Dawn Begins Journey to Explore Vesta and Ceres

A Delta 2 rocket carrying NASA’s Dawn probe blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Sept. 27, beginning an unprecedented mission to explore the two largest asteroids in the solar system, Vesta and Ceres.

Dawn’s eight-year mission will carry the


probe across

4.9 billion kilometers

on NASA’s first sortie deep into the asteroid belt, a ring of space rocks that circles the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Researchers hope that by visiting the asteroids, Dawn will shed new light on the formation of planets and solar system’s early evolution.

Dawn is expected to rendezvous with and orbit the


wide Vesta asteroid between August 2011 and May 2012, before moving

on to the Texas-sized Ceres by February 2015. With its spherical shape and


diameter, Ceres is so large it also is

considered a dwarf planet.

Dawn carries an optical camera, a gamma ray and neutron detector, and a mapping spectrometer

. Some of those tools will get a trial run during a planned Mars flyby in 2009, researchers said.

To power those instruments, the spacecraft

is equipped with the most powerful solar arrays ever launched into deep space. With a wingspan of

almost 20 meters


the arrays will generate more than 10 kilowatts near Earth.

NASA officials set Dawn’s mission cost at $357.5 million excluding the cost of the launch, according to a September update. In a July briefing, Dawn researchers said the asteroid-bound flight could cost a total of $449 million and incur an extra $25 million in overhead due to launch delays.

Attempts to launch the mission in July were thwarted first by poor weather and rocket glitches, then by difficulties arranging ship and aircraft tracking equipment in time for liftoff. NASA canceled the mission in March 2006, but reinstated it

a few weeks later.

Built by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp., Dawn has been touted as the Prius of space probes because of the fuel efficiency of its three ion engines, which will enable the craft to rendezvous with and orbit multiple targets without requiring massive amounts of fuel. It is NASA’s first science probe to rely on ion propulsion.

U.S. Senate Set to Vote on Defense, Civil Space Bills

The U.S. Senate intends to vote the week of Oct. 1 on a pair of bills funding the U.S. Defense Department, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for 2008.

The NASA and NOAA money is included in the Commerce, Justice, Science spending bill (HR 3093), which cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee in July with $17.46 billion carved out for the U.S. space agency and $4.2 billion for NOAA.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said at the time that she intended to wait until the bill moved to the Senate floor to introduce an amendment seeking an additional $1 billion to help offset costs NASA incurred to recover from the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident.

Insurance for GeoEye-1 Costs Less Than Expected

Inc. has secured a $270 million insurance package covering the launch and first year’s operations of its GeoEye-1 high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite, paying a premium of less than 15 percent, Dulles, Va.-based GeoEye announced Sept. 26.

The ability of GeoEye to secure insurance at a rate below its forecasted 15-20 percent suggests that the global satellite-insurance market has not been overly affected by the Sept. 6 failure of an International Launch Services Proton-M rocket carrying Japan’s JCSAT-11 satellite. JCSAT-11 was insured for about $185 million.

had said it would seek as much insurance as it could get for GeoEye-1, whose importance to the company has increased sharply since the in-orbit failure of GeoEye’s OrbView-3 satellite earlier this year. The company had warned investors that it would have difficulty assembling an insurance policy of more than $250 million to $300 million because of limited insurance market capacity.

Meanwhile, GeoEye and its insurance broker, Willis Inspace, have received the full $40 million claim stemming from OrbView-3’s loss from insurance underwriters, GeoEye said.

other high-resolution satellite, Ikonos, launched nearly eight years ago, continues to function normally and may last beyond the mid-2008 date previously estimated for its retirement, GeoEye officials told investors and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

, which has taken over most of the imaging activities previously assigned to OrbView-3, is insured for $20 million in a policy that expires in December, according to GeoEye officials.

GeoEye-1 is under construction by General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems of Gilbert, Ariz., and is scheduled for launch in the spring of 2008 aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. A launch in November was postponed following what GeoEye said were relatively minor issues related to test software that slowed the satellite’s completion by General Dynamics.

GeoEye has said it expects to spend $502 million on GeoEye-1, a figure that includes the satellite’s construction and launch, insurance for one year and funds set aside to pay costs associated with a launch delay. The U.S.

government, through the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, is financing a portion of GeoEye-1 development as part of a multi

year imagery-procurement contract. GeoEye said it had received $187.3 million under this contract, dubbed NextView, as of June 30. GeoEye-1 is expected to have a seven-year service life.

