Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 14 April 2008
11:38 am ET




LRO Delay Would Affect Cost of Companion Craft

 

If the launch of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) slips past October as widely expected, a budget-class lunar impact spacecraft sharing LRO’s rocket will need some extra cash to cover the delay, project officials said April 10.

 

Daniel Andrews, the NASA Ames Research Center engineer managing the Lunar Crater and Observation Sensing Satellite (LCROSS)
, said that since the
�$79 million mission was budgeted for an Oct. 28 liftoff, a
delay of more than a couple of weeks could not be accommodated within the project’s
reserves.

 

Andrews did not have a ready estimate of
how much each month’s delay would add to the price tag. But he
�said Ames has about 20 people assigned to
the project full time, with another 30 to 40
�expected to be on the payroll at LCROSS builder Northrop Grumman Space Technology
�around the time the spacecraft finishes integration and testing.

 

LCROSS is heading into environmental testing this spring with 33 days of schedule slack to allow the program
to deal with any issues that might crop up and still make an early August deadline for delivering the spacecraft to its Cape Canaveral, Fla., launch site. LRO, which is being built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, is due to ship out around the same time. But with no schedule slack, LRO project officials said in late March that any setbacks would jeopardize that date.

 

 

Alliant’s MDA Acquisition Faces Canadian Rejection

 

The proposed acquisition by
Alliant Techsystems
�(ATK)
�of Canada’s MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) was dealt a potentially fatal setback April 8 when Canadian Industry Minister Jim Prentice said
�he saw no “net benefit
” to the country from the proposed deal.

 

Prentice gave ATK 30 days to convince him otherwise. “At the end of this time period, I will notify you forthwith that I am satisfied that your investment is of net benefit to Canada or
confirm that I am not satisfied that it is of net benefit,” Prentice wrote in an
April 8 letter to the U.S. defense and aerospace company.

 

Minneapolis-based ATK announced in January its intent to buy MDA, Canada’s largest space hardware manufacturer. Daniel Murphy, ATK’s chairman and chief executive officer, said at the time
he anticipated no Canadian government opposition to the deal.

 

ATK spokesman Bryce Hallowell said April 11 that “discussions with the Canadian government are ongoing,” and declined further comment.

 

Brian Grace, another ATK spokesman, said April 11 that the company is sending representatives to Ottawa to discuss the issue with Canadian officials and
�the company remains committed to the deal. Grace said the issues clearly were more than economic and touched on sensitive Canadian concerns about national sovereignty, national security and the protection of Canadian
�technology.

Even if the deal fails, it will not alter ATK’s expansion plans, Grace said, adding that the company would then continue to pursue a deal to buy a small satellite manufacturer.

 

 

GPS 3 Prime Contract Slated for Award April 17

 

The U.S. Air Force
likely will award the multi
billion-dollar
contract for the space segment of the GPS 3 navigation system April 17, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said April 9
.

 

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center will select either Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., or Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., to build the first eight GPS 3A satellites, which
�will begin launching in 2013.

 

The Air Force plans to procure another block of eight satellites under block 3B and 16 satellites under block 3C.

 

WorldSpace Licensed for German Ground Network

 

German regulators have granted satellite-radio service provider WorldSpace a license to use 12.5 megahertz of L-band spectrum to operate a nationwide network of ground-based signal boosters that would extend coverage to areas unreachable by WorldSpace’s AfriStar satellite, Silver Spring, Md.-based WorldSpace announced April 9.

 

The license from the German Federal Network Agency follows similar licenses granted to WorldSpace in Italy and Switzerland.

 

WorldSpace, which is facing a serious cash-flow problem this year, does not have the $100 million to $200 million it will cost to deploy the terrestrial network in each nation in which it is licensed in Europe. The company said it is in negotiations with “a number of potential strategic partners who have a strong interest in the German market.”

 

Problem With Civil Craft Spurs Changes to AEHF

 

U.S. Air Force and industry officials say they have addressed component-reliability questions concerning several military satellites – due to launch in the near future – that arose after similar hardware failed aboard a NASA satellite.

 

These officials declined to identify the NASA satellite but said the hardware that failed is a reaction wheel assembly, which is used to stabilize spacecraft without using onboard fuel. The same system, built by Ithaco Space Systems, is used on Air Force satellites including the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications system built
�by Lockheed Martin Corp., and the GPS 2F and Space Based Space Surveillance System, which are built by Boeing Co., the officials said.

 

A source close to the AEHF program
said that while the cause of the failure has not been
determined, the hardware aboard those satellites
has been modified to boost reliability. The AEHF program had sufficient schedule margin so that removing, modifying and reinstalling the reaction wheels is not likely to delay a planned initial launch in early 2009, the source said.

