Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 19 September 2005
11:24 am ET


Artificial Gravity Gym May Combat Atrophy in Space

Researchers at the NASA-funded National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) and the University of California at Irvine are testing whether a centrifuge that creates artificial gravity could help astronauts battle muscle atrophy while on long-term missions to the Moon or Mars, NSBRI announced Sept. 14.

In the microgravity environment of space, the rate of muscle loss occurs much quicker because the muscles are not being used to bear weight. To counter this effect, scientists have devised a contraption called the Space Cycle, which can produce various levels of artificial gravity ranging from Earth’s gravity at 1g to five times that amount.

The Space Cycle is a two-person exercise gym that essentially creates a human centrifuge. One participant pedals a bike on one side of the device, while another stands on a platform on the opposite side. As the one person pedals, the cycle begins to spin around a central pole. The circular motion generates pressure on the rider that is similar to the effect of Earth’s gravity , while the person on the platform experiences the same pressure and performs squat exercises to work the muscles.

Researchers are working to determine the Space Cycle’s effectiveness by comparing the participants’ muscle strength both before and after the study. Researchers at Irvine also are looking at how the device can maintain bone mass and cardiovascular fitness.

Planned Lunar Orbiter to Map Radiation Hazards

As NASA sets its sights on a return to the Moon by 2018 , scientists at the space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., are working to find ways to shield astronauts from the harmful radiation that exists on the lunar surface.

The Moon is continually exposed to radiation from solar flares and cosmic rays that produce dangerous secondary particles when they hit the surface. These rebounding particles can penetrate human flesh and harm DNA to increase the risk of cancer and other maladies.

In order to learn more about the Moon’s radiation environment and scout locations for future visits, NASA is developing a robotic probe called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Slated to launch in 2008, the orbiter also will search for frozen water on the lunar surface.

One instrument in particular aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Cosmic Ray Telescope for Effects of Radiation, will help NASA map radiation on the Moon. The sensor is equipped with a special plastic that resembles human tissue in density and composition. By placing radiation detectors behind this plastic , scientists can learn more about how radiation penetrates and interacts with the human body.

NASA officials hope data collected by the orbiter will help them design radiation-safe spacesuits, lunar habitats and Moon vehicles before the agency returns there by the end of the next decade.

Yohkoh X-ray Observatory Burns Up Upon Re-entry

Japan’s Yohkoh, or Solar-A, X-ray scientific satellite re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere over South Asia Sept. 12 and disintegrated without any debris surviving, the Japanese space agency, JAXA, announced Sept. 13.

Yohkoh was launched by a Japanese M-3S-2 rocket in August 1991 and operated in low Earth orbit for more than 11 years.

JAXA announced in early September that the 390-kilogram satellite, in a 240-kilometer circular orbit, was losing altitude as a result of solar activity. JAXA said Sept. 13 that the U.S. Space Surveillance Network tracked the satellite as it entered the atmosphere at a location of 24 degrees north latitude and 85 degrees east longitude — an area over Patna, India.

Launch Firms Welcome Intelsat-PanAmSat Combo

Financial analysts said one certain benefit to come from the merger of Intelsat and PanAmSat will be reduced capital and operating expenditures, but providers of launch services said they welcomed the industry’s consolidation.

Intelsat and PanAmSat have a combined $250 million in annual operating costs, a figure that investment bankers said can be sharply cut as the merged company eliminates administrative posts, combines sales teams and realizes other synergies.

The cost-cutting also should be extended to capital investment in satellites and launch vehicles as the two fleet operators will be able to offer better in-orbit backup in case of problems, thus reducing the need for new satellites, financial analysts said. But providers of rockets are unconvinced that the capital expenditure level will decline over the long term.

Mark J. Albrecht, president of International Launch Services of McLean, Va., said history suggests the PanAmSat-Intelsat merger could be good for business.

Albrecht noted that the merger of SES Astra of Europe with GE Americom of the United States in 2000, which created the world’s largest commercial satellite-fleet operator, resulted in an immediate cancellation of satellite contracts.

