Briefs

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Japan’s Kizuna, or Wind experimental communications satellite, successfully deployed its solar arrays following a Feb. 23 launch aboard an H-2A rocket, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said Feb. 24.

Kizuna will be used to establish a high-speed Internet network within Japan and between Japan and its regional allies, the JAXA Web site said.

Returning Spysat Debris Prompts Delay, Warnings

Debris from USA 193, the failed satellite that was largely destroyed Feb. 20 by an SM-3 missile, posed enough of a risk that the National Reconnaissance Office delayed launch Feb. 29 of an Atlas 5 carrying the L-28 payload. The rocket, poised for launch from Vandenberg Air Force base, Calif., was postponed about two weeks “as a precautionary move to avoid possible debris from the NRO experimental satellite,” according to a Feb. 29 statement on the Web site of the United Launch Alliance, which manages government launches of the Atlas and Delta launch vehicles.

In addition, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued a notice to airmen “that a potential hazard may occur due to reentry of satellite USA-193 debris into the Earth’s atmosphere,” and urged pilots to report any debris.

Landsat 5 Recovers from Partial Battery Failure

Landsat 5 is back collecting and transmitting moderate-resolution imagery of the world’s land masses after being taken out of service in October following a partial failure of one of the 24-year-old satellite’s two operating onboard batteries.

U.S. Geological Survey spokesman Ron Beck said Landsat 5 collected no useable imagery during November and December while flight engineers developed a way to operate the satellite that relies more heavily on direct power from its solar array.

“A lot of software development went into this,” Beck said Feb. 29. “Over the North American growing seasons this spring and summer we will be fine. Next winter, however, we will capture less data. We don’t know how much at this point.”

Landsat 5 is the older of two civilian land remote-sensing satellites the United States has in orbit. The other one, Landsat 7, was launched in 1999 but has been flying with a degraded sensor since 2003 rendering its imagery unusable for some users.

A replacement spacecraft, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, is in development for a 2011 launch. NASA awarded the primary instrument contract to Boulder, Colo.-based Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. last year and expects to pick a company this spring to build the satellite bus. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is in charge of the project.


NASA Solicits COTS 2 Proposals from Industry

NASA intends to seek formal proposals this spring from U.S. companies that think they can be ready in 2010 to deliver cargo to the international space station. A draft request for proposals was released Feb. 28 by NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. A final solicitation is due for release in mid April.

NASA intends to award so-called indefinite quantity-indefinite delivery contracts to one of more companies in late November. The contracts would qualify a company to deliver cargo to the space station between 2010 and 2012. Actual flight services would be purchased via competitively awarded task orders, similar to the way NASA buys satellite launch services today. NASA plans to hold a pre-proposal conference and one-day meeting with interested companies March 17 and 18, respectively, in Houston.


Sirius To Launch FM-6 On ILS Proton M in 2010

Sirius Satellite Radio will launch its FM-6 satellite into highly elliptical orbit aboard an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton M rocket in late 2010 as part of a contract that includes a Proton launch of a second, unidentified Sirius satellite, ILS announced Feb. 29.

Sirius’ FM-6 satellite, which is under construction at Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, Calif., is expected to deliver nearly 20 kilowatts of power to the spacecraft’s payload at the end of its 15-year life, making it substantially more powerful than the current Sirius satellites.

New York-based Sirius and its competitor, Washington-based XM Satellite Radio, announced Feb. 29 that they had agreed not to exercise their rights to terminate their merger agreement until May 1. Under the previous agreement, either company could have scrapped the deal if it had not been approved by U.S. regulators by March 1.

XM and Sirius announced their intent to merge a year ago and still are waiting for the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to approve or reject the merger.

Astrium Services Awaits French Tax Law Change

Astrium Services is hopeful that the French government is about to modify a tax law that makes it difficult for the government to engage in service contracts rather than purchase its own satellites, Astrium Services Chief Executive Eric Beranger said.

The company, which operates six military telecommunications satellites — two Skynet 5 spacecraft, three Skynet 4 satellites and one NATO satellite, all for the British Defence Ministry and the NATO alliance — has had no success thus far in persuading the French government to move toward a public-private partnership in this area, as Britain has done.

