2011: The Year in Review
Between EchoStar’s $2 billion purchase of broadband provider Hughes, the space shuttle’s retirement after three decades of operation and the first launch of a Russian rocket from European soil, the space industry continued to demonstrate during 2011 that it is as diverse and dynamic as any global industry.
Much of the news has been less than positive, fueled by the financial crises facing the United States and much of Europe. But for every failed company or failed mission there have been spectacular successes including the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office’s multilaunch campaign that helped narrow looming gaps in intelligence-gathering capabilities and China’s first on-orbit docking. The commercial satellite communications industry, meanwhile, continues to prosper, oblivious to the stubborn global economic downturn.
What follow are brief recaps of just some of the events that helped shape and define the global space industry in 2011, and whose influence will continue to be felt in the years ahead.
— The Editor
NASA hands Congress a preliminary design for the heavy-lift Space Launch System featuring technology from the space shuttle and Constellation programs. NASA says the vehicle is likely to cost more and take longer to field than mandated by Congress.
Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems wins a $1 billion order from the Mexican government for the three-satellite Mexsat program. Boeing will build two large L-band satellites and has hired Orbital Sciences Corp. to build a smaller C- and Ku-band satellite.
U.S. President Barack Obama signs a defense policy bill that supports missile defense programs but bars the Pentagon from spending money in 2011 on a European missile shield until certain requirements are met, including agreements by countries to host the necessary assets.
of London secures $666 million in loans from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to finance the three-satellite Global Xpress all-Ka-band network, which is being built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems.
The European Space Agency () selects Astrium Services as prime contractor and operator of the European Data Relay System, to feature two terminals in geostationary orbit. Astrium is investing in system development in return for exclusive rights to develop the data-relay service into a business.
NASA Planetary Science Division Director James Green announces that the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory will need an $82 million cash infusion in order to launch in 2011. The mission had already missed its 2009 launch window.
ESA’s 2011 budget rises by 7 percent compared with 2010, to nearly 3 billion euros ($4 billion), but agency officials say they will work to keep cash withdrawals to a minimum.
An analysis by the Aerospace Corp. concludes that the currentsatellite constellation in low Earth orbit will remain operational until 2017. The analysis was requested by the French export-credit agency, Coface, and commercial banks financing Iridium’s second-generation Iridium Next constellation.
Europe and China remain far apart in negotiations to resolve frequency overlaps in their planned satellite navigation systems, the European Commission concludes in a report. The overlap concerns the encrypted PRS service on Europe’s planned Galileo system, which is equivalent to the military code aboard the U.S. GPS constellation.
With the shuttle program winding down, NASA unveils a facilities leasing plan designed to avoid mothballing shuttle infrastructure at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Among the buildings up for lease: the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building.
The U.S. Air Force’s recently launched Space Based Space Surveillance satellite is on track to enter operations after completing its initial checkout phase. The satellite is expected to increase the number of objects the Air Force can track in space by a factor of 10.
concludes that the failure that allowed its Galaxy 15 satellite to drift across the geostationary arc for several months while remaining electrically active was caused by an electrostatic discharge and had nothing to do with solar activity.
Construction starts on the main sensor for the next generation of U.S. geostationary weather satellites, and the program clears an early design review. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R program is targeted for a first launch in October 2015.
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), former chairwoman of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee and wife of a NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, is shot and gravely wounded by a deranged gunman outside a grocery store in her district.
NASA’s Glory satellite, which has an array of instruments to measure solar output and particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in preparation for a planned February launch.
Europe’s second Automated Transfer Vehicle unmanned cargo carrier docks automatically to the international space station to deliver food, fuel and supplies, and to push the station into a higher orbit.
EchoStar Corp. purchases broadband service and hardware provider Hughes Communications for about $2 billion including assumption of Hughes’ debt.
The U.S. Defense Department says it will not contribute to the Medium Extended Air Defense System, being developed jointly with Germany and Italy, beyond 2013.
NASA asks Congress for big funding increases in 2012 for commercial spaceflight, Earth science and space technology, raising hackles in some quarters of Congress. But the budget request defers plans for two big climate missions, the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory and the Deformation Ecosystem Structure and Dynamics of Ice.
