European, U.S. Spacecraft Observe Pulsar Consume Nearby Star

The Integral space observatory operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer have observed a fast-spinning pulsar in a binary star system that is eating its companion to fuel its acceleration, ESA announced Sept. 6.

This is the first time scientists have been able to observe the process as it occurs, and supports the theory that certain fast-spinning pulsars achieve high acceleration by cannibalizing a nearby star.

Pulsars are spinning neutron stars, which are born when massive stars collapse. Their spin rate generally slows down after a few hundred-thousand years, unless the trend is reversed by fuel from a companion star.

The pulsar was discovered by Integral Dec. 2, 2004, when it flared during routine scans. NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Observer began collecting X-ray data the next day.

Deep Impact Mission Sheds Light on Comets

Scientists are continuing to learn more about the structure and content of comets based on data from the preplanned collision July 4 between the Impactor probe from NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft and the Comet Tempel 1.

Scientists report in the Sept. 9 issue of the journal Science that Tempel 1 has a very fluffy structure that is as weak as a bank of powder snow, and that the dust is held together by a weak gravity force. Researchers also reported the comet has what appear to be impact craters on its surface.

Meanwhile, an analysis of spectral data indicates Tempel 1 carries carbon-containing molecules, meaning organic material from comets could have been brought to Earth in its early history when collisions between celestial bodies were common.

Scientists also found that the comet’s interior is well shielded from solar heating, as the surface of the nucleus is so porous that heat is not easily conducted there. This suggests the material deep inside the comet, which could date back to the early days of the solar system, may be well preserved.

Orion Completes Tests of Methane-Fueled Thruster

Orion Propulsion has successfully completed the first round of tests on its 100-pound-thrust Oxygen/Methane RCS thruster, which could be used for long-term orbit missions or even an expedition to Mars, the company announced Sept. 1.

The new engine will qualify for a number of easily stored propellants, including propane-nitrous oxide, ethane-nitrous oxide and hydrogen-oxygen, the company said. The engine is reusable and environmentally friendly, Orion said.

Orion also said the company and HMX Inc., which develops and tests liquid- and hybrid-rocket engines, plan to jointly develop a product line based on the thruster that could be used for NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle.

Orion tested the engine at its facility near Huntsville, Ala., where it performed over 40 firings that totaled about 90 seconds of testing time.

Swe-Dish Introduces New Suitcase Terminal

Swe-Dish Satellite Systems of Sweden has introduced an upgraded version of its Suitcase small-sized satellite terminal with 30 percent more bandwidth capacity than the previous model, the company announced Sept. 5.

The Suitcase terminals have been updated with a 35-watt amplifier from the previous 25-watt version. The company said this upgrade will allow users to experience data rates of over 5 megabits per second, which will be especially useful for live broadcasting.

The company said Suitcase terminals are used by broadcasters, government organizations, and defense and rescue organizations.

Swe-Dish also announced Sept. 7 that it has opened an office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to meet growing demand in the Middle East.

Company to Consolidate Services at Vandenberg

United Paradyne Corp. will consolidate its support services to the U.S. Air Force’s 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., under a contract modification with the Pentagon worth nearly $7 million.

Santa Maria, Calif.-based United Paradyne provides three support services to the 30th Space Wing: unconventional propellant support, precision measurement equipment laboratory services, and aerospace ground equipment maintenance and transient aircraft maintenance. These services will be consolidated into one management entity called the Aerospace Maintenance Operations Center at Vandenberg, home to the 30th Space Wing.

The consolidation is set to be completed this month.

NASA Awards Space Grant Increase to Seven Consortia

NASA’s Office of Education has selected seven state consortia to each receive a $353,000 increase to existing awards under the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, which aims to spark student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, the space agency announced Sept. 1.

The one-time increase can be expended over a two-year period with at least $100,000 to be devoted towards scholarships and fellowships, NASA said.

The increases were awarded to the Space Grant consortia of Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and West Virginia.

The Space Grant program was mandated by Congress in 1987, and NASA awarded its first grants in 1989. There are 52 Space Grant consortia, one for each state and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Over 850 colleges and universities, companies, government and nonprofit organizations participate in the program.

