Briefs

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Top U.S. Air Force officials hope to issue a new policy within the next few months mandating the use of an existing, but little used device that allows small satellites to be included as secondary payloads aboard Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV), Gary Payton, U.S. Air Force deputy undersecretary for space programs, said Feb. 6 during a presentation at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference.

The EELV Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) ring, which was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory is used to launch small satellites weighing 100 kilograms or less. A congressional aide said the new policy would be welcomed since it would enable deployment of many more small satellites than can currently be launched.

Pressure from Investors Prompts Radyne Review

Ceding to investor pressure, Radyne Corp., a builder of small satellites and satellite ground hardware, has hired an investment advisor to review strategic alternatives “including the possible sale of the company,” Phoenix-based Radyne announced Feb. 4.

The hiring of Needham & Co. follows public demands by two private-equity groups, both owners of Radyne stock, that the company reassess its strategy and consider an outright sale. These investors specifically questioned Radyne’s purchase in August of small-satellite builder AeroAstro.

Radyne Chief Executive Myron Wagner previously had insisted that the company’s growth strategy would be better for shareholders, at least in the long-term, than an immediate sale. In a Feb. 4 statement, Wagner said the company’s board of directors and its management are “united in their efforts to diligently explore strategic alternatives and to maximize shareholder value.”

 

Private-Equity Investors Finish Intelsat Purchase

Private-equity investors led by BC Partners have completed their purchase of satellite-fleet operator Intelsat. In all they paid $4.8 billion in cash for 100 percent of the Intelsat equity held by Intelsat’s previous private-equity owners.

Completion of the deal adds, as expected, some $3.85 billion to Intelsat’s current debt load, which at Sept. 30 stood at slightly more than $11 billion.

Silver Lake, a large private-equity firm, is expected to take a minority stake in Intelsat, as are several other investors, Bermuda-headquartered, Washington-based Intelsat said.

“Intelsat is a rare investment opportunity, providing revenue diversity, stability and global presence combined with attractive growth potential,” BC Partners Managing Partner Raymond Svider said in a Feb. 4 statement.

Intelsat has long been the world’s largest commercial satellite-fleet operator but it is expected to fall into second place, behind SES of Luxembourg, when both companies issue final reports on their2007 revenue.

 

Moore To Head ViaSat’s Broadband Satellite Play

ViaSat Inc., which already announced plans to use the experience of its customer, WildBlue Communications, to develop a competing satellite-broadband venture in the United States, announced Feb. 8 that it has hired WildBlue’s co-founder and former president as well.

Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat said Tom Moore, who between 1998 and 2005 was Denver-based WildBlue’s president and then chief executive, will be president of ViaSat’s own Ka-band satellite consumer broadband project.

The ViaSat-1 satellite, which will be much larger than WildBlue’s current spacecraft, is under construction at Space Systems/Loral and scheduled for launch in 2011. ViaSat wants to target areas of the United States in which WildBlue has pioneered service but has been unable to meet surging demand because of capacity limits on its existing satellites.

“Working with [ViaSat Chief Executive Mark Dankberg] and the ViaSat team to develop this transformational, next-generation platform for satellite broadband is not only necessary for the industry, but also a very exciting opportunity for me personally,” Moore said in a statement.

 

Harman Decries Tepid Response to Chinese Test

The United States must develop a strategy to protect its space assets after seven years of “snoozing,” Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said Feb. 7.

Harman, chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, information sharing and terrorism risk assessment, said that the U.S. government has done “almost nothing” since the Chinese anti-satellite (A-Sat) test Jan. 11, 2007, to counter the general and growing threat to U.S. space systems. She added that China is not the only country that threatens U.S. space assets.

Harman, who also represents the area where the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center is located, said this is “a long-term strategic vulnerability that needs to be addressed now.” She criticized the Bush administration, saying she “would have expected an administration that warned of a space Pearl Harbor in the 2000 elections to have made a greater effort to protect us against the threat. Our new president – whoever she or he may be – should come into office with a strategy in hand.”

 

PCI Geomatics To Open New Office in India

PCI Geomatics, developer of geospatial imaging applications, is opening an office in India. The new company, PCI Geomatics Pvt Ltd. will be led by Ashok Kaushal. PCI Geomatics has maintained a team of geospatial resellers in Calcutta, Hyderabad, Pune and Nepal. The new company will focus on providing imaging solutions to the Indian geospatial market.
Scaled Composites Appeals California Fine

Scaled Composites LLC has filed an appeal challenging the $28,870 in fines the California Department of Industrial Relations imposed on the Mojave, Calif.-based spaceship builder in connection with a July test-stand explosion that killed three workers, Kate McGuire, spokeswoman for the California Department of Industrial Relations, confirmed Feb. 5.