 

Lewis Brinson, a Boeing spokesman, said Boeing
is still on track to deliver the first GPS 2F satellite to the Air Force later this year, and that the
Space Based Space Surveillance System satellite is slated to launch in December.

 

T-Sat Uncertainty Has Army Mulling its Options

 

The most pressing space-related need for deployed U.S. Army troops
is protected satellite communications, and it might
be time to consider
upgrading the Wideband Global Satcom
(WGS)
system to address this
given the uncertainty surrounding
the next-generation Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) communications system, a senior U.S. Army space official said April 10.

 

Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell, commander of Army Space and Missile Defense Command,
expressed
concern that firm
�plans are not yet in place for the secure, mobile satellite links
that will be even more important once the service begins deploying its Future Combat Systems.

 


Not having protected communications will slow down our tempo and put troops at greater risk,” said Campbell, who also is commander of the U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense. “If we see success in WGS continue to grow, maybe it’s time for a dialogue about what we can do with WGS in terms of anti-jam capability or spread-spectrum techniques for the future …
If T-Sat doesn’t become a reality, maybe we can become more reliant on that particular system.”

 

The Army’s other two most urgent needs are improved theater missile warning and more precise navigation capabilities, Campbell said. U.S. combatant commanders
�repeatedly cite the need for a direct downlink from missile warning satellites to troops in the field, he said, noting that the
Joint Tactical Ground Stations that have been used in the field for missile warning for over a decade must be upgraded
once the Space Based Infrared System enters
service. Campbell said he has challenged his team at Space and Missile Defense Command to develop new ways to improve theater missile defense.

 

The asymmetrical warfare that the U.S. military is engaged in today has been greatly aided by satellite navigation capabilities, but more precision is needed, Campbell said. “We have an enemy that is elusive and hides very well. We have good intelligence that can lead us to individual buildings, and we need our soldiers to know precisely where they are on the ground so they know they’re going through the right door or the right window.”

 

 

APT Numbers Improve Despite Competition

 

Satellite-fleet operator APT Satellite Holdings Ltd. of Hong Kong reported increased revenue
�and a return to profitability in 2007 despite a lower fill rate on one of its showcase satellites due to increased competition in China.

APT, which operates five satellites, said April 8 that total revenue in 2007 was 451.63 million Hong Kong dollars, or $57.9 million at the Dec. 31 exchange rate, a 5.8 percent increase over 2006. The company’s main business of selling satellite capacity reported revenue
�of 409 million Hong Kong dollars, up 7 percent from 2006.

 

APT said its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, was
62 percent of revenue
�in 2007, up from 53 percent in 2006. The company reported a profit of 4,716 Hong Kong dollars, after reporting a loss in 2006.

 

APT’s two principal satellites – the largest, youngest and highest-power spacecraft in the fleet – are the Apstar 5 and Apstar 6.

 

Apstar 5, located at 138 degrees east longitude, began operations in August 2004 after a June launch. The satellite, also known as Telstar 18, carries 38 C-band and 16 Ku-band transponders. The
�former Loral Skynet, now Telesat Canada, owns the spacecraft and makes available 23 C-band and 12 Ku-band transponders to APT.

 

The APT capacity on Apstar 5 is 72 percent utilized, about the same fill rate as in 2006. APT said it is optimistic about increasing the satellite’s use.

 

Apstar 6, which began commercial operations in June 2005 at 134 degrees east, has been affected by the arrival of competing Chinese satellites launched in 2007. APT said the satellite’s 38 C-band and 12 Ku-band transponders were just 59 percent filled as of Dec. 31, down from a 65 percent fill rate a year earlier.

 

APT said “fierce market competition in the Asia-Pacific region, including the China market” has made it difficult to book new business, but the company nonetheless has been able to optimize its services to offset the lower fill rate and reduce its financial impact.

 

As more domestic Chinese satellites have been launched, APT has lost market share in China and has sought new business elsewhere in the region. China’s share of APT’s customer base was 38 percent in 2007, down from 49 percent in 2006 and 60 percent in 2005. Singapore, Indonesia and other markets in the region have helped fill
the gap left by the lost Chinese business.

 

NASA Extends Lunar Lander Engine Work

 

NASA has extended Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s 2005 contract to continue advanced development work on
an engine design that could be used for the U.S. space agency’s proposed Altair lunar lander, the company announced April 9.

 

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of West Palm Beach, Fla., will spend the next 11 months designing, manufacturing and testing a new, enhanced injector to support stable combustion at very low thrust.

