Suzaku X-ray Observatory Clears First in-Orbit Tests

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has carried out the first operational tests on its Suzaku (Astro-E2) X-ray astronomy satellite, which launched aboard a Japanese M-5 rocket July 10 to replace the $200 million Astro-E satellite lost in an M-5 failure in February 2000.

After its launch from the Uchinoura Space Center and a post-launch review, JAXA successfully carried out July 11 the spin down, solar-array deployment and establishment of the three-axis control mode. On July 12, the agency completed the extension of Suzaku’s X-ray telescope to a targeted test distance. A maneuver to increase the perigee altitude of the satellite to achieve a circular orbit was scheduled to begin July 13 and is expected to take about two weeks to move from 300 kilometers to about 560 kilometers.

The nozzle of the solid-fuel M-5 rocket was blamed in the February 2000 failure that destroyed the Astro-E satellite. The nozzle has since been redesigned.

CEV Design Contracts Awarded to Two Teams

NASA announced July 12 it has awarded Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) design contracts worth $28 million each to Lockheed Martin and a joint Northrop Grumman- Boeing team. The awards are a key milestone in the race to win NASA’s final multibillion-dollar CEV development contract that is slated to be given out next year.

Both teams won eight-month contracts to develop their CEV designs by March or April 2006, said NASA spokesman J.D. Harrington. The designs will have to incorporate NASA’s “call for improvements” for the vehicle, which the agency plans to release this autumn as part of its 60-day Exploration Systems Architectural Study that defines parameters for the CEV. The study should be completed Aug. 1, Harrington said.

NASA will select a single contractor to develop the CEV next April, according to Harrington. The final selection of a contractor originally was slated for 2008, but was moved up to reduce time between the shuttle’s retirement in 2010 and the first CEV flight.

Satellites Help Track Rising Global Sea Levels

NASA scientists are beginning to better understand the rate at which global sea levels are changing using data from several environmental satellites, which indicate current sea levels are increasing at an average of 3 millimeters per year.

Scientists at a July 7 press conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington said the rise can be attributed to two main factors: warming ocean temperatures and the runoff of water from melted ice sheets and glaciers.

“It has been shown in recent years that mountain glaciers are shrinking much faster than we thought,” Eric Rignot, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said at the conference. “It appears shrinkage is increasing with time.”

Satellites have been key to collecting global ocean measurements that will help determine if this rate of sea-level increase could threaten low-lying coastal regions. These satellites include:

– The U.S.-French Topex/Poseid on ocean topography satellite, which was launched in 1993 ;

– Jason-1, the follow-on to Topex/Poseidon launched in December 2001;

– The Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation satellite (ICEsat), launched in January 2003, which studies the mass of polar ice sheets and their contributions to sea-level change; and

– The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) launched in 2002, which allows for better tracking of water movement throughout the planet.

Data from all of these satellites will allow scientists to better predict “what the future holds,” said Waleed Abdalati, head of the Cryospheric Sciences branch at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

But while data over the past decade appear to indicate a period of rapid change, it is too soon to tell whether true accelerations are occurring , as similar rates were recorded in the 1970s.

“Right now, we don’t know enough to scare people, but we don’t know enough to reassure people either,” said Richard Alley, a geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Abdalati added: “It’s all starting to come together in a compelling story — we just can’t give you the ending right now.”

General Dynamics Units To Build ALMA Antennas

Units of General Dynamics C4 Systems in the United States and Germany will begin building 25 12-meter antennas for an international ground-based astronomy project under a contract with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and Associated Universities Inc., the Scottsdale, Ariz., company announced.

Under the contract, valued at $169 million, General Dynamics will provide antennas for the U.S. and Canadian portion of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) project, which is scheduled to feature 64 antennas deployed in Chile’s high-altitude Atacama Desert. Working as a single unit, the antenna network will have a spatial resolution 10 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope, General Dynamics said.

General Dynamics won the contract by virtue of its September 2004 purchase of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Vertex Antenna Systems, which had been under contract to design an ALMA antenna prototype. Deliveries will begin in 2007 and end in 2011. Funding for the North American contribution comes from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Research Council of Canada.

Europe and Japan also are partners in the ALMA project.

BAE Systems Exec Hits U.S. Export Regulations

BAE Systems Chairman Dick Oliver warned that the United States would be the biggest loser if it does not modify its technology-transfer restrictions that prevent full partnerships with British and other allied governments.

One partial solution, Oliver said, would be to grant passport-type clearances to individuals to permit them to work on U.S. and U.K. programs. The current U.S. system bars certain technologies — even unclassified ones — from access by non-U.S. citizens and companies unless a lengthy approval process has been undertaken.