Democrats Push for More Info on DHS Satellite Office

Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee are urging colleagues preparing to finalize 2008 funding legislation for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to insist that DHS provide more details about a new office it is establishing to handle domestic requests for spy satellite imagery.


DHS National Applications Office (NAO) will begin operating Oct. 1, taking over initial civilian requests for classified satellite imagery from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Civil Applications Committee and eventually expanding the users of that imagery to include law enforcement agencies.

Concerned about domestic spying, Homeland Security Committee Democrats, led by

chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, want

DHS to provide

a legal framework and standard operating procedures for the new office. Thompson and 16 of his 17 fellow committee Democrats wrote senior members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security Sept. 26 asking them to demand the documents in the DHS funding bill, which is slated to be finalized in the coming weeks. The letter was addressed to Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee, respectively.

The House passed its version of the DHS spending bill in June. The Senate version

made it out of committee in June but has not yet been taken up by the full Senate. Once that happens, House and Senate appropriators will meet in conference to hammer out a final version of the bill.

The letter’s signatories state they were not aware of plans to create the NAO when Thompson in August endorsed the Senate subcommittee’s proposal to provide $306 million for the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, which will oversee the NAO.

Dan Stockton To Assume NPOESS Oversight Role

Dan Stockton will take over the lead independent oversight role for acquisition of the next generation of U.S. polar-orbiting weather satellites, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a Sept. 27 news release.

Stockton replaces U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Susan Mashiko as program executive officer for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), which is funded jointly by the Air Force and NOAA and will serve military and civil users starting around 2013.

was the first NPOESS program executive officer, a position created in 2006 after the program’s costs soared. She left in July to take over the satellite communications wing at Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

Stockton has served for the past two years as system program director in the NPOESS joint program office as an Air Force colonel. He recently retired from the Air Force.

Steve Simione, deputy NPOESS system program director, will serve as acting system program director until a permanent replacement for Stockton is found, NOAA said.

Kazakhs To Seek Damages Following Proton-M Failure

Authorities in Kazakhstan will seek more than $8 million in compensation from Russia following the crash of a Russian Proton-M rocket that was launched Sept. 6 from the Central Asian republic’s BaikonurCosmodrome.

“Preliminary calculations demonstrate that the fines will exceed 1 billion tenge ($8.4 million) by far, and this sum will be presented to the Russian side after finalizing the costs related to liquidation of the consequences of the fall of the rocket,” Viktor Khrapunov, Kazakhstan’s minister of emergency situations, told reporters Sept. 27 in Astana, the nation’s capital.

The rocket was carrying Japan’s JCSAT-11 communications satellite in a commercial launch brokered by International Launch Services when it malfunctioned shortly after liftoff from Baikonur, which Russia leases from Kazakhstan. The debris fell 50 kilometers southwest of the Kazakh city of Dzhezkagan with no injuries or destruction of property reported.

Vorebeyv, a spokesman for the Russian space agency, did not answer telephone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

Chilton Inches Closer to Strategic Command Post

U.S. Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of Air Force Space Command, moved an important step closer to taking the reins at Strategic Command Sept. 27 when the Senate Armed Services Committee approved his nomination to the post. The full Senate is expected to vote on the nomination the week of Oct. 1.

NASA To Assign Exploration Roles to Centers Shortly

NASA expects to announce soon the roles its 10

field centers will


in developing

the major hardware systems – aside from the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and its Ares 1 launcher – that the agency will need to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said.

Speaking Sept. 19 at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2007 Conference in Long Beach, Calif., Griffin said the agency would “soon be ready to discuss how we in NASA are organizing the work force at our 10

field centers to lead and support development for our next major exploration programs, including …

the Ares 5, the Lunar Surface Access Module, and other lunar surface systems.

“While most of these projects and programs will not begin in earnest until after the shuttle is retired, we need to plan now for the work ahead,” Griffin continued. “I want the young people in NASA and at our contractors who are working today on the space shuttle, space station

and exploration programs to know that they will have more to do beyond the five-year government budget horizon, and I want even younger people in colleges and universities to know what the future holds for them if they join us in this journey.”

