Obama Releases Plan for U.S. Space Leadership

The campaign of U.S. presidential candidate Sen. BarackObama (D-Ill.) issued Jan. 10 a “Plan for American Leadership in Space” that calls for completion of the international space station and building NASA’s Orion crew capsule and Ares 1 launcher.

Saying the country needs a strong program for national security and for economic reasons, the

plan also touts Obama’s


for robotic missions, climate change studies and general

scientific research.


plan says

Obama intends to

“keep weapons out of space.” Saying


anti-satellite weapon test

last January signals the potential for an

arms race in space, the document calls for a dialogue with Russia, China and other nations to prevent this from happening.

It also makes explicit Obama’s

support for surveillance satellites to monitor treaty compliance and emerging threats.

Kazakhstan Orders Second KazSat Satellite

The Republic of Kazakhstan has ordered a second KazSat communications satellite from the

Euro-Russian industrial team that built

KazSat-1, which

launched in June 2006, according to industry officials.

KazSat-2 will carry 16 Ku-band transponders, compared to 12 for KazSat-1, and like its predecessor will be placed directly into geostationary orbit by a Russian Proton rocket launched from Russia’s BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Large telecommunications satellites typically are dropped off into temporary orbit and use onboard propulsion to reach the geostationary arc.

KazSat-2, to be launched in late 2009, will use a platform built by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, which is prime contractor for the Proton rocket; and an electronics payload built by ThalesAlenia Space of France and Italy.

and ThalesAlenia Space also are collaborating on the Express MD-1 and MD-2 satellites, to be launched in late 2008 or early 2009.

Kazakhstan’s Republican Center of Space Communications is overseeing the KazSat-2 project for the Kazakh government. As is the case with KazSat-1, the satellite will be operated by the Russian Satellite Communications Co. of Moscow.

Griffin Solidly Behind COTS Logistics Demos

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told a Houston audience Jan. 10 he hopes to make

a new award to demonstrate space station logistics services

“in the coming weeks ahead once we clear all legal challenges.”

Eight firms submitted Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS)

proposals to NASA in November with the expectation that new awards would be made in February.

That schedule, however, was put in question when Congress approved a $555 billion spending bill that included a provision barring NASA from making a new COTS award until it resolves a dispute with one of its two original COTS awardees, RocketplaneKistler of Oklahoma City. NASA terminated RocketplaneKistler’s COTS agreement

last fall.

RocketplaneKistler is not currently challenging the termination of its COTS agreement and said in late December it has no intent to do so. However, the company has complained to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that Space Act Agreements are not appropriate for the COTS program and that NASA should be required to use

more-traditional government contracts for the program. The GAO is slated to rule on the complaint by Feb. 7.

Delivering the keynote address at the 5th Annual Conference of the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas, Griffin said

while he is thankful that Russia is willing and able to sell NASA the Soyuz and Progress

flights it needs to support the international space station now and after the space shuttle retires in 2010, he is committed to minimizing the United States’ “period of dependency” on non-domestic launch services.

“For this reason, my resolution for 2008 is to fight for the COTS program

to spur the development of U.S. commercial space transportation services to and from the international space station,” Griffin said. “I make this resolution because I firmly believe it will enhance U.S. access to Earth orbit and the international space station, while providing substantial savings to the taxpayer compared to NASA government-owned and operated capabilities. While I will of course respect the congressional direction in this year’s appropriation for NASA on COTS, I will be asking the Congress for the funds in 2009 to maintain NASA’s promised $500 million investment in the program.”

Harbinger Capital Boosts Stakes in Inmarsat, MSV

Private-equity investor Harbinger Capital is continuing its acquisition of equity ownership in mobile satellite services providers Inmarsat of London and Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) of Reston, Va.

Birmingham, Ala.-based Harbinger notified London Stock Exchange authorities that it has further increased its stake in Inmarsat, to 27.4 percent as of Jan. 4, according to a Jan. 7 public notice of the transaction.

Under London Stock Exchange rules, any shareholder surpassing a 29.9 percent stake in a company is obliged to make a take

over bid for the entire company. Industry officials speculated that Harbinger is likely to stop its purchases just short of the 29.9 percent level, preferring to coordinate its strategy with another Inmarsat shareholder instead of being forced to act by stock-exchange regulations.

Harbinger is also a large shareholder in MSV and on Jan. 7 completed the previously announced purchase of $150 million in MSV debt and an additional 7.5 percent of the company’s stock – 9.1 million shares – for $10 per share. Stock in MSV’s parent company, SkyTerra, is

traded on the U.S. Over-The-Counter market.