One reason, Beranger said Feb. 26, is that French tax law waives the 19 percent value-added tax for assets outside of French territory — such as in-orbit satellites. But purchasing services to use those satellites is subject to the tax. “Obviously this biases the customer’s assessment in favor of asset procurement instead of service procurement,” Beranger said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently reaffirmed his support for private-public procurements, which are similar to the private-finance initiative that governed Britain’s Skynet contract with Astrium Services. That contract runs through 2020 and is valued at 3.66 billion British pounds ($7.2 billion).

Astrium Services is also prime contractor to the German government for two SatcomBw military telecommunications satellites and associated services, to be used exclusively by German defense forces, and is lead system designer for the $1.6 billion, two-satellite Yahsat project in the United Arab Emirates.


Loral To Use Northrop Satellite Test Facilities

Space Systems/Loral will use Northrop Grumman’s satellite-test facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., to handle commercial business volume that cannot be accommodated at Loral’s Palo Alto, Calif., plant and also will collaborate with Northrop Grumman on U.S. government projects, the two companies announced Feb. 27.

Under the agreement, Loral will have access to Northrop Grumman facilities on an as-needed basis in the event that Loral is capacity-constrained at its own plant. Loral officials said that while their current facility could handle up to nine satellites per year, there are times when two satellites require the use of a single test facility at the same time. To honor their schedule commitments, company officials said, they have concluded the agreement with Northrop Grumman.

Loral Space and Communications of New York, the satellite builder’s corporate parent, announced in late 2007 that instead of investing $150 million in expanding its own plant capacity, it would spend $40 million over two years to use the facilities of another company.

The Loral-Northrop Grumman partnership also includes incorporating Loral’s 1300 satellite platform into future U.S. government programs for which Northrop Grumman would be prime contractor. Loral also will offer, through Northrop Grumman, the possibility for the U.S. government to place small payloads on Loral-built commercial telecommunications satellites.

Satellite-fleet operator Intelsat has begun to make a regular business out of hosting U.S. government payloads on some of its satellites when the government hardware does not interfere with the satellite’s main commercial mission.

As part of their agreement, Loral will collaborate with Northrop Grumman’s Astro Aerospace division with a view toward using the AstroMesh antennas on future Loral-built commercial satellites.


USAF To Use Its Last Three Delta 2s

for GPS 2RM

The U.S. Air Force plans to use its last three Delta 2 rockets during fiscal 2008 to launch GPS 2RM satellites. The Air Force does not need to launch these satellites to replenish the GPS constellation, a government official points out, since there currently is a record number — 31 — of functioning GPS satellites already in orbit. “There’s actually a 32nd satellite in orbit standing by as a live spare in case we lose one of our older birds. This is the first time we’ve had an on-orbit spare,” this source said.

The GPS 2RM launches are happening because the funds for launching on the Delta 2 “are only available this year,” the government source said, leading the Air Force to temporarily launch according to schedule instead of launching satellites as they are needed. The government source said this sets an “interesting precedent,” since the Defense Department “has always resisted a launch on schedule approach whenever the civil community” has suggested accelerating modernization of the GPS constellation.

In related news, the Defense Department issued revised policies and procedures for GPS Feb. 19. Signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, the directive specifies that John Grimes, assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration, serves as the department’s principal staff assistant overseeing all GPS and position, navigation and timing policy. A Defense Department source said the directive largely serves “to avoid internal squabbles within” the Pentagon by making clear that the Grimes is the lead authority on such matters.


Everett Eager To Add Money for T-Sat in 2009

The top Republican on the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee said he may work to add funding to the U.S. Air Force’s 2009 request for development of a new generation of laser-linked communications.

Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), said in a Feb. 29 interview that he plans to ask officials who will testify before the subcommittee March 5 whether the Pentagon’s reduction to its planned budget request for the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) Communications System will delay the launches of those satellites and cause problems for other military systems that had planned on using T-Sat to pass data.

Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space; Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command; and Scott Large, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, will appear before the subcommittee at the hearing.

The Air Force requested $843 million for T-Sat in 2009, $385 million less than what had been planned at this time last year, and $4 billion less than planned through 2013.

