Soyuz Rocket Launches Radarsat-2 for Canada

Canada’s Radarsat-2

Earth observation satellite, which has been almost a decade in design and construction

, was

launched successfully

Dec. 14 aboard a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket

from Russia’s BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to launch-services provider Starsem S.A. of France.

The 2,200-kilogram Radarsat-2 is expected to operate for seven years in a 798-kilometer sun-synchronous low Earth orbit and

provide radar images with a ground resolution as sharp as 3 meters and as wide as 100 meters.

Despite being delayed by a host of technical and policy issues over the years, Radarsat-2 arrives in orbit in time to assure continuous radar Earth observation for Canadian authorities before Radarsat-1 is retired.

Radarsat-1, which provides images with a maximum sharpness of 10 meters, was launched in 1995 on what was designed as a five-year mission. It continues to operate today.

Radarsat-2 features

an improved on-board memory and image-taking flexibility as well as a higher-resolution imaging mode

. It is the product of a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) of Richmond, British


CSA has said its total Radarsat-2 budget is 421.6 million Canadian dollars ($419.6

million), and that MDA has spent an additional 90 million Canadian dollars on the satellite.

The launch of Radarsat-2 brings to a close an unusually busy year for radar Earth observation. German and Italian high-resolution radar satellites also began service this year, for both government and commercial customers.

MDA is Radarsat-2 prime contractor, with ThalesAlenia Space of France and Italy providing the satellite platform. An MDA unit supplied the radar sensor.

The launch was managed by Starsem of Paris, a French-Russian joint venture that markets

Soyuz rockets commercially.

GOES-12 Satellite Set To Resume Monitoring Duty

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-12 (GOES-12) returned to its normal on-orbit operating mode Dec. 7 after engineers resolved a glitch that had taken it out of action

, said John Leslie, a spokesman for the

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


The problem, discovered

Dec. 4, was caused by an oxidizer leak in an attitude-control thruster

. “The faulty thruster was isolated by closing the latch valve that provides access to the propellant tank,” Leslie said via e-mail, adding that the

satellite is operating normally

without it


GOES-12, located at 75 degrees west longitude, is expected to resume

monitoring weather conditions in the eastern United States and

Atlantic Ocean

Dec. 17, according to NOAA’s

Web site

. In the meantime, NOAA was

relying on the older

GOES-10 satellite

at 60 degrees west longitude

for that coverage


IkonosTo Last to 2010, New Analysis Indicates


has obtained $1 million

worth of

insurance in 2008 for its Ikonos imaging satellite after a new technical review estimated that the spacecraft will

continue to operate

until 2010, the company announced Dec. 14.

Launched in 1999, the satellite has already exceeded its design life

of five to seven years. An analysis completed in November 2007

showed that the satellite

should last until mid-2008. The latest

study was performed by the commercial division of Ikonos manufacturer Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

collects black-and-white imagery with 1-meter

resolution and color imagery with 4-meter resolution

. The company’s

OrbView-3 satellite

failed on orbit earlier this year; its

next satellite, GeoEye-1, is slated to launch in April 2008.

The insurance, arranged

by London-based broker Willis Inspace, is similar to the amount Ikonos was insured for in 2007, GeoEye said.

New Target Selected for Deep Impact Spacecraft

NASA announced Dec. 13 that its Deep Impact spacecraft has been redirected toward

a late 2010 flyby of the comet Hartley 2.

Deep Impact was launched in January 2005 to fire a projectile

into the comet Tempel 1 and study the material that was ejected. After that mission was successfully completed in August 2005


NASA approved an extended mission to study the

comet Boethin. But Boethin could not be found, leading scientists to theorize that it may have broken up into pieces too small to detect.

“When comet Boethin could not be located, we went to our backup, which is every bit as interesting but about two years farther down the road,”

Tom Duxbury, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory-based project manager for the extended mission, said in a prepared statement. Mission controllers

began directing the Deep Impact spacecraft towards Hartley 2

Nov. 1. The flyby is expected to occur Oct. 11, 2010.

Ariane 5 Picked To Loft Hispasat’s Amazonas-2

Hispasat of Spain will launch its Amazonas-2 telecommunications satellite aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket in mid-2009 under a contract signed Dec. 13, the European Arianespace launch consortium announced.

Amazonas-2, under construction by Astrium Satellites of Europe, is expected to carry 54 Ku-band and 10 C-band transponders and to operate in the Brazil-registered orbital slot at 61 degrees west longitude. It will be co-located with the Amazonas satellite now in operation there.