MSV and


are building two large L-band mobile communications satellites to cover North America.

and MSV in December announced a long-term partnership deploying next-generation mobile satellite services in the United States, but the agreement stops short of a merger of the companies. Instead, they will coordinate L-band frequency use.

Harbinger has declined to disclose its intentions with respect to either satellite services provider.

Lockheed Picks ATK To Build Orion Solar Arrays

Lockheed Martin Space Systems, prime contractor on NASA’s Orion crew capsule, selected AlliantTechsystems (ATK) to design, develop and build the vehicle’s solar arrays

under a contract expected to be worth more than $50 million.

Because Orion’s solar arrays

will be replaced after

each mission, ATK

expects continuous production through at least 2020, the company said in a Jan. 11

press release.

ATK will design and build the 5-meter diameter solar arrays at its

Able Engineering deployable space systems operation in Goleta, Calif.

EchoStar Taps Olmstead For Senior Satellite Job

EchoStar Holding Corp., which sells services on nine satellites it owns or leases, has appointed former SES Americom President Dean Olmstead as its president of satellite services, Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar announced Jan. 10.

Olmstead, who more recently was an advisor to Loral Space and Communications and president of Arrowhead Global Solutions before that company’s sale to Caprock, will report to EchoStar Holding Chairman Charles W. Ergen.

Holding recently was separated from EchoStar Communications Corp. in a move that created two publicly traded companies.

officials have long said they intend to capitalize on some of their unused in-orbit capacity to compete in the market for selling satellite capacity to television broadcasters and others instead of sticking to its own direct-broadcast television business.

The creation of EchoStar Holding, which includes EchoStar’s leased fiber-optic capacity, could facilitate EchoStar’s entry into the market as a competitor to SES Americom, Intelsat, Telesat Canada and other satellite-fleet operators.

New Data Show Asteroid Won’t Collide with Mars

Scientists observing an asteroid that will make a close approach to Mars in late January have all but ruled out the possibility that it will hit the red planet, according to a Jan. 9 update by NASA’s Near Earth Object program office.



refined their predictions for the Jan. 30 close encounter, when Asteroid 2007 WD5 will make its closest approach to

Mars. “As a result, the impact probability has dropped dramatically, to approximately 0.01 percent or 1-in-10,000 odds, effectively ruling out the possible collision with Mars,” the update noted.

Discovered in late 2007 by astronomers at the University of Arizona as part of the Catalina Sky Survey, 2007 WD5 is about 50 meters


– roughly

the size of the object that crashed into northern Arizona to form the Meteor Crater 50,000 years ago. Initial estimates of its trajectory excited astronomers because an impact could have carved a crater on Mars

nearly a


in diameter.

Trio of NASA Balloons Circle Above Antarctica

NASA and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) are in the midst of what the space agency says is a record-breaking campaign involving the simultaneous flight of three long-duration scientific observation balloons over Antarctica.

The balloons were launched

from the NSF’s McMurdo Station research facility in Antarctica between Dec. 19 and Dec. 26. The unique circulation of winds during the Antarctic summer, which corresponds to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, is such that the balloons will circle the continent one to three times before being recovered near the launch site, NASA said.

“Having three long-duration balloon science missions flying simultaneously is a record-setting event. But of greater significance is the increase in science that can be accomplished with only a modest increase in cost to the program,” David Gregory, assistant chief of NASA’s Balloon Program at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, said in a prepared statement.

The balloons are flying at an average altitude of 37 kilometers, with their payloads studying cosmic rays, antimatter and other cosmological phenomena. Scientists from the United States, France, Japan, South Korea and other countries are participating in the project.

NASA Aeronautics Chief Named 1st IARPA Director

The U.S. intelligence community’s new Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), which is modeled on the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), will be led by Lisa Porter, currently

associate administrator for NASA’s




Directorate. Porter will be IARPA’s first director.

“This is an important milestone for the Intelligence Community,” Mike McConnell, U.S. director of national

intelligence, said in a Jan. 9 statement.

Tim Murphy has served as IARPA’s acting director since June 2007 and will remain there as deputy director when Porter starts. Porter is expected to stay at NASA through the end of January, NASA spokesman J.D. Harrington said Jan. 9.


four offices are: Next Generation Close Access; Incisive Analysis; Special Programs; and Exploratory Research. Its headquarters are at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. IARPA, created in May

of last year

, brought together the National Security Agency’s

disruptive technology office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s

national technology alliance and the CIA’s intelligence technology innovation center.

Prior to joining NASA, Porter worked at

DARPA’s advanced technology office. Among the projects she managed

there were the Helicopter Quieting Program, designed to develop quiet rotor blades, and the Friction Drag Reduction Program, which focused on developing friction reduction technologies on naval platforms.

