Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 06 September 2005
10:50 am ET


Planned Heavy Lift H-2A Accorded its Own Name

The planned heavy-lift version of Japan’s workhorse H-2A launch vehicle has been officially renamed the H-2B . The name was announced during an Aug. 31 meeting of Japan’s Space Activities Commission by Kimikaze Iwase, director of space development and utilization at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

“Yes, the name has been decided as H-2B because we thought it was easy to understand, and today is the first time for the new name to be used officially by the government,” Iwase said following the meeting.

The H-2B, formerly referred to as the enhanced version of the H-2A, is being developed for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. of Tokyo. The H-2B will feature a more-powerful first stage than the H-2A because it will use two LE-7A main engines rather than one.

The H-2B is designed to loft about 8 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit and to launch Japan’s planned HTV unmanned cargo transfer vessel to the international space station. The H-2A can lift a maximum of 6 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit.

The H-2B is due for its first launch carrying a dummy payload in 2008 or 2009, according to Japanese government documents

OHB Revenues Are Down But Earnings Seen Rising

OHB System of Bremen, Germany, reported lower revenues and order backlog but higher profit for the first six months of 2005 and said per-share earnings for the full year are likely to increase over 2004.

The company also said its biggest division, Space Technology and Security, faced higher production and marketing costs early this year.

OHB, which is prime contractor for the German government’s SAR-Lupe radar-reconnaissance satellite system, also said it would begin consolidating its new MT Aerospace AG division in the third quarter of this year. MT Aerospace, formerly MAN Technologie AG, builds Ariane rocket components and reported nearly 100 million euros ($123 million) in revenues in 2004.

For the first six months of 2005, OHB System reported 33 million euros in revenues, down sharply from the 43 million euros reported for the same period in 2004. Net income, at 2.34 million euros, was up 1.8 percent from the previous year. Backlog was 111.4 million euros, compared to 159 million euros a year earlier, the company said.

OHB Chief Executive Marco R. Fuchs said the company’s full-year figures likely will show a decline in revenues, before accounting for the MT Aerospace acquisition, but increased per-share earnings.

Iridium, Quake Global Partner For Terminal Development

Iridium Satellite LLC and Quake Global are developing a new line of vehicle-tracking and asset-monitoring terminals, which will operate over Iridium Satellite LLC’s 66-satellite network.

Under the agreement, Quake Global of San Diego will integrate Iridium’s short-burst data capability into two new communications devices that it is developing. Quake Global’s new modems, the Q1200SI and the Q2000I models, will be equipped to use the network to transmit data from vehicles and industrial assets.

Iridium of Bethesda, Md., operates a network of 66 communications satellites in low Earth orbit. By using the Iridium system, Quake will be able to expand its coverage area, according to an Iridium official.

The short-burst data capability replaces a traditional circuit-based system, according to Greg Ewert, Iridium executive vice president for sales, marketing and development.

“From a customer standpoint, this is good for a few reasons,” Ewert said. “The robustness of packet networks is great, and it’s great from a cost-utilization basis because the customer is just paying for time on the network.”

Financial details of the contract are not being disclosed, Ewert said.

Currently, the new products are in testing with various customers, and will be available on the market around September, Ewert said.

“We’ve got excellent responses coming back from our distribution channels, not only from the commercial side but from the government side,” Ewert said.

Orbital Sciences To Build Satellite for Horizon 2

Orbital Sciences Corp. will build a geostationary communications satellite for Horizon 2 Satellite LLC, a joint venture of PanAmSat and JSAT, Orbital announced in an Aug. 30 press release.

JSAT Corp. of Tokyo and PanAmSat Corp. of Wilton, Conn., announced in July a partnership to operate the telecommunications satellite, which will replace PanAmSat’s SBS-6 satellite at 74 degrees west longitude. The companies did not disclose the Horizons 2 satellite manufacturer at the time.

The Horizons 2 satellite will be based on Orbital’s Star geostationary satellite platform. Under the contract, Orbital must deliver the satellite within 22-months.

Orbital is not disclosing the financial details of the contract, company spokesman Barron Beneski said. He said the company does not expect the contract to be affected by PanAmSat’s recently announced plan to be acquired by Intelsat of Washington.