Everett said he would try to increase the budget for T-Sat in the House version of the 2009 defense authorization legislation if he remains unconvinced afterwards that the current budget plan for the program will not cause a delay that will cripple the capabilities of other programs like the Army’s Future Combat System.

Everett said he also was concerned with the level of funding for interceptors for the various U.S. missile defense systems. Top officials from various military commands have expressed concern with the current interceptor inventory, and the budget request does not appear to go far enough to address this issue, he said.

Meanwhile, Everett said he also hopes to hold a classified hearing that could address the implications to the Pentagon and economy of an enemy destroying U.S. spacecraft, and the policy issues involved with possible U.S. use of anti-satellite weapons.


DoD Wants To Launch Payload on Next Falcon

The Pentagon is rushing to find a small satellite to put on the Falcon 1 rocket Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is tentatively slated to launch in June.

The upcoming launch would be the third flight for the Falcon 1, a largely privately-financed rocket that failed to reach orbit on its two launches to date.

Maj. Monica Bland, an Air Force spokeswoman, told Space News Feb. 29 that the joint Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office awarded a $4 million contract to Space X to carry a satellite on the upcoming Falcon 1E launch.

Three potential satellite buses are under consideration, according to Bland. They include the Air Force Research Lab’s so-called plug-and-play bus, Cornell University’s CUSat and a “mostly-built” SpaceDev bus offered by the Missile Defense Agency.

While Bland did not say anything about the payload the satellite would carry, she said the point of the project was to “exercise and mature” the enabling elements of the ORS concept, including the launch vehicle, range operations, and quick development of a bus and payload.

The ORS office is still discussing how much money would be needed to finish and fly each of the satellites under consideration, but the entire project is expected to cost “well under $20 million, including launch, “according to Bland .

SpaceX President Elon Musk said Feb. 27 that the company had just completed qualification testing of the Falcon 1’s improved Merlin 1C engine and expected to ship Falcon 1E out to its Kwajalein Atoll launch facility in May and conduct a pre-launch static fire test in June.

One industry source, however, said the launch could be delayed to September to give the ORS office more time to select and deliver a payload for the flight.

The ORS office is paying for the launch and integration and sharing the cost of the satellite vehicles.


Three Firms in Hunt For Iridium‘s Next Generation Contract

Iridium Satellite LLC has selected Lockheed Martin, Space Systems/Loral and Thales Alenia Space to compete for the job of prime contractor on Iridium’s $2.6 billion second-generation constellation of low-orbiting communications satellites, industry officials said.

Iridium expects to reduce the competitive field to two finalists later this year, with a contract for the 66-satellite constellation to be signed by July 2009. The constellation, scheduled to be in service in 2013, is expected to cost about $2.6 billion, according to Iridium estimates.

Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch, detailing options for the constellation at the Satellite 2008 conference here Feb. 25-28, said three companies were in the running for prime contractor but declined to name them. Industry officials confirmed that Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa. — a major contractor for the first-generation Iridium system — had been selected along with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Space Systems/Loral and Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy.

Loral and Thales Alenia Space were both major contractors on the first-generation mobile communications constellation deployed by Globalstar, an Iridium competitor. Thales Alenia Space is prime contractor for the second-generation Globalstar constellation, which is expected to be placed into orbit starting in late 2009.

Desch said more than 60 companies responded to an Iridium request for information sent to prospective bidders in mid-2007.

The second-generation Iridium system, called Iridium Next, will include intersatellite links, similar to the current satellites, for speedy information delivery without the intervention of a ground station. Lee Demitry, Iridium executive vice president for Iridium Next, said in a Feb. 26 presentation that the second-generation satellites will make more bandwidth available to users, offer improved voice quality and host one or more secondary payloads.


GeoEye Chief Still Irked Over Losing April Launch Slot

GeoEye Inc. Chief Executive Matt O’Connell still has not digested the recently announced four-month delay in the launch of the GeoEye-1 Earth observation satellite, which launch services providers Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) said is due to a higher-priority U.S. government mission using the same vehicle at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Boeing and ULA informed Dulles, Va.-based GeoEye in January that the mid-April launch would be delayed to late August. GeoEye-1 will be GeoEye Inc.’s main revenue source once in orbit, with the principal customer being the same U.S. government that has delayed the GeoEye-1 launch.