But as the combined company, SES Global of Luxembourg, grew in strength, it opened new satellite markets and added to its fleet in ways that would have been unlikely if the merger had not occurred, Albrecht said.

“A stronger entity is likely to start new business. SES Global did cancel contracts early after the merger, but what has emerged is a stronger company that will be ordering more satellites over the long term. It’s positive news. Large customers can sign large contracts — for example, three or four launchers at a time.”

Jean-Yves Le Gall, chief executive of Arianespace of Evry, France, said the result of consolidation among satellite operators should be a stronger satellite industry better able to compete with other technologies.

“It’s a good thing for the space industry,” Le Gall said. “By creating a wealthier, larger company, they will be better able to do battle with the terrestrial competitors.”

Jim Maser, president of Sea Launch Co. of Long Beach, Calif., also struck an upbeat tone, although he said it remains unclear whether, in the long run, consolidation among satellite operators is good for the launch-services business.

“We will have to wait to see what happens,” Maser said. “The new company can buy multiple launches. Overall it’s going to be a good thing for the industry.”

WorldSpace Cuts Losses, Grows During 2nd Quarter

Satellite radio operator WorldSpace Inc. narrowed its losses and reported gains in both revenue and subscribers during its 2005 second quarter, the company announced Sept. 7.

Washington-based WorldSpace booked $2.3 million in overall revenues for the 2005 second quarter, a 21-percent increase over the $1.9 million recorded during the same period last year. Subscriber revenues increased to $800,000 for the three-month period ending June 30, a 390-percent jump from the $200,000 reported the same period last year. The company posted about $558,000 in equipment revenue, which includes receiver sales, and nearly $971,000 in revenues from various deals including licensing agreements and capacity and lease sales, said WorldSpace spokeswoman Leslie Tullio.

As of June 30, the company had nearly 64,000 subscribers, 11,000 more than when the quarter began.

WorldSpace also had a smaller net loss during this year’s second quarter at $22 million, compared to nearly $52 million for the same period last year.

Loral’s SkyReach Service Expands With Austrian Help

Loral Skynet of Bedminster, N.J., announced Sept. 12 it has reached an agreement with Telekom Austria to expand Loral’s SkyReach communications services in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Loral will install an iDirect hub at Telekom Austria’s Aflenz teleport so customers will have better access to regional and global networking and Internet services.

Skynet plans to use capacity on its Telstar 10 and 12 satellites along with other regional satellites to expand the network. The company said services via Skynet’s hub at Telekom Austria will be available by December 2005.

Orbital Wins Contract for Fleet Management System

Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Transportation Management Systems division nabbed a $4.4 million contract from Intercity Transit of Olympia, Wash., to provide a communications system to help manage a fleet of buses and other maintenance vehicles, Orbital announced Sept. 12.

Orbital of Dulles, Va., will supply its Advanced Communications System to help Intercity Transit oversee the operation of its 85 vehicles. The system will provide radio communications that will be fully integrated with Orbital’s vehicle-dispatch software, OrbCAD. The communications system will allow dispatchers and vehicle operators to better regulate transportation timetables and operations, Orbital said in a news release.

ProtoStar Closes In On Satellite Procurement

ProtoStar Ltd. of Bermuda and San Francisco expects to announce by November that it is procuring a satellite — either one already in orbit or one available on the ground — to begin its business of offering direct-to-home satellite broadcasting to customers in the Asia-Pacific, ProtoStar Chief Executive Philip Father said.

ProtoStar’s business plan is based on the idea that the Asia-Pacific satellite market, which is widely viewed as oversupplied, is ripe for a satellite tailored to wholesale direct-to-home television using small rooftop dishes.

“Most Asian Ku-band capacity is legacy and is not uniquely configured for 50- or 60-centimeter dishes,” Father said Sept. 8 in Paris during the World Summit for Satellite Financing. “That type of complexion does not exist today.”

ProtoStar has raised venture-capital financing and has been in negotiations with Loral Space and Communications of New York about purchasing Loral’s Chinasat 8 satellite, which was built in the late 1990s but never delivered to its Chinese customer because of U.S. opposition to its launch on a Chinese rocket.

Chinasat 8 has both C- and Ku-band capacity, and ProtoStar plans to offer mainly Ku-band services. But Father said Chinasat 8 could be launched as it is, with ProtoStar selling the C-band capacity in bulk while focusing its business on the Ku-band transponders.

Father declined to disclose the orbital-slot location that ProtoStar intends to use, saying several slots remain available for covering the target markets.

Orbital slots are allocated by international regulators with deadlines for occupying them. To make the deadline for one of its proposed slots, ProtoStar is weighing whether to purchase an in-orbit satellite and move it to the desired location while waiting for a new spacecraft to be launched.

Saab Ericsson to Supply Antennas for RapidEye

Saab Ericsson of Sweden booked an order from Surrey Satellite Technology for 10 X-band helix antennas for the planned RapidEye Earth observation satellite system, Saab Ericsson announced Sept. 8.

The RapidEye system, which includes five, 175-kilogram satellites built by Surrey Satellite of the United Kingdom, is being managed by MacDonald Dettwiler of Canada. The satellites will be equipped with optical sensors capable of capturing features on the ground 6.5 meters across or larger.

The RapidEye satellites, designed to operate in 620-kilometer orbits, are slated to begin launching in 2007.

Telenor To Relay Updates From Sahara Expedition

Bandwidth provided by Telenor Satellite Services of Norway is enabling the world to track the progress of fossil-hunting paleontologists on an expedition in the Sahara Desert in Niger.

Using Telenor’s mobile satellite services, scientists on Project Exploration’s Dinosaur Expedition 2005 are broadcasting daily reports on their findings via the Internet, Telenor announced Sept. 8.

From September through November, Project Exploration’s Web site, www.projectexploration.org, will allow visitors to view daily broadcasts as the scientific team investigates a Neolithic-age fossil site containing human skeletons, tools, jewelry and animal remains. The six-week expedition also will allow the team to develop a plan to preserve the site, which is at risk of surface erosion and pillaging.

Japan’s Hayabusa Probe Reaches Target Asteroid

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency announced Sept. 14 that its Hayabusa spacecraft successfully arrived at the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa Sept. 12 to perform detailed studies and mapping as well as attempt to collect surface samples.

Hayabusa launched in May 2003 and will stay at the asteroid until the end of November, when it will begin its expedition back to Earth. Its return is scheduled for 2007.

Chambers Tapped To Run Boeing Space-Intel Unit

Boeing has named Howard E. Chambers vice president and general manager of Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems, a position he has held on a temporary basis since August following the retirement of Roger Roberts, Boeing announced Sept. 13. The division oversees Boeing’s Information Systems, Mission Systems and Satellite Development Center divisions and parts of the Future Imagery Architecture program.

Chambers is a former vice president of program development at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems and a former general manager of Boeing’s Airlift and Tanker Programs division.

U.S. Air Force Deploys Iridium Weather Terminals

The U.S. Air Force has deployed more than 280 systems that will transmit weather data to various stations throughout the world over low Earth orbiting communications satellites.

The systems are part of the AN/TMQ-53 Tactical Meteorological Observing System (TMOS), which uses the Iridium fleet of satellites to transmit the data, according to a Sept. 13 press release issued by Iridium Satellite LLC of Bethesda, Md.

The device consists of weather sensors connected to a computer and an Iridium modem. The sensors measure such things as visibility, precipitation, cloud heights and quantities, and lightning within a roughly 80-kilometer radius.

Integrated by NAL Research Corp. of Manassas, Va., the device allows combat weather teams to process, encode and transmit weather data to a network within an hour of receiving the information. Before the systems were deployed , it took approximately 72 hours to accomplish this, the press release said.

iPSTAR Broadband Service Will Begin in September

Shin Satellite Public Co. Ltd. expects to begin commercial operations of its large Thaicom 4/iPSTAR consumer-broadband satellite by the end of September and has placed an order for 100,000 two-way broadband terminals, according to Dumrong Kasemset, the company’s executive chairman.

Bangkok, Thailand-based Shin — whose 6,500-kilogram, 114-transponder Ku-band satellite was successfully launched by an Ariane 5 rocket Aug. 11 — and its distributors now begin what Kasemset called “house-to-house” combat to win subscribers.

Thaicom 4/iPSTAR, built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., can handle 4 million simultaneous users. To test the system’s ground hardware, Shin in the past year has been using capacity aboard Eutelsat and SingTel spacecraft, as well as Shin’s Thaicom satellite, linked to the 20,000 terminals previously purchased.

“After shipping 20,000 terminals, we have most of the kinks out,” Kasemset said Sept. 7 during the World Summit for Satellite Financing held in Paris.

Kasemset said getting landing rights in the broad swath of Asia that Shin views as iPSTAR’s core market remains a high hurdle in front of the company’s iPSTAR business plan. “Overcoming the regulatory barriers in the 14 countries we want to cover will be a challenge,” Kasemset said.

“Up to now, our situation has been like being in F-15 fighters conducting an aerial campaign,” Kasemset said of the iPSTAR work conducted up to now, including the launch of the satellite. “Now we need to send in the Marines for house-to-house combat to win customers. We should reach the revenue-break-even point by the end of our first year. I am very optimistic we’ll get there.”

Shin is targeting schools, businesses and government offices in rural locations, as well as individual homes, to introduce its broadband service. He said iPSTAR in many ways should be viewed as a mobile-telephone business as much as a broadband data provider.

Asia Selling More Capacity But Low Rates Offset Gain

AsiaSat Chief Executive Peter Jackson says the satellite-telecommunications business in Asia continues to grow as new television channels are introduced, but adds that the new business is being booked “at the wrong prices.”

Hong Kong-based AsiaSat, which is minority-owned by SES Global of Luxembourg, continues to suffer from pricing pressure due to overcapacity in many Asian markets. It is a situation that Jackson said is likely to continue for the rest of the year.

AsiaSat reported that its satellite fill rate increased to 52 percent as of June 30, up from 46 percent on Dec. 31, 2004. But the new business did not do much for the company’s financial performance.

AsiaSat reported Aug. 24 that revenues for the first half of 2005 were 445 million Hong Kong dollars ($57.4 million) — a 19-percent drop from a year earlier. Profit was down 27 percent. The figures were distorted by the fact that in 2004 the company received a one-time payment of 107 million Hong Kong dollars from a customer that terminated its contract early. Excluding this item, sales year-on-year were flat.

Jackson said being a part of the SES Global family has not brought the company many new customers but has helped in other ways.

“We are a regional company,” Jackson said. “We have an advantage only when there is demand for our channels in other regions. Now there is a large demand for Asia programming in Europe, for example. But the real advantage is that SES Global has a tremendous R&D department. They have people able to help us with satellite and Earth station procurement, and they help supervise contractors in the U.S. or the U.K. They also help us develop new applications. We are part of that development work, but we’re not paying for it.”

Swift Gamma Ray Craft Detects Distant Burst

Scientists using NASA’s Swift observatory have detected the most distant star explosion yet recorded, a gamma-ray burst from the edge of the visible universe, NASA announced Sept. 12.

The 200-second burst, detected Sept. 4, marks the death of a massive star and the birth of a black hole. It occurred 500 million to 1 billion years after the Big Bang, the cataclysm that astronomers believe set in motion the formation of galaxies.

Scientists determined the burst’s distance by measuring its redshift, which results as the wavelengths of photons increase and shift to the lower-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. The wavelengths of photons become longer as they travel across the expanding universe from a point of origin to the point of detection.

The burst had a redshift value of 6.29, indicating that it occurred some 13 billion light years from Earth, near what is thought to be the edge of the universe.

The only burst observed at a greater distance originated from a quasar, a large black hole with the mass of billions of stars. The latest burst comes from a lone star. Scientists do not know much about the nature of the exploding star but are planning further analysis.