In a July 12 address to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, Oliver said current U.S. technology-transfer rules apply blanket restrictions on all nations, U.S. allies and adversaries alike.

“In a legal and regulatory sense, the U.K. does not seem to be treated very differently from any other country that has an import-export relationship with the United States,” Oliver said.

He pointed to the U.S.-led Joint Strike Fighter military aircraft project as an example of how technology-sharing restrictions hamper a project’s efficiency. “At a national level, it is a question of whether the U.K. can depend on the U.S. to make this a project of genuine mutual advantage,” he said, adding that allied troops working together in war zones are more likely to fire on each other if they do not share the same technologies for distinguishing friend from foe.

British companies also have complained of the technology rules’ effects on international cooperation in space projects.

Farnborough, England-based BAE Systems employs about 45,000 people in the United States, Oliver noted .

Atmel Corp. Rolls Out New Chip Technology

Atmel Corp. of Nantes, France, has released for production a newly designed application-specific integrated chip technology as it broadens its radiation-hardened microelectronics line for space conditions, the company announced July 12.

The new product, called ATC18RHA, will permit space-hardware designers to build smaller and higher-performance chips into their equipment.

Atmel said the new technology was designed with financing from the French space agency, CNES, and the European Space Agency. The company said it has customer-support centers for the new designs located in Britain, Germany, Italy and the United States, in addition to France.

European Group Pushes Common Defense Market

The European Commission has proposed four measures designed to create a common defense-technology market in the 25-nation European Union and boost defense-related exports worldwide, the European Commission said in a June 11 statement.

European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen, who also is overseeing the commission’s proposed investment in space-based security systems, stressed the defense sector’s role in stimulating aerospace technology development.

The four commission-launched measures to harmonize Europe’s defense sector are: canvassing Europe’s defense technology sector to determine its current status; backing a defense technology standardization handbook for governments to use in defense procurement; simplifying defense-technology licensing among the 25 European Union member nations; and harmonizing national defense-procurement rules.

In July 2004, the European Commission created the European Defense Agency. Verheugen represents the commission on the agency’s steering committee.

Odin Finds Mystery in Comet Tempel 1 Explosion

Scientists saw something odd in the radio frequency emissions detected by the Odin space telescope in the hours following the collision between the Deep Impact projectile and the comet Tempel 1.

Scientists expected Tempel 1 to spew water after the impact, but “oddly enough” the Odin readings suggested a decrease in the total emission of water vapor compared to readings taken by Odin during the days leading up to the collision, according to a statement from the Swedish Space Corp. of Stockholm, which built Odin for Sweden, Canada, France and Finland.

The Odin scientists are exploring the possibility that dust from the impact might have obscured the water in the Odin readings. “One explanation could be that the expanding shell of gas hides, i.e. absorbs, the signals from inner molecules heading in our direction. If so, the water outgassing may in fact have increased, as would be expected,” according to the statement.

The Odin readings will help scientists visualize the physics following the impact, said planetary scientist Lucy McFadden of the University of Maryland, a Deep Impact investigator. “That’s fascinating,” she said.

U.S. Army WIN-T Program Clears Design Review

The U.S. Army has approved the preliminary design for a new tactical communications network that will include satellite communications.

The approval clears the way for contractors to proceed with work on a prototype system that will be reviewed again by the Army in September prior to the start of field testing in November, according to a July 7 news release from General Dynamics Corp., which is developing the network together with Lockheed Martin.

The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) will link troops on the battlefield to the Pentagon’s main information systems via satellite, airborne and terrestrial communications systems, according to the news release.

The Army awarded the WIN-T contract to a joint team of General Dynamics C4 Systems Corp. in Taunton, Mass., and Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems and Solutions of Gaithersburg, Md., in September 2004. The contractors expect to receive up to $7 billion for WIN-T through 2018.

Having cleared the preliminary design review, the team will continue building the antennas and user terminals that will form the WIN-T prototype. The system is slated to go into low-rate production in March 2006.

NavCom Extends Marine Market GPS Agreement

NavCom Technology, a maker of high-precision GPS receivers, has reached an agreement with the underwater surveying company C&C Technologies for continued use of NavCom’s GPS receivers and corrected GPS signals in the marine market, said spokeswoman Diana Alexander.

The agreement, announced July 7, extends the existing partnership for five years.