Launched in 2004, Amazonas has a fuel leak that will sharply reduce its scheduled 15-year service life. Hispasat officials have said the Astrium-built satellite

is expected to be retired after less than 10 years of operations.

Industry officials said the Amazonas-2 launch contract would be watched closely because its schedule coincides with

a time of tight launch manifests and rising


Amazonas-2 is expected to weigh 5,400 kilograms at launch and to deliver more than 14 kilowatts of power at the end of its 15-year in-orbit life, according to Madrid-based Hispasat.

Saab AB Hopes To Sell Space Division by April

Swedish space-hardware builder Saab Space is for sale by its owner, Saab AB, which is seeking what it says is a deal “at the right price, to the right buyer” that would conclude before April, Saab AB announced Dec. 11.

Saab Space is Sweden’s largest space contractor, specializing in satellite payload electronics and in systems used to release satellites from launch vehicles. The company, which has about 510 employees, reported sales of 702 million Swedish krona ($109

million) in 2006. The company added 895 million krona in new orders in 2006.

Saab Space’s biggest customer is the European Space Agency.

Saab AB said it is considering a sale because the space division “is not part of Saab’s core business. With the industry undergoing consolidation at present, the timing may be right for a sale.”

Saab Space Chief Executive BengtMortberg said in a statement that “putting out feelers like this happens all the time and it is by no means sure that it will lead to a deal.”

European industry officials say numerous second-tier space contractors in Europe are currently for sale, especially those whose access to the U.S. aerospace market has been reduced by the drop in the value of the U.S. dollar relative to the euro.

NASA’s Voyager 2 Craft Hits Solar System Edge

NASA’s Voyager 2

proved the solar system is shaped asymmetrically as it journeyed to its edge, a Dec. 10 NASA press release said. Voyager 2 passed into the outer layer of the solar system at a different distance than Voyager 1, Ed Stone,

Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, said.

The solar system is surrounded by a bubble-like barrier called the heliosphere. The solar wind termination shock marks the heliosphere’s outer edge, or heliosheath, where the solar wind slows and increases in density as it starts mixing with interstellar gas, Stone said in a Dec. 13 phone interview. Caltech manages NASA’s Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which built both Voyager craft.

Voyager 2 made its first pass through the solar wind termination shock

Aug. 30, Stone said.

Voyager 1 encountered the heliosheath in December 2004 at 94 astronomical units – or 94 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun – whereas Voyager 2 entered the heliosheath at 84 astronomical units, Stone said.

Russian Military Lofts Communications Craft

Russia’s military added another telecommunications satellite to its fleet following a Dec. 9 launch aboard a Khrunichev-built Proton rocket from the BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Russian Space Forces said in a press statement.

In line with Russia’s

official policy of not specifically identifying military satellites, the Dec. 9

statement designated the spacecraft as Kosmos-2434. The statement said

the satellite will become part of a

telecommunications system consisting

of Russian-built Gorizont, Raduga-1 and Express-A satellites. The statement said the

geostationary-orbiting satellite has multiple transponders and is capable of providing mobile communications services in mountainous areas.

The satellite is to serve

both the national armed forces and other troops, Space Forces Commander Col. General Vladimir Popovkin said in a prepared statement

. The Space Forces’ press service

declined further

comment when reached by phone

Dec. 13.

According to a Dec. 9 statement from Russia’s

Federal Space Agency, which took part in the launch

, the new satellite is “becoming part of a telecommunications system based on Raduga-type satellites.”

EaglePicher Wins Pair of Satellite Battery Contracts

EaglePicher Technologies of Joplin, Mo., won contracts to

supply lithium ion batteries for two communications satellites

Orbital Sciences Corp.

is building for satellite operator SES Americom, the U.S.

division of SES of Luxembourg.

In a press release dated Dec. 11

, EaglePicher said the

orders are the fifth and sixth that Dulles, Va.-based Orbital has placed

under a long-term agreement between the companies. The batteries

will power the AMC-5R and FM-1 telecommunications satellites when they are not in direct view of the sun. Those satellites will launch no sooner than 2009 and 2010, respectively


Separately, EaglePicher, in a Dec. 3 press release, said it won a three-year, $2.9 million contract from the U.S. Air Force

to identify technologies that could be used to improve batteries in

U.S. missiles. Funding for the contract was provided in the 2008

Defense appropriations bill, which was signed into law Nov. 13

, the company said. That work will be performed at the company’s new Pittsburg, Kan., facility.