 

Victor Giuliano, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine
�program manager,
said in a press release that
�test highlights to date included demonstrating repeated throttling operability of the engine from 100 percent of its 13,800 pounds of thrust capacity down to as low as 9.5 percent of full power. In the next phase, which runs through March 2009, Guiliano’s team intends to focus on achieving combustion stability at the lower thrust range. The company declined to give the
�value
for the contract or the extension.

 

Raytheon Names Team for GBS Bid

 

Raytheon
�Intelligence and Information Systems of Garland, Texas,
�will team up with Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., and HP

�of Palo Alto, Calif., to pursue a $30 million contract to provide
�satellite broadcasts of video, imagery
and other information to U.S. military support forces on post, in transit and in theater, according to an April 8 Raytheon press release.

The contract for the U.S. Air Force Global Broadcast Service (GBS) Satellite Broadcast Manager transition is aimed at integrating the
GBS
�into future network-centric military
operations, the press release said. Raytheon has worked for 10 years on the GBS
�program.

 

The Air Force Electronic Systems Command at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts will select the winning contractor
�and will transition the GBS
to a central Defense Enterprise Computing Center.

 

Lockheed Martin Clears
SBIRS Software Review

 

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., completed
a comprehensive review of flight software designed to provide command and control of the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning spacecraft, the company said in an April 8 press release.

 

SBIRS is designed to provide early warning of missile launches worldwide and simultaneously support missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace characterization missions.

 

Nearly 80 representatives from the U.S. Air Force, the Aerospace Corp.
�of El Segundo, Calif., and the U.S. Department of Defense participated in an integrated design review at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale
�facility, the press release said.

 

Successful completion of the integrated design review allows the team to proceed with final development and delivery of flight software necessary to support pre-launch spacecraft testing, including thermal vacuum testing, which will validate spacecraft performance at temperature extremes greater than those expected during on-orbit operations, the press release said. After the environmental and final integrated test phase, the spacecraft will be shipped to the Air Force in late 2009 in preparation for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
in Florida.

 

 

Orion Abort System Motor Successfully Test Fired




Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., announced in an April 7 press release that they successfully conducted a static firing of the jettison motor, a major component of the launch abort system for NASA’s Orion Crew Launch Vehicle.

The Orion vehicle and Ares 1 launcher will replace the space shuttle as NASA’s human space transportation system in 2015. Both efforts are
part of NASA’s Constellation Program, which encompasses the hardware needed
to send human explorers back to the Moon by 2020.

The Orion launch abort system, developed by Orbital
, will allow the vehicle’s astronaut crew to escape in the event of an emergency during pad operations or during the ascent phase of the flight. Aerojet is responsible for the jettison motor, which would be used on every mission to jettison the launch abort system when it is no longer needed. The successful test firing of the jettison motor was the first full-scale rocket propulsion test for the Orion program, the press release said.

The Orion launch abort system will undergo several planned demonstration flights, including a pad abort demonstration at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico at the end of the year, the press release said.

 

 

Northrop Grumman Signs Supplier Pact with SEAKR

 

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., has reached a supplier agreement with SEAKR Engineering Inc. of Centennial, Colo., for satellite components, Northrop Grumman said in an April 7 press release.

 

The agreement, under which SEAKR will provide command and data handling equipment for satellites, reflects Northrop Grumman’s push to outsource some of its business to smaller companies, Alexis C. Livanos, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Space Technology, said in a prepared statement. The five-year agreement, with two three-year renewal options, enables Northrop Grumman to offer satellite solutions to the U.S. government that are more competitive in terms of cost and schedule, the press release said.

 

Northrop Grumman expects to conclude similar supplier arrangements with other companies this year, the press release said.

 

 

SAIC Nabs $21 Million Landsat Support Deal

 

Science Applications International Corp.
�(SAIC) will collect, process, distribute, analyze and archive data from NASA Landsat Earth-observing satellites under a U.S. Geological Survey contract that will top $21 million if all options are exercised, SAIC announced in an April 7 press release.

SAIC also will provide project management, programming, and systems and software engineering services in support of the Geological Survey’s Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. That facility operates the Landsat satellites and manages the data they collect.

 

The contract has a one-year base period and three one-year options.

Landsat is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Landsat satellites have collected information about Earth since 1972.

 

 

XMM-Newton Observatory Poses New Stellar Riddle

 

Scientists working with data from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton X-ray satellite were surprised to find a higher volume of X-rays than believed possible in a rare type of galaxy, according to an April 7 European Space Agency press release.

 

Scientists believe the finding gives new insight into the processes that shape galaxies during their formation and evolution, the press release said.