NavCom, a Torrance, Calif.-based subsidiary of Deere & Company, uses a world-wide network of reference stations to correct the accuracy of the U.S. Global Positioning System satellites to an accuracy of 10 centimeters or 4 inches, Alexander said. These corrected signals are then transmitted via Inmarsat satellites to users equipped with NavCom’s StarFire GPS receivers.

C&C of Lafayette, La., will use the StarFire receivers under the name C-Nav GPS for underwater mapping, surveying, offshore construction and maintenance operations.

NavCom has operated the GPS service called StarFire since 1999.

NASA-University Team Grabs Free-Falling ‘Satellite’

A team of NASA engineers and graduate stu dents from Tennessee Technological University conducted a successful laboratory test of a mechanical catch mechanism that might someday grab satellites and sling them to better orbits, the team reports in a July 7 statement.

The experimental catch mechanism is part of a tether-based propulsion system that NASA engineers are exploring as a way to maneuver satellites in orbit.

The team suspended the catch mechanism from the ceiling of a laboratory so that it was about 9 meters above the floor. The team then hurled a 25-pound simulated satellite from the floor. The catch mechanism successfully grabbed the payload in mid-air while it was in a free-fall to mimic the weightlessness of orbit. The payload was a one-tenth scale model of a generic spacecraft complete with a stabilization gyroscope, batteries, sensors and a camera.

In space, the catch mechanism would be attached to a tether designed to spin end-over-end as it orbited Earth. The catch mechanism’s aperture, or opening, would grab a boom on the target satellite, and the tether’s energy and momentum would be transferred to the satellite to accelerate it and move it to another orbit.

“The test sequence accurately simulated the timing and acceleration of a real space-based tether system — crucial capabilities for ensuring a successful catch in orbit,” the team reported in a July 7 statement.

Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are exploring the tether technology under the agency’s In-Space Propulsion Technology program.

Microcosm Completes Tests On Composite Rocket Engine

Microcosm Inc. of El Segundo, Calif., has successfully completed tests on its 20,000-pound force, composite rocket engine at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the company announced July 7.

The engine would help power Microcosm’s Scorpius family of launch vehicles whose building and testing were sponsored by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The composite engine is fed by the pressure of its propellants rather than by turbo pumps. The company touts the approach as a less costly alternative to existing liquid propellant rockets that rely on turbo pumps to force propellant into thrust chambers.

The testing was conducted by engineers and technicians from Microcosm; Sierra Engineering of Carson City, Nev., which designed the injector for the engine; and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards.

Com Dev Wins Contract To Build Cassiope Subsystems

Com Dev International has won a 12 million Canadian dollar ($9.8 million) contract to design and build the communications subsystems for Canada’s Cassiope small satellite, the company announced July 7.

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) of Richmond, British Columbia, is leading developing of Cassiope as a step toward using small satellites to provide global broadband information services. MDA selected Com Dev of Cambridge, Ontario, to provide the “information delivery subsystems” for Cassiope, according to a July 7 statement from Com Dev.

The information delivery subsystems will be based on Ka-band communication technology and will be developed over the next 18 months, after which they will be delivered to MDA for installation on Cassiope.

Boeing Trains Teachers at Astronaut Space Camp

Ninety-four teachers from 16 states and five countries began astronaut training July 12 at Boeing’s 14th annual Space Camp, which provides teachers with a variety of space education experiences designed to enhance the math and science curricula for their students.

The weeklong camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., includes simulated space missions, astronaut training and lectures by experts in space exploration and rocketry. Each participating teacher will receive a workbook with lesson plans along with access to additional information via the Web.

More than 330 teachers have participated in the camp since it began in 1992. Boeing estimates that over 24,000 students have used the improved lesson plans derived from the program.

Glowlink Unveils New Uplink Power Control System

Glowlink Communications Technologies, Inc. of Los Altos, Calif., has introduced a new uplink power control system for digital signal processing that aims to effectively manage power adjustments to decrease signal degradation through Ku- and Ka-band transmissions between satellites and the Earth.

The company said in its news release that the Model 3010 can easily be integrated into existing operation stations to manage power adjustments with improved speed and accuracy in the event of harsh atmospheric conditions that disrupt digital signals. It also is built upon standard personal computer networking protocols for easier system operations, the company said.

French Students To Fly Microgravity Experiments

Novespace of Paris, the French space agency subsidiary that markets jet-aircraft parabolic flights simulating microgravity conditions, is hosting 30 European student teams that have won a contest to place their experiments aboard the Novespace A300 Zero-G aircraft, Novespace announced.

Each flight, operated from Bordeaux, includes 30 parabolic maneuvers, offering a total of 10 minutes of microgravity conditions similar to those found in orbit. The program is funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), which selected student experiment proposals in a contest open to ESA’s 17 member nations.

