Report: NASA Needs Strategy To Retain Shuttle Workers

NASA needs to develop a detailed, long-term plan for retaining the workforce it needs to fly the space shuttle safely until it is retired in 2010, according to a newly released report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The space shuttle program employs approximately 2,000 civil servants and 15,600 contractor personnel, many of whom may be looking for work elsewhere before the last mission has flown.

“NASA and United Space Alliance have already indicated that they could face difficulty in sustaining their critically skilled workforces if a career path beyond the space shuttle’s retirement is not apparent to employees,” the report says. “In addition, government-wide [sic] fiscal realities call into question whether funding will be available to support the use of incentives, such as retention bonuses, that could help NASA sustain its space shuttle workforce.”

The GAO says NASA has taken preliminary steps to devise a workforce retention strategy, including identifying the relevant lessons of the U.S. Air Force’s experience closing out of the Titan 4 rocket program, but adds that more work is needed.

NASA concurred with the GAO’s finding and recommendations and pointed out that it would begin to tackle the issue head on at the Integrated Space Operations Summit it is convening March 29-31 in Nashville, Tenn.

The March 24 report, “Space Shuttle: Actions Needed to Better Position NASA to Sustain its Workforce through Retirement,” was prepared written at the request of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

GAO Faults Planning for Canceled Jupiter Probe

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) sheds some light on NASA’s recent decision to shelve the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter mission in favor of a less complicated flight demonstration of new nuclear power and propulsion systems.

Many of the critical technologies NASA was counting on for the Jupiter JIMO mission, the GAO found, still require substantial development to be considered flight-ready. Based on its Over the course of its 10-month review of the program, the GAO also concluded that NASA had not adequately budgeted for a mission that the Congressional Budget Office predicted would cost $10 billion.

After reviewing a draft copy of the GAO’s report, “Business Case Needed for Prometheus 1 to Ensure Resources Match Requirements,” NASA announced that it was putting the Jupiter mission JIMO on hold in favor of a less-ambitious initial flight demonstration that the agency expects to select and announce this spring.

That mission is dubbed Prometheus 1.

The GAO, in its final report released March 23, called that move a positive first step, but said NASA still needs to come up with a “sound business case” for the scaled-back flight demonstration NASA now calls Prometheus 1 to ensure that “program requirements do not outstrip resources.”

The report, which was released March 23, was requested by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

EMS To Build Amplifiers For DirecTV Satellites

EMS Technologies Inc. will provide high-power amplifiers for a pair of Ka-band satellites that Boeing Co. is manufacturing for DirecTV Group Inc. of El Segundo, Calif., EMS announced March 23.

The amplifiers components, being manufactured by EMS Defense & Space Systems of Atlanta, will be used in systems on both the uplink and downlink portions of the satellites.

The two satellites, slated for launch in 2007, are being built manufactured by Boeing’s Satellite Development Center in El Segundo for use, Calif., and will be used by DirecTV to provide high-definition television programming.

Pentagon Orders More Boeing Satellite Radios

Boeing Co. will build 5,053 search-and-rescue satellite radio devices for the Pentagon under a $43.6 million contract, according to a company news release dated March 24.

The contract could be worth up to $250 million if options are exercised to build up to 46,000 handheld Combat Survivor Evader Locater radios, according to the news release.

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis, Mo., has been under contract for the program since 1996, and has already built tens of thousands of the devices for the military.

The device enables downed pilots to use the U.S. Navy’s UHF Follow-on satellites to alert and communicate with rescue forces at far greater ranges than current systems, which do not have a satellite communications capability. The device receives and transmits precise GPS data via UHF satellites, enabling rescuers to locate a downed pilot almost immediately. This speed is critical, given that the Air Force estimates that rescues generally need to take place within 30 minutes.

The Pentagon began developing work on the Combat Survivor Evader Locater in 1995 in response to the experience of downed Air Force pilot Capt. Scott O’Grady in Bosnia. O’Grady survived on the ground for nearly a week until rescuers arrived, making him an exception to the general rule of how long a downed pilot can evade capture.

XM Satellite Radio Signs up To Broadcast PGA Events

XM Satellite Radio signed a multiyear agreement to become the exclusive satellite radio broadcaster for the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour, the organizations announced March 16.

Washington-based XM will launch a channel devoted to the PGA this summer, airing live coverage of events as well as daily programming. XM also will offer sales and rentals of its portable XM2go radios at tournaments.

Financial details of the agreement were not released.

Sky-High Insurance Could Benefit Hardware Makers

Satellite-component manufacturer Com Dev Ltd. of Canada thinks the decision of some satellite-fleet operators to stop buying in-orbit insurance coverage could be great news for the company.