Design Work Complete On New Goddard Facility

EwingCole, a Philadelphia-based architecture and engineering planning firm, announced Sept. 5 it has finished design work on the multimillion-dollar Exploration Sciences Building to be built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The new research facility will serve as the centerpiece of Goddard’s master plan for uniting its campus —- currently segmented into two separate areas — in order to consolidate related research activities . The building, which will house new chemistry, electronics and other research laboratories, also will meet environmental standards to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification.

EwingCole spokeswoman Rachelle Damminger would not disclose the value of the design contract with NASA or release information on the new facility’s construction timetable.

Recoverable Satellite Launched by China

China launched a recoverable satellite Aug. 29 aboard a Long March 2IV rocket from its Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern part of the country, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The satellite is in its proper orbit and operating normally, Xinhua said, citing the Xi’an Satellite Measuring and Control Center.

The FSW 22, China’s 22nd recoverable satellite, will be used for mapping and testing space technology, the news report said. China on Aug. 2 launched a similar spacecraft, dubbed FSW 21, Xinhua said in a separate report. That satellite was brought back to Earth by the Xi’an center the morning of Aug. 29 and was the 20th such spacecraft to be recovered, the report agency said.

The FSW 22 launch marked China’s 87th in 35 years, the 45th successful launch since October 1996 and the seventh flight of the two-stage Long March 2IV rocket, Xinhua said.

Unpiloted Aircraft Do Not Save Money, Studies Find

Recent studies indicate that the U.S. Air Force was wrong in its early assumption that unmanned aerial vehicles could serve as less-expensive alternatives to piloted military aircraft, senior service officials said Sept. 7.

Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, military deputy in the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said small drones that take quick pictures might be relatively inexpensive. But overall, the cost of the remote connectivity required by unmanned aircraft offsets the savings derived from taking people out of the cockpit, he said. The venue for the comments was a breakfast sponsored by the Air Force and the consulting firm DFI International.

Maj. Gen. Paul Fletcher, assistant deputy chief of staff of the Air Force for plans and programs, added that unmanned vehicles like the Predator have much higher crash rates than piloted aircraft.

Nonetheless, unmanned systems remain a key tool in the Air Force arsenal for high-risk missions over heavily defended airspace and for certain long-duration missions, Hoffman said.

Troops on the ground are becoming increasingly comfortable with data from the unmanned systems, at times shooing pilots away from areas that already have been scouted remotely, said Maj. Larry Gurgainous, Predator functional manager in the office of the deputy chief of staff of the Air Force for air and space operations.

Incumbent Contractors Can Play Role in Defeat

Companies struggling with complex space development programs in areas where they have little prior experience may need to turn to more seasoned contractors for help, Donald Kerr, director of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), said Sept. 1.

Kerr did not cite any specific programs, and the NRO’s portfolio is almost entirely classified, but the agency has long acknowledged Boeing Co.’s problems on a spy satellite program dubbed the Future Imagery Architecture. To win that contract, Boeing beat out Lockheed Martin, which has been building imaging spy satellites since the 1960s.

“Clearly, when you have an issue where the contractor doesn’t have the right domain experience you have to hire people or have a teaming arrangement to enable that — that’s an option that has to be looked at,” Kerr told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

However, such arrangements must be drawn up with caution to avoid one company raiding the personnel of another, Kerr said.

Kerr pointed to a 2003 report on space acquisition that found that incumbents often lose out to less-experienced rivals in competitions to build next-generation systems. This can lead to problems because “the new performer has a very steep learning curve,” he said.

The study, led by former Martin Marietta chief A. Thomas Young, said a non-incumbent often submits an unrealistically low bid because it does not factor in the cost of beginning work in an area where it does not have significant experience.

Young’s report, suggested the possibility of holding fewer competitions in cases where an incumbent is performing well.

Some competitions might not be necessary, but the Pentagon should not skip them out of convenience, Kerr said.

U.S. Agency Orders UAV For Border Surveillance

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has purchased its first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a $14.1 million order placed with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for a Predator B, according to a department spokesman.

The UAV will be operated and maintained by General Atomics personnel and be used for border surveillance and communications, according to a company news release dated Sept. 1. Robert Bonner, commissioner for Customs and Border Protection within DHS, said in a DHS news release that the Predator would be used to monitor the Arizona-Mexico border.