Pentagon Orders More Rockwell GPS Receivers

The U.S. Air Force has awarded Rockwell Collins Government Systems of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a contract modification worth over $5 million for an additional 2,148 GPS receivers that include tamper-resistant Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing modules for added security, the Department of Defense announced Sept. 9.

The contract for additional Defense Advanced Global Positioning Satellite Receivers will support foreign military sales, the Pentagon said. Under the modified contract, Rockwell Collins must complete delivery of the additional receivers by June 2006.

Digital Fusion To Provide Support to NASA Marshall

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has awarded a contract potentially worth $49 million to Digital Fusion Inc. to provide business and acquisition support services to assist in program management, budget integration, data processing and other activities, Digital Fusion announced Sept. 14.

The contract has a two-week phase-in period starting Sept. 16, followed by a one-year base period and then four additional one-year options — adding up to a potential five-year deal.

Under the contract, Digital Fusion of Huntsville also will provide the NASA center with business models, acquisition policy services and cost analysis support, the company said.

Wideband Gapfiller Could Be Delayed by 15 Months

The launch of the first Wideband Gapfiller military communications satellite may be delayed by more than a year due to reliability concerns with the spacecraft, according to U.S. military and industry officials.

Recent thermal testing on the first satellite found fasteners used throughout the spacecraft had been installed improperly, and a subsequent investigation found lapses in prior inspection procedures, according to a written response to questions from the M ilitary Satellite Communications Joint Program office at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

John Fuller, Boeing vice president for Air Force space systems, said that despite the problems, the Wideband Gapfiller satellite has performed well in capabilities testing.

Boeing believes that it can have the satellite ready for launch before the end of the year, but the Air Force is targeting June 2007 as a safer bet, Fuller said. Subsequent satellites in the constellation are expected to launch in December 2007 and May 2008, according to the Air Force program office.

The delays are needed to address additional work and inspections on the first satellite, and additional inspections on those that follow, according to the program office.

Boeing, rather than the Air Force, will bear the cost of the delay, Fuller said. The company’s contract on the program, which could be worth up to $1.3 billion if the Air Force launches all six Wideband Gapfiller satellites, is fixed price.

The Wideband Gapfiller satellites, which initially were slated to launch in early 2004, are expected to provide more bandwidth to deployed troops than the current Defense Satellite Communication System constellation. The delay frustrates military users who hoped to take advantage of the systems sooner, and feel more comfortable with the security of military communications satellites than those operated by commercial providers, according to Pentagon sources.

NRO Plan Would Shift FIA Work To Lockheed Martin

The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is likely to take away a portion of a lucrative intelligence satellite program from Boeing Co., according to sources.

The plan, which has yet to be finalized, would transfer part of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) program to Lockheed Martin, which had built spy satellites for years before Boeing won the competition for the FIA satellites in September 1999, the sources said.

FIA includes both electro-optical and radar satellites. The sources did not state which part of the program is likely to move to Lockheed Martin. The program has repeatedly run into cost and schedule problems , raising concern among congressional aides that the satellites might not be ready to replace the existing generation of spacecraft on-time, which would mean potential coverage gaps.

NRO Director Don Kerr told reporters Sept. 1 that the NRO was reviewing all of its satellite efforts, and expected to brief Congress shortly on possible changes so that they might be incorporated into the 2006 defense budget.

Rick Oborn, an NRO spokesman, declined to comment on the matter due to the classified nature of the FIA program.

Kimberly Krantz, a spokewoman for Boeing Co., said that the company had not been notified by the NRO of any changes to the program, and declined to comment further.

Orbital Wins NASA Small Launch Vehicle Contract

NASA renewed a small launch vehicle contract with Orbital Sciences Corp. that will permit the U.S. space agency to order up to 30 rockets from the Dulles, Va.-based company between now and 2010. The contract covers launches aboard Orbital’s Pegasus and Taurus rockets.

The so-called Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contract, an extension of a contract awarded in 1999, does not obligate NASA to buy a single launch from Orbital. The contract is worth a minimum of $100,000, assuming NASA buys no launches under the deal, and as much as $5 billion if NASA were to buy all 30 launches.