Com Dev Chief Executive Officer John Keating said March 24 that the industry — starting with Com Dev itself — would benefit if satellite operators opt to would invest in in-orbit backup capacity instead of buying annual in-orbit insurance coverage.

“Instead of channeling that money out of the industry and into the hands of the big insurance companies, we could channel it back into the industry to build new hardware,” said Keating, whose company’s sales rose by said Com Dev boosted sales in 2004 by 35 percent in 2004. “Insurance premiums are out of whack,” he added.

Insurance underwriters took a beating at several sessions during the Satellite 2005 conference in Washington event, with satellite operators and manufacturers complaining that rates were too high compared to the real risks of the industry.

The conference was sponsored by Access Intelligence LLC.

Insurance underwriters say rates and capacity are a function of the number of insurers willing to back a given satellite or launch, and also a function of the industry’s recent history of losses. Several underwriters have quit covering space projects in the past five years.

Robert Schenone, managing director of Marsh Space Projects, a space insurance broker, said insurers took in about $1 billion in premiums in 2004 and paid claims totaling slightly more than $600 million. The year’s tentative gross profit of $388 million for the sector is uncertain because of several outstanding claims that may or may not be paid in full.

Schenone said it is fairly easy to insure a satellite and its launch at premium rates of for 18-22 percent of the insured value, but only if the sum that is being insured does not exceed $200 million to $250 million. Anything more, he said, will command higher rates. He conceded that insurance underwriters in the past two years have become more conservative about what they will cover, with many insisting on exclusions of certain technologies as a condition of providing coverage.

Second Redesigned Tank Delivered to NASA Kennedy

The second redesigned external fuel tank for the space shuttle fleet has been delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., the agency announced March 15.

The tank, manufactured at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, will be mated to the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which has a launch window that runs from July 12 through July 31.

The redesigned external fuel tank features several improvements developed in the wake of the February 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident that are intended to increase the orbiter’s survivability.

The first of the redesigned external tanks will be used for the launch of Discovery in the shuttle fleet’s return-to-flight mission, scheduled for May.

SAIC To Study Global Missile Defense Developments

The U.S. Air Force awarded a contract worth up to $20 million to SAIC for an intelligence analysis of on worldwide developments in of missile defense systems and technology, according to a March 24 Pentagon news release.

SAIC will provide this information over the next five years to the military’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Lockheed, Navy Complete Satellite Design Review

Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Sunnyvale, Calif., and the U.S. Navy completed the system preliminary design review for the service’s new generation of mobile communications satellites, according to a March 17 Lockheed Martin news release dated March 17.

The review confirms validated that the Lockheed Martin’s blueprints plans for the Mobile User Objective System designed by Lockheed Martin will support the Navy’s concept of operations and will be compatible with the Navy’s current-generation of UHF Follow-On spacecraft, according to the news release.

Completion of the review allows Lockheed Martin can now to begin more detailed design and development work on the satellites, which are slated to begin launching early in the next decade, according to the news release.

Lockheed Martin won a $2.1 billion contract last autumn fall to build the first two Mobile User Objective System satellites. The contract has options for three additional satellites that could bring the total value of the deal up to $3.26 billion.

GPS-Guided Artillery Shell Tested at White Sands

Raytheon Co. successfully tested a new GPS-guided artillery shell that can be guided to its targets more than 75 kilometers by a GPS receiver in early March at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The Extended Range Guided Munition features a GPS TruTrak receiver built by Interstate Electronics Corp. of Anaheim, Calif. The TruTrak is built consists almost entirely of with of commercially developed components, but is highly resistant to enemy jamming attempts, according to an Interstate Electronics Corp. news release.

Vivian Seal, a spokeswoman for Interstate Electronics Group, did not respond to a request for comment by press time on when the new shell would be ready for use in battle. Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., is the prime contractor on the Extended Range Guided Munition program.

U.S. Air Force is Seeking More Predator Squadrons

The U.S. Air Force plans to buy more Predator unmanned aerial vehicles to meet increased in response to the increasing demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information in the war against terrorism, according to a March 18 an Air Force news release dated March 18.

The Air Force currently has three Predator squadrons, which each with operate 12 of the vehicles, according to Lt. Col. Frank Smolinsky, an Air Force spokesman.

The service plans to expand to a total of 15 Predator squadrons, he said.

The Predator aircraft, which is built by General Atomics of Rancho Bernardo, Calif., can carry intelligence sensors as well as guided missiles.

The current Predator squadrons are based in Nevada. Plans call for placing one of the new squadrons in New York in 2009, where they are expected to play a role in combating terrorism, according to the news release.

The Air Force’s 2006 budget request contains no funds for the Predator expansion; it is included instead on a list of unfunded priorities sent recently to Congress, Smolinsky said.