The Indian Space Research Organisation gets a 36 percent increase in its annual budget, to 66 billion rupees ($1.45 billion), but says that given India’s high inflation the funding will permit no major new projects to start.
While costs rise for its main satellite launching program, the U.S. Air Force says it does not intend to reconsider until 2013 its commitment to supporting both the Atlas 5 and the4 rockets. The Air Force’s 2012 budget request includes $1.76 billion for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, substantially more than the service anticipated a year earlier.
Two new U.S. space policy documents direct the Pentagon and civil space agencies to increasingly rely on commercial and foreign space capabilities. Experts say that relevant bureaucracies are likely to decide if, and to what extent, they will implement the directions.
The French government agrees to spend 500 million euros ($700 million) in a state bond issue on space technologies, including preliminary work on a next-generation rocket to succeed the heavy-lift Ariane 5, and satellite projects including the Surface Water Ocean Topography mission with NASA.
Mitsubishi Electric Corp. of Japan, in its biggest commercial satellite award, wins the hotly contested contract to build two telecommunications satellites for the Turkish Transportation Ministry.
The National Research Council officially rolls out its roadmap for NASA planetary exploration for the next 10 years, putting a Mars sample-collection mission at the top of its list of flagship-class priorities. NASA concedes that it cannot afford to carry out the mission as designed.
The U.S. Air Force’s first Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite, GEO-1, arrives at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in preparation for a May launch on an Atlas 5 rocket. Once in geosynchronous orbit, the long-delayed missile warning satellite will join two SBIRS payloads hosted on classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits.
A board of inquiry concludes that a misaligned propellant tube connected to a satellite motor caused the failure of theW3B satellite shortly after launch. The 5,370-kilogram satellite is stuck in its highly elliptical transfer orbit, where it is likely to remain as space debris for 20 years or more.
Venture space firm XCOR Aerospace andannounce their collaboration on a new cryogenic upper-stage rocket engine that could one day replace Pratt & Whitney’s RL10 upper-stage engine used on the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets.
Following back-to-back flight test failures of its primary strategic missile shield, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency defers plans to buy long-range targets and reduces by 20 percent the total number of tests it plans to conduct during the next few years.
Intelsat agrees to be the anchor customer for MDA Corp.’s satellite in-orbit refueling service, called Space Infrastructure Services, agreeing to spend $280 million for several of its satellites to be refueled. MDA and Intelsat agree to share the search for a government customer.
Two low Earth orbiting demonstration satellites built by Northrop Grumman Aerospace detect and track a ballistic missile through all phases of flight. So-called birth-to-death tracking of a ballistic missile launch had never been done before from space.
An Orbital Sciences-built Taurus XL rocket fails to fully release its payload fairing, dooming NASA’s Glory satellite two years after a similar failure on the same rocket destroyed NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory.
Mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat acquires maritime communications specialist Ship Equip of Norway for $159.5 million as it prepares for its next-generation Ka-band Global Xpress service, aimed primarily at the maritime market.
NASA spreads $269 million over four companies in the second round of the agency’s Commercial Crew Development program. Boeing, Sierra Nevada Space Systems,and Blue Origin all receive seed money to develop crew-carrying vehicles.
India’s Resourcesat-2 Earth observation satellite is successfully launched aboard an Indian PSLV rocket. The satellite’s imagery will be used for Indian government projects and will also be sold on the commercial market.
The U.S. Air Force, NASA and the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) agree to take steps to permit emerging rocket builders to launch U.S. government satellites in competition with United Launch Alliance.
NASA Administrator Charlessays the James Webb Space Telescope, already billions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule, probably will not launch until 2018.
Boeing Phantom Works wins a $5 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to develop two experimental cubesats that will carry space weather payloads under the service’s Space Experimental NanoSat Experiment program.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s annual report again points to China and India as nations that maintain barriers to foreign satellite services providers to protect their domestic and government-owned satellite fleet operators.
SpaceX says it is targeting a 2013 test flight for its planned Falcon Heavy rocket. The launcher would fly its maiden flight from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base at SpaceX’s expense.
