NASA UAV Aids Firefighters In Mapping Calif. Fires

NASA is using its own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to assist firefighters battling the raging wildfires

in Southern California at the behest of the California Office of Emergency Services and the National Interagency Fire Center,

, a modified Predator B, was launched

from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., according to an Oct. 24 NASA press release.

Remotely controlled by pilots from Dryden, the UAV

carries a thermal-infrared imaging system, developed by NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., capable of seeing through the

dense smoke produced by the fires. The images are processed and then transmitted via

a commercial communications satellite to Ames where the image is combined with Google Earth maps. The combined image then is sent to the interagency fire center in Boise, Idaho, where it is provided to fire incident commanders.

Meanwhile, NASA satellites and the space shuttle also were busy gathering

images of the wildfires between Los Angeles and San Diego, an Oct. 24 NASA press release said. The satellite images were obtained Oct. 23 from the agency’s Terra and Aqua Earth remote sensing spacecraft.

The Space Shuttle Discovery, which launched Oct. 23, sent a video feed of the fires and posted it on the NASA Web site. Commercial satellite image provider DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo. also released photographs of the fires from its QuickBird satellite.

NGA Report: ITAR

Hurting Remote Sensing Industry

A newly released report commissioned by the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and National Reconnaissance Office says the current International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) governing satellite technology exports are hurting the global competitiveness of the U.S. satellite remote sensing industry.

The regulations restrict the ability of U.S. vendors to sell certain types of satellites and components to foreign countries or companies, and U.S. government business alone is not enough to keep these suppliers “economically healthy,” said the report, prepared by intelligence consultant Peter Marino, chairman of the NGA Advisory Group.

“The panel is aware that there are two initiatives underway that are reassessing ITAR policies and regulations,” the report, dated July 16 and released Oct. 23, said. “We strongly urge that the findings of this panel inform those activities.”

Reduced Capabilities Planned For 1st Space Radar Satellite

The U.S. Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) likely will scale back the planned capabilities of its first Space Radar satellite in order to reduce technical risks and costs with an eye toward winning congressional approval of the surveillance system, according to a senior NRO official.

Air Force Maj. Gen. John “Tom” Sheridan, the NRO’s deputy director and system program director

for Space Radar

, said the new plan will be formally presented to Congress with the submission early next year of the 2009 budget request. He said the initial satellite still would represent a “significant” operational capability.

The Space Radar program, which is intended to be as responsive to the needs of military forces in the field as to the strategic and intelligence community in Washington, has struggled to win congressional approval due to concerns among lawmakers that the system will cost more and deliver less capability than advertised. The program’s budget is classified.

F-22 Workers Assigned To Resolve SBIRS Glitch

Lockheed Martin has transferred staff from its F-22 Raptor fighter-jet program to help solve software-related glitches in the next-generation U.S. missile-warning satellite program, concluding that the current satellite problems resemble past issues encountered in F-22 development, Lockheed Martin Chief Financial Officer Bruce L. Tanner said Oct. 23.

In a conference call reporting the company’s third-quarter financial results, Tanner said Lockheed Martin is hopeful the software problems that threaten to delay that program, the U.S. Defense Department’s Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS), will be solved quickly.

“We did have an issue with some software elements of the spacecraft,” Tanner said. “It turns out that we’ve actually experienced some of the same sorts of software issues, believe it or not, in the development of the F-22 mission processor and the software that goes on that aircraft.

“We’ve made that connection. As we think broadly about the horizontal integration aspects of the corporation, we’re actually bringing some talent from those folks who did that at F-22, and [utilizing] these people to help the SBIRS contract going forward. I’m hoping we can make some good progress and bring that to resolution quickly.”

In the latest in a series of program delays, testing of the first SBIRS satellite uncovered defects in its software that prevent the satellite from automatically going into a safe mode in orbit once one of its major systems encounters a problem. An unidentified U.S. government satellite failed in orbit when it did not transition to safe mode, according to a Sept. 26 memo from U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne to John Young, acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition. The scheduled early-2009 launch of the first SBIRS satellite might

slip by several months, Wynne said.