“Despite our contract [calling for an April launch], Boeing gave our slot to the U.S. government,” O’Connell said Feb. 25. “We don’t have a commercial launch industry in the United States. We have a government launch industry that gives us launches when they feel like it.”

A Boeing official said he understood O’Connell’s frustration but added: “What Matt didn’t say is that if the satellite had been delivered on schedule, it would be up in orbit right now.”

Launch-schedule issues aside, O’Connell said he is optimistic that U.S. government use of commercial Earth observation data will increase as U.S. policy evolves toward the use of commercial rather than government-owned satellite systems.

“Not all U.S. government people understand that there is a commercial remote-sensing market,” O’Connell said. “Once they realize that, the future’s so bright that we gotta wear shades.”

Some on Wall Street appear to agree, which is why GeoEye’s stock outperformed the overall market in 2007.

In a remark typical of current Wall Street sentiment, Niraj J. Shah, director of investment banking at Citigroup Global Markets Inc., said: “For the remote-sensing sector, we see phenomenal growth prospects for GeoEye and DigitalGlobe.” Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe is GeoEye’s principal U.S. competitor in commercial satellite observation data and services.


2007 Was a Mixed Year For Satellite Stock Values

Satellite stocks got whacked by the credit market downturn along with most other sectors in 2007 but not everyone suffered, and some did very well, Wall Street investment bankers said Feb. 25 in presenting what one called “the Oscars for 2007 satellite stock performance.”

The major publicly traded fixed satellite services companies, who have the most established business model in the field, did better than satellite radio, mobile satellite services, satellite television or any of the other sectors in the business, according to data presented by Tracy Mehr, managing director for media and telecom at Credit Suisse.

In a presentation here at the Satellite 2008 conference, Mehr said fixed satellite services companies such as SES of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris posted on average a 19.4 percent gain in 2007.

While several mobile satellite services companies watched their stock prices drop dramatically in 2007, the sector’s most-established player, Inmarsat of London, showed a 42 percent increase in its shares, which are traded on the London Stock Exchange.

Geospatial-information companies, whose low Earth orbiting satellites take images of selected areas on behalf of government and commercial customers, is one sector that several analysts said should shine in 2008. GeoEye Inc. of Dulles, Va., which is planning to launch a new, higher-performance satellite this year, won the Oscar for best single-company stock performance among the companies listed by Mehr following its 73 percent share-price increase in 2007.

Other companies would rather forget 2007. Satellite-radio stocks were down 27 percent on average for the year.

The Oscar for the category that Mehr labeled “starlets in rehab” went to WorldSpace Inc. of Silver Spring, Md., which is rolling out satellite radio service in India and is having trouble delivering on its business objectives. The stock was down 52 percent for 2007.


Industry Faces Reduced Wall Street Coverage

Cutbacks by the big Wall Street investment banks will reduce the amount of stock-analyst coverage of satellite companies and make it more difficult for them to make their case to investors, according to Wall Street and satellite-industry officials.

For companies with publicly traded stock or bonds, the fear is that fewer analysts will be reviewing a larger number of companies, raising the likelihood of off-the-mark assessments.

The trend already may have started. In late 2007, a major investment bank downgraded the stock of mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat of London, arguing that the company was a riskier bet with the approaching launch of a new satellite. Inmarsat’s stock dropped sharply following the research report. “The fact that the satellite [the Inmarsat 4 F3] was going up on a proven vehicle, and that the design of the satellite has proved itself with two identical satellites already in orbit, apparently didn’t count for much,” one industry official said. “I mean, the fact that a satellite services company is launching a satellite should not, in and of itself, be viewed with alarm.”

While not referring specifically to that episode, Inmarsat Chief Financial Officer Rick Medlock said he is worried that as the major investment houses cut back in the face of losses in sub-prime real estate investments, “the depth of knowledge of our business may be very much reduced. I am worried we are going to get a contraction of coverage.”