Northrop Grumman Nabs AFRL Tech Demo Contract

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., has been awarded a $5.9 million contract from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to conduct ground experiments aimed at maturing technologies for reusable launch vehicles, the company announced Dec. 10.

Under the 39-month Future Responsive Access to Space Technologies (FAST) contract, Northrop Grumman will demonstrate capabilities

including rapid mission planning, flight operations and control, resource management and lean maintenance operations command and control.

The FAST program

seeks to identify

technologies that will enable a rocket to be called up within 24 hours, launched and then readied for re-launch in no more than 48 hours.

The two other ground experiments will be designed by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., which was awarded a $14 million contract

to conduct airframe experiments, and Honeywell of Morristown, N.J., which was awarded a $4.5 million contract to develop the avionics package. University of Dayton Research Institute was awarded a $3.6 million contract to provide support and integration services.

NASA Picks Gravity Lab for 2011 Lunar Mission

NASA intends to send a pair of identical spacecraft to the Moon in 2011 to map its gravity field in unprecedented detail in order to reveal its interior structure.

The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission was one of three concepts vying for funding under NASA’s Discovery program of scientist-led, cost-capped solar system exploration missions. Proposed by Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the $375 million mission will use gravity field information from twin satellites flying in tandem orbits to peer deep inside the Moon to reveal its anatomy and history, according to NASA. The joint U.S.-German Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, employs

the same approach to study Earth.

Alan Stern, NASA associate administrator for science, announced the selection Dec. 10 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

GRAIL’s revolutionary capabilities stood out in this Discovery mission competition owing to its unsurpassed combination of high scientific value and low technical and programmatic risk,” Stern said. “GRAIL also offers to bring innovative Earth studies techniques to the Moon as a precursor to their possible later use at Mars and other planets.”

GRAIL was selected over an asteroid sample-return mission proposed by the University of Arizona, Tucson, and a Venus orbiter proposed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

NASA Pressing To Keep LRO Launch On Track

NASA officials said Dec. 10 they have run out of room for error as they try to keep the agency’s $700 million Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission on track for a launch next October.

“We are holding to the Oct.

28 launch date

” for the LRO and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which are slated to launch together aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, said Carl Walz, director of advanced capabilities in NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. “Now, that

is not to say there are not challenges for LRO and LCROSS. We don’t have a

lot of slack days with the LRO right now.”

Speaking to reporters during a media roundtable, Walz said


, an $80 million spacecraft NASA added to the LRO mission to take advantage of excess launch vehicle capacity, is doing better schedule-wise. He said the LCROSS team has about 20 days of slack to address any problems that might crop up.

But some of the problems the LRO team is wrestling with, he warned, could affect the assembly schedules of both spacecraft. An inertial measurement unit common to both spacecraft is “having issues,” he said when asked for an example.

Richard Gilbrech, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems, blamed LRO’s schedule worries on the magnitude of the integration job ahead for NASA’s

Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

He said he is keeping a “close eye” on the LRO but so far has not seen sufficient cause to slip the launch date


Classified Satellite Launched By Atlas 5

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket successfully launched a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

Dec. 10 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., the office said in a press release.

This was the second

NRO payload launched by an Atlas 5, the agency, which buys and operates the nation’s spy satellites, said. No additional details of the mission were provided.

New Theory Explains Martian Compounds

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science say they have found evidence that geochemical processes are responsible for the creation of organic materials on ancient Mars,

the Washington-based organization said in a Dec. 11 press release.

Previously scientists believed that the organic compounds were either brought to Mars by meteorites or perhaps were the remnants of ancient microbes.

Scientists studying the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite found similarities between its chemical composition and that of ancient volcanic rock samples taken from Svalbard, Norway. The meteorite is famous for the controversy that erupted in 1996 when scientists studying it raised the possibility that it contained evidence of fossilized microbes. Subsequent research has cast doubt on that theory.

Nevertheless, the Allan Hills meteorite does contain organic compounds similar to the Svalbard rock samples, according to Andrew Steele, a Carnegie

Institute scientist and study’s lead author. “We found that the organic material is closely associated with the iron oxide mineral magnetite, which is the key to understanding how these compounds formed,” he said in a prepared statement.

The Svalbard rocks were formed 1 million years ago when volcanoes erupted under frigid conditions, the institute said. During the cooling process, magnetite reacted with liquids rich in water and carbon dioxide – under conditions very unlikely to support life – to form organic compounds.

The Carnegie scientists theorize that the organic compounds on the martian meteorite were formed during two events: the rapid cooling of liquids in a manner similar to what happened with the Svalbard sample; and the impact that resulted in the ejection of the meteorite from the martian surface.

