Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 09 July 2007
02:54 pm ET








Eumetsat Agrees To Help Fund Jason-3 Mission










Europe’s Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization has agreed in principle to share the costs of a Jason-3 ocean-monitoring satellite with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)




, the French space agency (




CNES)




and the European Commission. 

The mission, to cost an estimated 250 million euros ($337




million), would be launched in 2012 and would continue the work of the Jason-2 satellite that is slated to




launch




in 2008. NOAA would provide the launch vehicle, with CNES




providing the same Proteus satellite platform as that used on the Jason-1 satellite, launched in 2001, and Jason-2. The




European Commission and Eumetsat would invest 50 million euros each in Jason-3 instruments




and satellite integration and testing. 

The decision on Jason-3, which will need to be confirmed in 2008, came during a meeting




of the Eumetsat Council June 26 in Cork, Ireland. 

The council also agreed with a Eumetsat proposal for the third generation of Meteosat geostationary-orbiting weather satellites to fly the two main instruments separately aboard common platforms.




One series of three satellites would carry a next-generation imager similar to what is now on board the Meteosat Second Generation series, plus a sensor to monitor lightning that passes between clouds and is often a precursor to lightning that strikes the Earth’s surface. A second series of three satellites would carry




an infrared sounding instrument.

The first of these six Meteosat Third Generation satellites would be launched around 2015. As in the past, the European Space Agency is expected to finance the design and development of the first spacecraft before handing program management over to Eumetsat.











ASI President Vows To Curtail Satellite Growth



Italian Space Agency (ASI) President Giovanni Bignami says he has been stunned to discover that many of the Italian government science and Earth observation satellites originally intended for launch on the Italian-led Vega small rocket




have outgrown their initial specifications and can no longer fly on that vehicle




Bignami
said he intends to rectify the situation by ordering that ASI’s newly restarted small-satellite effort be fully compatible with Vega. No exceptions will be granted, he said. 





“…




I want to make Vega’s specifications a hard limit for our satellites,” Bignami said at the Paris air show. “It is obvious to me that this trend will have to be stopped. It is also obvious that it will not necessarily be easy.” 

The Vega rocket is being developed by the European Space Agency, with Italy paying nearly two-thirds of the development costs. It is scheduled to make its first launch in 2008. Bignami said he is hopeful that an ASI satellite will be Vega’s inaugural passenger.





Zenit Rocket Launches Russian Military Satellite





The June 29 launch of a two-stage Zenit rocket from Russia’s BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan marks the return to flight of the hardware that caused a Sea Launch Co. failure in January. The mission also inaugurated




the launch pad and ground facilities that will be used for Sea Launch’s new Land Launch offering




, according to




Rob Peckham, the company’s president.



The




launch was




of a Russian military satellite




intended for low Earth orbit and did not feature the upper stage that is used for Sea Launch and Land Launch missions.



Nevertheless,




Peckham
said the liftoff confirms the Baikonur operation’s readiness for Land Launch, and also confirms the Russian government’s confidence in the Zenit rocket’s RD 171M main-stage engine – the engine that failed in a spectacular January explosion at Sea Launch’s mid-ocean site, destroying a commercial telecommunications spacecraft. A board of inquiry concluded that a




foreign object interfered with the engine’s functions and caused the failure.

Repair of the damaged floating Sea Launch launch platform is expected to be completed in July. Peckham said the ocean-based Sea Launch operations are on track for an October launch of the Thuraya3 mobile communications satellite, followed by a December launch of the DirecTV 11 television-broadcast satellite.

Peckham
said the qualification of the Land Launch site means commercial operations there could have begun




well before the end of this year if a commercial satellite customer had been ready. But that is not the case: He said




Israel’s Amos-3 telecommunications satellite, scheduled for a January 2008 launch, is likely to be Land Launch’s first customer.

Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch Co. is the sales and marketing agent for Land Launch but does not have an ownership stake in the operation, Peckham said.


Senate Measure Funds NPOESS Climate Sensors



A spending bill approved June 28 by the Senate Appropriations Committee would provide $4.2 billion next year for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including nearly $1 billion for weather satellite programs.

Within that amount, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)




, which is jointly funded with the U.S. Air Force, would receive its full request of $331 million




. The lawmakers provided another




$30 million to the NPOESS budget to restore climate-change sensors that were dropped from the program last year. To help cover that work, the committee reduced




NOAA’s
$279 million request for its new series of Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite platforms, dubbed GOES-R, by $15 million.

In the report accompanying the bill, the committee took issue with NOAA’s plan to spend 26 percent of the GOES-R budget on program overhead




. “The Committee feels these reserves provide a false sense of security for the program managers leading to future problems,” the report says. “Accordingly, the Committee had




reduced these overhead costs and redirected [the money] to the restoration of climate sensors.”

NOAA’s
National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, or NESDIS,




would receive $172 million to fund its operations.








ICO Satellite Completes Thermal Vacuum Testing











Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., has completed thermal vacuum testing on a geostationary two-way mobile communications satellite built for ICO North America, ICO announced June 22.

The satellite is designed to provide interactive television and navigation services to automobiles in North America in the 2 gigahertz band. The satellite is slated for launch late this year aboard an Atlas 5 rocket.

ICO North America, a subsidiary if ICO Global Communications Holdings Ltd. of Reston, Va., said the test meets a milestone requirement spelled out in the company’s license with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission


.







Harris Seeks To Overturn Raytheon’s NMT Award






Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., has protested the U.S. Navy’s award of a billion-dollar contract to Raytheon to build a new line of shipboard satellite communications terminals, according to a Harris spokesman.

The Navy awarded the Navy Multiband Terminal (NMT) contract to Raytheon Network Centric Systems of Marlborough, Mass.,




May 31. The terminals are intended to connect Navy vessels to multiple satellite systems, and the contract has a potential value of $960 million.





Harris filed its




protest with




the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)




June 11, according to Sleighton Meyer, a Harris spokesman. The GAO is expected to rule on the matter by Sept. 19, Meyer said June 27 in a written response to questions




.

“We filed the protest not as a criticism of those involved, but because we believe that the decision was not based on the most complete or accurate information,” Meyer said. “In fact, our solution offered a greater than 20 percent




cost savings as evaluated over the chosen solution.”

Meyer said




Harris believes




the potential cost savings were not given adequate weight




during the selection




process. He




declined to elaborate on what Harris felt was incomplete or inaccurate about the information




the Navy used in evaluating




the NMT bids.








Com Dev Remains Upbeat Following Production Glitch






Satellite-component manufacturer Com Dev International of Canada said a production glitch in an unspecified satellite payload that was announced in April will be much less costly than feared despite having a substantial impact on the company’s second-quarter gross earnings.

The Cambridge, Ontario-based company, which is expanding its activities with a California production facility to tap into the U.S. military space market, said its full 2007 results should reflect at least a 10 percent increase in revenues compared to 2006 despite the component anomaly.



Com Dev reported that revenues for the three months ending April 30 were 38.6 million Canadian dollars ($36.1




million), only slightly higher than a year earlier because staff that otherwise would have generated sales were deployed to fix the satellite-component issue.



The company took a one-time charge of 5.1 million Canadian dollars for the three-month period because of the satellite-component problem – much less than the 9 million-Canadian-dollar hit it had said it might have to take when the problem surfaced in April.

The charge weighed on Com Dev’s gross-profit margins for the quarter, which were just 19 percent, compared to 30 percent a year earlier. Net loss for the quarter was 1.4 million Canadian dollars.

Com Dev President Mike Pley, in a June 14 conference call with investors, said the satellite-component problem has been sorted out and that there will be no further financial consequences because of it. He also said that, in part because it was Com Dev – through its in-house quality-control procedures – and




not the customer




that discovered the problem,




the incident should not




have a lasting effect on




relations with that




customer




.

The broader picture for Com Dev is more positive. The company expects that the current surge in commercial satellite orders ultimately will result in orders for the




components Com Dev makes. Recent




history suggests there is a lag of almost one year between the signing of a satellite manufacturing prime contract and component orders for Com Dev.





New orders for Com Dev during the second quarter




totaled 81 million Canadian dollars, led by an order from the Canadian Space Agency, valued at 39 million Canadian dollars, for a guidance sensor to be mounted on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. As of April 30, Com Dev’s backlog totaled 130 million Canadian dollars.

