Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 05 February 2008
03:51 pm ET











New Lunar Data Shaping Future Landing Decision









NASA is just beginning to analyze high-resolution radar imagery of the Moon’s south pole region collected in late 2006 by the Goldstone Solar System Radar Interferometer in California.

Doug Cooke, NASA deputy associate administrator for exploration systems, said the 20-meter resolution imagery will help the U.S. space agency construct detailed topographical maps of the Moon’s south pole, a leading candidate for the lunar outpost NASA hopes to begin constructing around 2020.

The slope and elevation information that radar imagery is providing already HAS caused NASA to question, for example, whether the rim of the Aiken Basin is truly the most sunlit spot in the region. Near constant sunlight is considered an important resource for NASA’s envisioned solar-powered outpost. NASA also needs reliable slope information to avoid setting astronauts down in areas where steep inclines might otherwise constrain how far they can roam.

“This is what you need to figure out what your locations are going to be,” Cooke said.

The imagery, shown to reporters Jan. 31, was collected over three 90-minute passes using a network of widely-spaced radio astronomy dishes operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. A higher- fidelity imagery set is being prepared for release at the 3rd Space Exploration Conference NASA is hosting in Denver Feb. 26-28.













Russia To Begin Work on Newest Launch Facility



Russia will break ground this year on a mixed-use facility that will include a rocket-launch complex in the country’s Far East, according to Nikolai Sevastyanov, deputy governor of Russia’s Amur region. Russian President Vladimir Putin decreed in November that the new launch pad be built in that part of the country.

Speaking to reporters Jan. 31, Sevastyanov said that while initial work will be focused on building an airport,




that




project will be expanded to include development of the planned VostochnyCosmodrome near the town of Uglegorsk. Excerpts of Sevastyanov’s remarks were posted on the Amur regional government’s Web site.

First Deputy Prime Minister SergeiIvanov told senior officials with Roskosmos, Russia’s space agency, Jan. 23 that initial launches from the new cosmodrome could take place in 2016. He said the first launches of cosmonaut crews could take place by 2018, according to the Roskosmos Web site.

NASA Wants Money for Two New Earth Science Missions



NASA will ask Congress for $103 million for 2009 to get started




on two new Earth science missions identified as priorities in a 10-year plan the National Academy of Sciences produced last year. The




decadal survey put forth a slate of 17 missions for NASA and its sister agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to undertake by 2020.

In a conference call with reporters Feb. 1, NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale announced




that NASA’s forthcoming budget request would support




five




Earth science mission starts over the next six years. The first of those




missions would launch in 2012, she said.

NASA currently spends about $1.4 billion annually on Earth science. While declining to divulge




how much NASA




is seeking for 2009 for that activity overall, Dale




said the agency’s forthcoming




request to Congress




dedicates $910 million over five years to initiate five missions identified by the National Academy’s




decadal survey. These




would be in addition to the seven Earth observation satellites the U.S. space agency already has in development.

The two missions NASA intends to start in 2009 are the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission and ICESAT-2, which is a follow-on to NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite that was launched in 2003. SMAP will launch in 2012;




ICESAT-2 in 2015, Dale said.

Dale said NASA was not ready to announce the other three planned new starts.

During the same conference call




, NOAA Administrator




Conrad Lautenbacher announced that his agency’s 2009 budget request would include $74 million




for two key climate sensors dropped from the civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System




during that program’s 2006 restructuring.

Lautenbacher
said NOAA would use the money to put an already-built Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System, or CERES, sensor on the NPOESS Preparatory Project satellite expected to launch no sooner than 2010. Lautenbacher said NOAA also would




start work on a




Total Solar Irradiance Sensor with the aim of finding a suitable spacecraft to accommodate the instrument.


United States, India Sign Space Cooperation Accord



The heads of the U.S. and Indian space agencies




signed a framework agreement Feb. 1




to work together on Earth and space science, exploration, human spaceflight, and other activities. The agreement replaces one signed in 1997, which was limited to Earth and atmospheric sciences.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin and Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman G. Madhavan Nair signed the agreement at NASA’s




Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

ATK Anticipates No Major Opposition to MDA Deal



The new Space Systems group to be formed at AlliantTechsystems (ATK) once the company




completes its acquisition of the space systems divisions of Canada’s MacDonald, Dettwiler, and Associates (MDA)




will generate $900 million in annual revenues and grow at better than 10 percent per year in the short term, ATK officials said Jan. 31.