The SBS-6 is operating past its expected retirement date; the satellite was launched in 1990 with an anticipated 10-year life.

Under the Horizon 2 partnership, JSAT is responsible for most of the $140 million investment in the satellite and its launcher. PanAmSat is providing the orbital slot and various teleport facilities.

The new satellite will carry 20 Ku-band transponders and generate approximately 3.5 kilowatts of power, Orbital said in a release.

“Once again, our smaller-sized Star [geostationary] satellite platform has proved to be the ideal choice for satellite operators that seek an optimal balance between satellite capacity and customer demand,” Ali Atia, head of Orbital’s commercial satellite business unit, said in the press release.

SeaSpace Buys Rights to Three Antenna Systems

SeaSpace Corp. of Poway, Calif., more than doubled its product line by acquiring the rights to three satellite-tracking antenna systems from LJT & Associates of Montgomery, Ala.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The antenna systems originally were developed by Integral Systems of Lanham, Md., which sold the rights to the technology to LJT & Associates.

Two of the three designs will be made available for sale immediately, Bruce Waddell, chief executive officer of SeaSpace, said in an interview. Those designs are robust enough that they do not require radomes , which are large fiberglass enclosures that protect antennas from the elements , he said.

The new antennas should appeal to SeaSpace’s current customer base and allow the company to pursue business it could not capture before, Waddell said.

The third antenna design will be offered for sale after the company makes some improvements, Waddell said. SeaSpace does not know when that product will be made available, but work will begin on the changes in 2006, he said.

SeaSpace’s antenna offerings now range from 2 meters to 7.3 meters in diameter, and can be used for tracking, telemetry and control applications and to receive data transmissions from satellites

NASA Switches Hubble to Two-Gyroscope Control

In hopes of keeping the Hubble Space Telescope in service through mid-2008, NASA shut down one of the observatory’s three operational gyroscopes.

The gyroscopes are needed to maintain the telescope’s fine-pointing control. The spacecraft was designed to operate on three gyroscopes, with three in reserve. Two of Hubble’s gyroscopes no longer work.

Engineers and scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore spent months testing and analyzing the two-gyroscope control mode before making the change. With only two gyroscopes in service, Hubble’s Fine Guidance Sensor, onboard magnetometers and Fixed Head Star Trackers will supply the information to enable the telescope to maintain fine-pointing control and to refocus from one observation target to another. By shutting down one of Hubble’s gyroscopes, NASA is able to keep two working gyroscopes in reserve to serve as backups.

NASA says the change will not adversely impact science operations.

Replacing Hubble’s full complement of gyroscopes is one of the main objectives of a proposed space shuttle mission to service the telescope. NASA is preparing for such a mission but says a final decision will be made only after the agency completes its second successful shuttle mission since the February 2003 Columbia disaster.

XCOR Conducts Tests on Methane-Fueled Rocket Engine

XCOR Aerospace Inc. of Mojave, Calif., announced Aug. 30 it has successfully completed the first series of tests on a prototype 50-pound-thrust rocket engine that is fueled by methane and liquid oxygen.

Operational versions of the 3M9 engine could be used as satellite station-keeping maneuvering systems.

The series of tests took place at XCOR’s facilities at the Mojave Spaceport and included 22 engine firings totaling 65 seconds. The company said pressure-fed and pump-fed versions of the engine are in development.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Changes Course

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) successfully tested its main engines Aug. 27 by making a course correction as the probe makes its way to the red planet, which it is set to reach in March 2006, NASA announced Aug. 30.

The MRO fired its six main thrusters for 15 seconds, then fired six smaller thrusters for 30 seconds to settle propellant in the fuel tank for a smoother flow. NASA said navigation data shows the engine burn changed the spacecraft’s velocity by the intended 7.8 meters per second. The six main engines will not be fired again until the orbiter reaches Mars, when they will burn for 25 minutes to slow the spacecraft so the planet’s gravity will capture it into orbit.

The MRO will examine Mars from low orbit, studying water distribution, geologic features and minerals. The spacecraft has traveled over 6 million kilometers since its Aug. 12 launch, with over 95 million kilometers to go before it reaches the red planet.