Seventeen Scaled Composite employees and contractors were present when the explosion occurred three seconds into a cold-flow test of a hybrid rocket motor the company is developing for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital passenger craft.

A report released Feb. 7 by California workplace safety officials said all seven of the Scaled Composites employees injured or killed in the incident were viewing the day’s nitrous oxide cold-flow test from behind a chain-link fence. Two were killed instantly by the blast. One died on his way to the hospital. The six workers who were running the test were not injured in the blast. They were sheltered in a mobile command center protected by an earthen berm.

California safety officials faulted Scaled for failing to adequately train workers about the potential hazards of nitrous oxide.

Comcast Signs Long-Term Deal for 15 Transponders

Comcast Media Center will lease 15 C-band transponders aboard SES Americom’s AMC-18 satellite located at 105 degrees west in a long-term contract that eventually will total 29 transponders aboard AMC-18 and other satellites that form Americom’s HD-Prime neighborhood, SES Americom announced Feb. 7.

The Comcast contract will fill the remaining available capacity on AMC-18, Americom officials said. The satellite, which carries 24 C-band transponders, was launched in December 2006. HD-Prime includes five satellites that beam television programming to cable head-ends throughout the United States.

Denver-based Comcast will use the satellite capacity to augment its HITS Quantum service, which currently includes more than 150 standard-definition TV channels and 38 audio channels. The company is expanding its high-definition programming.

Princeton, N.J.-based SES Americom, a subsidiary of SES of Luxembourg, said Comcast’s move to C-band from Ku-band “will enhance service reliability and provide easier access to more programming.”

Gen. Kehler Urges Changes In U.S. Military Space Plans

The United States must change the way it makes choices about the strategic space capabilities the country decides to build and deploy, the head of Air Force Space Command said Feb. 7.

“We can’t continue to go down this road where it takes us 15 years or more to deploy a space capability,” Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command, said during a Feb. 7 presentation at a conference about space issues facing the next presidential administration. The conference was hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank.

Kehler told Space News he has ordered a study that will be conductedby the command’s Independent Strategic Assessment Group. Their mandate will be to examine how to improve the ways the service makes its strategic choices.

Avanti Insures Satellite, Launch with SpaceX

Avanti Communications Group of London has purchased an insurance package valued at 89 million British pounds ($175 million) covering the launch and first year’s orbital life of the company’s Hylas satellite, scheduled for launch in mid-2009 aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket, Avanti announced.

The Ka-band Hylas satellite is designed to provide broadband communications in Europe.

In a Jan. 31 filing with the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM), Avanti said the coverage amount was set “so that the full extent of the equity and debt invested [in the project], together with interest accrued under our [payment in kind] bond, are covered.”

Avanti’s first satellite is under construction by a joint venture of Astrium Satellites’ British division and Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation. The project has been financed in part by the European Space Agency through a contribution from the British National Space Centre intended to promote advanced satellite telecommunications payload technologies.

Avanti said it has enough cash to carry it through to the satellite’s launch. The company reported it had 40.2 million British pounds in cash as of Dec. 31.

El Segundo, Calif.-based SpaceX said the Avanti contract includes three options. If all options are exercised, SpaceX said the Avanti contract would be valued at $150 million.

In its AIM filing, Avanti said it has secured two additional orbital slots to introduce Ka-band broadband services into Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

“We are seeking to build on our lead by creating new satellite projects in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where demand is strong and competition in Ka-band services is either light or non-existent,” the company said.

 

OSC Goal: At Least 50% of Small Satellite Market

Orbital Sciences Corp. (OSC) is determined to keep at least a 50 percent share of the global market for small commercial telecommunications satellites, according to Garrett E. Pierce, the Dulles, Va.-based company’s chief financial officer. Pierce estimated that market has a total annual value of about $600 million.

OSC won contracts for five such satellites in 2007 out of the eight that were ordered, Pierce said.

OSC is weighing whether to pursue full-scale investment in a launch vehicle whose capacity would resemble that of the Boeing ‘Delta’ 2 rocket, now manufactured by ‘United Launch Alliance’ of Denver, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture.

OSC had begun research and development work on what it is calling the Taurus 2 vehicle on the assumption that Delta 2, faced with declining business from its core customer, the U.S. government, would be retired. That would leave room in the market for Taurus 2.

United Launch Alliance announced recently that Delta 2 production would be restructured – not retired – in response to the expected drop in U.S. government demand.

“It’s not crystal clear to us where Boeing is on the Delta 2,” Pierce said. “But whether they stop the program or throttle back, we think that it’s an opportunity for us.” OSC, which completed Taurus 2’s preliminary design review in late 2007, expects to decide whether to proceed with development later this year after assessing the market, Pierce said.

 

Congress Asks GAO To Review NASA Pilot Data

The House Science and Technology Committee asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office Feb. 4 to complete an analysis of NASA air safety survey data.