Thomas W. Watts, managing director of SG Cowen, an investment bank, said banks’ research departments are being shrunk, with the remaining analysts being asked to cover a greater number of companies whose business cannot be assessed in the same way. “Some [investment] firms are simply going away,” Watts said.

Scott Macleod, chief financial officer of Mobile Satellite Ventures, whose parent company, SkyTerra Communications Inc., is publicly traded, said the reduction in coverage among the major investment banks is being partially offset by new centers of expertise inside the individual hedge funds that are investing in several satellite companies.

“As they have become interested in the sector, hedge funds have brought in expertise,” Macleod said. “There is enough money at risk for them to have hired their own talent. We spend a lot of time with independent, third-party funded researchers hired by the hedge funds. These may be no-name analysts, but the world does not revolve as much as it used to around major investment banks.”


Russia, China Could Help Cut Spacebus 4000’s Cost

Franco-Italian satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space expects to reduce the cost of its Spacebus 4000 top-of-the-line product by 25 percent by introducing Russian- and Chinese-built components, Thales Alenia Space Chief Executive Pascale Sourisse said Feb. 27.

To counter the effects of the lower U.S. dollar exchange rate on the company, which pays most of its bills in euros, Thales Alenia Space already is teaming with Russia’s NPO-PM to exchange components for a product that will be sold by NPO-PM in the domestic Russian market and by Thales Alenia Space in the global commercial market. Sourisse said the Russian Satellite Communications Co., Russia’s biggest commercial satellite-fleet operator, is expected to order the first of the NPO-PM-led versions, called Express 4000, this year.

Sourisse said her company has sounded out initial interest in China for a similar agreement and received a positive response from Chinese satellite-component builders.

“We need to purchase more components in dollar-based economies or economies whose currencies trade up or down with the dollar,” Sourisse said. “If we add up the savings achieved by efficiencies we are making on our own and by the lower-cost components from Russia and China, we can realize a 25 percent decrease in the cost of our Spacebus 4000.”

Thales Alenia Space reported revenue of 1.8 billion euros ($2.67 billion) in 2007, a 9 percent increase over 2006. The company had expected a 10 percent increase, and Sourisse said the company should meet that goal in 2008.

In 2007, 47 percent of the company’s revenue came from commercial contracts, 36 percent from civil-government business and 17 percent from defense customers. Sourisse said the government business is expected to take a larger share of the total in the next few years.


Intelsat Relocates SBS-6 To Argentine Orbital Slot

Intelsat has relocated its SBS-6 satellite to an orbital position registered to the Argentine government and will use it to provide service in North America to the U.S. government, Intelsat and Argentine officials said.

Launched in October 1990, SBS-6 has perhaps two years of operational life remaining. In February it was moved from its previous slot at 73.95 degrees west longitude to the Argentine position at 80.9 degrees west.

Intelsat will pay Ar-Sat of Buenos Aires an undisclosed sum in return for being able to use the Argentine-registered Ku-band broadcast frequencies assigned to that orbital position by the International Telecommunication Union. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission authorized the move by Intelsat in late December.

It was the second time that an Intelsat-owned satellite has been moved to an Argentine slot. The Galaxy 9 satellite was moved to Argentina’s 81 degrees west position to give Intelsat access to C-band frequencies.

Pablo Tognette, president of Ar-Sat, said the transaction with Intelsat will be used, per Argentine government order, to further develop a domestic Argentine telecommunications satellite manufacturing capability through Invap S.E., a government-owned company that already has experience building small Earth observation satellites.


Sat Exec Sees Too Much Investor Focus on Capex

If the major satellite-fleet operators are going to be treated like infrastructure projects by investment funds then they should start acting like infrastructure projects, SES Chief Financial Officer Mark Rigolle said Feb. 25.

Rigolle said investment funds specializing in infrastructure companies, such as toll-road operators, look skeptically at satellite operators because of the occasional expense needed to replace aging satellites. “Investors focus too much” on this, Rigolle said. “Even toll roads need to be maintained, or expanded. There is incremental capex [capital spending] in these projects.”

One benefit a toll-road operator has that satellite companies ought to seek is the ability to add an inflation adjustment to pricing. Highway tolls increase more than once every 15 years — the average life of a modern satellite — but long-term contracts between satellite operators and broadcasters typically do not include automatic resets for inflation.

