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SPACE FLIGHT 1999 - Russian Space Activities

Despite the unabated slump in national economy and continuing political uncertainties, Russia in 1999 showed no slack in its space operations from 1998. Its total of 26 successful launches (out of 28 attempts) was actually two more than the previous year's 24 (out of 25 attempts): 12 Soyuz-U (one crewed), nine Protons (two failures), one Zenit-2, two Molniyas, one Tsiklon-2 (modified from the former intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM] SS-9), two Kosmos-3Ms, and one Dniepr (converted from the former ICBM SS-18, as required by the START 2 treaty).

Though better financed than in 1998, Russia's space program still was forced to abandon the Mir space station in August when its owner, RSC-Energia, found itself unable to fund continued crewed operation of the station. This left the station without a crew for the first time since a short uncrewed period ten years earlier.

In its partnership with the U.S. in the development of the International Space Station (ISS), integration and checkout testing continued on the Russian-built and -owned Service Module Zvezda (Star), the long-awaited third building-block of the ISS built by Khrunichev Space Center, at the checkout facilities of RSC-Energia at the Moscow suburb of Korolov (formerly Kaliningrad). An important milestone in the ISS Program was reached and passed when the 20-ton Zvezda was placed on a railroad container car and joined to a train pulled by three locomotives which also carried its Proton fairing, solar arrays, various ground support equipment and a Proton rocket. The transport left Moscow early in the morning of 5/13, accompanied by eight security people, and arrived in the night of 5/19 at its destination, the launch complex of Baikonur in the independent republic of Kazakhstan, beyond the Urals Mountains in central Asia. Launch at that time was expected not earlier than November 1999, but the date later slipped well into 2000.

Space Station Mir

By the end of 1999, Russia's seventh space station had been in operation for 5,063 days. Its thirteen-year anniversary occurred on February 20, 1999. By the end of 1999, it had circled the Earth approximately 79,255 times at an altitude in the range of 199-225 mi. (318-360 km) in an orbit inclined 51.65 degrees to the equator.Counting from its last brief period of nonoccupancy (Sept. '89) to the departure of the last crew in 1999, Mir has been inhabited continuously for 3,643 days (10 yrs.). Since its inception, it has been visited 38 times, incl. nine times by a U.S. shuttle docking to it, by two- to three-person crews (shuttle visits: 5-7 persons). Between 1990 and August '99, Mir has played host to a total of 18 (paying) guest cosmonauts and astronauts from foreign countries (incl. U.S.). To resupply the occupants, the space station was visited in 1999 by two automated Progress cargo ships, bringing the total of Progress ships launched to Mir and the two preceding stations, Salyut-7 and Salyut-6, to 85, with no failure (except for the collision of one of the drones with the station in 1997).

Soyuz TM-29/Mir-27. Soyuz TM-29 was launched on 2/20, at 11:17pm EST (2/19) with the new Mir-27 crew, Viktor Afanasyev, Jean-Pierre Haignère (France), and Ivan Bella (Slovakia). Dubbed Perseus, the mission was the sixth joint French-Russian Mir expedition and the seventh joint orbital flight by the two countries. Docking was on 2/22 (00:36am EST). The crew conducted some 100 experiments, with an incubator with 60 quail eggs hatching a few days after docking, to study effects of space mission on embryonic and postembryonic developments. Fledglings returned to Earth (only two survived) with Gennady Padalka (from the Mir-26 crew, launched in 1998) and Bella in Soyuz TM-28 on 2/28, landing near Arkhalyk, Kasakhstan, about 9:13pm EST (2/27). Mir-26 cosmonaut Avdeev continued on with Afanasyev and Haignère. The latter two conducted a 6h 19m spacewalk for the recovery and installation of two French experiments, Comet and Exobiology. Five experiments planned by Russian scientists were only partially completed, but the two spacewalkers launched a 3-kg. (6.6-lbs.) one-third scale model of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1. On 7/18, the Progress M-42 cargo drone docked to deliver, among else, a backup computer intended to provide motion control redundancy during the forthcoming period of at least six months of uncrewed (mothballed) operation of Mir. It was the first time in ten years that the station was left without human occupancy. After installing the new systems and preparing Mir for its untended dormancy, Avdeyev, Afanasyev and Haignère returned to Earth in Soyuz TM-29 on 8/27, landing near Chapayevka village, about 60 km from Baikonur cosmodrome, at 8:35pm EDT. When they landed, Flight Engineer Avdeyev had spent 389 days on Mir; added to his other hitches, this brought his total staytime in space to a record duration of 742 days. Record holder for uninterrupted stay on Mir still is physician Valery Polyakov with 438 days in 1994-95.

Russian Commercial Space Activities

The Russian space program's push to enter into the world's commercial market, driven by the sheer need to survive in an era of severely limited finances, continued to make some progress in 1999 but also suffered a severe setback with the loss of two Proton launchers. First launched in July 1965, Proton, originally intended as a ballistic missile (UR500), by end-1999 has flown 189 times since 1980, with 12 failures (reliability: 0.936). Its launch rate in recent years has been as high as 13 per year. Between 1985-1999, 137 Proton and 358 Soyuz rockets were launched, with nine failures of the Proton and nine of the Soyuz, giving a combined reliability index of 0.964. Of the nine Protons launched in '99 (1998: seven), seven were for commercial customers such as Telstar, Asiasat, JSAT, Nimiq, and SES/Astra. After the second Proton crash on 10/27, no further Protons could be launched in 1999 due to a temporary embargo on launches imposed by Kazakhstan and the need for a thorough investigation.

Of the three launches of the Russian-Ukrainian Zenit-2 rocket, two were conducted from the new ocean-based Sea Launch facility Odyssey (in which RSC-Energia has a 25% share), the first carrying a test dummy, the second the DirecTV-1R satellite. After its failure in the preceding year, the Zenit thus made a comeback of considerable commercial importance. Also good news for the Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) was the launch of Lockheed Martin Intersputnik's LMI-1 on a Proton. After the subsequent loss of its Ekspress-A1 satellite on its Proton, pressure increased on RSCC to fill and use its allocated slots and frequencies in geosynchronous orbit by the fall of 2000, when Russia's international priority for certain positions will expire if they are not occupied. The satellite navigation system GLONASS, Russia's equivalent of GPS, requires 24 satellites for the full system, but there were only 15 in the constellation byh late 1999.