In a conference call with investors, ATK officials said they expect no major government or any other opposition in Canada to the MDA purchase, which they expect will be completed by mid-year. ATK has agreed to pay $1.33 billion for MDA’s information systems and geospatial information services divisions.



ATK Chief Financial Officer John Shroyer said the MDA business is expected to generate $500 million in revenues in calendar-year 2008, and to post a pretax profit margin of close to 20 percent, assuming Canada retains its existing research and development tax credit.



ATK Chief Executive Dan Murphy said MDA would spearhead the international growth of the new ATK Space Systems division. “The focus geographically will be Canada as the stepping stone to the external-U.S. market,” Murphy said.

Murphy dismissed the




Canadian opposition to the sale that has emerged so far as representing only a small minority. But Murphy said he understood the concerns that a U.S. purchase of Canada’s largest space-hardware builder would be further proof of “the hollowing-out of Canadian industry. In fact, what we are doing is assuring the strength of the Canadian space infrastructure by opening new markets to it.”

ATK officials say that once it is U.S.-owned, MDA will have less trouble winning U.S. government contracts even if MDA’s products continue to be built in Canada. ATK is headquartered in Edina, Minn. “Today, U.S. customers cannot tell MDA what they want because the information is classified,” ATK spokesman Bryce Hallowell said in a Jan. 31 email. “However, U.S. customers can tell ATK what they want.”



Once the purchase is completed, MDA’s space divisions will become part of a company whose other businesses are also growing at double-digit rates and improving their profit margins. For the nine months ending Dec. 31 – ATK’s fiscal year ends March 31 – the company’s Launch Systems division reported revenues of $931 million, a 16 percent increase over the same period a year earlier.



The Mission Systems division reported $954 million in revenues for the nine months ending Dec. 31, an 11 percent increase over the previous year. The figure does not include $86 million in revenue from small-satellite builder Swales Aerospace of Beltsville, Md., which ATK purchased in 2007. ATK expects this division to report 10 percent revenue increases in the coming years as well, with operating-profit margins around 12-13 percent.

Murphy said ATK is involved as a rocket-motor supplier in three of the four teams competing for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contracts and that one of the teaming arrangements may continue even if it is not selected by NASA. “With one of the groups, we have established a key partnership that can be continued beyond COTS and even outside of the COTS venue,” he said.








RRSat

Still Pursuing U.S. Acquisition Targets



RRSat Global Communications Network, which sells satellite and cable capacity to television and radio programmers worldwide, reported record revenues and profit for 2007 and said its plans to acquire teleport and production facilities in the United States have been




delayed slightly but remain imminent. In a Jan. 31 conference call with investors, officials of the Omer, Israel-based company said they it expect




to finance the company’s its long-expected U.S. purchases with the firm’s its own cash resources. As of Dec. 31, RRSat had $63.4 million in cash and marketable securities.

In its first full year of operations since a November 2006 stock offering on the U.S. Nasdaq market, RRSat reported $59.2 million in revenues, a 37 percent increase compared to 2006. Net profit for the year, at $12.3 million, was up 52 percent from 2006. Backlog at Dec. 31 stood at $155.5 million, also a record, with the average contract covering three years. Some 38 percent of the backlog is for contracts to be filled in 2008, with 31 percent to be completed in 2009. Other contracts stretch as far as 2016, RRSat Chief Financial Officer




Gil Efron said, adding that




RRSat’s
largest customer accounted for less than 7 percent of the company’s fourth-quarter revenue. The top 10 customers provided about 37 percent.

RRSat
leases commercial satellite capacity worldwide aboard more than a dozen spacecraft. The satellites, in addition to leased cable capacity, provide a global network for transferring radio and video content from one region to another. RRSat also is involved in preparing the content for distribution outside its home market.

RRSat
Chief Executive David Rivel said the company had hoped to complete one or more U.S. acquisitions in late 2007 but held off while it insisted on better terms. He said some prospective sellers had assumed that RRSat’s successful U.S. stock offering would make the company less demanding as it sought U.S. targets.


Rivel said that despite the delay, the company




likely would complete at least one, and perhaps two, U.S. acquisitions in the coming weeks.






University of Texas Galveston Device Simulates Weightless Exercising in Space








NASA will be using a new device at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston to study the ways astronauts can stay healthy by exercising in the weightlessness of space




, a Jan. 29 NASA press release said.