“The UAV technology will give us eyes where we previously didn’t have them,” Bonner said. “This improves our ability to deter, detect and apprehend individuals conducting illegal activity, including smugglers, terrorists and people attempting to illegally enter our country.”

Orbital Recovery Says it is Close To Signing Customer

Orbital Recovery Group of London expects to complete the preliminary design review of its satellite life-extension system this year and is in “very late-stage commercial negotiations” with a satellite-fleet operator for a 2008 inaugural mission, Orbital Recovery Chief Executive Phil Braden said.

Braden declined to name the potential customer, but industry officials said Orbital Recovery has been in negotiations with SingTel Optus of Australia for a mission involving one of that company’s aging satellites.

Using technology from the German Aerospace Center, DLR, and Dutch Space of The Netherlands, Orbital Recovery is designing a cone-shaped spacecraft, known as the ConeXpress Orbital Life Extension Vehicle, that would attach itself to an orbiting satellite, inject it with fuel and then separate. Braden said the maneuver could add 12 years of operational life to a satellite that otherwise would need to be placed into a graveyard orbit.

Braden declined to discuss Orbital Recovery’s finances beyond saying the company has received funding from the European Space Agency and DLR.

The vehicle is designed to fit at the bottom of the fairing of a European Ariane 5 rocket — beneath the vehicle’s principal satellite payloads during launch.

Satmex 6 To Be Refurbished In Time for 2006 Launch

The Satmex 6 telecommunications satellite has been returned to its manufacturer for refurbishment in time for a 2006 launch. The satellite after two years in storage was waiting for its owner to complete financing needed for its launch and insurance coverage, according to Satmex 6 owner Satelites Mexicanos S.A. de C.V. of Mexico City.

As part of an agreement between Satmex and its satellite manufacturer, Space Systems/Loral, Satmex 6 was flown to Loral’s Palo Alto, Calif., facility for retesting while Satmex continues its bankruptcy proceedings in Mexico.

Cynthia M. Pelini, Satmex chief financial officer, said Satmex has not yet determined whether it will accept the offer of its U.S. debtors to provide $55 million in cash to speed up the planned launch date for Satmex 6. The satellite is viewed as crucial for Satmex to return to profitability and prevent the erosion of its customer base by competitors in the still-difficult Latin American satellite transponder-lease market.

Pelini said in an interview that Satmex “is working hard to arrange financing for the launch and insurance so that we don’t have to take” the debtors’ money. As for launch insurance Pelini said the company will purchase as much insurance as it can, but that if it cannot afford full coverage then Satmex 6 will launch without full coverage.

The 5,500-kilogram satellite, with C- and Ku-band capacity for North and South America, is intended to be launched by the Arianespace consortium of Evry, France, aboard an Ariane 5 vehicle.

Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall told reporters Sept. 7 that Arianespace had confirmed to Satmex that a 2006 launch is possible — if the satellite arrives at Ariane’s Guiana Space Center launch base in French Guiana ready to go.

Pelini said Satmex is grateful to Arianespace for providing storage for Satmex 6 “at extremely reasonable prices” since late 2003.

Satmex’s entry into Mexican bankruptcy proceedings in June is likely to help end the stalemate between the Mexican government and Satmex’s U.S. creditors that has prevented Satmex 6 from moving toward launch.

Space-Insurance Capacity Expected to Increase 10%

Space-insurance capacity is likely to increase by at least 10 percent in 2006 as new underwriters are lured into the sector by continued high premiums and the positive net results reported by space insurers over the last three years, according to Stanislas Chapron, vice chairman of insurance broker Marsh S.A.

Chapron said the total amount of capacity devoted to the space industry by underwriters now is about $400 million. This capacity is never fully used on any single launch event — the largest recent coverage was a $300 million package — but is a gauge of underwriters’ interest in the sector.

With insurance rates for the launch of a satellite, plus one year of in-orbit life for the satellite, staying above 15 percent of insured value, new underwriting capacity totaling some $50 million is expected next year, Chapron said.

“The trend seems to be for capacity to increase,” Chapron said. “This is a good sign for all of us. There will be a tendency for good projects to have more competitive rates, and if the coverage sought by these projects stays in the range of $200 million to $300 million, there could be some reduction” in premiums.