Tanner said the ongoing SBIRS issue is one of several reasons why Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin is forecasting that its Space Systems division’s revenue in 2008 will be flat compared to 2007. He said the revenue is expected to come in at around $8 billion in both of those years. But the Space Systems division’s pretax profit should be higher in 2008, Tanner said.

Boeing and Lockheed Both Take 3Q Writeoffs on ULA

Boeing and Lockheed Martin both reported increased revenue in their space divisions for the nine months ending Sept. 30 compared to 2006, but both also said their earnings were reduced by write-downs of the value of Delta 2 rocket assets held by United Launch Alliance (ULA), which the two companies own jointly.

Indications from the U.S. Air Force are that it will discontinue the use of Delta 2 after 2008 in favor of the heavier Delta 4 and Atlas 5 rockets. If that decision holds, an industry source said, it will sharply increase the cost of Delta 2 vehicles, because the cost of manufacturing the vehicle and maintaining two launch sites will be spread over a smaller population of customers.

It remains unclear whether NASA or other Delta 2 users will agree to the new price structure. That increased

the likelihood that the Delta 2 inventory will be either left unsold, or will be sold at a loss, resulting in the charge against third-quarter earnings that both companies announced.

“ULA has deemed some of those Delta 2 assets as impaired, and reported a loss in the quarter,” Lockheed Martin Chief Financial Officer Bruce L. Tanner said in an Oct. 23 conference call with investors.

Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin reported that the charge had only a minor effect on the Space Systems division’s results. Division sales for the nine months ending Sept. 30 were up 3 percent, to $6.08 billion. Operating profit was up 11.5 percent, to $622 million, as Lockheed Martin better performance in its satellite and missiles businesses, offsetting the decline in the space transportation division.

Boeing Chief Financial Officer James Bell, in an Oct. 24 conference call, said Boeing took a $94 million charge against its third-quarter earnings because of the Delta 2 issue. Bell said the write-down followed an assessment by ULA that it could not sell its Delta 2 inventory for as much as the hardware’s previous book value.

Part of the write-down at Boeing was for solid-rocket booster segments and engines that were transferred to ULA with assurances that Boeing would guarantee their sale at certain prices that are now viewed as beyond reach.

“If the U.S. Air Force is out of the Delta 2 business at the end of 2008, that makes the Delta 2 market suddenly very thin,” said one industry official. “That makes the unit cost of Delta 2 go way up.”

At Boeing, the $94 million charge in the third quarter reduced the Integrated Defense Systems’ operating profit margin by 0.4 percentage points, to 10.4 percent.

But Integrated Defense Systems nonetheless improved its overall operating profit margin to 10.4 percent for the nine months ending Sept. 30. The division’s revenue, at $23.7 billion for the period, were up 4 percent from a year ago.

China Launches Its First Spacecraft to the Moon

China successfully launched its first lunar orbiter, Chang’e-1, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, aboard a Chinese Long March 3A rocket Oct. 24. The European Space Agency (ESA) is providing the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) with spacecraft and ground operations support for the mission, according to an Oct 24 ESA press release


The 2,350-kilogram lunar probe, a stepping stone for China to send robots to the Moon before 2020, has four goals during its yearlong mission.

From a circular orbit of just 200 kilometers Chang’e-1 will map the lunar surface in three dimensions. It also will analyze the abundance of up to 14 different elements in the lunar surface material known as regolith, measure soil depth and analyze the space weather in the area between Earth and the Moon.

SMART-1 mission provided China with details about the spacecraft’s telemetry so they could fine tune their tracking procedures.


Global Redesigns Suborbital Spacecraft

Global, Inc. (RGI) of Oklahoma City

unveiled a new design for its planned commercial suborbital space plane during festivities Oct. 26 at the X Prize Cup at Holloman Air Force Base, N.