 

XMM-Newton looks into the farthest reaches of the universe at celestial objects called quasars – vast cosmic engines that pump energy into their surroundings. An enormous black hole is believed to drive each quasar.

 

Six scientists from the Center for Astrophysics at the University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, used XMM-Newton to target four quasars. The quasars – called broad absorption line, or BAL, quasars for a thick cocoon of gas believed to surround them – had been identified previously by the scientists, who were investigating whether their X-rays were being absorbed by the surrounding gases.

 

Most researchers believe that gas flows away from a BAL quasar along the equatorial direction of the
black hole’s accretion disc. These quasars show little X-ray emission, indicating that there is enough surrounding gas to absorb most of the energy
.

But XMM-Newton observations of the four BAL quasars during specific times in 2006 and 2007 showed two of them emitted more X-rays than the researchers anticipated, indicating that there is no veil of absorbing gas surrounding these particular quasars. Those two BAL quasars appear to spew material out along their polar axes, at right angles to the accretion discs, leading scientists to wonder if BAL quasars are more complicated than previously thought, the press release said.

 

“Perhaps there can be both equatorial outflows and polar outflows simultaneously, from these objects,” XMM-Newton scientist Jun Xian Wang said in a prepared statement. The outflows of gas may even be produced by similar means, the press release said.

 

 

DataPath Starts Delivering Satcom-Equipped Trailers

 

DataPath Inc. of Duluth, Ga., has begun delivering to the U.S. Army National Guard 32 satellite-equipped command trailers that can rapidly deploy to the site of a man-made or natural disaster anywhere in the United States, an April 7 DataPath press release said.

 

The Joint Incident Site Communications Capability trailers feature advanced systems to facilitate secure interagency communications integrating satellite and wireless networks, land mobile radios, voice-over-IP telephones and video teleconferencing capabilities. The system delivers high-bandwidth connectivity even where the infrastructure is severely damaged, the press release said.

 

As prime contractor, DataPath is responsible for the integration and support of the trailer systems. DataPath’s partner on the program, Applied Global Technologies of Rockledge, Fla., supplies land mobile radio systems, engineering and services.

 

U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command in Fort Monmouth, N.J., ordered the trailers under a $16.7 million contract.

 

 

JPL Designs Contest to� Nurture Young Scientists

 

Students in the fifth through 12th grades will have the chance to win a teleconference with scientists from NASA’s
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in a contest that challenges them
to explain why one of three Saturn locations would provide the most scientifically rich data when photographed by the Cassini spacecraft.

 

Cassini was launched over a decade ago, and has been sending back previously unseen views of Saturn, its rings and its moons for nearly four years.

 

As part of the contest, students will choose one of three Saturn images and write a 500-word essay explaining their choice. Essays will be judged by a panel of Cassini scientists, mission planners and by the
education and outreach team at JPL in Pasadena, Calif. Winners will be invited to discuss their essays via teleconference with Cassini scientists.

 

Entries are divided into three groups: grades five through six, seven through eight, and high school. One winner will be chosen from each group.

 

“Students have to do their own research to write their essay. That way, they learn how to ask questions about the solar system and what we still need to understand,” said Rachel Zimmerman-Brachman, an education and public outreach specialist with JPL.

 

For more information, visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/education/scientist/.

 

 

Venus Express Sparks Debate About Volcanoes

 

Observations by Europe’s
Venus Express spacecraft show the amount of sulfur dioxide gas
�in Venus’ atmosphere varies greatly, which may indicate recent volcanic activity on the planet, an April 4 European Space Agency press release said.

 

Sulfur dioxide is a byproduct of volcanic activity. Its variability on Venus was found to be greatest in the
upper atmosphere and less pronounced in the
lower atmosphere.

 

Readings from the orbiter’s Spectroscopy for Investigation of Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Venus, or Spicav, instrument varied by as much as two-thirds within a few days at altitudes
between 70 and 90 kilometers above the surface. The probe’s
Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer, or Virtis, meanwhile, showed that at 35 to 40 kilometers
�variation was no greater than two-fifths during the last two years.

 

The recent data from Venus Express reignites a long-running debate about the possible existence of active volcanoes on the planet’s surface.

 

Some scientists point to the presence of atmospheric sulfur dioxide as indirect evidence of recent volcanic activity on Venus. Skeptics, however, point out that the gas breaks down very slowly on Venus, meaning it could have been there for tens of millions of years.

“I am very skeptical about the volcanic hypothesis,” Jean-Loup Bertaux, principal investigator for Spicav, said in the release. “However, I must admit that we don’t understand yet why there is so much SO2 [sulfur dioxide] at high altitudes, where it should be destroyed rapidly by solar light, and why it is varying so wildly,” Bertaux said.