Meanwhile, the Air Force established an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Center of Excellence at Indian Springs Auxiliary Air Field in Nevada, which already hosts a Predator squadron. The center will coordinate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles at both tactical and strategic levels and work to improve system interoperability, according to the Air Force news release.

Boeing Ships DirecTV’s First Spaceway High-Definition Television Satellite

Boeing has shipped the first satellite for DirecTV that will be dedicated to providing high-definition television service, Boeing announced March 16.

The Spaceway F1 satellite (above) is scheduled to be placed into orbit by a Sea Launch Zenit 3SL rocket in late April.

Spaceway F1, manufactured at Boeing’s Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif., is based on a Boeing 702 platform and features a payload with a steerable downlink antenna that can be reconfigured on orbit.

El Segundo-based DirecTV, based in El Segundo, Calif., plans to launch four spacecraft over the next three years that will allow the company to deliver more than 1,500 local and national high-definition TV channels and other advanced programming services.

Lockheed Martin Stacks 1st Atlas 5 at Vandenberg

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver has completed stacking the first Atlas 5 rocket that will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., the company announced March 21.

Lockheed Martin upgraded a launch pad at Vandenberg to handle the Atlas 5 rocket after being awarded two launches from at the site that were taken from rival Boeing Co. as punishment for contracting improprieties. The U.S. Air Force has since awarded Lockheed Martin’s International Launch Services rocket-marketing affiliate three more Atlas 5 missions from Vandenberg.

The first West Coast Atlas 5 mission, scheduled for 2006, will carry a classified U.S. government payload.

Iridium Fleet Surpasses On-Orbit Time Milestone

The low Earth orbiting communications satellites owned by Iridium Satellite have surpassed a collective total of 500 years of on-orbit operations, the company said March 21.

The constellation of low Earth orbiting satellites operated by Iridium Satellite have surpassed 500 years of on-orbit performance, the company announced March 21.

Iridium, based in Bethesda, Md., provides mobile communications services via with a constellation of 66 active satellites and 13 in-orbit spares. Most of the spacecraft were launched in 1997 and 1998, though Iridium placed seven spares into orbit in 2002.

Efforts made to reduce the use of high-wear components aboard the satellites may extend operations with the current constellation through 2014, Iridium said.

Groups to Coordinate on Interference Mitigation

The Global VSAT Forum (GVF) and the Satellite Users Interference Reduction Group have agreed to coordinate their respective efforts to mitigate interference to satellite signals, the organizations announced March 17.

The GVF, based in Hertfordshire, England, is an international association of more than 180 satellite operators, manufacturers, network service providers, system integrators, carriers and related organizations designed to promote the industry. Among the GVF’s programs is are a VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) Installation & Maintenance Training Course designed to improve the performance of VSAT systems quality of system deployments and thereby reduce the chances of interference.

The Satellite Users Interference Reduction Group, headquartered in Punta Gorda, Fla., consists of public- and private-sector organizations united to reduce radio frequency interference incidents. Among the groups’ efforts are encouraging working with uplink equipment vendors to modify their equipment to provide a unique identification information for cross-reference when interference occurs.

Connexion by Boeing Enters Maritime Market

Connexion by Boeing of Seattle and Irvine, Calif., plans to extend its satellite-based Internet service for airline passengers to ocean-going vessels beginning this autumn, the company announced March 21.

Operators of ocean-going fleets will pay a monthly fee of $2,800 to access the Connexion by Boeing service, which provides services such as high-speed Internet, e-mail, voice, and fax services and up to four television channels.

Included in the price is a set number of minutes per month and customers will be able to share the service among all the ships in their respective its fleets, Connexion by Boeing said. The company plans to have 99 percent coverage of the globe available by 2006, the company said.

Spacehab To Continue Lunar Study for NASA

Spacehab Inc. received a contract extension from NASA to continue a study of lunar exploration concepts, the company announced March 14.

Spacehab, headquartered in Houston, received the initial $1 million Concept Exploration and Refinement study contract September.

Under Phase 2phase two, valued at an additional $1 million, Spacehab will expand on its previous work, the company said. The effort is scheduled to run through August.

Americom To Support Air Traffic Management

Americom Government Services Inc. of Washington received a contract to provide satellite communications in support of support for air-traffic management operations in the Caribbean region, the company announced March 16.

Americom was awarded a five-year contract by the United States, Caribbean States/Territories and Central American Organization of Air Navigation Services.

Under the agreement, Americom will provide a satellite-based telecommunications network to support air traffic operations in the southern United States, the Caribbean, Central American and parts of South America. The financial terms of the deal were not released.

Americom Government Services, based in Washington, is a subsidiary of SES Americom, devoted to providing services to government customers.

Comments: Warren Ferster,