Next GPS Launch To Enable Testing of Secure Signal

The U.S. military will be able to begin experimenting with a new secure GPS signal once a GPS 2RM satellite, scheduled to launch March 15, becomes operational, according to a U.S. Air Force official.

Col. Dave Madden, commander of the Global Positioning Systems Wing at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, told reporters during a March 6 conference call that the satellite, which is built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, will represent the necessary sixth spacecraft for use of the new encrypted signal, which is known as the M-code. The testing will help the Air Force gauge whether the M-code delivers the protection against interference like jamming that the military is hoping for, he said.

The military likely will begin deploying user equipment designed to operate with the M-code around 2012, Madden said.

The Air Force also plans to launch GPS 2M satellites June 30 and Sept. 11, according to Col. James Planeaux, mission manager for the launches. Those launches will bring the total of GPS 2RM satellites launched over a roughly yearlong period to a total of five, and will enable the Air Force to move aging GPS 2A satellites out of service and into the role of orbiting spares, Madden said.

The decision to launch more GPS satellites than usual over the course of that period was motivated by a study completed in 2007 that indicated that nine of the 14 GPS 2A satellites that are part of the constellation today have the potential to fail in the near future, Madden said.

NASA Eyes Commercial Suborbital Experiments

NASA has issued two Requests for Information (RFI) about microgravity research that could be conducted using commercial suborbital flights for Earth science research and for testing scientific instruments. Small companies and their advocates say the RFI appears to mark a new level of commitment by NASA both to their industry and to smaller scale experiments.

“This is 21st century NASA at its best – recognizing a great opportunity on the horizon and saying, we’re going to be out front on this,” said John Gedmark, executive director of the Personal Spaceflight Federation, an industry association focused on commercial human spaceflight.

The RFIs, which were issued Feb. 28, ask the companies to provide ideas about ways to use their suborbital vehicles for “human-tended flight experiments” for such tasks as atmospheric sampling and astronomical observations. The second RFI also asks companies to provide NASA with information about buying flight services.

“It shows they are looking at broadening the access of the community of science to space,” said Douglas Graham of XCOR Aerospace, Mojave, Calif. Graham said his company has designed its spacecraft from the beginning for just such purposes.

Jim Muncy, a Washington lobbyist who represents several companies with interests in this market, said the RFI also marked an effort by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate to provide principal investigators (PIs), the scientists who run projects, with more opportunities to handle smaller projects early in their careers. “In addition to doing experiments, they will also train young PIs who will be much more effective for having managed these small projects,” Muncy said.

For more information, contact Daniel Durda at 

Intelligence Community, DoD Cancel Space Radar

The Space Radar, a U.S. military and intelligence satellite surveillance program whose cost estimates have ranged upwards of $20 billion, has been canceled.

“The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Intelligence Community (IC) have decided not to pursue the Space Radar Program of Record. The Space Radar Program of Record is not affordable and will be restructured effective immediately. The program office is taking the necessary actions to implement this direction,” Rick Oborn, a spokesman for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, said in a March 6 e-mail.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Northrop Grumman Space Technology have been developing competing designs for the Space Radar under contracts that in January 2007 were extended through April 2009. The extensions were worth $49 million apiece.

The program’s activities “will cease as soon as practical,” Oborn said in his e-mail. “The Government will continue to vigorously pursue alternatives to meet the DOD and IC requirements for radar capabilities from space,” Oborn said.

Scott Large, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, told members of the House Armed Services Committee March 5 that a new plan for the Space Radar should be ready for presentation to Congress in 45 days.

The budget for the Space Radar, a joint National Reconnaissance Office-U.S. Air Force effort, is classified. The program most recently was focused on a nine-satellite constellation that would collect imagery and detect movement on the ground around the globe.

Lawsuit Might Delay Inmarsat‘s U.S. Service

plans to introduce a global satellite-telephone service late this year might exclude the United States because of a patent dispute with a small U.S. company, according to Inmarsat and its distribution partner, Stratos Global Corp.

Freedom Wireless Inc. of Phoenix claims it has filed patents for security features embedded in cellular communications, including pre-pay service of the kind that London-based Inmarsat plans to introduce with its new hand-held satellite telephone.

A veteran mobile satellite-services operator, Inmarsat is adding handsets to its product portfolio to compete with Iridium, Globalstar and Thuraya for satellite-telephone subscribers, a business Inmarsat values at $350 million a year and growing by 15-20 percent annually.

The third of three next-generation Inmarsat 4 satellites is scheduled for launch in late April. Once in orbit, it will give Inmarsat a global footprint for its hand-held phone, except at the poles.

But Stratos Global, Inmarsat’s biggest distributor, has warned U.S.-based users that the service will not be available immediately in the United States.

“While developing its commercial wireless pre-pay service, Inmarsat became aware that a U.S. company, Freedom Wireless Inc., has registered patents for security features in pre-paid cellular telecommunications systems,” