Orbcomm Drops Satellite from Station-bound SpaceX Flight

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PARIS — Satellite messaging provider Orbcomm announced Dec. 28 a new launch schedule for its 18 second-generation satellites with launch provider Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) that scraps a planned early-2012 launch of a single satellite but results in three spacecraft being placed in orbit later in the year.

Orbcomm announced separately that it had agreed to purchase the Logistics Management division of PAR Technology Corp. for $6 million in cash and common stock, rising to $10 million if the business meets certain revenue targets.

The revised launch schedule for Orbcomm’s second-generation satellite constellation reduces risks for both Fort Lee, N.J.-based Orbcomm and Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX. The companies had been struggling with plans to launch a prototype Orbcomm satellite aboard SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 flight, whose main mission is to deliver SpaceX’s Dragon cargo vehicle to the international space station.

SpaceX and NASA, along with the other space station partners, had been discussing for months whether having the Falcon 9 rocket drop off Dragon near the station, where it is designed to be grabbed by a robotic arm for attachment to the orbital complex, before firing its engines to carry an Orbcomm satellite into a different orbit was overly ambitious for the inaugural Dragon mission to the station.

Orbcomm had said it also added risks to its business because it required the prototype satellite to conduct more maneuvers before reaching its operational orbit than would be necessary.

SpaceX and Orbcomm originally had planned to launch two Orbcomm satellites on this flight, which is part of SpaceX’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA. More recently, the two companies had agreed to place a single spacecraft on board.

For reasons unrelated to Orbcomm, the Falcon 9 Dragon flight has been repeatedly delayed and is now tentatively scheduled for February.

Launching the Falcon 9 and Dragon without Orbcomm will enable SpaceX “to fully verify the mission performance of the COTS mission and focus on the successful berthing of the Dragon spacecraft,” Orbcomm said in a Dec. 28 statement.

The new schedule calls for the Orbcomm second-generation prototype to be launched aboard the next Falcon 9/Dragon flight, now set for mid-2012 as the first Dragon mission to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Two more Orbcomm spacecraft will be launched as secondary payloads aboard a Falcon 9 flight scheduled for late 2012 under the revised schedule.

The schedule foresees Falcon 9 making an Orbcomm-dedicated flight in early 2013, carrying between eight and 12 satellites. The rest of the 18-satellite constellation will be launched by Falcon 9 in 2014, Orbcomm said. Orbcomm’s second-generation constellation is being built by Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nev. Each satellite is expected to weigh about 150 kilograms at launch.

“The net outcome of these revised launch plans has us launching [our] satellites at a faster pace, with less risk,” Orbcomm Chief Executive Marc J. Eisenberg said in a Dec. 28 statement.

Orbcomm continues to operate its first-generation system. Unlike the second-generation models, the current satellites are not equipped with Automatic Identification System (AIS) terminals to provide coastal authorities with information on ships.

Orbcomm has the use of a satellite, called VesselSat1, that carries an AIS terminal and was launched aboard an Indian PSLV rocket in October. An identical VesselSat2 is scheduled for launch in mid-January aboard a Chinese Long March 4 rocket.

Both VesselSat satellites were built by LuxSpace of Luxembourg as part of an agreement between LuxSpace’s owner, OHB AG of Bremen, Germany, and Orbcomm following the failure of six AIS-equipped satellites built in Russia under an Orbcomm contract with OHB and launched in 2008.

Orbcomm’s purchase of PAR Logistics Management was the company’s second acquisition of 2011 in the field of transportation asset tracking, following the May agreement to purchase StarTrak Systems LLC, a specialist in tracking refrigerated assets in transport. In a Dec. 28 statement, Orbcomm said the purchase of the PAR division is expected to close in mid-2012 and to add to Orbcomm’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization as of late 2012.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, PAR Technology Corp. of New Hartford, N.Y., said the Logistics Management division posted an operating loss of $434,000 on revenue of $4.6 million for the nine months ending Sept. 30, compared with an operating loss of $212,000 on revenue of $3.4 million for the same period a year earlier.