Griffin also said he does not foresee NASA laying off any of its nearly 18,000-person civil servant work force anytime soon – provided the agency is not socked with budget cuts in the years ahead.

“[I]f funding for NASA remains as we anticipate, I do not foresee any need for Reductions in Force, RIFs, at NASA,” Griffin said. “I realize that this has been the subject of considerable unpleasant speculation over the past several years, primarily due to the lack of stability in our programs as we struggled to pay for space shuttle return-to-flight costs, and numerous other reductions and redirections in NASA’s budget. My hope is that those days of instability are behind us.”

A NASA budget chart circulating in

Washington shows that the $2.7 billion in space shuttle return-to-flight costs expected

through 2010 are

part of $11.7 billion in budget reductions and unanticipated costs the agency has had to deal with since President George W. Bush called in 2004 for the United States to return to the Moon.

The three straight

years of roughly 5 percent budget increases that Bush promised NASA at the time

never materialized. A combination of scaled-back budget requests and congressional cuts has left NASA with $3.9 billion less to spend between 2005 and 2010 than projected when the Vision for Space Exploration was announced.

Over the same period, NASA expects to absorb $7.8 billion in unanticipated costs, including the

return-to-flight expenses; $300 million for reinstating the planned 2008 Hubble Space Telescope

servicing mission; $1 billion in congressional earmarks; $2.4 billion in

shuttle retirement costs; and $1.4 billion in

space station support costs.

“The cumulative effects of the $11.7 billion in reductions and costs absorbed within NASA’s budget since the Vision for Space Exploration was announced is the overriding reason why NASA cannot develop the Orion/Ares 1 by 2014 and can afford only those robotic lunar missions absolutely necessary to support future human exploration activities,” the chart says.

Intelsat General To Provide Satellite Capacity to NOAA

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

awarded a contract potentially

worth nearly $3.9 million to Intelsat General Corp. of Bethesda, Md., to provide

satellite capacity

that will help

the agency

distribute Earth observation data to government users and the general public,

NOAA said in a Sept. 24 news release


John Leslie, a NOAA spokesman, said

the contract has a base value of $225,500 over

one year. NOAA will initially purchase two megabits per second of

bandwidth, with options for expanding if requirements and funding are identified,

according to the news release. The contract also has options that could extended it four more years, the release said.

Harris Wins Contract To Support DMSP Program

Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., will provide engineering and ground-system support for the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) under a U.S. Air Force contract potentially worth $10.7 million, the company said in a Sept. 25 press release.


contract has

a one-year base worth $2.2 million and

four one-year options, Harris spokesman Sleighton Meyer said


Harris also will provide support for the Air Force’s Coriolis satellite, whose WindSat instrument measures the speed and direction of the wind on the ocean surface, under the contract, the company said in the release.

Com Dev Eyes Market for Small Satellite Payloads

Satellite-component builder Com Dev of Canada, riding what it says is a multi

year tide of new investment in the global commercial-satellite business, wants to move up the food chain and ultimately build complete payloads for small satellites, Com Dev Chief Executive John Keating said.

Cambridge, Ontario

-based Com Dev International Ltd. is maintaining its forecast that the booming satellite business will help the company

increase its revenue

by 10 percent in 2007 despite the continued strength of the Canadian dollar.

Com Dev reported revenue

of 42.9 million Canadian dollars ($42.9

million) for the three months ending July 31.

Com Dev builds payload components for satellites and has established regular-customer relationships with most of the big U.S. and European satellite prime contractors. The company says few U.S. or European telecommunications satellites are built without at least some Com Dev content, making Com Dev a bellwether for the global commercial-satellite sector.

In a Sept. 13 conference call with investors, Keating said Com Dev estimates that 29 geostationary-orbiting telecommunications satellites will be ordered in 2007 by commercial and government customers. He said the final figure may differ depending on the date of contract signatures, but that the trend upward is unmistakable. Twenty-two of these satellites are to replace spacecraft nearing retirement, while the rest are for new applications or for capacity for start-up satellite operators.

Space News’ annual tally of commercial contracts totaled 27 geostationary-orbiting telecommunications satellites ordered in 2006, a figure that does not include sales to

the U.S. Defense Department or other governments. By Com Dev’s count, 26 geostationary telecommunications satellites were ordered in 2006.

“The commercial side is staying strong,” Keating said. “On the commercial side, we have work or expect work on all but one of the satellites ordered so far this year.