Between 1998 and 2003, NASA surveyed more than24,000 pilots, but terminated the National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service (NAOMS) project without completing an analysis of the results.

NASA posted more than 16,000 pages of NAOMS documents on its Web site in the face of both congressional pressure and a Freedom of Information Act request from the Associated Press.

NASA officials maintain that the purpose of NAOMS was to test survey methodology, not to identify safety problems.

Integral’s First Quarter Revenue Increases 36%

Integral Systems, a provider of satellite control software, reported 2008 first-quarter revenue of $37.3 million, a 36 percent increase over the same period last year. The company attributed the increase,in part, to a pair of “non-routine transactions” including licensing fees for GPS ground-system technology and tax credits.

Operating income was $8.3 million, compared to $2.9 million during the 2007 first quarter, Integral of Lanham, Md., said Feb. 4. Net income for the three-month period ending Dec. 31 was $7 million, compared to $2.1 million a year earlier.

Integral attributed $2.4 million in first-quarter revenue to licensing fees for the company’s role in the U.S. Air Force GPS Operational Control Segment (OCX), which will control the service’s next generation of navigation satellites. Integral is part of a Northrop Grumman team competing against Raytheon for the OCX prime contract; both teams were awarded study contracts worth $160 million in November. Integral said the licensing fees previously had been expected to be recognized over the entire fiscal year.

Revenue for the quarter also included $1.6 million in credit for tax deductible research and development conducted in prior years. The company said it has filed amended tax returns for the years in question.

Excluding these transactions, Integral reported revenue increases across each of its operating segments. The company’s Government Ground Systems segment reported $18.4 million in sales, up 27 percent over the same period last year and 11 percent higher when the OCX license fees are excluded. Integral attributed the increase to national – a common euphemism for classified – and civilian programs.

Commercial Ground Systems revenue was $7.6 million, up 27 percent from the same period in 2007. Sales in the Space Communications System were 12.4 million, a 35 percent increase over the 2007 first quarter.

Orbcomm ‘Still Not Ready’ To Pick Satellite Builder

Orbcomm, the satellite messaging service provider that had told investors it would issue a contract for a second generation of low-orbiting satellites by the end of 2007, apparently remains far from ready to select a builder for the 28 spacecraft it will need.

In Feb. 5 remarks to a Cowen and Co. investor conference in New York, Orbcomm Chief Financial Officer Robert Costantini said the company still expects the second-generation constellation to be ready for launch starting in 2010. But he also said Orbcomm has yet to resolve even the most basic issues with prospective manufacturers.

“There are a number of key components that we’re still negotiating at the moment, not least of which are price, payment schedule and in-orbit incentives, which are significant items that we’re going to continue to work to optimize our cash flow through this program,” Costantini said.

Without going into details, Costantini and Orbcomm Chief Operating Officer Marc Eisenberg said the company expected to keep capital expenditure to about $8 million per second-generation satellite, including launch.

Orbcomm also expects to launch its final six first-generation satellites in the coming weeks aboard a Russian rocket, a launch that will include a U.S. Coast Guard-ordered Automatic Identification System (AIS) payload on one of the satellites. AIS permits coastal authorities to identify ships approaching their territorial waters.

Ft. Lee, N.J.-based Orbcomm uses its 29 existing satellites, and 14 gateway Earth stations, to provide global machine-to-machine messaging through subscriber terminals. As of Dec. 31, more than 351,000 of these terminals had been sold and activated, according to Orbcomm.

Australia Joins ‘Netcentric’ Advocacy Organization

The Australian Department of Defence has joined the Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC), and will serve as a member of its advisory council and technical teams, according to an NCOIC news release dated Feb. 6.

The Australian military will share its needs, challenges and ideas with other members of the NCOIC, a Washington-based not-for-profit group committed to the advancement of network-centric technology applications. The group has more than 100 members from 19 countries.

Willie Williamson, NCOIC chairman, said in the news release that the organization has sought to increase U.S. cooperation with allies in pursuing the goals of network-centric operations. “As we expand our global horizons to the Pacific Rim, the Australian [military] joins several industry members in forging a partnership within that region,” Williamson said.

CSC Gets $22 Million Contract Modification

Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) of El Segundo, Calif., received a $22 million contract modification from NASA to its 2005 management contract for the NASA Shared Services Center, according to a Feb. 5 company press release.

The Shared Services Center, located at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, consolidates several business functions, including financial management and human resources. The contract modification will expand the center’s services to provide projections for accounts payable and accounts receivable, and support for NASA’s fund balance with treasury, an asset account.

The original $230 million contract, awarded in May 2005, has a five-year base period and five one-year options.