Since 2004, Rocketplane has been planning for the XP Spaceplane to be a four-seat, fighter-sized vehicle powered by two jet engines and a rocket engine. The revised XP Spaceplane design revealed Oct

. 26 is a five-passenger, one pilot vehicle.

Company officials said the new design – based on computer modeling and wind tunnel tests – led to a new shape for the vehicle they have dubbed the XP Spaceplane. The changes include a set of fixed canards on the nose of the business jet-sized aircraft, which were added for control purposes; a T-tail instead of a V-tail; reduced weight and a beefier landing gear system to be provided by Loud Engineering & Manufacturing, a Circor Aerospace company located in Ontario, Calif


Another major change is the adoption of afterburning J-85 engines manufactured by Magellan Aerospace

of Winnipeg, Canada, to increase thrust, said Dave Faulkner, program manager of Rocketplane Global.

In total, the changes are intended to make the XP Spaceplane a more powerful craft that provides more room for the customers who will pay for rides into suborbital space, Faulkner said.

Balloon Carries Solar Telescope In Test Flight

A solar telescope was lofted to an altitude of more than 36,000 meters by a balloon larger than a Boeing 747, as part of a successful Oct. 3 test flight from Fort Sumner, N.M. Ten hours after take off, the gondola, which housed the telescope, detached from the balloon and landed in Dalhart, Texas.

Project Sunrise, which is slated to begin launching solar telescopes on polar balloons in 2009, is designed to examine the sun’s magnetic fields. Those magnetic fields might affect solar storms that damage telecommunications and power systems on Earth.

Project Sunrise is a collaboration between the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), NASA, Swedish Space Corp., Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics, and Spain’s Astrophysics Institute, which is located in the Canary Islands.

“We hope to unlock important mysteries about the Sun’s magnetic field structures, which at times can cause electromagnetic storms in our upper atmosphere and may have an impact on Earth’s climate,” Michael Knlker, director of NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory, said in a prepared statement.

Glowlink, TCS Get $8 Million Deal To Manage, WGS Support

Now that the first Wideband Global Satcom satellite is in orbit, TeleCommunication Systems Inc. (TCS) and Glowlink Communications Technology Inc. will manage spectrum for it

and also continue service support for the Defense Satellite Communications System.

The three-year contract to both companies

with the Wideband Control Program Management Defense Communications and Army Transmission System authority based at Ft. Monmouth, N.J., is worth approximately $8 million, according to an Oct. 18 press release from both companies.

of Los Altos, Calif., is providing software for the spectrum management – a procedure that helps improve bandwidth efficiency by streamlining transmissions and locating problems,

Tim Lorello, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for TCS, said in an Oct. 23 phone interview.

The three-year contract began

in October

and is a follow-on deal

to a $700,000, 12-month contract TCS announced in January

for spectrum management services that will be conducted at two Wideband Global operations centers, which

manages both the new WGS system

and the existing

Defense Satellite Communications System satellites.

Like the original contract, the current award was made under the World-Wide Satellite Systems contracting vehicle, for which Annapolis, Md.-based TCS is one of six participating companies. The other companies are Boeing Co. of Chicago, Globecomm Systems Inc. of Hauppage, N.Y., General Dynamics Corp of Falls Church, Va., DataPath of Duluth, Ga., and D & S Consultants Inc. of Eatonstown, N.J.

Alliance Spacesystems Delivers Robot-Arm

Pasadena, Calif.-based Alliance Spacesystems has delivered a robot arm for a spacecraft designed to service other spacecraft in orbit.

The Engineering Development Unit of a robotic arm was developed for the Front-end Robotics Enabling Near-term Demonstration (FREND) program, a spacecraft being developed by the Naval Research Laboratory and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The robotic unit’s electronic system was built by Broad Reach Engineering of Boulder, Colo., according to an Oct. 20 Alliance press release.

The FREND program’s goal is to improve the longevity and operability of geosynchronous-orbiting commercial and military spacecraft.