Among the student-designed experiments are a solar sail, a telescope that would be deployed in orbit and a robot that would retrieve objects misplaced in orbit. One experiment is designed to make astronauts’ lives more pleasant by testing different food spices in microgravity; another will examine a new type of astronaut shower.

Novespace, which reported sales of 5.8 million euros ($6.9 million) in 2004, plans to conduct eight A300 Zero-G flight campaigns in 2005, including the two-week student session.

The last series of experiments were run June 29 and 30 for ESA and included a test of possible fuel boiling of an Ariane 5 rocket’s upper-stage cryogenic fuel during ballistic flight; a helium balloon designed to aid a Mars lander’s breaking maneuver during Mars atmospheric entry; and magnetic-levitation bearings being considered as a replacement for ball bearings in future scientific satellites that require high-precision pointing.

Cassini Captures Saturn’s ‘Sponge Moon’ Hyperion

Saturn’s tumbling, irregularly-shaped-moon Hyperion appears clearer than ever in a sequence of images taken by the Cassini spacecraft in June and released by NASA July 11.

Based on mass and density calculations, scientists believe Hyperion’s interior consists of a network of voids, and so they often describe the moon as sponge-like. The new images of its surface seem to back up the sponge description.

“The jagged outlines are indicators of large impacts chipping away at Hyperion’s shape as a sculptor does to marble,” NASA said in a press release describing the new images.

Scientists predict Hyperion’s own gravity will collapse the empty spaces inside to form a more spherical shape.

Cassini’s narrow-angle camera took images of Hyperion between June 9 and 11 at distances ranging 168,000 to 815,000 kilometers from the moon, according to a July 11 statement from NASA. Cassini’s next fly by of Hyperion will occur Sept. 26, when it passes at a distance of 510 kilometers. The Cassini mission is a joint effort of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

Solution to Discovery’s Woes Eludes NASA

The Space Shuttle Discovery will launch no earlier than late the week of July 18, NASA officials said July 15. Wayne Hale, deputy manager of NASA’s shuttle program said during a press conference July 15 that the agency will launch Discovery four days after the problem is corrected.

“We need more time to work a troubleshooting plan to the problem we saw [July 13],” NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said July 15. “Right now we want to do all of our work at the [launch] pad…there are no plans right now to roll the vehicle back to the VAB [Vehicle Assembly Building].”

Launch controllers scrubbed Discovery’s July 13 launch attempt after an engine cutoff (ECO) sensor failed to perform properly during a test. The sensor, one of four located inside the liquid hydrogen section of Discovery’s external tank, did not concur with the signals sent by its three counterparts. All four sensors are required to perform nominally before Discovery can launch, since they ensure that the shuttle’s main engines shut down before the external tank runs out of fuel.

Shuttle engineers spent days trying to pin down the source of the anomaly, and were unclear whether it stemmed from the sensor itself, the electronics box aboard Discovery or the wiring that runs between the two. Early July 15 engineers purged Discovery of the cryogenic fuel cell reactants that generate shuttle power during spaceflight and entered its aft section to reach the box.

XM Radio Moves To Acquire WCS Wireless

XM Satellite Radio announced July 13 it has signed an agreement to acquire WCS Wireless, a private company, for 5.5 million shares of XM common stock.

XM Radio of Washington would acquire licenses for wireless spectrum reaching nearly 163 million people throughout the United States, including several top metropolitan markets. XM Radio expects to close the deal before the end of this year pending government approvals.

South Korea To Build Satellite Tracking Station

South Korea has taken another step toward a domestic space-launch capability with the decision to build a satellite tracking station on Jeju Island, at the southern tip of the country, the Korean Ministry of Science and Technology announced July 14.

The Jeju Island facility, with a development budget of 33 billion South Korean won ($31 million), will be completed in 2006. It is designed to track satellites as far away as up to 3,000 kilometers , and to transmit and receive signals from rockets and satellites up to 2,000 kilometers away.

South Korea in 2003 agreed to spend 150 billion won to develop the Goheung rocket-launch facility, on the southern coast of the South Korean mainland. The rocket now being developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute is designed to place a 100-kilogram satellite into low Earth orbit. The first launch is tentatively scheduled for 2007.

Return to Launch for Brazil’s VLS Delayed

Brazil’s VLS rocket will not be launched in 2006, despite a promise Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made following an August 2003 explosion of the Brazilian rocket that killed 21 space technicians.

