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SPACE FLIGHT 1999 - The Year in Review

Space flight in 1999 experienced a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, struggling through headline-grabbing setbacks which were offset by stunning triumphs. Overall, however, it continued its momentum of unique accomplishments of the preceding year, again drawing attention around the world with extraordinary ac-tivity in the exploration, utilization, and commercialization of space, and moving forward with important new developments that will increasingly characterize and dominate human activities outside the Earth's boundaries in the coming decades. Such pioneering events highlighted both human space flight and automated space exploration as well as commercial utilization. While the United States space budget remained relatively stable, international space activities continued on their reduced-public-spending level established in earlier years, commensurate with persistent trends toward increased involvement by the private industrial sector, particularly in developing and providing launch and communication services. As started during the past decade, space flight continues its struggle to achieve rapid production of cost-effective, high-payoff systems, faced with the challenge of finding a balance between acceptable risk and the "faster, cheaper, better" para-digm into the next decades. In particular, it is becoming apparent that space prog-ress at the beginning of the 21st century is increasingly determined by economic and geopolitical considerations rather than predominantly by the availability and capability of technology.

Space accomplishments again reached an outstanding level in the United States where the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had carefully (and successfully, as it turned out) prepared the nation's complex and highly computerized space infrastructure for the Year-2000 calendar change. Accomplishments included such historic events as the first crewed visit and serv-ice mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the launch of the X-ray obser-vatory Chandra, third of NASA's Great Observatories, the first woman command-ing a Space Shuttle mission, the first global 3-D topographic map of Mars, first evidence of a planet orbiting a pair of stars, first-ever optical image of a gamma ray burst, surprising new discoveries by the Hubble Space Telescope, and its highly successful repair and refurbishment by a Shuttle. In November, in an event recurring every 33 years, comet Tempel-Tuttle had its closest pass by the Sun. The Earth, on 11/17, passed through the wake of debris shed by it in this process which causes the Leonid meteoroid shower. No damage to any Earth-orbiting spacecraft was reported.

1999 also showed continued strong growth of space commerce. Again, as in 1998, not only were there more commercial satellites on orbit than military sat-ellites, but there were also far more commercial space launches. Over the last six years, the number of worldwide commercial launches increased by an average of 47 percent, while overall launches have remained steady, numbering between 70 and 93 per year. In 1999, out of 70 successful launches worldwide (1998: 77), 54 (77%) were commercial launches (carrying 120 commercial payloads), compared to 41 (53%) in 1998.

The space industry, driven by mainstream commercial forces, is clearly showing strong evolution, with space developments being determined more by the commercial market rather than by government, particularly in the area of direct-to-consumer applications. Global telecommunications are increasingly dependent on the space segment, with satellite-based mobile services certain to revolutionize worldwide communications. Most proposed Big-LEO satellite network systems made good progress, particularly Globalstar and Iridium, but Iridium's holding company, along with another global communications startup, ICO, subsequently defaulted into bankruptcy.

In the civil science satellite area, worldwide launches totaled about 26, as compared to some 19 in the preceding year. As analyzed by the professional Teal Group, this probably marks the start of a period of significant growth in the civil (i.e., government nonmilitary, noncommercial) satellite market, to extend for at least the next 10 years. A total of 255 civil satellites worldwide is forecast for the decade from 2000 to 2009. For the next four years, the Teal estimate is that an av-erage of about 22 civil satellites will be orbited yearly, rising to annual totals of 25-30 in the out-years.

Russia's earth-orbiting space station Mir was left without a crew for the first time in ten years, and the International Space Station (ISS) was visited by the first service mission in preparation for the arrival of the first "permanent occupancy" crew in 2000, while major elements of the ISS began accumulating at NASA's launch facilities in Florida awaiting their turn in the progressing assembly schedule. Also in 1999, NASA's Mars exploration program suffered a severe blow with the loss of two successive automated probes, the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander.

Staying below the previous year's number of crewed missions by three, a total of four flights from the two major space-faring nations carried 22 humans into space (17 less than in '98), including 5 women (6 in '98), bringing the total number of people launched into space since 1958 (counting repeaters) to 834, incl. 84 women, respectively 400 individuals (35 female).

A summary of all successful launchings to Earth orbit and beyond by the various countries participating in space launch activities, totaling 70 (out of 78 attempts), is given in Table 1. Total launch attempts were down by four from last year's 82, with eight failed launches, up four from '98. Some of the year’s most significant space events are summarized in Table 2.

Bibliography. Aviation Week & Space Technology (AW&ST, various ‘99 issues); Aerospace Daily (various ‘99 issues), SPACE NEWS (various ‘99 issues); AIAA AEROSPACE AMERICA (May, October, November & December '99); Launchspace Magazine (March/April & July/August/September '99); Via Satellite (May & December '99); Space Business International (Quarter 3, '99); EOM Magazine (April '99); AeroSpace (DASA Magazine, 4/99); NASA Public Affairs Office News Releases '99; ESA Press Releases '99; various World Wide Web sites.