Vladimir Popovkin replaces Anatoly Perminov as the head of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office caps an eight-month, six-launch campaign with the launch of the NROL-38 satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. NRO Director Bruce Carlson says one satellite, launched in January, will narrow a projected gap in a key intelligence gathering capability from nine months to 33 days.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency awards three contracts totaling $127 million to design a Next Generation Aegis, or Standard Missile 3 Block 2B, interceptor. Lockheed Martin received $43.3 million; Raytheon won $42.7 million; and Boeing, $41.2 million.
Commercial Earth observation services company RapidEye of Germany seeks bankruptcy protection under German law, but plans to continue operating as its debt is restructured.
NASA announces that the Lockheed Martin-built Orion capsule from the canceled Constellation program will be resurrected as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the crew-carrying companion for the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket.
A U.S. House defense oversight panel’s recommendation not to fund a proposed missile tracking satellite system draws fire from one prominent member, who nonetheless endorses the broader measure that contains the provision.
Eutelsat begins commercial service on its Ka-Sat Ka-band broadband satellite, the first of a new generation of spacecraft capable of delivering many times the bandwidth of conventional satellites. Ka-Sat has a capacity of about 70 gigabits per second.
The U.S. House passes a defense authorization bill that approves Air Force plans to buy two more secure communications satellites, adds $20 million to the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space budget and authorizes $8 million for a study on space-based missile interceptors.
White House science adviser John Holdren says the administration of President Barack Obama is interested in a dialogue with China to begin laying the groundwork for future partnerships in space exploration. The comment draws the ire of Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.).
The U.S. Air Force successfully launches its first dedicated Space Based Infrared System missile warning satellite aboard an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
U.S. lawmakers accuse NASA of dragging its feet in developing a congressionally mandated heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule, and demand that the agency provide evidence of its progress on these vehicles.
Pope Benedict XVI contacts the crew of the international space station in history’s first papal call to space.
The U.S. Air Force awards a $575 million contract to United Launch Alliance to loft the Navy’s second Mobile User Objective System satellite, the Air Force’s sixth Wideband Global Satcom satellite, and the NROL-65 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Citing the U.S. defense spending slowdown and other pressures, Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems says it will lay off 140 of its 20,000 employees. Electronic Systems builds defense and aerospace electronics, including sensors for a variety of satellites.
Thaicom of Thailand contracts with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) to launch the Thaicom 6 satellite in mid-2013 on the Falcon 9 rocket, becoming the second established fixed satellite services operator, after, to book with the startup rocket provider.
SpaceX sues an aerospace safety consultant who allegedly told a NASA safety official that the company’s Falcon 9 rocket experienced engine trouble during its historic flight in December 2010. The lawsuit was dropped; SpaceX eventually acknowledges that one of the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin engines breached expected temperature levels due to an oxygen-rich shutdown that did not affect the mission.
The Pentagon and National Reconnaissance Office formally agree to commit to buying eight Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle cores per year. NASA signs the memo, but without joining in the block buy.
The first operational satellite developed by the U.S. Defense Department’s Operationally Responsive Space Office is successfully carried to orbit by a Minotaur 1 rocket launched from Wallops Island, Va.
Small-satellite specialist Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) books an anchor customer, China’s Twenty-First Century Aerospace Technology Co. Ltd., for a three-satellite constellation of optical observation satellites with a ground resolution of 1 meter. SSTL says the contract, valued at $170 million, covers the entire cost of building and launching the satellites.
A ruptured fuel line in an Aerojet AJ-26 engine causes a fire on a test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The AJ-26 is the main engine for Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus 2 rocket, one of the two commercial rockets slated to deliver supplies to the international space station.
U.S. government studies find that’s proposed L-band satellite-terrestrial broadband network will cause unacceptable interference to a wide variety of GPS applications, including military.
NASA’s Inspector General says the Mars Science Laboratory will need yet another cash infusion, $44 million, to ensure a late-2011 launch.
The U.S. Air Force hitswith a $15 million penalty for a propulsion glitch that delayed the on-orbit arrival of its first Advanced Extremely High Frequency secure communications satellite.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems discloses plans to eliminate 1,200 jobs, primarily at facilities in Denver, Sunnyvale, Calif., and Pennsylvania.
NASA suspends Orbital Sciences Corp.’s contract to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite aboard a Taurus XL rocket, citing the vehicle’s failure in two previous launches.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asks Congress to approve a revised 2011 spending plan that would shift $90 million lawmakers approved for other agency projects to a new polar-orbiting weather satellite program.
NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis lands for the final time at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., bringing an end to the space shuttle program after 30 years, 135 missions and two fatal accidents.
The European Commission proposes to remove the multibillion-dollar Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) Earth observation project from its next seven-year budget, to begin in 2014, saying the project is at risk of overrunning its budget. The commission later amends its assessment of the GMES budget situation but still wants it funded outside the multiyear framework.
A Russian Proton rocket launches two telecommunications satellites into geostationary transfer orbit in the first commercial demonstration of its dual-launch capability., which markets Proton services, hopes to sell more such launches for smaller commercial telecommunications spacecraft.
The U.S. Air Force awards a $1.1 billion, cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to United Launch Alliance for space launch services and support. The contract runs through 2012.
United Launch Alliance and NASA announce that they will explore certifying the company’s Atlas 5 rocket to launch crew-carrying vehicles.
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee passes a defense spending bill that would provide some $1 billion less for space programs than the Pentagon requested for 2012.
Raising outcry from advocates of the emerging commercial spaceflight industry, NASA says it plans to use traditional contracting mechanisms for the final phase of its Commercial Crew Development program aimed at fostering development of privately run astronaut transport services.
The U.S. Air Force launches the second GPS 2F navigation spacecraft aboard a Delta 4 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee approves a spending bill that would provide $901.3 million in 2012 for a cash-starved polar weather satellite program.
The House Appropriations Committee proposes a NASA spending bill that would eliminate funding for the James Webb Space Telescope.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee subpoenas NASA documents related to the agency’s progress on the heavy-lift Space Launch System.
Astrium Services of Europe agrees to purchase mobile satellite services distributor Vizada for $960 million, adding L- and Ka-band capacity to its existing X-band bandwidth through the British Skynet 5 military telecommunications satellites.
Blue Origin, the secretive startup of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, loses its New Shepherd suborbital spacecraft in a flight test gone awry.
The United States’ second GPS 2F satellite, launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a Delta 4 rocket, enters service.
The Canadian and U.S. owners of satellite fleet operator Telesat of Canada terminate negotiations with prospective Telesat buyers, saying none of the offers is good enough. Telesat is to continue, for now, with Loral of New York and Canada’s PSP Investments as its two owners.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft launches on a five-year journey to Jupiter. Its year-long mission includes probing the jovian atmosphere for signs of water and trying to determine whether the planet has a rocky or gaseous core.
Mobile satellite services operatorand the prime contractor for its second-generation satellite constellation, , submit their dispute over pricing of future satellite orders to a three-judge panel assembled by the American Arbitration Association, with a hearing scheduled for January 2012.
Lockheed Martin says that should it land the Pentagon contract to build the Standard Missile-3 Block 2B interceptor, production would take place at an existing company facility in Courtland, Ala.
Dish Network asks the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for approval to merge two bankrupt S-band mobile satellite companies, TerreStar and DBSD, which Dish purchased for a combined $2.8 billion.
NASA confirms that the James Webb Space Telescope will cost $8.7 billion including construction, launch and operations.
Iunctus Geomatics Corp. of Alberta, Canada, purchases Earth observation services provider RapidEye out of bankruptcy for about $19 million and plans to develop the now debt-free RapidEye and its five in-orbit satellites.
An unmanned Russian Soyuz rocket carrying supplies to the international space station fails, causing ripple effects on the station’s astronaut rotation and commercial logistics demonstration.
Commercial launch services provider Sea Launch AG, now of Bern, Switzerland, returns to service after a 2.5-year absence including a Chapter 11 bankruptcy process that removed its debt.
Satellite operator SES of Luxembourg and Russia’s Gazprom Space Systems form a strategic partnership that mirrors an existing relationship between Eutelsat of Paris and Russian Satellite Communications Co. of Moscow.