 

Fresh Progress Cargo Craft Arrives at ISS

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) welcomed a new cargo ship packed with fresh fruit and other supplies Feb. 7 just hours before the successful launch of the shuttle Atlantis, which also is headed toward their orbiting lab.

The unmanned Progress 28 supply ship docked at the station’s Russian-built Pirs docking compartment loaded down with more than 2.5 tons of fresh food, air, water and other vital supplies for the Expedition 16 crew including:528 kilograms of propellant and1,327 kilograms of dry supplies like food, clothing and equipment. The spacecraft also is laden with about 45 kilograms of oxygen and420 kilograms of water.

 

Boeing, Indian Firms Team on Aerospace IT

The Indian Institute of Science has entered into an agreement with Boeing and two India-based information technology companies to develop aerospace applications for network technologies, Boeing said in a Jan. 29 press release.

The initial agreement is for a four-year term, Boeing International spokesman Mark Hooper said in a Jan. 30 e-mail message. “[T]he agreement can be extended based on mutual agreement by the partners,” he said. “We hope this is just the start of a long-term partnership.”

The consortium will conduct both short- and long-term research, Hooper said. Financial terms for the agreement were not given.

WiproTechnologies and HCL Technologies Ltd. also are involved in the Aerospace Network Research Consortium. “We have a great need for advanced affordable aerospace network [research and development], Naveed Hussain, engineering and technology vice president for Boeing in India, said in a prepared statement.

Express-AM22 Gyro Suffers In-Orbit Failure

The Express-AM22 telecommunications satellite operated by the Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) and covering the Middle East has suffered a failure of its primary and backup stabilizing gyroscopes and might be declared a total loss, according to industry officials.

Express-AM22, launched in December 2003 into the 53 degrees east orbital slot, carries 24 Ku-band transponders and provides commercial telecommunications services to an area centered on the Middle East and Central Asia. It was built by Russia’s NPO-PM manufacturer, with the electronics payload provided by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. It was designed to operate for 12 years.

Moscow-based RSCC did not respond to requests for information about the satellite’s status. Industry officials said the company had signaled its intent to file an insurance claim for the total loss of the spacecraft pending an attempt to work around the problem with the aid of a software program to be uploaded to the satellite.

Gyroscopes are used to maintain a spacecraft’s orientation by detecting changes in position, which then can be corrected through the use of onboard thrusters. Satellite operators in the past have compensated for gyroscope failures by resorting to star trackers on their spacecraft to maintain a point of reference for positioning.

 

Rascom-QAF1 Service To Last a Few Years

The pan-African Rascom organization’s first satellite, Rascom-QAF1, has been placed into final geostationary position and is being made ready for commercial use despite indications that it will not survive more than two and a half years before being sent into a graveyard orbit, industry officials said.

The satellite, launched Dec. 21, is suffering from a leak in its helium-pressurization system that was detected as soon as it was in orbit. Since then, prime contractor Thales Alenia Space and Rascom have been forced to abandon use of the main apogee-boost motor intended to place Rascom into final position at 2.85 degrees east longitude.

Instead, ground controllers have used the less-powerful attitude-control motors to boost the satellite into final position. These motors require less pressure than the main engine. Saving the remaining pressure in the satellite’s fuel tank has been of utmost concern to Rascom officials, who have insisted on assurances from Thales Alenia Space that, whatever the operational life of the satellite, enough pressure remains to take it out of geostationary orbit to clear the geostationary arc.

The French space agency, CNES, also has been involved in validating Thales Alenia Space’s assessment of remaining helium pressure to assure the satellite’s proper disposal.

Thales Alenia Space announced Feb. 4 that after the first ignition of the main apogee engine, the smaller thrusters were used for 18 maneuvers in the past four weeks to bring the satellite into position.

Insurance officials said that with an operational life of only around two and a half years, Rascom would receive full payment of its $265 million insurance claim.

Rascom has yet to sign a contract with Thales Alenia Space for a replacement satellite, but officials said such a contract is likely to be approved within weeks, giving the manufacturer enough time to build an identical spacecraft and launch it before Rascom-QAF1 is forced into retirement.

The 45-nation Rascom organization, headquartered in Port Louis, Mauritius, will provide telephone and telecommunications services throughout Africa. A key feature of the Rascom program is the planned deployment of up to 130,000 rural telephone cabins.

Rascom intends to purchase the first 15,000 of these terminals with its own resources to seed the market. Once the design is proven, Rascom expects that African telecommunications companies will purchase and deploy the cabins on their own.

Spy Satellite Expected To Re-enter March 18

The failed U.S. spy satellite, US 193, is likely to begin its fiery descent into Earth’s atmosphere March 18, according to the latest estimate from Ted Molzcan, the amateur satellite observer in Canada.

In an updated posting on the Web site www.satobs.org, Molzcan said the date of re-entry is subject to “uncertainty” of at least one week.