The Standalone Zero Gravity Locomotion Simulator was built by engineers at NASA’s Cleveland-based Glenn Research Center and delivered to Galveston in 2007, the U.S. space agency said in a Jan. 29 press release. The modified treadmill will be used as part the University’s study of the ways effort during studies being performed in Galveston to help study how astronauts can counter the deleterious effects of weightlessness, which causes muscle atrophy and bone loss.

Subjects in the medical facility’s “bed rest” studies experience similar physical breakdowns as astronauts, according to the release. The bed rest studies and the simulator will be used to improve exercise regimens for astronauts in space.

The program is being conducted under the auspices of the NASA Johnson Space Center’s Exercise Countermeasures Project.




Two U.S. Firms Team To Build Orion Airbag



Airborne Systems North America and ILC Dover LP have signed an agreement to collaborate on the development of an airbag concept being built for NASA’s upcoming Orion manned spacecraft capsule, Dover announced in a Jan. 30 press release.

NASA has yet to determine if Orion will touch down on land or water after re-entry. The U.S. space agency started a new study Jan. 22 for a landing system capable of working on land or water, Cliff Willey, Dover’s program manager for space inflatables Cliff Willey said in a Jan. 30 phone interview.



The joint landing system will be designed to protect the Orion astronauts in either a land or water landing.



Airborne and Dover companies had been working separately on building a landing device for Orion. No monies were exchanged between Dover and Airborne, Willey said.

The work is being done under a contract




at NASA Langley in Hampton, Va.







SES Increases Its Stake in Swedish Satellite Operator

Swedish Space Corp. (SSC) has exercised an option to sell an additional 15 percent of satellite-fleet operator SES Sirius AB to Luxembourg-based SES, a transaction that increases SES’s ownership to 90 percent of the Swedish operator, SES announced Jan. 31.

Financial terms were not disclosed. SES Sirius, whose Sirius 4 satellite entered service at 4.8 degrees east longitude Jan. 29, reported 2006 revenue of $58.7 million. With Sirius 4 operational, the company has a three-satellite fleet operating at approximately the same orbital location.

SSC will retain a 10 percent stake in SES Sirius and will continue to provide tracking and control services for the Sirius fleet.

“This transaction provides SSC with opportunities to also pursue other business opportunities and was already foreseen when SES acquired a majority stake in Sirius four years ago,” SSC Chief Executive Lars Persson said in a statement. “SSC will continue to work in close cooperation with SES Sirius and the SES group in the telecom satellite area.”

Sirius 4, a Lockheed Martin A2100 model, was launched Nov. 18 and was declared operational Jan. 29. It carries 46 Ku-band transponders and two Ka-band transponders and will permit SES Sirius to meet growing demand for high-definition television. The television channels carried by the Sirius 2 and Sirius 3 satellites, launched in 1997 and 1998, respectively, have been transferred to Sirius 4.

“The demand for HD channels will increase sharply in the years ahead, and we operators need to be prepared in terms of capacity,” SES Sirius Managing Director HakanSjodin said in a Jan. 29 statement. “An HDTV broadcast requires 16 megabits per second of bandwidth, compared with four megabits per second for a standard-definition broadcast.”

Sirius 4 also will provide an additional seven transponders directed to Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic region, and six additional transponders pointed to southern Africa.

SES Sirius plans to use the Ka-band capacity on Sirius 4 for interactive services in the Nordic and Baltic regions, the company said.




Study: Space Efforts Get Less Early Funding










U.S. Defense Department (DOD) space programs receive proportionately less funding in their early science and technology phases than other military systems relative to their total research and development budgets, according to a Congressional Budget Office report dated Jan. 15.



The study, which is titled “A Comparison of Science and Technology Funding for DOD’s Space and Non Space Programs, was conducted at the request of Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), ranking member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

The trend is likely to continue in the future, the report stated.

While the report noted the cost overruns that have plagued the Pentagon’s space portfolio, it specifically noted that it was not drawing a causal connection between those problems and the lower rate of spending during the science and technology phase of system development.

































Proton Launches New Comsat for Russian Firm













Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) expects to begin commercial operations of its new Express-AM33 telecommunications satellite by early March following a successful Jan. 28 launch by a Russian Proton-M rocket from Russia’s BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan, RSCC said.

The 2,600-kilogram Express-AM33 spacecraft was built by Russia’s NPO-PM, the prime contractor on the project.