The U.S. Air Force awardsa $1 billion contract to build a seventh Wideband Global Satcom satellite and to start buying parts for an eighth. The firm fixed-price contract modification includes an option for a ninth spacecraft.
NASA commits to building the Space Launch System and announces the rocket’s first two missions: sending the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle around the Moon and back. The first flight is slated for 2017 and will be unmanned. A crew-carrying mission will follow in 2021.
Intelsat purchases two large satellites fromand will lease most of their capacity to DirecTV Latin America in a transaction that will add more than $1 billion to Intelsat’s backlog.
Robert Braun, NASA’s first chief technologist in a decade, resigns after less than two years on the job, citing a desire to return to academia.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems says it has completed thermal vacuum testing of the U.S. Navy’s first Mobile User Objective System satellite, putting the behind-schedule spacecraft on pace to launch during the first quarter of 2012.
A European Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket launches an SES telecommunications satellite carrying a hosted payload for the U.S. Air Force, the first time the service has agreed to such an arrangement with a commercial satellite operator. Development of the Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload, an experimental missile warning sensor, is viewed as holding lessons for how future hosted payload arrangements could work.
NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission’s twin orbiters will study the Moon’s interior.
LightSquared Chairman and Chief Executive Sanjiv Ahuja dismisses as “ludicrous” allegations that the company, which is planning a satellite-terrestrial mobile broadband network serving North America, received favorable treatment from U.S. telecommunications regulators because of its political connections.
NASA adds United Launch Alliance’s Delta 2 rocket back to the agency’s launch services contract. There are five of these rockets left.
Aerospace Systems test fires a prototype of the shuttle-heritage solid-rocket booster that is intended to be a part of the Space Launch System.
U.S. Senate appropriators propose canceling development of a missile interceptor that the Pentagon has slotted for a key role in the future defense of Europe. The Standard Missile-3 Block 2B interceptor is the subject of a competition between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
The inaugural flight of the Europeanized version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket places two European Galileo navigation satellites into medium Earth orbit. The event coincides with the European Commission’s announcement that it would order another six or eight Galileo satellites by February following an industrial competition.
A Chinese Long March 3B rocket places Eutelsat’s W3C telecommunications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit in the first Chinese launch of a Western commercial satellite in the more than 12 years since the U.S. government instituted a de facto ban on the export of U.S. satellite parts to China.
NASA offers a first look at its strategy to pay for the overbudget James Webb Space Telescope, which includes taxing the agency’s science and cross-agency support accounts to plug this year’s $156 million funding gap. The program still needs $1 billion more for 2013-2016 than NASA has budgeted for.
A pair of Theater High Altitude Area Defense system interceptors successfully track and destroy two target missiles during a test over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.
The U.S. Air Force Advanced Extremely High Frequency-1 satellite arrives in geostationary orbit 14 months after being launched with a defect in its propulsion system that forced controllers it to use its smaller backup motors to raise it into final position.
Russia’s Glonass positioning, navigation and timing satellite constellation is restored to full 24-satellite strength following the launch of a Glonass M spacecraft. Glonass and the U.S. GPS constellation are the only two global navigation systems in service.
An internal NASA launch manifest reveals more delays for the Commercial Cargo Transportation Services program, a series of demonstrations that Orbital Sciences Corp. and SpaceX must complete before they can start routine cargo runs to the international space station.
The U.S. Department of Defense says it is moving ahead with planned block buys of satellite launchers despite a Government Accountability Office recommendation to reassess that strategy.
SpaceX announces it is planning a fully reusable Falcon 9 rocket. To advance that effort, SpaceX will use a test-bed vehicle called “grasshopper,” which is essentially a Falcon 9 first stage with landing legs.
ViaSat Corp.’s long-delayed ViaSat-1 Ka-band consumer broadband satellite is placed into orbit, becoming the second of the new generation of high-throughput satellites to be launched. The first was Eutelsat’s Ka-Sat. ViaSat-1 is even more powerful, capable of an estimated 140 gigabits per second of throughput for the ViaSat-owned WildBlue consumer broadband service.