To meet the new demand, Com Dev is expanding its Cambridge plant and recently purchased a vacant building in El Segundo, Calif., and is converting it for satellite-payload manufacturing as part of Com Dev USA.

As it has gained strength in a growing market, Com Dev has gradually broadened its portfolio in the past few years, going from a builder of individual payload components to payload subsystems.

Company officials said

they now are considering the next step – building full satellite payloads – in a way that would not compete with their current customer base.

Keating said a growing worldwide interest in small satellites could give Com Dev a market opening that would not bother the big satellite prime contractors.

“It’s a totally different economic model,” Keating said of the business of building small satellites. “The price levels are below the level that interests Boeing, Lockheed Martin and [Space Systems/Loral].”

Comtech Unit To Develop High-Speed WGS Modem

Comtech EF Data Corp. of Tempe, Ariz., won

a $5.3 million U.S. Air Force contract to develop a high-speed modem for use with the service’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) communications satellites,

parent company Comtech of Melville, N.Y., said in a Sept. 18 press release


The High Data Rate Radio Frequency ground modem

will support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks, the release said.

Raytheon will develop a competing modem under a separate

contract, Comtech EF Data

President Bob McCullum said in a Sept. 26 phone interview. The Air Force is not slated to make a determination on the production contract until another couple years, he said.

The Air Force is slated to launch its first Wideband Global satellite later this year.

ISU Auction on eBay To Raise Scholarship Funds

The International Space University (ISU) will conduct an auction on eBay of space items and services beginning Oct. 4, the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1. The items include what ISU describes as a “museum quality Sputnik 1 replica,” the opportunity to fly a 1-kilogram payload in space aboard a Russian spacecraft, lunch with former astronauts in various locations, space art and items autographed by astronauts. All proceeds from the auction will be used for ISU scholarship funds.

More information on the auction can be found at:

European Space Center To Continue Station Support

NASA awarded the

European Space Agency’s

Space Technology Center

a two-year contract extension worth $27.5 million for

engineering services supporting

the international space station’s Node 2 and Node 3 modules, the U.S. space agency said in a Sept. 25 press release.

Node 2, slated for launch Oct. 23 on the space shuttle mission STS-120, will be a passageway between three science modules:

the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module, Europe’s

Columbus Laboratory and the U.S. Destiny Laboratory. Node 3 will be a hub for the space station’s cupola and the habitation module.

Alcatel Alenia Space Italia of Torino, Italy, is the prime contractor on both nodes.

The extension,

which increases the

contract value to $49.5 million, stems from modifications to the station’s assembly manifest and other

requirements, according to the release.

Lockheed Martin Ships Chassis for Third AEHF

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., delivered the chassis structure for the U.S. Air Force’s third Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure communications satellite Sept. 14 to its principal industrial partner on the program, Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif.

The module will house the satellite’s Northrop Grumman-built electronics payload, the Air Force said in a Sept. 17 press release.

Northrop Grumman has begun

integration of the payload components and will ship the assembly

back to Lockheed Martin in March 2009

for integration with the satellite’s propulsion system


Northrop Grumman

is continuing work on integrating the payload for the second AEHF satellite, which is on track to

be returned to Lockheed Martin in

March 2008.

The three AEHF satellites are scheduled for launch in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and defense spending bills for 2008 now making their way through Congress indicate a fourth satellite is likely to be funded and possibly a fifth.

RT Logic To Demonstrate Wideband Modem for NASA

RT Logic of Colorado Springs, Colo., will demonstrate the applicability of its latest wideband satellite modem to a NASA effort to upgrade its Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System ground network under a contract with Honeywell Technology Solutions, RT Logic parent company Integral Systems announced Sept. 17.

Honeywell made the award in its capacity as prime contractor on the Near Earth Networks Services program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.


contract is worth approximately $1 million, Jim Brandt, RT Logic business area director,

said in a Sept. 19 phone message.

RT Logic

will demonstrate its Telemetrix 1200


for Goddard in January, Brandt said. Goddard i

s looking to replace its current K-band modems with modems capable of transmitting data at speeds of up to 1.5 gigabits per second, Integral said in its press release.

ATK To Study Replacing Precision Strike Motors

AlliantTechsystems (ATK) will

evaluate possible replacements for the aging Minotaur rocket motors for

the U.S. Air Force’s Conventional Ballistic Missile Prompt Global Strike program under a nine-month study contract awarded by the service, the company said.

The motors, taken


U.S. Peacekeeper ICBMs


were decommissioned in the 1990s, have been converted for other uses under the Minotaur program. ATK built the SR-118 and SR-120 motors and continues to evaluate their readiness for flight. The company also provides readiness evaluation for the SR-119.

Since many

of them are more than 20-years-old, the Air Force will pay ATK roughly $1 million to study their effective lifespan and recommend affordable

replacement options from the company’s

existing fleet of solid-rocket motors.

Lockheed To Build GOES-R Solar Storm Warning Sensor

Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif., will build a solar radiation warning sensor for the next generation of U.S. geostationary-orbiting weather satellites under a $178 million contract awarded by NASA in coordination with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agencies announced Sept. 24 in separate press releases.

The Solar Ultraviolet Imager will provide advance warning of solar disturbances including flares whose radiation can harm satellites and other sensitive electronic machinery, NASA and NOAA said. The instrument will fly aboard the upcoming Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite series, known as GOES-R.

NOAA is funding the GOES-R program and will operate the satellites; NASA is managing the instrument acquisition. The first GOES-R satellite is scheduled to launch in December 2014.

The contract includes a firm order for one Solar Ultraviolet Imager and options for three more for a total potential value of $178 million, NASA said.

The instrument “will allow us to continually monitor solar and geophysical disturbances and issue real-time alerts and warnings to customers like commercial satellite operators and NASA,” Tom Bodgan, director of the NOAA Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo., said in a prepared statement.

The Solar Ultraviolet Imager will continue the measurements taken by the Lockheed Martin-built Solar X-Ray Imager aboard the current-generation GOES-N series of satellites, according to NOAA’s news release.

Integral Systems Is No Longer for Sale

Satellite control software provider Integral Systems Inc. has taken itself off the market

, the Lanham, Md.-based company said in a Sept. 25 press release.

The company

had been actively seeking to be acquired

since 2006.

Integral also said William Bambarger

will replace William Lewis

as its

chief financial officer. Lewis

resigned as the interim chief financial officer

Sept. 25.

Constellation Services Eyes Atlas 5 Launcher

Constellation Services International Inc. (CSI), a start-up firm that bid unsuccessfully for a contract under

NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program

last year, announced Sept. 24

that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Denver-based United Launch Alliance to study the feasibility of launching the company’s

proposed LEO Express cargo canister on Atlas 5 rockets.

proposed cargo canister is based on the Russian Progress supply vehicle and in fact would rely on a separately launched Progress to rendezvous with LEO Express and guide it back to the international space station for unloading.

CSI Chief Executive Charles Miller said LEO Express, by making extensive use of flight-proven technologies, could be ready to enter service as soon as 2009 and eliminate any gap in space station cargo delivery when the space shuttle is retired the following year.

announcement comes as NASA contemplates conducting a second COTS competition for roughly $175 million in funding that soon could become available if the agency terminates its COTS agreement with RocketplaneKistler. NASA notified the Oklahoma City-based company in late August that it was in breach

of its COTS agreement for failure to raise matching funds.

Miller declined to comment on CSI’s COTS proposal strategy.

General Dynamics SATCOM Awarded WIN-T Contract

General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies of Newton, N.C., nabbed

a $24 million contract to provide satellite communications terminals and support services to the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, according to a Sept. 24 company press release.

Under the base contract, General Dynamics will provide 33 Satellite Transportable Terminals and two Unit Hub SATCOM Trucks in support of Increment One of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) program, formerly known as the Joint Network Node-Network. Contract options could pay General Dynamics as much as $721 million to provide as many as 1,233 terminals and 44 hub trucks over four years.

WIN-T Increment One will be used by soldiers in the field to access a secure communications network to transmit and receive

video, voice and high-bandwidth data.

NGA Breaks Ground on Consolidated Facility

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) broke ground Sept. 25 on a new home at the Engineer

Proving Ground at

Fort Belvoir, Va.,

that will consolidate three local facilities when it opens in 2011, according to an agency press release.

The consolidation of the NGA’s

Washington area facilities was ordered in 2005 by the U.S. Defense Department’s independent Base Realignment and Closure commission. They

include the NGA’s

Bethesda, Md., headquarters

, which will be turned back to the U.S. Army; the


Washington Navy Yard site, which will be returned to the General Services Administration; and a leased facility in

Reston, Va.