“We need a few more months to complete re-construction of the rocket and the launch tower,” Sergio Gaudenzi, the president of Brazil’s Space Agency, was quoted as saying recently in Brazil’s O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper. “It would not be impossible, but [it would be] very difficult to make the 2006 launch,” Gaudenzi was quoted as saying. “We have to work without pressure to ensure safety,” he said.

Brazil’s Air Force Command, which is responsible for running the Alcantara Launch Complex in the state of Maranhao, confirmed the delay of the VLS launch and said that a new launch schedule will be based on the technical analysis prepared by a Russian team of rocket experts. Russian space experts were hired by Brazil following the 2003 accident, to investigate the causes of the VLS explosion and to come up with recommendations for restarting Brazil’s rocket program.

Telenor Teams with Thuraya To Expand DSL Offerings

Telenor Satellite Services will now be able to offer expanded DSL throughout its distribution network thanks to a new partnership with Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company.

The partnership, announced July 12, will allow the Norway-based Telenor to provide ThurayaDSL, high-speed data service which uses a notebook-sized satellite IP modem, to its clients. ThurayaDSL will let corporate customers, government agencies, media and other organizations transfer data up to 144 kbps.

Thuraya, based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, provides satellite telephone services, including voice, data, facsimile and global system for mobile communications short messaging, to 110 countries. Telenor is an international telecommunications provider as well.

Launch of 2-Man Chinese Crew Scheduled for October

China plans to launch its next manned space mission, Shenzhou 6, in early October, according to the July 15 edition of the official China Daily newspaper. The mission will carry two Chinese Air Force officers into orbit.

The paper also reported that China plans to launch at least two more meteorological satellites before 2008 to provide better weather forecasting for the Olympics in Beijing.

Mikulski Set To Resume Work After Hospital Stay

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), one of the most influential members of Congress who oversee NASA’s budget, is out of Baltimore’s Mercy Hospital hospital after four days of tests that revealed she suffers from atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat. Mikulski staff said she had been complaining of feeling persistently tired. Mikulski, 68 is the most senior woman in the Senate. Her condition is one usually treated with medication and her office said in a July 15 statement that the senator would continue to keep her busy schedule.

ESA’s Silex Optical Payload Achieves 1,000th Data Link

The Silex payload aboard the European Space Agency’s Artemis satellite completed its 1,000th optical data relay link in June, a milestone on the way to a new mission for Silex this fall when it will be used to provide a communication link between Artemis and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Oicets spacecraft.

The Silex (semiconductor-laser Inter-satellite Link Experiment) payload has been operational since October 2003, providing an optical data link for transmitting pictures between Artemis and the Spot 4 remote sensing satellite.

The Silex optical terminals for Artemis (advanced relay and technology mission) and Spot 4 were built by EADS Astrium, of with the support of more than 20 European subcontractors.

EADS also is building a new optical demonstrator called LOLA (Liaison Optique Laser Aeroportee) for the French defense agency to validate the use of optical links for communicating with unmanned aerial vehicles.

JPL Mars Spinoff Helping Airlines Avoid Bad Weather

SpectraSensors, Inc., of San Dimas, Calif., has completed tests on its new Water Vapor Sensing System (WVSS-2 ) for commercial aircraft. Using technology based on a laser-based water vapor sensor developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the 1990s for Mars exploration spacecraft, the WVSS 2 is designed to help improve weather monitoring aboard an airplane so pilots can better reroute aircraft around bad weather.

SpectraSensors was incorporated in 1999. It is a spinoff from Viaspace, a company formed in 1998 to commercialize technology from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Water vapor is responsible for creating unexpected turbulence, strong winds, fog and thunderstorms. However, while commercial aircraft are equipped with sensors that routinely measure wind and temperature, they only receive water vapor measurements — a key element in weather forecasting — every 12 hours from the National Weather Service.

The new system was successfully tested from January to June aboard 25 United Parcel Service Boeing 757 aircraft. The readings collected during testing were confirmed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration estimates that inclement weather accounts for over $1 billion in passenger airline and airfreight carrier losses a year, according to a June 27 SpectraSensors news release.

CertiPath To Manage Secure Links for 5 Aerospace Firms

Certipath, LLC announced June 27 that it will manage a secure bridge that will link the computer networks of BAE Systems, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon for secure communications and business transactions over the Web. Each of those companies signed agreements to enable a secure link between their organizations, their partners and customers, according to the release.

Certipath, a Herndon, Va.-based joint venture of Arinc, Exostar LLC and Sita SC, designed the bridging mechanism, which is based on a combination of software and encryption technologies known in the industry as a Public Key Infrastructure.