Space: October 10, 1999


: The Lockheed Martin Atlas-IIAS and Boeing Delta-III satellite boosters have been on stand-down for over four months due to the failure of a Pratt & Whitney RL10 engine, used in the Centaur upper state of both boosters. After an exhaustive technical review, P&W said that the RL10 was ready and the Atlas-IIAS returned to flight on 23 Sept with a successful launch.--Stephen V Cole

NASA was embarrassed on 23 Sept when its Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft went behind Mars for an orbital insertion engine burn and never reappeared. It apparently was too close to the planet and with the speed lost in the orbit maneuver was caught by the atmosphere and suffered aerodynamic destruction. Having lost the $125 million mission, NASA is now trying to convince itself that it can perform the same surveys with later missions. The UFO industry, remembering the mysterious crash of a Russian probe to Mars years ago, were already cranking up stories of mysterious sightings and alien facilities on the red planet.--Stephen V Cole

Lifting satellites (and anything else) into orbit is going to get cheaper. Boeing and Lockheed are building new launchers (and bringing new designs on line) at a fast rate, Ariane is trying to reduce the cost of its boosters, and Sea Launch (using Russian/Ukrainian missiles) is just getting started. By 2005 the number of launchers produced each year will reach 150. Considering that the number of payloads looking for a booster has been about 30 per year and will climb to 40 by 2005, competition is going to be tough and prices should plummet.--Stephen V Cole