Orbital officials said in a Sept. 16 news release that they expect the contract to result in six or seven launch orders for the company.

Mars Express Mission Extended 23 Months

European space-science program managers have approved a 23-month extension of the Mars Express mission. The extended mission will permit the orbiter’s seven observing instruments to continue investigating Mars’ atmosphere, surface and subsurface until November 2007.

The Science Program Committee (SPC), which sets Europe’s space science priorities in the budget of the 17-nation European Space Agency (ESA), approved a 23-month mission operations budget of 15 million euros ($18.6 million) Sept. 15 by unanimous vote, according to Mars Express Mission Manager Fred Jansen.

Mars Express was launched in June 2003 and has been operating in Mars orbit since December 2003.

The SPC approval, which was expected, followed a decision by Mars Express managers to switch off the Planetary Four ier Spectrometer (PFS) instrument because of an unexplained deterioration of its performance.

Jansen said Sept. 16 the PFS glitch occurs when the instrument is being switched on. It will remain out of service while ground teams seek an explanation for the problem. The PFS glitch has not affected the satellite or any of the other instruments, he said.

It is the PFS instrument that has confirmed the presence of methane and formaldehyde concentrations in Mars’ atmosphere , discoveries that have encouraged speculation about current and former life on Mars.

The PFS closely resembles an instrument to be flown on ESA’s Venus Express satellite, set for launch in late October. But Jansen said PFS has performed flawlessly for about two years — its originally intended mission life — and its recent difficulties on Mars Express are not serious enough to delay the Venus Express launch.

Lugar’s Bill Would Let NASA Buy Russian Spacecraft

A bill that would clear the way for NASA to buy international space station-bound Soyuz flights from Russia was introduced Sept. 15 by U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 bars U.S. purchases of Soyuz vehicles and other Russian human spaceflight hardware as long as Russia continues to help Iran in its pursuit of nuclear know-how and advanced weapons technology. NASA and the U.S. State Department formally asked Congress in June to amend the act to permit the United States to make use of Russian technology in its space exploration plans.

Lugar’s bill, S. 1713, would permit NASA and U.S. corporations to buy space station-related hardware from Russia through 2012. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives intend to introduce a companion bill soon.

Without relief from the Iran act, NASA could soon find itself unable to use the space station. A Soyuz capsule slated to launch Sept. 30 carrying a new two-person crew to the station is the last one Russia is obligated to provide at no charge to the United States under a bilateral agreement.

Engine Test Failure Delays Maiden Flight of Falcon 1

The maiden flight of Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) Falcon 1 rocket is being pushed to late October following an engine test failure at the company’s Texas test facility. The main stage engine, called Merlin, was undergoing qualification testing there.

Elon Musk, head of the entrepreneurial SpaceX, based in El Segundo, Calif., said the Falcon 1 engine now being prepared for first flight at the firm’s private rocket facilities at a Kwajalein Atoll launch area in the western Pacific Ocean has completed acceptance testing. That Merlin passed with flying colors and is mounted in the first stage at Kwajalein, Musk said.

The Merlin engine problem, Musk said, occurred during a qualification program. That activity involves taking a series of engines and testing them in unusual circumstances, such as high- and low-mixture ratio, high and low thrust, hot and cold fuel temperatures, and maximum suction speed on the turbopump. It also tests for consistency of manufacturing, he added.

SpaceDev Loan Tied To Planned Acquisition

SpaceDev of Poway, Calif., has loaned Starsys Research Corp. $1.2 million in preparation for a possible acquisition of the Boulder, Colo., space technology company.

As a condition of the loan, Starsys cannot discuss a merger or a sale of assets or stocks with another company until Oct. 31.

The two companies entered into a non-binding letter of intent considering a possible transaction, according to a Sept. 15 press release from SpaceDev.

The release says the structure and economic terms of the letter are subject to further negotiations and due diligence.

The loan carries an interest rate of 8 percent, with payments coming due starting Dec. 31, the release says.