The spacecraft’s payload, which was provided by ThalesAlenia Space of France and Italy, carries 10 C-band and 16 Ku-band transponders, plus a single L-band transponder. It will operate from 96.5 degrees east longitude and will serve customers in Russia and in the Asia-Pacific region. Express-AM33 has an expected in-orbit service life of 12 years.

NPO-PM and RSCC said in separate statements that the satellite




successfully had separated from the Proton-M’s Breeze-M upper stage, deployed its solar panels and begun communicating with ground controllers.

RSCC had told prospective Asian customers in mid-2007 that the satellite would be launched in September of that year. The company later expressed frustration that the delivery of the payload, built in France, would not occur soon enough to permit a 2007 launch.



RSCC has plans to




launch the Express-AM44 satellite, which is being




built by the same team led by NPO-PM and ThalesAlenia Space,




in mid-2008.

The apparent ease with which RSCC was able to insert the Express-AM33 into the crowded launch manifest of the Proton vehicle irked another Proton customer, Telenor of Norway, sources said. Telenor’s




Thor 2R satellite was forced to give up its slot on behalf of the RSCC satellite, which is viewed as part of Russia’s Federal Space Program.

Thor 2R, which is being launched under a commercial contract managed by International Launch Services, is scheduled for launch




Feb. 10, according to Proton’s prime contractor, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center.









German Spacecraft Builder Buys Radar Firm











Satellite- and rocket-hardware builder OHB Technology AG of Germany has purchased a 50 percent stake in RST RaumfahrtSystemtechnik GmbH of Salem, Germany, a small company specializing in air- and spaceborne radar technologies.

Bremen-based OHB made the announcement




Jan. 30. The purchase price was not announced. OHB purchased the shares from RST’s founder, Hans Martin Braun, who retains the remaining 50 percent in the company, OHB said. OHB’s purchase does not include RST’s Swiss division.



RST reported revenues of 1.2 million euros ($1.8 million) in 2007 and a net profit of about 80,000 euros, according to OHB.

OHB and RST have worked together on the German Defense Ministry’s five SAR-Lupe radar reconnaissance satellites and also have




begun joint studies of a second-generation SAR-Lupe system, called SARah.







ESA Taps Swedish Firm For Nanosatellite Parts



NanoSpace
AB, of Uppsala, Sweden, will design a propellant gauge for satellites based on miniaturized silicon-based sensors and microscopic




electro-mechanical systems under a contract with the European Space Agency,




NanoSpace
announced Jan. 28.



Under the contract, valued at 500,000 euros ($730,000), NanoSpace will employ silicon-based components as small as 10 micrometers to develop a system to enable more




precise measurements of the fuel remaining in satellite tanks.



The company, which is owned by Swedish Space Corp., said it already has a patent for a satellite fuel-gauging system.



Measuring the amount of fuel remaining in a satellite is becoming increasingly important as satellite operators adopt debris-mitigation procedures to clear their spacecraft from crowded orbits once they have completed their missions. Operators want to be able to continue using spacecraft as long as possible while leaving the minimum amount of fuel necessary to carry their satellites into graveyard orbits.









Asteroid Comes Close But Finally Misses Mars



An asteroid once thought to be on a collision course with Mars passed the




red




planet Jan. 30 without incident.

Astronomers initially




estimated that asteroid 2007 WD5 had as much




as a 3.6 percent chance of striking the planet. Subsequent




observations kept lowering the odds for the




50-




meter space rock until Jan. 9, when NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) program office effectively ruled out chances of an impact.

“Mars sees these kinds of near-miss encounters every 10 or 20




years, but the impact rate for asteroids this size is about once in a thousand years,” said Steve Chesley, an astronomer at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif




.

Astronomers had hoped the fleet of spacecraft orbiting Mars would get a chance to observe the asteroid plowing into the Martian surface. The subsequent crater roughly would have




equaled the size of the Meteor Crater




formed in northern Arizona 50,000 years ago, with a 0.




8-




kilometer diameter.
Such an impact would have also allowed scientists to study the dust cloud from the impact.

“We were hoping for a spectacular show to reveal a lot,” Chesley said. “We’ve actually never seen a significant impact on a terrestrial planet.”

Compared to Earth, Mars is a smaller and harder target for asteroids




to hit,




but about five times as many asteroids cross the




martian
orbit compared to the number that come near Earth, according to Chesley.

2007 WD5’s path around the sun ranges from just outside Earth’s orbit to the outer edge of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but will not impact with either Mars or Earth in the next century, JPL researchers said.