“The results of this study show that volcanic activity in a freezing climate can produce organic compounds,” Hans Amundsen, a geological physicist and co-author of the study

, said in a prepared statement. “This implies that building blocks of life can form on cold rocky planets throughout the Universe.”

USAF Exercises RAIDRS Option

Integral Systems of Lanham, Md., has been awarded a $29.8 million contract option from the U.S. Air Force to extend its work on a system that will locate sources of

satellite interference, a Dec. 10 Integral press release said.

The Rapid Attack Identification Detection and Reporting System (RAIDRS) will consist of a central hub station and antennas deployed around the world to detect, locate and characterize sources of radio frequency interference to U.S. military and commercial satellites. Integral won the initial RAIDRS

contract in 2005, and the program was restructured in 2007.

This contract option extends Integral’s work through 2010. It covers delivery of

the system’s central hub station and mobile sensor systems as well as

enhanced capabilities including worldwide fixed sensor sites and improved

accuracy, Integral said.

CIP Closes Purchase of Stratos Global Corp.

An Inmarsat-financed Canadian company on Dec. 11 completed its purchase of Stratos Global Corp., one of mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat’s biggest distributors. The transaction

likely will

be transformed into a direct purchase of Stratos by Inmarsat in 2009.

Communications Investment Partners (CIP) Ltd. of Canada completed its acquisition of Bethesda, Md.-based Stratos, which had been announced in March, following approval by

the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The cash purchase price for

, which is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, was 7

Canadian dollars per share ($7). When the assumption of Stratos‘ existing debt is added in, the transaction was valued at $636 million. An Inmarsat subsidiary is financing the purchase by providing CIP a loan of up to $275 million


As part of the transaction, London-based Inmarsat has the right to purchase 100 percent of CIP as of April 2009 – or before, under certain circumstances.

The contract now governing relations between Inmarsat and its distribution partners expires in 2009, and Inmarsat has served notice that it will insist on stricter terms for the new arrangement

to take effect then.

In a Dec. 11 statement, Stratos Chief Executive James Parm said the transaction with CIP “will promote stability of our business in the post-April 2009 period.”

Stratos and Paris-based Vizada are the two dominant Inmarsat distributors, accounting for more than 75 percent of Inmarsat’s annual revenue

. Both have reached their current size by acquiring

smaller mobile satellite service


ITT Loses Protest of Landsat Sensor Award

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected ITT Industries Space Systems’ protest of NASA’s July award to Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. of a contract to build the main imaging sensor for the next Landsat mission.

The GAO denied ITT’s protest Nov. 9, but its decision was not made public until Dec. 10.

ITT Space Systems of Rochester, N.Y., took issue with NASA’s assessment of Ball’s cost estimate for the work, which came in roughly 25 percent below ITT’s bid.

NASA and Boulder, Colo.-based Ball signed a cost-plus-award-fee contract worth $127.9 million for design and development of the Operational Land Imager, the main sensor for the Landsat Data Continuity Mission that the U.S. space agency is procuring on behalf of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Designed to replace the old and ailing Landsats 5 and 7 spacecraft, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission is slated to launch no earlier than mid


Ball Aerospace is one of four companies competing to build the spacecraft platform, or bus, for the mission.

Italian Radar Satellite Launched Successfully

The second of Italy’s four planned high-resolution Cosmo-Skymed radar satellites has begun in-orbit checkout after deploying its solar arrays and antennas following a Dec. 8 launch aboard a U.S. Delta 2 rocket, Cosmo-Skymed builder ThalesAlenia Space said Dec. 10.

The third in the Cosmo-Skymed series is scheduled for launch in late 2008, also aboard a Delta 2 rocket operating from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Italian Ministry of Defense and ThalesAlenia Space are expected to select a launcher for the final satellite early in 2008.

Boeing Launch Services provides launches aboard the United Launch Alliance-built Delta 2.

The Italian government estimates that it is spending about 1 billion euros ($1.46 billion) on the Cosmo-Skymed program, including ground facilities to receive and process the radar data.

Cosmo-Skymed is a dual-use system in which the Italian Space Agency and Italy’s Ministry of Defense share in the financing and use of the data. Italian defense authorities will contribute Cosmo-Skymed data to France in return for optical images from France’s Helios-2 spacecraft.

Italian authorities plan to use Cosmo-Skymed with two Saocom L-band radar satellites being built for Argentina’s CONAE space agency and tentatively scheduled for launch in 2010-2011 as part of a program for environmental monitoring and mitigation of natural disasters.