Telenor Awards Thor 2R Deal to Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences Corp. has bested a combined Alcatel Alenia Space-NPO PM team to build Telenor of Norway’s Thor 2R telecommunications satellite, with delivery scheduled for early 2008, according to Telenor and industry officials.

Thor 2R will carry 23 Ku-band transponders to provide television and broadband-communications services in western and eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. It will replace the 15-transponder Thor 2 satellite at Telenor’s 1 degree west longitude slot and allow expansion into the Middle East as well.

Cato Halsaa, managing director of Oslo-based Telenor, said the company forecasts that despite compression technologies that allow ever-increasing amounts of video transmission aboard a single transponder, the introduction of high-definition television to Telenor’s market will have the net effect of occupying three more transponders than the same standard-definition television programming offered today.

Telenor originally had planned to purchase a large telecommunications satellite in partnership with Intelsat of Washington. The two companies currently share capacity on the Intelsat 10-02 satellite, with Telenor owning 11 transponders on that spacecraft. But when hoped-for customers in the Middle East did not materialize, the Intelsat arrangement fell apart and Telenor shifted its focus to a smaller spacecraft.

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences, which currently is the market leader in providing commercial telecommunications satellites weighing less than 3,000 kilograms, faced “fierce competition” in the bidding, Halsaa said. The newly merged Franco-Italian Alcatel Alenia Space proposed a satellite based on the company’s work with Russia’s NPO PM satellite manufacturer, with NPO PM providing the satellite platform and Alcatel the electronics payload. Halsaa said a contract with Orbital Sciences is expected to be signed in the coming weeks.

Telenor is likely to be back in the satellite-purchase market in about a year. Halsaa said the company will begin internal work preparing for a Thor 3R satellite, set to be retired in 2010, later this year. A request for bids likely will be sent out in late 2006 and a contract signed in early 2007, he said.

Halsaa added Telenor is looking for partners to expand into the Middle East and to continue its growth in Europe. Telenor — which in 2004 considered selling its satellite broadcast unit — is now firmly determined to keep the satellite division, he said.

3 Top Launch Companies Announce New Contracts

The world’s three principal commercial-launch companies announced contract signings with U.S., Thai and Japanese customers.

International Launch Services of McLean, Va., will launch DirecTV Group’s DirecTV 10 or DirecTV 11 direct-broadcast television satellite in mid-2007 aboard a Russian Proton M vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The satellite, a Boeing 702 satellite model expected to weigh more than 6,000 kilograms at launch, will be the biggest commercial satellite ever orbited by Proton.

The Arianespace launch consortium of Evry, France, announced that it has signed a contract with Shin Satellite of Thailand to launch the Thaicom 5 satellite in 2006. The satellite, expected to weigh 2,600 kilograms at launch, is under construction by Alcatel Alenia Space of France and Italy.

Sea Launch Co. of Long Beach, Calif., announced that PanAmSat Holding of Wilton, Conn., has contracted for the 2007 launch of the Horizons-2 satellite, which will be jointly owned by PanAmSat and satellite-fleet operator Jsat Corp. of Tokyo.

Horizons-2, under construction by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., is expected to weigh 2,300 kilograms at launch. It will be placed into orbit by Sea Launch’s new Land Launch division, which operates a nearly identical version of the Russian-Ukrainian Sea Launch vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It is the second contract for the Land Launch operation after a PanAmSat contract announced in July, which included several options for future launches.

Munich Re Urges End To Full Claims for Partial Failures

Space reinsurance specialist Munich Re wants satellite operators to end the longstanding practice of filing for total losses when their satellites are not 100 percent out of service.

Ruari McDougall, senior underwriter for space at the Munich-based reinsurer, said insisting on what is called a constructive total loss has the effect of dragging out negotiations over the payment of insurance claims. In some cases, the dispute can result in litigation between insurers and satellite owners.

In part because U.S. technology-transfer rules under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) can slow that flow of information, such disputes can drag on for months.

In one recent case several insurance underwriters involved in the coverage of the Thuraya-1 mobile-telecommunications satellite declined to pay their pro rata share of the claim two years after a settlement with other insurers was reached. Thuraya-1 is one of the first-generation Boeing 702 satellites with defective solar arrays. Thuraya officials have said ITAR is one reason the arbitration process has been delayed.