The asteroid missed Mars by a distance of approximately 6.5 Mars radii.





Norsat Picked To Supply Satcom to Irish Military



Canada’s Norsat International Inc. will provide satellite telecommunications equipment and satellite capacity links to Irish defense forces operating in Chad following a contract with Ireland’s Department of Defence, Norsat announced Jan. 29.

The contract, valued at $1.1 million, includes training and network services for some 400 Irish troops that will be part of a 3,700-member European Union peacekeeping force in Chad. The contract covers services for one year and includes an option to renew it for another year.

Amiee
Chan, chief executive of Vancouver-based Norsat, said the contract highlights the company’s decision to broaden its commercial offer beyond satellite terminals to include turnkey contracts with a high services element.





Constellation Poses No N




ew Hazards, EIS Says



NASA issued




an environmental impact statement




(EIS) Jan. 10 concluding




that the effects of developing, testing and operating the new vehicles




it needs launch astronauts after the space shuttle retires – to destinations that include the space station and the Moon –




would be comparable to the agency’s ongoing human spaceflight activities.

“Because the Constellation Program will be based largely upon components and facilities used by the Space Shuttle Program, the potential environmental impacts are expected to be similar,” NASA said in a Jan. 30 statement.

“The principal activities associated with Constellation that could result in potential environmental impacts include rocket engine tests, rocket launches, construction of new facilities and modifications to existing facilities.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires U.S. federal agencies to prepare an environmental impact statement for major government actions that could have a significant effect on the




environment.








MacDonald Dettwiler Wins Thales, Astrium Contracts



MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) of Canada will provide data reception and transmission equipment for two telecommunications satellites being built by ThalesAlenia Space and Astrium Satellites of Europe, MDA announced Jan. 29.



MDA, which has announced the sale of its space divisions to AlliantTechsystems pending regulatory approval, valued the contract at several million dollars, without being more specific. The company did not name the two satellites but said they would provide a range of communications services over sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and beyond.



ThalesAlenia Space and Astrium are co-prime contractors for the two Yahsat satellites owned by Al Yah Satellite Communications Co. of the United Arab Emirates, to be used for both civil and military communications.









Britain Activates First UAV Squadron in Nevada



U.K. Royal Air Force officials activated their first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) squadron Jan. 23 at Creech Air Force Base,




Nevada, according to a Jan. 25 U.S. Air Force news release.



While the 39th Squadron is the Royal Air Force’s first UAV squadron, the Royal Air Force has been operating UAVs at Creech since 2004 as part of the Joint Predator Task Force, according to the news release.



Squadron Leader Nigel Meadows, the unit commander, said in the news release that the 39th Squadron’s mission is to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as target acquisition data and offensive support.



Members of the Royal Air Force previously were embedded into 432nd Wing – the U.S. Air Force’s first UAV wing, which stood up in May 2007 at Creech – and participated in all aspects of combat, training, maintenance and mission support activities, according to the news release.

“We are very happy about the support we have received from the 432nd Wing at Creech,” Meadows said. “The camaraderie in the squadrons that we operate with and within is immense.”




Boeing Wins Contract for GPS Guided Munitions



The U.S. Air Force awarded a contract worth $116 million to Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis, Mo., for more than 4,000 kits used to convert unguided bombs into GPS-guided munitions, according to a company news release dated Jan. 30.

Boeing will deliver the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail kits in 2009 and 2010, according to the news release. Options for additional tail kits could drive the value of the contract to $590 million through 2015. Boeing has produced more than 190,000 JDAM tail kits since 1998.

The JDAM tail kits are used with existing munitions weighing 226 kilograms, 454 kilograms, and 907 kilograms, according to the news release.




General Dynamics Finishes WIN-T Engineering Test



General Dynamics C4 Systems of Taunton, Mass., has completed the engineering field test and preliminary design review for Increment Two of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) program, which will enable mobile broadband networking, the company announced Jan. 29.



The review, conducted in Foxboro, Mass., certified that the system meets the documented performance and engineering requirements. General Dynamics was awarded the Increment Two contract in 2007 from the U.S. Army. It currently is valued at $126 million and could increase to maximum value of $921 million.





The program remains on schedule to conduct limited user tests in 2008 before being deployed to soldiers in 2009, the release said.

The WIN-T program was designed to connect troops in ground vehicles to satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles. General Dynamics is the prime contractor for the first three increments of the program. The fourth increment has




yet to be




awarded.