Astrobiology Institute Looks

To Take on New Members

NASA is looking for organizations interested in becoming part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, which was established in 1998 to advance the study of the origin, evolution

and distribution of life in the universe.

A Cooperative Agreement Notice released Jan. 8 seeks organizations in the United States and around the world interested in joining the institute. According to the notice, NASA anticipates selecting seven or more organizations to share $10 million to $12 million in annual funding the agency is making available for astrobiology-focused work. The opportunity is open to industry, educational institutions, other not-for-profit organizations, NASA field centers and other government agencies.

Interested organizations are asked

to submit a notice of their intent to bid for the funding by Feb. 22, with proposals due April 11. NASA’s Astrobiology Institute is managed by the agency’s

Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Glenn Taps SAIC for Environmental Support

Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) will provide environmental and safety support services to NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland on an as-needed basis under a contract with a total potential value of $467 million, San Diego-based SAIC said in a press release Jan. 8.

The indefinite quantity-indefinite delivery contract has a three-year base period and one two-year option, SAIC said. The services will include chemical and waste management, safety compliance, environmental engineering and construction safety, the company said.

Early Sunspot Could Portend Strong Cycle

Scientists at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) believe the Jan. 3 sighting of the first sunspot in the sun’s northern hemisphere indicates the new 11-year cycle of heightened solar activity has begun, a Jan. 4 NOAA press release said.

Sunspots are areas of highly concentrated magnetic activity on the surface of the sun that are indicators of increased solar activity. This activity translates into greater risk for electrical grids, aircraft communications, GPS signals and consumer electronics, all of which can be disrupted when highly charged material is ejected from the sun during solar storms.

This current solar cycle is expected to reach its maximum activity by 2011

or 2012, NOAA said. In April 2007, NOAA issued a forecast predicting the new solar cycle would begin in March 2008, plus or minus six months. The panel that issued the forecast was split over whether it would be a strong or weak cycle but agreed the sooner the cycle starts, the higher the likelihood that it will be a strong one.

Boeing Begins Assembling JTRS Engineering Models

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis has begun manufacturing engineering models of the latest version of the U.S. Army’s Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio


, according to a Jan. 8 company press release.

The JTRS family is composed

of software-programmable, satellite-compatible radios that can function on multiple frequencies and provide secure voice, data, imagery and video transmission. The program was designed to facilitate

communications interoperability

across the U.S. military.

Boeing is the prime contractor for the JTRS GMR, a version of the radio that can be fitted onto armored vehicles. The engineering models will undergo field testing throughout 2008 with the goal of formal government certification by the end of the year. More than 100 older models of the JTRS GMR

already are operating in test environments.

CSC Unit Wins Contract To Support NASA Facilities

Computer Sciences Corp.’s (CSC)

Applied Technology Division of Fort Worth, Texas, will provide facility upgrade and management services to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston under a contract potentially worth $544 million over 10 years, NASA said in a Jan. 3 press release.

The contract has a two-year base period worth $102 million and eight one-year options, NASA said. The work includes support to Johnson’s Mission Control Center and planning for facility upgrade projects at Johnson and at the Sonny Carter Training Facility and Ellington Field in Houston.

Biological Precursor Molecules Discovered Outside Solar System

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope found complex organic molecules believed to be the precursors to biomolecules on Earth outside the solar system, a Jan. 3 press release from the Carnegie Institution for Science


The organic molecules, called tholins, have been found on comets and on Saturn’s moon Titan, but this is the first time they have been observed

outside the solar system, the release said. Hubble’s Near-Infrared Multi-Object Spectrometer discovered tholins in the

dust surrounding an


million-year-old star

dubbed HR 4796A


, which cannot form in an oxygenated atmosphere, are believed to have existed on Earth before it developed an oxygen-rich atmosphere. They are believed to be the basis for Earth’s biomolecules.

The find suggests

that such biomolecular precursors might be common in planets of other solar systems, the release said.

The study, done by astronomers at the Washington-based Carnegie Institution and the University of Arizona in Tucson, will be

published in an upcoming

issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, John Debes, study author, said in a Jan.4 phone call.

Patricia Grace Smith To Retire From FAA Post

Patricia Grace Smith, the

point person for the regulation of commercial space at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is retiring effective Feb. 3, FAA spokesman Jim Stasny confirmed Jan. 8.

Grace will be missed for her effectiveness and her institutional memory, said one close observer. “She’s just done a terrific job over there and will be very difficult to replace,” said J.P. Stevens, vice president for space issues at the Aerospace Industries Association. “She has been responsible for a lot of the progress that has been made in commercial space.”