The U.S. Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office and NASA adopt common standards for certifying rockets to carry government-sponsored payloads in a step toward ending United Launch Alliance’s monopoly on launching U.S. national security satellites.
Japan agrees to provide two radar Earth observation satellites to Vietnam as part of a broader development-assistance agreement between the two nations. The deal illustrates Japan’s new focus on satellite applications and is Japan’s first export of an Earth observation satellite.
NPP, the next-generation U.S. civil polar-orbiting weather satellite, is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The NASA-led mission was conceived as an instrument test-bed for a defunct civil-military weather satellite system but was thrust into an operational role when the parent project was dismantled in 2010.
The European Space Agency selects Solar Orbiter, to be built with NASA, and the Euclid satellite to investigate the universe’s expansion as the agency’s next Medium-class science missions, for launch in 2017 and 2019.
Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for science, steps down after 32 years with the agency.
China’s Shenzhou-8 spacecraft returns to Earth after performing China’s first in-orbit docking, a key capability as China designs its own space station.
Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which was to return a sample of a martian moon to Earth, gets stranded in Earth orbit after launch. The Russian space agency repeatedly tries to communicate with the craft but fails.
Franco-Italian satellite builder Thales Alenia Space signs an agreement on future strategic cooperation with Russia’s biggest satellite builder, ISS Reshetnev, which in recent years has been more active in the commercial market.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warns of devastating cuts to the Pentagon, including military space programs, if a congressional supercommittee fails to agree on a deficit reduction plan, trigging an automatic $600 billion reduction in defense spending over the next decade. The supercommittee fails.
Loral Space and Communications announces its intention to spin off its satellite manufacturing division, Space Systems/Loral, in the first half of 2012, an event that would make Space Systems/Loral the only pure-play satellite builder quoted on the stock market.
The European Space Agency’s ruling council warns the European Commission, in writing, that it will refuse to launch satellites being co-financed with the commission for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security project unless the commission agrees to operate the system over the long term.
Russia resumes launching space station crews on its Soyuz rocket, the unmanned version of which had flown twice since failing in August.
The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee redrafts its version of the 2012 defense authorization bill and adopts a pair of amendments aimed at tightening oversight of the Pentagon’s primary satellite launching program.
NASA’s $17.8 billion 2012 budget is signed into law. The measure funds the James Webb Space Telescope, Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, but provides less than half the $850 million NASA requested for commercial crew development.
NASA’s $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) advises its European counterpart, Eumetsat, that it will not be able to finance payload contributions that had been planned for Europe’s second-generation polar orbiting meteorological satellite system. NOAA is also having trouble rounding up the money needed to launch the U.S.-European Jason-3 ocean-altimetry satellite.
NASA proposes a 2014 test flight of its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The capsule’s intended carrier rocket, the Space Launch System, will not be ready then, so the craft will fly on a Delta 4 rocket at a cost of $370 million.
A NATO procurement official warns of “satcom blackouts” unless the 28-nation alliance gets moving on replacing military satellite bandwidth by allying itself with one or more member nations who are planning their own military telecommunications systems.
A team that includes Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen, aerospace design wizard Burt Rutan and former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin unveils plans for an air-launched rocket capable of placing medium-sized satellites into low Earth orbit.
Japan launches the latest radar satellite as part of its Information Gathering Satellite surveillance system aboard an H2-A rocket.
The U.S. Congress finalizes a National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 that includes provisions designed to increase scrutiny of the Pentagon’s main satellite-launch system and to protect GPS against signal interference from commercial systems.
NASA gives conditional approval for SpaceX to combine two demonstration cargo flights to the international space station and announces a Feb. 7 launch date.
The U.S. Air Force awards $150 million to United Launch Alliance for launch of the fifth Wideband Global Satcom military communications satellite.
Orbital Sciences Corp. renames its Taurus 2 rocket “Antares.”
Citing tight budgets, NASA shifts gears on its Commercial Crew development program, announcing that the next round of funding will be dispensed under Space Act Agreements rather than traditional contracts subject to Federal Acquisition Regulations.
Intelsat, currently held by private equity investors, seeks regulatory approval to transfer ownership of its satellite fleet, the world’s largest, following its long-anticipated public stock offering.