63% of Leased Capacity Owned by Top Five Firms

A new study has concluded that the top five commercial satellite operators controlled over half the leased transponder capacity worldwide in 2004.

The study, “Global Assessment of Satellite Demand, 2nd edition,” published by Cambridge, Mass.-based Northern Sky Research, states that 63 percent of the leased capacity was owned by PanAmSat of Wilton, Conn.; SES Global of Luxembourg; Intelsat of Washington; Eutelsat of Paris and New Skies Satellites of The Netherlands.

The remaining 35 percent of revenue and 37 percent of leased capacity is shared by 33 small and regional satellite operators, the study said.

SES Global was the top revenue generator in 2004, but ranked only third in terms of leased capacity, the study said. The planned purchase of PanAmSat by Intelsat, announced Aug. 29, would give Intelsat 37 percent of leased capacity and 25 percent of industry revenue, according to the study.

The study ranks the companies in terms of C-band and Ku-band capacity.

Northrop Grumman Nears Completion of New UAV

Northrop Grumman announced Aug. 30 it is nearing completion of its first next-generation Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with the delivery of two key components: a vertical tail set and a new wing assembly.

Aurora Flight Sciences’ Aerostructures division of Bridgeport, W.V., delivered a set of vertical tails for the Global Hawk RQ-4B model in July to El Segundo, Calif.-based Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems, the prime contractor on the U.S. Air Force project. Aurora’s delivery included fuselage and engine nacelle components as well, according to an Aug. 29 news release issued by Aurora.

Meanwhile, Vought Aircraft Industries of Dallas made a key delivery to Northrop Grumman in July with the RQ-4B’s new graphite-composite wing assembly. Measuring nearly 40 meters, the assembly passed structural integrity tests and has been integrated with the fuselage, Northrop Grumman said.

Northrop Grumman is under contract to build four new RQ-4B Global Hawks, which have a 1,350-kilogram payload capacity (50 percent more than the RQ-4A) and a redesigned fuselage and wingspan to accommodate more fuel. The vehicles will be capable of flying autonomously to altitudes of 21,000 meters.

U.S. Military Carries Out T-Sat Design Reviews

The U.S. Air Force announced Aug. 29 that it has completed design reviews of the space segment of the Transformational Satellite communications system (T-Sat ), which is slated to provide secure communications for the Department of Defense starting around 2013.

The Interim Space Segment Design Review was undertaken to evaluate the progress of the two competing T-Sat development teams: one led by Chicago-based Boeing Co.; and the other by Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., and Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. A System Design Review is set to be completed in 2006, when the military expects to select a single contractor to build the T-Sat satellites.

The separate interim reviews were held at Boeing’s Systems Integration Laboratory in Huntington Beach, Calif., June 7-9, as well as at Lockheed Martin Space Systems facilities in Sunnyvale, Calif., June 14-16. Both teams successfully met entrance and exit criteria for the reviews, the Air Force said.

Saturn’s Moon Enceladus May be Geologically Active

Data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft indicate that the long, tiger-like stripes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus have formed quite recently, emerging only 10 to 1,000 years ago, NASA announced Aug. 30.

The stripes, which are 130-kilometer-long cracks running parallel about 40 kilometers apart, are located near the icy moon’s southern pole, providing further evidence that the region is geologically active. The cracks are vents that spew vapor and fine ice-water particles that have formed into crystals. It is from these crystals that scientists were able to estimate the age of the cracks and determine geologic activity has occurred as recently as 10 years ago there.

Enceladus is on a short list of geologically active bodies in the solar system that includes Jupiter’s moon Io, which has volcanoes, and Neptune’s moon Triton, which has geysers.

Cassini collected this data from a flyby of Enceladus July 14, when it came within 175 kilometers of the moon ‘s surface. A flyby of the moon’s north pole in 1981 by NASA’s Voyager 2 probe revealed no similar tiger-like stripes or evidence of geologic activity.

NASA To Test Exploration Gear in Harsh Desert Terrain

NASA’s Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS) program will put the latest prototype space exploration equipment to the test in Arizona’s high desert to evaluate the gear’s performance in environmental conditions that could be encountered on the Moon or Mars.