Ultimately Alliance will supply FREND’s robotic grappling system and the corresponding electronics. The flight hardware

will have seven degrees of freedom and be capable of grappling spacecraft with or without FREND-customized interfaces.

Senior FCC Advisor Picked To Lead SIA

The Satellite Industry Association,

which represents satellite manufacturing and service companies, has selected Patricia Cooper to be its new executive director. The selection of Cooper, a senior advisor for satellite competition at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), marks what one industry observer called a return to the “core mission” of the association – influencing how commercial satellites are regulated.

Cooper was selected after several months of discussion among the association’s board members as to how senior an industry figure the new director should be, what expertise the new director should have and exactly what qualities the association should require in its job description, said two sources familiar with the process.

Boeing Taps Hyslop as GMD Program Director

Boeing Co. has named Greg Hyslop to serve as vice president and program director for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, according to a Boeing official.

, who previously served as vice president and program director of the Airborne Laser (ABL) effort, replaces Scott Fancher, who was recently promoted to serve as vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems. Prior to running the GMD effort, Fancher had overseen ABL.

Mike Rinn, the deputy ABL program manager, will serve as acting ABL program director until a permanent replacement is named, according to the Boeing official.

ATV Engine Successful in In-Orbit Reignition Test

An in-orbit test to confirm that the upper-stage Aestus engine of Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket could perform the multiple re

required to launch the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo vehicle has been judged a success, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Oct. 22.

The Aestus engine was reignited in orbit

Oct. 5 some 54 minutes after two commercial telecommunications satellites had been delivered to their correct transfer orbits by the Ariane 5 vehicle.

Under normal commercial operations, the Aestus stage is fired only once, following the separation of Ariane 5’s cryogenic main stage.

ESA and the French and German space agencies had verified the reignition capability at the Lampoldshausen, Germany, test stand operated by the German Aerospace Center, DLR.

Toni Tolker-Nielsen, ESA’sAriane program manager, said in an Oct. 23 interview that the ground tests had been sufficiently convincing to permit a go-ahead for the ATV launch even without an in-orbit confirmation.

But with ATV’s launch date delayed to January, the availability of the Aestus engine following an Arianespace commercial mission was seized on to confirm the ground-test results. The Aestus engine was used for the Oct. 5 Arianespace mission because the two telecommunications satellite customers were below the total weight that would have required the use of the standard cryogenic engine used in the Ariane 5 ECA configuration.

-Nielsen said ground teams were

interested particularly in confirming that the Aestus engine’s temperature remained within the relatively tight limits even after its 54-minute coast period.

For an ATV flight, the Aestus engine will perform an

8-minute burn to place the ATV cargo vehicle into an elliptical orbit of 136 kilometers by 260 kilometers. After a 48-minute coast phase, it will ignite for 30 seconds to circularize the orbit at 260 kilometers. It will then shut down, release ATV and then reignite to place itself in position to be burned up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Mexican Oil Company Inks Radarsat Imagery Deal

Mexico’s oil-production company, PetroleosMexicanos (Pemex) has contracted with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) of Canada to purchase Radarsat and Radarsat-2 satellite imagery for five years under a multimillion-dollar contract, MDA announced Oct. 24.

Under the contract, Pemex will use Radarsat imagery to monitor oil spills and naturally occurring oil seeps in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil seeps can be used to aid in the search for new oil deposits.

has been using Radarsat data since 2001. Radarsat-2 is scheduled for launch in the coming weeks aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket operated from the BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Last Four 1st-Generation GlobalstarSats Launched

Four Globalstar mobile-telephone satellites

successfully were placed into orbit

Oct. 21 aboard a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket operated from the Russian-run BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan, launch-services provider Starsem S.A. and Globalstar Inc. said.

Milpitas, Calif.-based Globalstar said it had confirmed the satellites’ initial health in orbit. Testing will continue for several weeks before the new spacecraft are integrated into Globalstar’s existing constellation of

40 to

44 functioning satellites.