“We don’t have automatic adjustments in our pricing, so as the infrastructure perception of our business increases, we are trying to move in that direction,” Rigolle said.


Satellite Sector Attracts Interest of Hedge Funds

Cash-rich hedge funds are more interested than ever in the satellite industry and especially in companies whose businesses profit from high-definition television growth, communications on the move for military users, broadband outside North America and mobile satellite services in North America, according to Near Earth LLC Managing Partner Hoyt Davidson.

“I’ve never seen such interest from hedge funds as in the last six months,” Davidson said Feb. 25. “We think this is going to continue.”

Near Earth is a small investment advisor that specializes in the satellite sector. The high interest from hedge funds is accompanied by a demand that investments be accretive to earnings “right out of the box,” Davidson said. “They’re not looking for cleanup deals,” he said, referring to companies that would require restructuring to become profitable.

Davidson said private-equity and hedge-fund investors are interested in companies that could profit from the expected explosive growth in high-definition television (HDTV). HDTV requires more bandwidth than standard definition, meaning more satellite capacity will be needed as HDTV is adopted in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

Communications on the move — “broadband to Humvees,” as Davidson put it — is another sector viewed as promising for military and, eventually, commercial applications.

Despite the lack of a major success story among startup companies hoping to combine mobile communications satellites with Ancillary Terrestrial Components, or ATCs, the mobile satellite sector continues to appeal to hedge funds and private-equity investors.

Consumer satellite broadband, which has been an early success in North America, now is being eyed for other regions of the world, starting in Europe. The question, Davidson said, is how many years it will take before competing terrestrial technologies advance to make the satellite broadband sector less attractive.


Thales Alenia, Eutelsat Ink Deal for W3B Satellite

Thales Alenia Space will build a large Ku- and Ka-band satellite for fleet operator Eutelsat to cover Europe, southern Africa, the Indian Ocean region and Europe under a contract the companies announced Feb. 26.

The W3B satellite, scheduled for delivery in mid-2010, will be co-located with the W3A spacecraft at Eutelsat’s 7 degrees east orbital slot. W3B will back up W3A and also will be available for relocation in the event one of the three other Ku-band satellites Eutelsat has under construction — W2M, W2A and W7 — fails at launch.

W3B will carry 53 Ku- and three Ka-band transponders, with three steerable antennas and two fixed antennas. It is expected to deliver 12 kilowatts of power at the end of its 15-year life and to weigh a maximum of 5,400 kilograms at launch. Franco-Italian manufacturer Thales Alenia Space will use its Spacebus 4000C3 platform for W3B.

One of the satellite’s antennas will be aimed at Central Europe and Turkey for the fast-growing direct-to-home satellite television market in that region. W3B also will focus coverage on northern Africa and the Middle East to provide data and professional video links, and on sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.

Eutelsat said the Ka-band payload would be used to provide connections between Europe and Africa.


ISRO Sets New Target for Chandrayaan-1 Launch

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has set a June-July target launch window for its Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter and also is planning a solar-observing satellite that would launch by 2012, according to Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state in the prime minister’s office.

Chandrayaan-1, India’s first planetary mission, had been scheduled to launch in April but was delayed “to ensure thorough and appropriate testing of various subsystems and the spacecraft to ensure the mission performance,” Chavan said in a statement to India’s parliment.

He said the satellite’s payloads are being received from various agencies and integration is progressing as planned. Chandrayaan-1 will include U.S. and European as well as Indian instruments.

Meanwhile, Chavan said ISRO is planning to launch a satellite called Aditya to study the sun. “It will study the coronal mass ejection and the crucial physical parameters of space weather, such as, the coronal magnetic field structures and evolution of the coronal magnetic field,” he said in his statement.

The Aditya mission is intended to enhance the scientific knowledge of the sun’s atmosphere and radiation. This data also will help engineers design satellites that are better able to withstand adverse effects of solar environment, he said.

Aditya’s launch will coincide with a solar maximum, a phase of high solar dynamism, which will occur in 2012, according to R. Sridharan, director of the Space Science Office at ISRO.