Com Dev said the quarter included 12 million Canadian dollars in preliminary contracts, called Authorizations to Proceed




, which should lead to a further 48 million Canadian dollars in business




in the coming months as this work is converted into formal contracts.

Among these preliminary contracts is one




with ThalesAlenia Space of Cannes, France, to provide payload electronics for the 48-satellite Globalstar mobile telecommunications constellation, which Com Dev expects to become a “major order,” Pley said.

Com Dev




recently purchased a facility in El Segundo, Calif., that will be transformed into a Com Dev production line as part of the company’s decision to better position itself for U.S. Defense Department satellite work. Pley said the plant should be completed in September, with orders expected to begin arriving early in 2008.





First STSS Demo Satellite Passes Testing Mileston





The first of two missile tracking demonstration satellites built by Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., has completed thermal vacuum testing, a key milestone in preparation for launch, the company reported June 21.

The prototype Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellite will undergo additional checks before being shipped to its launch site later this year, Northrop Grumman said. The second STSS demonstration is now being prepared for thermal vacuum testing, which is expected to be completed before the end of the summer, the company said.

The two satellites, equipped with infrared sensors, are intended to demonstrate the ability to track missiles as they coast through space – after their motors have burned out. They are slated to launch together aboard a single rocket in spring 2008 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The project is funded by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.








SSI, Astrotech Awarded Processing Contracts



NASA has awarded




payload processing contracts to Astrotech Space Operations of Titusville, Fla., and Spaceport Systems International (SSI) of Colorado Springs, Colo., for missions it is launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., a June 22 NASA press release said.

Astrotech
, a subsidiary of Houston-based Spacehab, and




SSI




, a subsidiary of ITT Corp. of White Plains, N.Y., each




received indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts from the NASA Launch Services Program.

The contracts have a base period of four years and two one-year options. The maximum amount of funding available under the program is $35 million, NASA said.





Both




SSI and




Astrotech
operate




facilities at Vandenberg to do the payload processing work.








Mars Instrument Hardware Undergoing Tests at LANL











Prototype instrument hardware built in France for NASA’s planned Mars Science Laboratory rover is undergoing testing at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, the lab said in a June 21 press release.

The Laser Induced Remote Sensing for Chemistry and Micro-Imaging, or ChemCam, instrument will use a laser to vaporize tiny martian soil samples for spectral analysis. It also will take high-resolution images of selected targets. The instrument is being developed jointly by LANL and the French Centre d’EtudeSpatiale des Rayonnements (CESR), or space physics laboratory.

CESR and Thales Laser of France have completed an engineering prototype of ChemCam’s mast unit, which includes the laser and telescope. It is this hardware that is now undergoing testing in New Mexico, where a team of experts from France is making sure that the mast connects properly with the instrument’s LANL-supplied processors, spectrographs and control systems, LANL said.





From its mast position above the Mars Science Laboratory, the




ChemCam
laser will fire




7-nanosecond-long pulses




to turn martian




rock into a




plasma state for analysis




. The laser is designed to vaporize areas smaller than 1 millimeter with 10 megawatts of power per square millimeter and is effective at ranges of




1.2-9 meters. The imaging camera, meanwhile, will take pictures to show the geologic context of each sample, LANL said.

The competed flight-model ChemCam instrument is slated to be shipped in spring 2008 to NASA’S




Jet Propulsion Laboratory in




Pasadena, Calif., which is leading development of the Mars Science Laboratory.



The




rover, part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program,


is slated for launch in the fall 2009.







EMS Technologies Acquires Australian Satellite Firm





EMS Technologies Inc. of Atlanta




will add an Australian satellite communications technology developer to its Satcom division, the company announced




June 25.



EMS, a wireless and satellite communications hardware provider, has signed an




agreement to acquire




DSpace
of Adelaide, Australia,




for $5.7 million. The acquisition




is expected to be completed in early July,




pending certain closing conditions, EMS Satcom spokeswoman Kate Murchison said




June 25




.

DSpace
has developed a satellite radio




for Inmarsat‘s Broadband Global Area Network satellite service that features a software system that allows for easy upgrades as




technology advances,




EMS said.



