.7 Aestus engine. The design is completely different from the Ariane 1 through 4 family which shared a common core stage with evolutionary modifications.
The payload of mission 501 was a set of 4 identical space science satellites called Cluster. The satellites would have been delivered to geostationary transfer orbit of 280 x 36000 km x 10 deg to demonstrate Ariane 5's suitability for commercial comsat missions. The satellites had four 50-m long booms to study electric fields and plasma, and included ion spectrometers, magnetometers, and particle imaging detectors.
Cluster, together with the successful SOHO satellite, was ESA's first Cornerstone (CS1) mission under the Horizon 2000 program. Its loss puts a big dent in the European space science program.
Ariane flight V87 was successfully launched on Jun 15. A member of the original Ariane family, the Ariane 44P model rocket placed its H-10-III third stage and the Intelsat 709 comsat in geostationary transfer orbit. The success is good news for Arianespace after the failure of the first Ariane 5 launch.
Intelsat 709 is an Intelsat VIIA satellite using the Space Systems/Loral FS-1300 bus. The satellite has a mass of 1473 kg dry, or 3420 kg including all its propellant. It has 26 C-band and 10 Ku-band transponders and will be stationed at 18 deg W over the Atlantic to provide transatlantic telephone, TV and data relay for the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization.