Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 26 September 2005
11:31 am ET


Hubble Reveals Source of Blue Light in Andromeda

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have been able to determine the source of a mysterious blue light that surrounds a massive black hole near the core of the Andromeda galaxy, NASA announced Sept. 20.

The blue light is coming from a disk of hot, young stars that are circling the super-massive black hole in much the same way planets revolve around the Sun in the solar system. Astronomers are not completely certain, however, how stars formed so close to a giant black hole without being torn apart by its gravitational forces.

When astronomers first discovered the blue light near Andromeda’s core using Hubble in 1995, they thought it might come from a bright blue star or exotic energetic process. But new observations using Hubble’s Imaging Spectrograph reveal that the light consists of nearly 400 stars that formed about 200 million years ago. They are packed into a disk about 1 light year across.

Hale Succeeds Parsons as Shuttle Program Manager

NASA announced Sept. 20 that N. Wayne Hale has been named the new manager of the space shuttle program. He succeeds Bill Parsons, who is leaving the post to become director of the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Hale’s NASA career started in 1978 when he joined the Propulsion Systems section of Flight Operations at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. He headed the propulsion division from 1985 to 1988, when he left to become flight director at the Mission Operations Directorate, overseeing nearly 40 space shuttle flights.

In early 2003, Hale started serving as launch integration manager at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident that year, he joined the Space Shuttle Program Office as deputy manager in July 2003.

Hale graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Rice University in 1976, and got his master’s in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1978.

New Skies To Continue Paying High Dividends

Satellite-fleet operator New Skies Satellites Holdings Ltd., which market observers view as a likely takeover target, is continuing its high-dividend policy with the distribution of a quarterly dividend of 46 U.S. cents for the third quarter of 2005, equivalent to an 8.6 percent annual yield, The Hague, Netherlands-based New Skies announced Sept. 20.

New Skies, whose stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, is majority-owned by private-equity investor The Blackstone Group, which has said it views New Skies as a point of departure for consolidation in the fixed satellite services industry. New Skies operates five satellites and has one under construction.

New Skies has agreed to sell its New Skies Networks Australia subsidiary, which operates two teleports, to Multiemedia Limited of Melbourne, Australia, for 13 million Australian dollars ($10 million). As part of the deal, New Skies has committed to purchase teleport services from Multiemedia, while the Australian company has agreed to lease additional capacity aboard New Skies’ NSS-6 satellite.

Multiemedia said the New Skies operation in Australia in 2004 posted a net profit, after taxes, of 5.4 million Australian dollars on revenues of 22.9 million Australian dollars. The sale is expected to close in October.

NASA To Host Moon Excavation Challenge

NASA’s Centennial Challenges program will host a competition with a $250,000 award to the team that designs and builds an autonomous system that can excavate the most simulated Moon dirt, or regolith, and deliver it to a collector. The competition is slated for 2006 or 2007.

NASA announced Sept. 20 that the Regolith Excavation Challenge will help the agency make technological advances that will support its space exploration goals, which include returning to the Moon by 2018. In the competition, each team will go head-to-head to excavate and deliver as much simulated regolith as possible in 30 minutes. More detailed rules will be developed by this year’s end.

The challenge will be held in collaboration with the California Space Education and Workforce Institute, a nonprofit organization that aims to create understanding and enthusiasm for space enterprise and technology.

Surveyor Continues To Track Changes on Mars

The extended life of NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor has allowed scientists to track geologic and atmospheric changes on Mars that would have gone undetected if the mission had ended in 2001 as originally expected, the space agency announced Sept. 20.

The surveyor began its ninth year in Mars orbit this month, providing pictures and data that permitted scientists to do yearly comparisons and detect changes, such as new gullies in a sand dune that did not exist in 2002. The surveyor’s extended life also has enabled scientists to monitor year-to-year weather patterns on the planet, such as seasonal dust storms and changes in the polar caps.

“Our prime mission ended in early 2001, but many of the most important findings have come since then, and even bigger ones might lie ahead,” Tom Thorpe, project manager for the surveyor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a prepared statement.

The Mars Global Surveyor launched Nov. 7, 1996, and arrived at Mars in September 1997. Beyond gathering scientific data, the spacecraft also provides landing-site evaluations, works as a communications relay and monitors hardware on the surface.

Roe Succeeds Bridges as Langley Center Director

NASA announced Sept. 20 that Lesa B. Roe will be the new director of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., effective Oct. 3. She succeeds Roy Bridges, who announced his retirement Sept. 16.

Roe currently serves as deputy director at Langley, which employs nearly 2,100 civil service personnel. Before that she was the center’s associate director of business management.

Roe has nearly 20 years of engineering and management experience in both government and industry. She began working at NASA in 1987 as a radio frequency communications engineer at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., under the Space Shuttle Engineering Directorate. She also managed the International Space Station Payloads Office at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

GM Has Produced 3 Million Vehicles With XM Radio

XM Satellite Radio of Washington announced Sept. 21 that General Motors has now manufactured more than 3 million vehicles with factory-installed XM radios.

General Motors became the first automaker to offer satellite radio when it began offering XM services in select Cadillac models in November 2001. It now is offered in over 50 General Motor vehicle models, and is expected in model-year 2006 to be available in 90 percent of General Motors models.

Northrop To Keep Running MDA Simulation Center

Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Va., will continue to operate a missile defense simulation center under contract with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) potentially worth $1 billion over the next 10 years, the company announced Sept. 20.

The Joint National Integration Center, located at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., hosts missile defense simulations and war games to prepare the U.S. military to operate various missile defense systems now being deployed. Northrop Grumman has been the prime contractor at the site since 1995, the company said.

“As the missile defense mission becomes increasingly more complex over time with additional air, space and sea-based elements added to the evolving system, the role of modeling and simulation will become more important in the future,” Frank Moore, vice president and general manager of missile defense at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, said in a prepared statement.

The contract has a two-year base period with a minimum value of $30 million, according to a MDA news release.

EMS Satellite Terminals To Transmit UAV Recon Data

EMS Technologies Inc. of Atlanta will supply two-way terminals and other hardware for a satellite network that will transmit surveillance information gathered by U.S. Department of Defense unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the company said in a Sept. 21 press release.

EMS is a subcontractor to Marshall Communications of Ashburn, Va., on the effort, which is managed by the Pentagon’s Defense Information Systems Agency. Under the subcontract, financial terms of which were not disclosed, EMS will supply a hub station in Europe and more than a dozen DVB-RCS satellite broadband terminals for UAV operators in southeastern Asia, EMS said. DVB-RCS, or digital video broadcasting-return channel via satellite, is a commercial technical standard for transmitting broadband data via satellite.

According to a press release issued by Marshall Communications in August, the DVB-RCS network will support U.S. operations in Iraq and will be integrated with the U.S. military’s Global Broadcast Service.

“We are proud to support the war on terror and are pleased that the DoD is embracing DVB-RCS as a standard that can help improve intelligence gathering,” Don Osborne, senior vice president and general manager of EMS Satellite Networks, said in a prepared statement. “EMS is a leader in the DVB-RCS market, and will continue to pursue opportunities to provide open-standard, broadband solutions to defense and homeland-security customers.”

General Dynamics Unit To Study GPS Ground System

The U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center awarded General Dynamics C4 Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz., a contract to study a next-generation ground control segment for the GPS satellite navigation system, the company announced Sept. 12.

Under the six-month contract, valued at $1.4 million, General Dynamics will study hardware, software and technology options for the GPS Operational Control Segment. The control system will be compatible with current and future generations of GPS satellites, the company said.

Integral Systems of Lanham, Md., announced in August that it had won a similar contract worth $1.2 million.

According to the General Dynamics press release, the Air Force intends to select a prime contractor for the GPS Operational Control Segment at the conclusion of the studies. The estimated value of that contract is between $500 million and $1 billion, according to General Dynamics.

Missile Defense Radar Tracks Minuteman Test

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency used a transportable X-band radar and other sensors to track an unarmed Minuteman missile Sept. 14 as it took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., for a routine readiness test.

The Minuteman was a target of opportunity for testing the Forward Based X-Band Transportable Radar, which can be shipped via aircraft to support missile defense operations around the world. The radar tracked the missile 500 seconds into its flight and fed the data into the ballistic missile defense battle management system. The test also was tracked by an Aegis missile defense ship and an airborne system, the Missile Defense Agency said.

Allard: Poor Management Bigger Threat Than Attack

The U.S. Air Force needs to slow the pace of satellite acquisition until it develops a space cadre that is better qualified to develop the complex new systems that the military desires, says U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.).

Poor program management likely poses a greater threat to the Air Force’s satellite portfolio than an enemy attack, Allard told an audience at a conference here sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association on Sept. 23.

Congress is fed up with excuses from the military about why its space programs have continued to encounter cost growth and schedule programs, Allard said.

“In many respects, the Air Force and its contractors have lost all credibility with Congress when it comes to space acquisition programs,” Allard said. “My colleagues and I are no longer surprised by additional cost increases or notices of schedule delays. Nor do some in Congress give much credence to the Air Force’s proposals to fix these programs.”

Allard is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is scheduled to begin marking up its version of the 2006 defense budget on Sept. 26.

The House of Representatives passed its version of the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act in June, and included reductions of $126 million to the Air Force request of $226 million for the Space Radar satellites, and $400 million to the Air Force request of $836 million for the Transformation Communications System, or T-Sat, program.

Allard said that the Air Force could expect similar treatment from the Senate.

Orbital Sciences Launches STR-R1 Aboard a Minotaur

Orbital Sciences Corp. launched the STP-R1 military research satellite Sept. 22 aboard a Minotaur 1 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The payload is intended to gather data for a year that will be used to help simulate the low Earth orbit environment during future ground testing of spacecraft components, according to Jan Walker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This is the fourth successful flight in a row for the Minotaur 1 since its inaugural launch in 2000, according to an Orbital Sciences news release. The Minotaur uses rocket motors built for the Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs.

Intersputnik Authorized To Consider Privatization

The intergovernmental satellite operator, Intersputnik of Moscow, has received its member governments’ approval to evaluate a step-by-step privatization but no concrete moves in this direction are expected before 2006. “We are taking only the first, preliminary steps” toward privatization, Intersputnik spokesman Stefan Kollar said Sept. 22.

Intersputnik’s 25 member nations also agreed to establish subsidiary companies in member-nation territory to do business with local customers. Created in 1971, Intersputnik provides telecommunication services via the LMI-1 satellite at 75 degrees east longitude, co-owned with Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md. The organization also has access to Russian Express-A and Express-AM communications satellites.

SBC, Echostar Renew Service Bundling Deal

SBC Communications will continue to market EchoStar Communications Corp.’s satellite television service as part of a bundle of services sold by SBC representatives under a renewed agreement, the two companies announced Sept. 20.

Investment bank Bear Stearns said the deal is likely good news for EchoStar in the long term, but more costly in the short term as it now will bear the full costs of each new subscriber to EchoStar’s Dish service that SBC brings in.

“We understand EchoStar will be bearing the [subscriber-acquisition costs], including equipment costs, as well as commissions paid to SBC under the arrangement,” Bear Stearns said in a Sept. 21 research note on the SBC-EchoStar deal, which modifies the agreement the two companies forged in July 2003. “With no [subscriber-acquisition costs] to bear, SBC probably will promote the bundle more effectively …. However, EchoStar’s [subscriber] economics likely would worsen as they will only get wholesale ARPU [Average Revenue per unit, a measurement of monthly subscriber revenue] but bear the full [subscriber-acquisition costs] as well as pay recurring loyalty fees to SBC.”

IAI To Build $170 Million Amos 3 for Spacecom

Israel Aircraft Industries will build an Amos 3 communications satellite for Spacecom Company for $170 million.

Amos 3 will be similar to Amos 2, but with an improved communications payload , according to a Sept. 22 press release from Lod, Israel-based IAI, which is owned by the Israeli government. The satellite will have three antennas, and servic e the Middle East, Europe, Africa and parts of the Americas, the release said.

Amos 3 will replace the Amos 1 satellite, which launched in 1996 and is expected to operate until 2008. Amos 3 will launch by the end of 2007, the release said.

Spacecom operates the Amos satellites and 24 percent of the company is owned by IAI. General Satellite Services and the Mer Services Group, both of Tel Aviv, and Eurocom Communications of Ramat Gan, Israel, each have a stake in the company as well.

USAF Hires Tom Young To Review T-Sat Program

One of the leading U.S. experts on space acquisition, A. Thomas Young, has been hired by the U.S. Air Force to review the Transformational Satellite Communications (T-Sat) program.

Young, who mentioned the review Sept. 23 while speaking at a Washington conference on space sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association, did not offer any details about the work, other than it should begin next month.

The former chief operating officer of Martin Marietta Corp. led in 2003 what became known as the Young Commission, which produced the “Report of the Defense Science Board/Air Force Scientific Advisory Board Joint Task Force on Acquisition of National Security Space Programs.”

Young is also a member of the Defense Science Board, which advises the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

The T-Sat constellation would rely on advanced technology including laser-optics for satellite-to-satellite links and allow the satellites to communicate with high-altitude aircraft.

T-Sat is one of the Pentagon’s many troubled space programs. The U.S. House of Representative’s 2006 defense spending bill slashed $400 million from the Air Force’s $836 million request for the program, which is slated to start replacing the Advanced EHF satellites in 2013.

The House figure, if adopted by the U.S. Senate, would make it all but impossible to meet that schedule, forcing the Air Force to procure a fourth Advanced EHF satellite, if not more. The Senate has not yet passed a defense spending bill, though the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee is scheduled to mark up its bill on Sept. 26.

Johnson Center Empties As Work Force Flees Hurricane

NASA completely evacuated its Johnson Space Center (JCS) manned spaceflight facility in Houston Sept. 22 as Hurricane Rita drew closer to the Texas Gulf Coast.

The space center initially shut down at 1:00 p.m. CDT Sept. 21, transferring primary mission control operations of the international space station (ISS) to Russian flight controllers in Korolev, but left an emergency crew in place to ride out the storm.

A group of NASA flight controllers was on hand, as always, at Russia’s ISS mission control center, and an advisory group of JSC controllers is providing assistance from a remote location, NASA officials said.

By Sept. 22, NASA recalled even its emergency crew from JSC due to the immense strength of Hurricane Rita, which became the third strongest storm on record before weakening slightly as it approached the shore .

NASA officials said JSC will resume operations once the storm threat has passed.

Internet Protocol TV Seen Providing Business for Satellites

Satellite operators likely will be able to carve out a niche in Internet Protocol television (IPTV) services in the coming decade if they create revenue-sharing relationships with programming-content developers and service providers, Northern Sky Research concludes.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based consultancy says in a new report that it is too early to determine how big an opportunity IPTV will be overall. Some market forecasts say IPTV could be a $17 billion industry by 2010. If that is the case, Northern Sky says, satellite services could secure a 3 percent market share, or $500 million, in 2010. The global IPTV market today is just $50 million.

“[A] service model dubbed ‘Content Aggregator Service Provider’ will generate attractive revenue streams that the satellite industry can support in the IPTV value chain,” Northern Sky says in its “IPTV Via Satellite” report. The consultancy added that the most promising opportunities “rest not so much in the service provision of IPTV, but in gaining a revenue slice from the owners of content” in return for distributing the programming.

TV Station Proliferation Boosting Nilesat’s Sales

Satellite operator Nilesat of Egypt is forecasting 20 percent growth in revenues in 2005 from its two satellites as regional television channels continue to proliferate, Nilesat Engineering Director Salah Hamza said.

The Cairo-based company reported revenues of $55.7 million in 2004 — a 9 percent increase over 2003 — and expects continued growth in the number of television channels it carries to boost revenues to $66.6 million in 2005, Hamza said during the World Satellite Business Week in Paris, organized by Euroconsult. EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was 74 percent of revenues in 2004, according to Nilesat. The company is not subject to income tax.

Nilesat will be leasing capacity on Paris-based Eutelsat‘s Hot Bird 4 satellite once the spacecraft is moved from its current position to 7 degrees east longitude in early 2006. The maneuver depends on Eutelsat successfully launching the Hot Bird 7A and Hot Bird 8 spacecraft by then. Nilesat plans to launch its own replacement satellite in early 2009, and plans to solicit bids from prospective manufacturers in early 2006, Hamza said.

Hamza said Nilesat has exclusive rights to broadcast the 2006 World Cup soccer championship in the Arab Middle East, and that it will produce one channel of high-definition programming for the event. Nilesat has focused on encouraging the development of private Iraqi television channels and now carries 19 such stations on its two satellites, according to Hamza.

New Skies To Continue Paying High Dividends

Satellite-fleet operator New Skies Satellites Holdings Ltd., which market observers view as a likely takeover target, is continuing its high-dividend policy with the distribution of a quarterly dividend of 46 U.S. cents for the third quarter of 2005, equivalent to an 8.6 percent annual yield, The Hague, Netherlands-based New Skies announced Sept. 20.

New Skies, whose stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, is majority-owned by private-equity investor The Blackstone Group, which has said it views New Skies as a point of departure for consolidation in the fixed satellite services industry. New Skies operates five satellites and has one under construction.

New Skies has agreed to sell its New Skies Networks Australia subsidiary, which operates two teleports, to Multiemedia Limited of Melbourne, Australia, for 13 million Australian dollars ($10 million). As part of the deal, New Skies has committed to purchase teleport services from Multiemedia, while the Australian company has agreed to lease additional capacity aboard New Skies’ NSS-6 satellite.

Multiemedia said the New Skies operation in Australia in 2004 posted a net profit, after taxes, of 5.4 million Australian dollars on revenues of 22.9 million Australian dollars. The sale is expected to close in October.