Four identical Globalstar satellites were launched by a Starsem-provided Soyuz-Fregat rocket in May. These satellites and the four launched Oct. 21 are the last of the first-generation Globalstar satellites, built by a contracting team led by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and ThalesAlenia Space of France and Italy.

officials have said the eight fresh satellites should improve service to Globalstar’s subscribers. The performance of Globalstar’s existing satellites is degrading, and the company has said it might

lose much of its ability to provide two-way voice communications sometime in 2008, forcing it to rely on data links until the second-generation Globalstar constellation is launched beginning in mid-2009.

The 48 second-generation satellites are being built by ThalesAlenia Space, with launches scheduled to be performed by Soyuz rockets operated from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Commercial Soyuz launches from Baikonur are conducted by Starsem of Evry, France, a French-Russian joint venture company in which the Arianespace launch consortium is a shareholder. The Soyuz rocket to be launched from the Guiana Space Center in 2009 will be operated by Arianespace.

NASA’s Glenn Donates Wind Tunnel to Kent State

NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, donated a wind tunnel to the


program at

Kent State University’s College of Technology

, Isaac Richmond Nettey, associate senior academic program director of aeronautics, said in an Oct. 24 e-mail.

The tabletop-size wind tunnel will provide instructional support in the aircraft design, applied flight dynamics and aircraft structures courses at the Kent, Ohio-based university.

“The wind tunnel provides an important practical tool to support the educational efforts of the aeronautics program and student learning,” Nettey said in a prepared statement.

Eutelsat Projects 5.5% Annual Growth Through 2010

Satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat expects its revenue

to grow by more than 5.5 percent per year on average between now and 2010, a period during which its capital spending on new satellites will average 420 million euros ($600.94 million) per year, Eutelsat said Oct. 23.

The Paris-based company, which is the world’s third-largest fixed satellite services fleet operator, said revenue

for the three months ending Sept. 30 totaled 211.9 million euros, a 6.2 percent increase over the same period a year earlier.


grew by 8.3 percent before factoring in the decline of the U.S. dollar against the euro during the period, Eutelsat said. Some of the company’s contracts, including those with the U.S. Defense Department, are in dollars.

Video transmission remains Eutelsat’s principal business, accounting for 75 percent of revenue

. Eutelsat added 125 new television channels to its customer portfolio during the quarter, bringing the total to 2,733

as of

Sept. 30.

sells capacity on 34 commercial geostationary-orbiting satellites and has five satellites under construction and scheduled for launch in 2008-2009. A sixth satellite, providing Ka-band transmissions for consumer broadband links and video transmissions in Europe, is scheduled to be ordered in the coming months and to enter service by 2011.

With these new satellites, the company estimates that by mid-2010, it will have 630 operational transponders in orbit, up from 505 transponders currently, not counting the planned Ka-band satellite. The Ka-band spacecraft will add the equivalent of 86 transponders, according to Eutelsat.

In addition to the five satellites under construction and the Ka-band spacecraft to be contracted, Eutelsat will begin replacing spacecraft launched between 1998 and 2000 with fresh satellite orders before the end of 2010.

The company said that once it gets past this particularly heavy spending period, its capital expenditure will average 260 million euros per year, mainly to replace retiring satellites as needed. But Eutelsat

also is scouting

opportunities for

expansion by securing new orbital positions.

Eutelsat said its growth between now and 2010 will come at the expense of gross profit margins. EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, will remain at more than 77 percent of revenue

during the period, the company said.

Scott Large Tapped To Become New NRO Director

The U.S. Defense Department has appointed Scott Large to take over as director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), according to a Pentagon news release dated Oct. 19.

appointment to the post came with “concurrence” from the director of national intelligence, according to the news release.

Large, who has worked in the intelligence community for more than 20 years, previously served as the NRO’s principal deputy director, and recently as the director of source operations and management in the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.