This latest round of tests, which marks the eighth consecutive season for the RATS program, will include trials for two space-suited explorers, a new crew-operations utility rover and a system that recharges air tanks while they are in use. The tests will run Sept. 6-15 at sites outside of Flagstaff, Ariz., NASA said in an Aug. 30 news release.

The desert tests provide an opportunity for scientists and engineers to better design and learn how to operate exploration gear on extraterrestrial surfaces, NASA said. Examples of other equipment to be tested during the upcoming trials include a computer-based communications and information system on a spacesuit; a redesigned liquid-air backpack system; and a tele-operated robotic support vehicle called Matilda that will serve as a visual assistant and also retrieve samples.

NASA Awards Grants To Support Education Effort

NASA’s Office of Education has awarded grants to six state coalitions partnering with NASA Explorer Schools, which are designed to help educators inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the agency announced Aug. 30.

The Explorer School Partnerships for Sustainability grants, awarded in cooperation with the National Alliance of State Science and Mathematics Coalitions in Arlington, Va., are designed to strengthen Explorer Schools beyond the initial three years of agency funding. The Explorers School program allows educators to spend a summer at NASA centers to acquire new resources and technology tools to spark student interest in math and science.

The six sustainability grants were awarded to math and science coalitions in Idaho, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

Kinesix Offers Upgraded Control-Room Product

A Houston-based company is set to release an updated version of its space-vehicle control room software that it says offers improvements in complex graphics displays and other areas.

Kinesix Software, whose customers include NASA and several major aerospace companies, will begin offering an initial version of its KX Edge product by the fourth quarter of 2005, Russ Jamerson, the company’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. The final product will go on the market in the first quarter of 2006, he said.

The new product does a better job of displaying data across multiple workstations outside the control room than previous versions , Jamerson said. The software will let workers see high volumes of real-time data on graphics displays, he said.

The software, which contains over 1 million lines of code, is compatible with both Microsoft and Linux operating systems , Jamerson said. “In the past, this was not an easy thing to do because the proprietary systems had no way of talking to each other,” Jamerson said, adding that aerospace industry clients have stressed to him the need to move beyond Unix-based systems.

KX Edge was developed over a three- to four-year time period by a 10-person team, and is the result of over $1 million in investment by the company, Jamerson said.

Astrium Unit Ships ESA‘s CryoSat Satellite to Plesetsk

Europe’s CryoSat polar-ice-monitoring radar satellite has been shipped from prime contractor EADS Astrium’s Friedrichshafen, Germany, production plant to the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, where it is scheduled for launch Oct. 7 aboard a Russian Rockot vehicle , EADS Astrium announced Aug. 31.

CryoSat, built for the European Space Agency (ESA) for about 70 million euros ($86 million), is designed to operate for three years in a 720-kilometer polar low Earth orbit, tracking the size and movement of the polar ice sheets. It was originally scheduled for launch in mid-2004.

CryoSat was flown Aug. 30 to a Russian airport in Archangelsk, on the White Sea, aboard an Antonov An 124 aircraft as part of a launch- and office-equipment package that weighed nearly 55,000 kilograms, EADS Astrium said. CryoSat, expected to weigh about 710 kilograms at launch, was scheduled to travel by train in a nitrogen-pressurized container the remaining 200 kilometers south to the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

Rockot vehicles are marketed by the Euro-Russian Eurockot Launch Services GmbH of Bremen, Germany.

Japanese Ministries Seek Boost in Space Spending

The seven ministries responsible for Japan’s space programs have requested a combined 277.79 billion yen ($2.52 billion) for space activities in 2006, representing a 6.7-percent increase over this year, according to documents released Aug. 31 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) .

The Japanese fiscal year runs April to March. The government budget typically is ratified by the Ministry of Finance each December and passed into law by the nation’s parliament the following spring.

MEXT, which oversees most Japanese space activities and coordinates the associated budget requests, makes its submission to the Ministry of Finance each August. The 2006 request includes 200 billion yen for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency , a 13.5-percent increase over this year , according to MEXT budget documents.

The Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, which controls the nation’s Information Gathering Satellite reconnaissance satellite program, has asked for 66.6 billion yen for that effort next year, an increase of 6.8 percent over the current year, according to MEXT documents. Japan is due to launch two such satellites next fiscal year — one radar and one optical — to join two that were launched in 2003.