Smith, the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation, began her space career at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation in 1994, where she rose to chief of staff within one year. In 1995, the office was transferred to the FAA – a division of the Transportation Department – and Smith received the

title of

deputy associate administrator for commercial space transportation. In June 1998, Smith became associate administrator, according to her official biography.

During Smith’s tenure, the FAA issued the first license for an inland commercial


the Mojave Air and Spaceport, licensed the launch of SpaceShipOne and developed commercial launch safety standards with the Air Force. Before joining the Transportation Department, Smith worked at the Federal Communications Commission.

No replacement has been named for Smith, Stasny said.

Northrop Refurbishes ABL’s Chemical Laser

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., has completed an inspection and refurbishment of the high-power chemical laser it is providing for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency

(MDA) Airborne Laser (ABL) program, a Jan. 3 company press release said.

The laser

, which is housed


a modified Boeing 747 aircraft

, is the MDA’s primary weapon for boost-phase missile defense. The system being built today is a prototype intended to verify the concept, but it eventually could be pressed into service if needed, MDA officials say.

Northrop Grumman is providing the missile-killing Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser for ABL prime contractor Boeing Missile Defense Systems of Arlington, Va.

The chemical laser’s inspection and refurbishing follows a series of ground test firings in 2007. Afterwards it was removed from the aircraft prior to several flight tests last year in which the system’s tracking lasers were tested. The chemical laser is expected to be fully reintegrated this year and flight tests, including the first shoot-down test, are scheduled for 2009.

U.S. Air Force Extends T-Sat Study Contracts

The U.S. Air Force awarded $75 million contract modifications to Lockheed Martin

and Boeing

to extend their

design work on a new generation of laser-linked communications satellites,

according to a Pentagon contract announcement dated Jan. 7.

The competing design studies of the Transformational Satellite Communications, or T-Sat, system previously were expected to wrap up this month.

When 2007 began, the Air Force had planned to award a single prime contract for


before the end of the year. Toward the end of 2007,

Air Force Brig Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, deputy commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, which oversees the T-Sat procurement, said

the award would take place in 2008, but declined to be more specific.

U.S. Defense Department officials have been anticipating in recent months that the Air Force’s 2009 budget request for the T-Sat effort will be less than the $1.2 billion the service

previously had projected in its long-range budget forecasts.

That could in turn lead to a significant delay in

the planned 2016 launch date for the first T-Sat spacecraft.

Radyne Touts Status as a Component Market Leader

Radyne Corp. Chief Executive Myron Wagner said the company’s satellite equipment businesses have become market-share leaders for provision of satellite modems, converters and power amplifiers.

In a Jan. 8 presentation to a Needham & Co. investor conference in New York, Wagner said Phoenix-based Radyne estimates that it has a 35 percent share of the market for satellite electronics including modems and converters – tied with Comtech EF Data Corp. of Tempe, Ariz., and ahead of the 10 percent share held by Paradise Datacom LLC of State College, Pa.

According to Radyne, NewTech of Belgium has an 8 percent market share, with other manufacturers accounting for the remaining 12 percent.

In the satellite amplifier market, Wagner said Radyne’sXicom Technology division is the market leader with a 23 percent share, ahead of CPI Satcom of Palo, Alto, Calif., which has 17 percent of the market for tube amplifiers and power amplifiers. According to Radyne, the MCL division of Hauppage, N.Y.-based Miteq has 12 percent of this business.

Wagner reiterated his belief

that the market for small satellites – those weighing no more than 200-300 kilograms – is in a sustained growth period led by the U.S. Defense Department’s current emphasis on what is called operationally responsive space.

Radyne in 2007 purchased small-satellite builder AeroAstro to capitalize on

this expected growth.

estimates that the market for satellites of this type, mainly for U.S. defense applications, will grow from $70 million in 2007 to $225 million in 2011. Wagner did not disclose a forecast for the percent of this market targeted by AeroAstro.

AsiaSatToDelist From New York Stock Exchange

Satellite-fleet operator AsiaSat of Hong Kong will delist from the New York Stock Exchange by the end of January because of low trading volume and the high cost

of maintaining a U.S. stock market presence, the company announced Jan. 8.

The company will continue to list its stock on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and said this should provide its investors with sufficient liquidity despite the company’s absence from the U.S. stock market. AsiaSat’s shares in New York have traded through American Depository Receipts, which are equivalent to 10 ordinary AsiaSat shares.

Chief Executive Peter Jackson has said repeatedly that the relatively low volume of trading in AsiaSat stock and the administrative costs associated with a New York Stock Exchange listing argue for a delisting.