Glonass Replenishment Moves Steadily Ahead

The Russian government plans to conduct two more launches of the modernized Glonass M navigation satellites this year — three each on two Proton rockets — to bring the operational Glonass fleet to 18 Glonass M spacecraft and provide coverage of the entire Russian land mass, according to Sergey G. Revnivkh, deputy head of the Glonass mission control center in Moscow.

Addressing the Munich Satellite Navigation Summit Feb. 20, Revnivkh said the current Glonass fleet comprises 16 satellites, of which 14 are healthy and in service. The two others, both Glonass M test satellites, are undergoing maintenance. Like the U.S. GPS positioning, navigation and timing constellation, the Glonass system is designed to operate with 24 spacecraft.

The Russian government has made Glonass restoration a high priority, with the goal of reaching near GPS-level coverage and performance by 2011, Revnivkh said.

Glonass M satellites have a seven-year operational life, compared to five years for older Glonass models. The longer service life will make it easier for Glonass authorities to maintain a robust fleet level.

Once the modernized constellation is in place, Glonass replacement satellites could be launched one at a time on smaller Soyuz rockets or, following a bilateral agreement between the Russian and Indian governments, on Indian launch vehicles.

“We want to speed up deployment of the constellation and the spares by 2011 with 24 operational satellites and three spares by then,” Revnivkh said. “For this we are considering the possibility of using Indian rockets as well.”

Russian authorities expect to settle on final design specifications for the next generation of Glonass satellites, called Glonass K, within several weeks, he said, with the first Glonass K launch tentatively scheduled for 2010.


KVH To Supply Antennas for Airborne DirecTV Reception

KVH Industries of Middletown, R.I., has signed a $20.1 million multiyear contract to deliver DirecTV satellite television antennas to commercial airline entertainment provider LiveTV of Melbourne, Fla.

LiveTV provides in-flight entertainment systems with DirecTV service to several major commercial airlines. KVH will begin delivering the antennas by the end of 2008, KVH spokesman Chris Watson said. KVH has been manufacturing DirecTV-compatible antennas since 1996.

Watson declined to provide the length of the contract or the number of units to be delivered.


Gascom Planning Major Satellite Fleet Expansion

Russian satellite-fleet operator Gascom, flush with cash from a booming domestic and regional business, plans to quadruple its satellite capacity by 2015 by launching eight new satellites, the Moscow-based company said Feb. 22. Gascom said the first two satellites, Yamal-300 models, will be launched in the first half of 2009.

Gascom currently operates three relatively small Yamal satellites, which in 2007 broadcasted 80 TV channels. Its biggest customer remains its parent company, Russia’s Gasprom natural-gas producer, which uses about 10 percent of Gascom’s satellite capacity for its own telecommunications network. Some 25 percent of Gascom’s business is with customers outside of Russia.

For 2007, Gascom said revenue grew by 48 percent, to $69.8 million, with an EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — equivalent to about 64 percent of revenue. Its three satellites are 95 percent booked, the company said — an unusually high level that accounts for the near-term capital-expenditure increase.


SGT Nabs Contract for Constellation Support

NASA said Feb. 27 it has awarded SGT Inc. of Greenbelt, Md., a contract worth up to $60 million to support the agency’s Constellation Program, which seeks to develop the hardware needed to replace the space shuttle and later return astronauts to the Moon.

The indefinite quantity, indefinite delivery contract, effective April 11, has a base period of three years and includes a pair of one-year options that could bring its total value to $100 million, NASA said.

The services to be provided include business, schedule and data management, and requirements analysis. Work will be performed primarily at Johnson Space Center in Houston, with additional work possible at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla.; Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.; and Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.


SpaceWorks Engineering Wins Design Competition

A team led by SpaceWorks Engineering of Atlanta won the $25,000 first prize in a competition sponsored by the Planetary Society seeking concepts for a mission to tag and track an asteroid that might be on a collision course with Earth.

Overall, $50,000 in prize money was handed out by the Planetary Society in its Apophis Mission Design Competition, the Pasadena, Calif., organization said in a Feb. 26 press release.

Apophis, named after an ancient Egyptian god of destruction, could enter a specific area in April 2029 that will set it on a catastrophic collision course with Earth in 2036. However, the chances of this happening are minute.