DSpace will further strengthen our product leadership in aero-broadband for military, corporate and commercial aircraft, while giving us the ability to aggressively pursue new mobile satellite service




markets in the land-mobile and maritime sectors,”




Paul Domorski, president and chief executive officer of EMS, said in a prepared statement




.









ESA Awards Contracts for Launch Vehicle Technology





NGL Prime S.p.A., a joint venture of Astrium Space Transportation and Finmeccanica, has signed contracts with the European Space Agency (ESA) to study next-generation rockets and to design a vehicle for launch in 2010 to test reusable rocket materials, the company announced June 26.

Under the contracts, valued at 20.5 million euros ($27.6 million), NGL Prime will design the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle, dubbed IXV, to be launched aboard Europe’s new Vega rocket in 2010




from the




Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. IXV will orbit the Earth and then make a controlled atmospheric re-entry.



The contracts awarded to Turin, Italy-based NGL – 70 percent owned by Astrium, 30 percent by Finmeccanica – are part of ESA’s Future Launcher Preparatory Program to assess designs for rockets to be put into service starting around 2020.

ESA government ministers are scheduled to meet in late 2008 to determine funding for the next stage of the future-launcher effort.





Wavestream Introduces Satellite-Signal Amplifier




Wavestream, which manufactures small power amplifiers, unveiled a new




outdoor satellite-




signal amplifier at the CommunicAsia conference in Singapore.

The




solid-state device




weighs less than 4 kilograms and will deliver more than 40




watts of Ku-band power and 10




watts of Ka-band power, the company said in a June 18 press release.

The so-called Matchbox Series amplifiers will be available on




the market later in 2007, the San Dimas, Calif.-based Wavestream said










.











THAAD Interceptor Makes Final Flight at White Sands



The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and contractor Lockheed Martin




conducted a successful flight test June 26 of an interceptor designed to knock down missiles during their latter stages of flight.

The latest test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system did not involve an intercept of a target missile. Rather, it was designed to gather information on the system’s performance near the lowest altitude at which it could engage an incoming warhead, said Tom McGrath, THAAD vice president at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Dallas




.

Low-altitude intercepts are more challenging than high-altitude intercepts because of the high-stress environment, McGrath said. Atmospheric friction is greater at lower altitudes, putting more thermal stress on the THAAD vehicle and its infrared target seeker, McGrath told reporters in a June 27 conference call. Shock and vibration also are greater at low altitudes, he said.





The flight marked THAAD’s final test




at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, McGrath said. THAAD testing began at White Sands in 1995 but is being moved to the larger Pacific Missile Range near Hawaii, which allows the system to fly trajectories that are more representative of actual intercept scenarios, he said.

Because of concerns about intercept debris falling outside the White Sands perimeter, THAAD missiles launched from the site had to first fly in a corkscrew pattern to mitigate the problem. This was not the case on the June 26 test because there was no intercept involved, McGrath said.





The first THAAD test at the Pacific range was conducted




Jan.




27.





The next THAAD intercept test is slated for




September, to be followed by two




tests in 2008 and as many as three




in 2009.

The second of the 2008 tests could




involve shooting two interceptors at a single target, McGrath said. 2009 could see a test in which two interceptors are fired at two targets, he said.





The first THAAD system is expected to be turned over to Army soldiers at Fort Bliss in Texas in late 2009, and could be ready for operational use




after training is completed in early 2010, McGrath




said.









Spot Image Launches Online Purchasing Site



The North American subsidiary




of Toulouse, France-based Spot Image has opened a Web site that allows customers to buy and manage Spot




satellite imagery online, a June 19 company press release said.

The new Web site, Spot Online Access, includes a sales catalog and a reference library of images that already have been purchased, according to Spot Image Corp. of Chantilly, Va.





The online store sells




imagery at 2.5-meter resolution by the square kilometer. Typically such imagery is sold in




prepackaged scenes, Spot said.



The online library is intended to provide




employees of large organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Defense or other federal agencies,




with easy access to images they already have purchased, Spot Image Corp. spokesman Nicolas




Stussi said in a June 20 e-mail response to questions. The service makes it easy for federal agencies to share Spot imagery, Stussi said




.