Constructive total loss clauses in satellite insurance contracts allow operators to receive 100 percent of their covered amount of insurance even if only 75 percent of the affected satellite’s capacity has been lost. McDougall said millions of dollars are often riding on a decision on whether the satellite has lost 74 percent or 75 percent of its capacity.

Dropping the constructive total loss clause, he said, would ultimately lead to lower insurance rates as underwriters would not need to fear as many claims for 100 percent losses.

“It doesn’t mean there would be fewer claims,” McDougall said. “If the loss is 100 percent, the claim paid would be 100 percent. But if it’s 75 percent lost, it would be 75 percent paid. In most cases it makes a lot of sense to eliminate this point of contention. Our business is space insurance, not space insurance claims settlement.”

Munich Re, he said, will not impose its view on the market by refusing to take part in coverage that includes constructive total loss clauses, but hopes that operators will decide to move in this direction on their own.

Three New Satellites Will Reinforce Eutelsat Fleet

Eutelsat S.A. of Paris expects to order three new satellites for telecommunications services within the next year as it seeks to reinforce its position beyond direct-broadcast television and to compensate for the partial loss of an in-orbit satellite.

Eutelsat Chief Executive Giuliano Berretta said the company’s W1 satellite, located at 10 degrees east longitude, suffered a permanent loss of 50 percent of its power in August when one of its solar arrays failed. The satellite, built by EADS Astrium, was launched in September 2000.

Berretta said Eutelsat and EADS Astrium continue to investigate the cause of the failure but are confident that it is not something that could affect other Astrium-built satellites.

Eutelsat has two Hot Bird television-broadcast satellites scheduled for launch by early 2006 and recently issued a request for bids for a W7 satellite. Berretta said requests for bids for two more W-series spacecraft also will be issued in the coming months.

Eutelsat also has reached an agreement with Nilesat of Egypt to share capacity on an existing Eutelsat satellite, the Hot Bird 4. That satellite will be relocated from Eutelsat’s Hot Bird position at 13 degrees east longitude to 7 degrees west longitude in early 2006.

Dale Expected To Replace Gregory as NASA Deputy

The White House is expected to name one of its own to replace Fred Gregory as NASA deputy administrator.

Washington sources said Shana Dale, currently chief of staff and general counsel in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will be nominated perhaps as early as Sept. 9 to replace Gregory as NASA’s No. 2 official.

Dale previously served on the House Science Committee as the staff director of the space and aeronautics subcommittee.

NASA announced Gregory’s retirement Sept. 9. Gregory worked for the space agency for 31 years as a research test pilot, astronaut and senior manager. Before moving up to deputy administrator, a Senate-confirmed position, Gregory served as associate administrator for space flight in charge of the space shuttle and international space station programs.

Planned SpaceX Rocket Has Mystery Customer

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) announced plans Sept. 8 to develop a reusable rocket capable of launching payloads weighing 9,500- 25,000 kilograms to low Earth orbit for between $27 million and $35 million.

SpaceX already has secured one customer, a U.S. government agency, for the Falcon 9 , according to a company news release dated Sept. 8. Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and chief executive, said in an interview that the launch would take place in 2007, but declined to identify the customer. Musk also declined to identify — or even confirm the existence of — a payload for the inaugural mission .

India, European Union Ink Galileo Participation Pact

India and the 25-nation European Union on Sept. 7 signed agreements confirming India’s participation in Europe’s Galileo satellite-navigation project. The accord was signed by G. Madhavan Nair, secretary of India’s Department of Space, and Francisco Da Camara Gomes, head of the European Union (EU)’s delegation in India, in New Delhi during an EU-India summit.

India is the fourth non-EU member , after China, Israel and Ukraine, to agree to make a small cash investment in the EU’s Galileo project in return for access to the program’s technologies and a future role in Galileo system construction. China, Israel and Ukraine have agreed to invest about $6 million apiece.

India, like the three others , will not have access to Galileo’s Public Regulated Service, which is security-related and restricted to EU nations.