Qinetiq Agrees To Buy Belgian Space Company

Qinetiq of Britain has agreed to purchase a 90-percent equity stake in Belgium’s independent space-systems company, Verhaert Design and Development BV (VDD), for an undisclosed price. The agreement, announced with VDD parent Verhaert Group Sept. 1, includes an option for Qinetiq to buy the remaining 10 percent of VDD at a later date.

Qinetiq reported 872.4 million British pounds ($1.572 billion) in revenues, and an operating profit of 69.6 million pounds, for the year ending March 31, 2005. The company does not break out financial results for its space division, which employs some 200 scientists and engineers. VDD reported 2004 sales of 9.5 million euros ($11.6 million), and pretax earnings of 1.1 million euros, according to Qinetiq spokesman Ben White.

Qinetiq said in a statement that VDD will be renamed Verhaert Space NV and will continue to operate under its existing management as an independent entity.

“By partnering with Qinetiq we can better exploit the market trend towards the provision of smaller, low-cost, fast-to-launch satellites for government and commercial customers,” Verhaert Group Chief Executive Paul Verhaert said in a Sept. 1 statement.

NRO Director Hints at Changes to 2006 Plans

The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is wrapping up a review of its satellite programs that will help Congress as it resumes work on the 2006 intelligence budget following the August recess, according to NRO Director Don Kerr.

Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte requested a comprehensive review of NRO programs shortly after being sworn in in April, but one troubled effort — the Future Imagery Architecture — has been under constant scrutiny since 2002, Kerr told reporters during a Sept. 1 Pentagon briefing.

The House has passed its 2006 appropriations and authorization bills for intelligence activities , but the Senate has yet to take action on either.

Kerr said it is in the NRO’s interest to propose any desired changes to its 2006 budget request, originally submitted in February, before House and Senate members meet in conference to hash out differences in their respective intelligence bills . The NRO wants to ensure that any proposed changes to satellite programs can be accommodated in 2006 without being subjected to a lengthy congressional reprogramming of funds, he said.

Star One, U.S. Army Buy Signal Monitoring Gear

Glowlink will provide satellite-signal monitoring and interference detection systems to the U.S. Army and a commercial customer under separate contracts announced in August.

The company will provide one monitoring and interference detection system to Star One of Brazil, which provides high-speed broadband and other satellite communications services.

Glowlink also will provide an unspecified number of its MS100 systems and training to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s 1st Space Battalion, the company said. Glowlink has provided similar gear to other battalions in Space and Missile Defense command in the past .

Robert Estus, Glowlink vice president of operations, declined to divulge financial details of either contract.

EMS to Supply Payload For Cassiope Satellite

EMS Technologies will supply an information handling system for the Canadian Space Agency’s Cassiope science satellite under a contract valued at 27.1 million Canadian dollars ($22.6 million), the company said Sept. 1 .

Cassiope , scheduled for launch in 2007 , is a 140-million-Canadian-dollar venture to develop the country’s ability to build small satellite platforms.

EMS’s Cascade CX information delivery system will receive, store and transmit data for the Cassiope mission, the company said. The payload will built and tested at EMS’s facilities in Montreal and delivered in the second quarter of 2007, the company said.

Soyuz Rocket Launches Russian Military Craft

A Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launched a Russian military satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Sept. 2.

The Kosmos-2415 military satellite reached its target orbit, according to a press release issued by Starsem, a Russian-European company that markets Soyuz launches commercially. Starsem was not involved in the military satellite launch.

Singapore Technologies Set To Purchase iDirect

iDirect Technologies, a Herndon, Va.-based satellite broadband solutions provider, will be purchased by Vision Technologies Electronics in a $165 million deal announced by the companies Aug. 30. Vision Technologies is a subsidiary of Singapore Technologies of Singapore.

The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals, as well as the formal go-ahead from iDirect’s stockholders.

“All the due diligence has been done. We are literally just going through the final federal and regulatory approvals,” said Warren Brown, vice president of marketing for iDirect. In a “best-case scenario,” the merger could be complete in 60 to 90 days, he said.

iDirect will still operate independently but with new owners and a new board of directors, Brown said.