NASA Taps Bruner for Legislative Affairs Post





NASA has named William Bruner to serve as acting assistant administrator for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, the U.S. space agency informed its employees June 25.

Bruner, who joined NASA last year, replaces Brian Chase, who stepped down from the post June 22.

The appointment was announced in an internal memo signed by Shana Dale, NASA’s deputy administrator.

Dale also announced that NASA has appointed Bobby German to the post of deputy chief information officer. German previously served as director of NASA’s Integrated Enterprise Management Program, which




recently was merged with the Office of the Chief Information Officer, Dale said.

In his new role, German will support NASA Chief Information Officer Jonathan Pettus in the development and implementation of strategies to meet the agency’s information-technology goals, Dale said.





Gilat

VSAT Network To Connect Rural Siberia



A Russian telecommunications carrier will use a Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) network supplied by Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd.








to
provide communications services to remote Siberian communities, the PetahTikva, Israel-based company said in a June 26 press release.

Open Joint-Stock Company Sibirtelecom




will use the GilatSkyEdge system to serve rural Siberia with telephony and Internet connectivity, Gilat said.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed.






Destroyer-Launched SM-3 Intercepts Target Missile



The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) on June 22 conducted the first test of its Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system in which the interceptor was launched from a U.S. Navy destroyer rather than a cruiser, Aegis prime contractor Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors of Moorestown, N.J., said in a press release.



An MDA official said there are slight differences between the Aegis systems aboard cruisers and those on destroyers, but declined to elaborate, citing classification restrictions. The officials said one of the test objectives was to certify the system for destroyers.

In the test, which took place off the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the Aegis system’s Raytheon-built Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptor destroyed the dummy warhead of a medium-range missile. It was the ninth successful shoot-down test in 11 tries with the Aegis system, and the third in three attempts in which the interceptor engaged a target that had separated from its launch vehicle, the MDA said in a June 22 press release.





“With nine successful intercepts from three different ships with three different crews, we can now clearly see the potential to transfer this capability to any Aegis-equipped ship,” U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Brad Hicks, the MDA’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program director, said in the Lockheed Martin news release.

Other U.S. military assets




featured in




the




demonstration included an Aegis cruiser that is supporting an effort to develop a new radar-signal processor for improved tracking and discriminating capabilities, the MDA said. Also taking part was a mobile, ground-based tracking radar that is part of the MDA’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, the agency said.





The test also included international participation: The




Spanish frigate




Mendez Nunez was used to assess the potential of ships not equipped with the Aegis radar system to perform long-range missile tracking and surveillance, Lockheed Martin said.





“Participation by the Spanish crew and the Mendez Nunez demonstrate[s] that Aegis




can easily be the common link to [a] proven ballistic missile defense capability for our allies,”




Hicks said in the Lockheed Martin news release.

Japanese and Dutch ships have participated in previous Aegis tests.










Software Helps Automate Control of UAV Squadron



Boeing Co. has successfully demonstrated the simultaneous command and control of several unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by a single operator, according to a company news release dated June 27.

The test, featuring




three ScanEagleUAVs with advanced autonomous control software, helps pave the way for reducing the workload of UAV operators, according to the news release.



“Lessening the workload allows a single operator to manage a group of UAVs as a cooperative, coordinated system,” said Ed Froese, Boeing vice president for advanced anti-submarine warfare and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance systems. “Mission operators are freed from micro-managing the routes and other activities. Instead, they describe their high-level goals and objectives to the system, and the advanced autonomous control software manages the UAVs to achieve a coordinated effect.”

The ScanEagle UAV, which has been used in combat by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, was developed by Bingen, Wash.-based Insitu Inc. in partnership with Boeing.

During the testing,




conducted at Boeing’s Boardman, Ore., facility, a single operator used the Boeing-developed Distributed Information-Centralized Decision autonomous mission control software to fly three ScanEagles at the same time.

Meanwhile, in




another test, a UAV operator used




Boeing-developed Stalker software to direct a ScanEagle to track and keep tabs on a simulated terrorist truck. The software continually monitored the truck’s movements even as it maneuvered in an evasive manner




. The software automatically modified the ScanEagle’s flight path to enable it to continue to track the truck while remaining undetected.