Europe and India also will cooperate in the development of regional satellite navigation signal-augmentation systems, the European Commission announced.

Chinese Launch Provider Claims Rascom Contract

China Great Wall Industry Corp. said pan-African satellite operator Rascom-QAF has selected China’s Long March 3B rocket to launch Rascom’s telecommunications satellite, which is under construction at Alcatel Alenia Space in France.

China Great Wall of Beijing said in a Sept. 7 statement that it expects to sign a formal launch contract with Alcatel Alenia in the coming weeks. The Franco -Italian satellite builder is an equity investor in Rascom as well as prime contractor on the system, and is responsible for selecting the launch-services supplier.

The 44-nation Rascom organization, based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, has been struggling for a decade to secure the financing needed to build and launch its satellite and provide the thousands of fixed communications terminals to be deployed throughout its coverage area.

Libya’s General Post and Telecommunication Company is a major investor in Rascom.

China Great Wall, mandated by the Chinese government to market Long March launches , has been kept out of most international launch competitions since the late 1990s because of the U.S. government’s refusal to permit U.S. satellite technology to be exported to China. The U.S. government has voiced concerns that China uses commercial satellite launches to improve its missile-launch capability.

Most commercial telecommunications satellites have at least some U.S. components. But in response to customer demand, Alcatel Alenia has developed a satellite product line that features no U.S.-made parts that require export licenses from the U.S. State Department.

The first of these satellites, the Apstar 6 telecommunications spacecraft owned by APT Satellite Holdings of Hong Kong, was successfully launched by a Chinese rocket in April.

The Rascom 1 satellite, nearing completion at Alcatel Alenia’s Cannes, France, production plant, is scheduled to be placed into geostationary orbit at 2.9 degrees east longitude.

Proton-M Rocket Lofts Telesat’s Anik F1R Craft

An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton-M rocket successfully launched Telesat Canada’s Anik F1R telecommunications satellite Sept. 9 from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, ILS and Telesat announced.

The 4,500-kilogram Anik F1R, built by EADS Astrium of Europe, will be co-located at 107.3 degrees west longitude with Telesat’s Anik F1 satellite, a first-generation Boeing 702 platform whose power-generating capacity is degrading at an accelerated pace due to a solar array defect. Anik F1 was launched in November 2000.

Anik F1R’s 32 Ku-band and 24 C-band transponders are expected to operate for at least 15 years. The satellite also carries an L-band navigation payload for air-traffic control. Anik F1R is the fifth Eurostar 3000 satellite platform — EADS Astrium’s principal commercial satellite product — to be placed into orbit.

The End is at Hand for Japanese Observatory

Japan’s Solar X-ray Observatory (Solar-A) was expected to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up around Sept. 12, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced Sept. 8. The scientific spacecraft was launched in 1991.

WildBlue Founder Awaits FCC Nod for Next System

The man who co-founded satellite-television provider EchoStar Communications Corp. and founded consumer satellite-broadband provider WildBlue Communications, both serving the United States, wants to go global with his next idea.

David Drucker, chairman of @contact of Denver, plans to gradually build out an all-Ka-band system with four geostationary-orbiting satellites and three satellites in highly elliptical orbit to provide video and data programming over the Internet.

Drucker has filed paperwork with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to register @contact’s system and to secure the rights to several geostationary orbital slots covering North America, Europe and Asia.

For the North American market, the company is seeking FCC authorization to operate satellites at the 119 degrees west and 89 degrees west orbital slots. European and Asian slots at 15 degrees east and 116 degrees east are also part of @contact’s plans.

Drucker said the project should be viewed as a successor to WildBlue, whose consumer-oriented satellite broadband service debuted in the United States in June using Ka-band capacity on Telesat Canada’s Anik F2 satellite.

Drucker recalled that WildBlue, which evolved from a system called Ka-Star, was met with industry skepticism. The system now is operational, and early technical and market-response reports are encouraging.

The latest project has been under review at the FCC since 1997. Drucker said a license is expected this year, after which it will take about three years before the first satellite is launched.

Drucker said the system will be using some of the Ka-band spectrum vacated by Teledesic LLC of Kirkland, Wash., which returned its license to the FCC after failing to secure funding. Teledesic had planned a nongeostationary orbiting constellation.