The 216,000-square-meter

facility at Fort Belvoir is expected to cost some $1.4 billion.

The two other NGA facilities in St. Louis and Arnold, Mo., will not be affected by the relocation but will be critical to assuring continuity for the agency during the move, the press release said.


Awarded Work on Air-Launched Interceptor

Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., will develop the steering thruster system for a planned air-launched missile interceptor under a $3.5 million contract awarded by Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., Aerojet said in a Sept. 17 press release.

Raytheon is the prime contractor on the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Network Centric Airborne Defense Element (NCADE) missile defense program.

The NCADE program is intended to develop

a steerable, fighter jet-launched interceptor capable of destroying missiles

as large as North Korea’s Taepodong-2 ICBM and

as small as 7 meters tall, according to Ronald Spore, Aerojet’s NCADE program manager. The system is designed to


missiles with an infrared sensor and adjust its course with four directional thrusters located at its front end

, he



Costs Expected To Drop As Ka-Band Era Opens

The coming generation of Ka-band spot-beam satellites will usher in huge reductions in the cost to a satellite operator of delivering a megahertz of capacity to customers, ViaSat Inc. Chief Executive Mark Dankberg said.

Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat builds satellite terminals and recently booked an order for 500,000 terminals from consumer-broadband provider WildBlue Communications of Denver.

But Dankberg said the satellites currently used by WildBlue and its competitor, Hughes Network Systems, will soon seem as outdated as a dial-up Internet connection with the advent of large new spacecraft.

“You can easily imagine a cost of $200 per megahertz of capacity for a satellite operator because that’s pretty much here today,” Dankberg said. “Now think of the business model if that goes down to $20. Now think about $2: What would you do as a satellite operator if the price was $2 per megahertz? We think this is going to cause changes in not only the consumer market, but throughout the satellite sector.”

ViaSat recently signed a contract with satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat to deliver

several thousand WildBlue-type terminals for Eutelsat’sTooway consumer-broadband service, which debuted in Europe in September. Paris-based Eutelsat

will test the service using unused Ka-band capacity on one of its Hot Bird direct-broadcast television satellites and is expected to order an all-Ka-band spacecraft later this year.

Neither of the world’s two largest satellite-fleet operators, SES of Luxembourg and Intelsat of Bermuda, have decided to secure Ka-band capacity, although Intelsat is a shareholder in WildBlue and SES has its own Ku-band consumer-broadband product, called Astra2Home, in Europe.

said he could think of only two reasons why companies like SES and Intelsat are not ordering large Ka-band satellites. The first reason, he said, is that these companies want to protect their profitable relationships with satellite-television broadcasters. A 10- or 20-fold reduction in bandwidth might upset this relationship, he said.

The second reason is that satellite operators tend to want to control the technical transmission standards that they use, causing them to delay introduction of new systems until a standard of their own choosing has won industry acceptance.


Executive Dismisses Talk of Merger with HNS

Satellite-terminal provider Gilat Satellite Networks of Israel, which dodged a bullet earlier this decade when its business foundered, has returned to profitability and growth and sees no convincing argument that would favor a merger with its larger competitor, Hughes Network Systems (HNS), according to DoronElinav, Gilat’s director of strategic marketing.

The Israeli satellite-systems provider has largely abandoned the consumer-oriented market it had pioneered with the StarBand service in the United States. The company now is focused on higher-margin

work for government and enterprise satellite networks, and on equipment sales.

Industry officials have said U.S.-based Hughes has been considering

a possible purchase of Gilat. Hughes officials have declined to comment, and Elinav also declined to speculate on whether such a deal is being discussed. But he did address the general pros and cons of such a buyout.

“Both companies are viable in the current market,” Elinav said. “We do not have a situation where one is not growing and the other is. But there is a difference in focus. Hughes is moving toward the consumer market in the United States. Gilat is mixed, both an equipment vendor and a provider of networks for enterprise and government markets. I am not sure that having a merger of these two businesses would be good for them.”

conceded that a merged company would be able to achieve synergies and economies by combining production lines.

For now, he said, Gilat is posting double-digit revenue growth and increasing profitability.

Digital Cinema Opens Narrow Door for Satellite Services

The advent of digital cinema has created an opening for satellite delivery to theatres but the business model is less promising than it might appear, according to Joe Hart, vice president of worldwide distribution of Technicolor Digital Cinema.

The idea, which was tested in the late 1990s by Boeing before that company’s decision to exit the business, is that sending large digital files of major movies for simultaneous release to hundreds of theatres could ease handling and storage issues and go a long way toward eliminating cinema piracy.

Hart said major film directors and production companies are warming to the idea of shooting films in digital format but that other realities of film distribution remain a hurdle to widespread satellite distribution.

Hart said the average digital movie is about 2 terabytes in size. Even after compression, it’s still 200 gigabytes, a large package that needs to be sent to theatres and stored on site.

The problem for satellite delivery is that it works only if hundreds of cinemas are showing the film on the same day because of satellite-transmission charges. “It takes nine to 14 hours to send a feature-length film over satellite,” Hart said. “I can do

it by overnight delivery for $10.”

He said even the most popular films are sent to no more than 30-40 percent of the theatres in a given region.

“I need a certain number of locations before it’s reasonable for me to send by satellite,” Hart said. “The threshold is about 120 locations. At that level or more, I’ll do it by satellite.”

Despite these limitations, Technicolor Digital Cinema has become a regular customer for VSAT network operators because individual cinemas can import specific language or region-specific features that can be layered onto the film.

The same is true for the advertising videos shown before the film. These are tailored to each region and are sent by satellite link to theatres, he said.

“When I came into the business people hoped satellite delivery would be the Swiss Army knife-type solution to digital cinema,” Hart said. “It is not a magic solution; it is a tool in our toolbox.”

Hart said the fight against cinema piracy is being aided by digital cinema, which makes it easier to add special marks to a film that are easily detected on pirated copies.


Greek MoD Picks AstriumTo Build Satellite Facility

Astrium Satellites will build a satellite tasking and image-reception facility to permit the Greek

Ministry of Defense (MoD) to use the French-led Helios optical and infrared reconnaissance satellites under a contract announced Sept. 26.

The addition of Greece, which has taken a 2.5 percent ownership stake in France’s Helios-2 system, brings to six the number of nations that will have their own Helios tasking and image-reception facilities.

The others are

France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Germany. The Greek facility is scheduled to enter operation in late 2009.

In a separate contract with the French arms procurement agency, DGA, Astrium and its sister company, EADS Defence and Security, will design, build and maintain an image-exploitation facility at a French air force facility in Creil, France.

The Creil facility is called Pharos, a French acronym for Host Portal for Access to Satellite Intelligence. It will allow French defense authorities to collect imagery from France’s optical spacecraft and radar satellites operated by Italy and Germany, as well as products from civil and commercial spacecraft.

BAE Begins Construction On Armed Unmanned UAV

BAE Systems of Samlesbury, U.K., has begun construction of the airframe for an armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for the U.K. Ministry of Defense, according to a Sept. 24 company news release.

The Taranis UAV, which is named after the Celtic God of Thunder, is an experimental system intended to help the Ministry of Defenc

refine its approach to missions like deep strike and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, according to the news release. BAE won a

124 million British pound ($251 million) contract to build the system in December 2006.

Ground testing is slated to start in early 2009, followed by initial flight-testing in 2010, according to the news release.

Mark Kane, managing director of autonomous systems and future capability for BAE Systems, hailed the Taranis effort in the news release as having the potential to provide benefits to the United Kingdom for

the next two decades.

Taranis is one of the most important defence projects currently underway,” Kane said in the release. “It makes use of at least 10 years of research into low observables, systems integration, control infrastructure and full autonomy. It builds on a number of successes with risk reduction programmes and it harnesses a range of new skills acquired around rapid engineering.”

General Atomics Gets Order for 10 Predators

The U.S. Air Force awarded a contract modification to General Atomics of San Diego

Sept. 25 to build 10 more Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), according to a Pentagon contract announcement.

The contract also covers other costs including spare parts and installation of the Hellfire missiles that arm the UAV, according to the Pentagon contract announcement.

No. 2 Official at MDA Receives 2nd Star

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, deputy director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), received his second star at a ceremony at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.,

Sept. 21.

O’Reilly, who had previously served as the program manager for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System, will continue in his current roles as the No. 2

official at MDA, according to Pam Rogers, a spokeswoman for the agency.