SpaceWorks’ winning proposal, prepared in partnership with Space Dev Inc. of Poway, Calif., is a satellite with a laser altimeter, a camera and an X-band tracking system called Foresight, the Planetary Society’s Web site said. It would launch on an Orbital Sciences Corp. Minotaur 4 rocket as early as May 2012. For the first month it would orbit Apophis and then it would break orbit and fly in formation 2 kilometers from the asteroid, the release said.

With an estimated cost of $137.2 million and weighing 100 kilograms, Foresight was far smaller and cheaper than the second- and third-place finishers, each of which would have cost more than $380 million and weighed 500 kilograms, the society Web site said.

Teams led by Deimos Space SL of Madrid and EADS Astrium of Britain won second and third place, respectively, according to the society’s Web site.

Students at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta won first place in the student competition for their satellite Pharos, the release said. Monash University of Australia and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, tied for second place.


Iridium Reports Growth in Revenue and Subscribers

Mobile satellite services operator Iridium Satellite LLC reported a 23 percent increase in revenue and a 34 percent jump in subscribers in 2007 compared to 2006 and is on track to select a builder of its second generation of low-orbiting satellites by mid-2009, the company announced Feb. 25.

Bethesda, Md.-based Iridium said growth was particularly strong in North America, where traffic on its network rose by 44 percent in 2007. Growth also was strong in the Asia-Pacific region, where traffic increased by 47 percent during the year, Iridium said.

Iridium operates a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit and is preparing to solicit bids for a second-generation system in roughly the same orbit.

Iridium said its growth in 2007 also was strong for machine-to-machine communications, a market that is the focus of Orbcomm Inc., whose smaller satellites are dedicated to data transmissions.

Iridium said its revenue in 2007 was $260.4 million, with EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — of $73.6 million, or 23 percent of revenue.


Raytheon Space & Airborne Systems Unit Wins Sensor Payloads Contract

A division of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in McKinney, Texas, recently received two U.S. Army orders totaling $17.2 million for 18 common sensor payloads, according to a company news release dated Feb. 14.

The orders are part of an indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contract awarded in November 2007 that has a potential value of $1.2 billion, according to the news release.

The common sensor payload program — which eventually will equip the Army’s Extended Range Multi Purpose unmanned aerial vehicle as well as other Army unmanned and manned aircraft — involves development, testing and aircraft integration of a variant of Raytheon’s multi-spectral targeting system.

In a prepared statement, Tim Carey, vice president for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, described the payload as “a robust advanced sensor for the soldier and Army air-ground team that will provide tactical reconnaissance, surveillance, and mission support in target acquisition.”

Production of the payload could reach 875 units, according to the news release.


Burkhardt Selected To Be U.S. Army’s First Geospatial Information Officer

The U.S. Army has appointed Robert Burkhardt as its first geospatial information officer (GIO), according to an Army news release dated Feb. 28.

Burkhardt currently serves as director of the Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center’s Topographic Engineering Center in Alexandria, Va. His GIO responsibilities will include assessment and coordination of Army policies and requirements related to geospatial information, and synchronizing work in this area with the other military services, according to the news release.

“Geospatial data is the foundation for a common operational picture, and the lack of policy and standards in this area prevents a unified [picture] today,” Burkhardt said in the news release. “The technology is available to enable battle command systems to collect information once and allow discovery and exploitation by all, however, without these standards, it is difficult to present unified, understandable solutions within and outside of the Army.”


Raytheon Completes Flight Testing of Unmanned Aircraft-Launched Vehicle

Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., wrapped up flight-testing of an air-launched unmanned aerial vehicle Jan. 11, clearing the way for initial production of the drone starting later this year for the U.S. Air Force, according to a company news release dated Feb. 26.

The testing, which began in June 2007, entailed deploying the Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) vehicle from F-16 and B-52 aircraft. The MALD vehicle weighs less than 136 kilograms and has a range of approximately 926 kilometers.

Harry Schulte, vice president of Raytheon Missile Systems’ strike product line, said in a prepared statement that the MALD is designed to accommodate modular upgrades as military needs evolve.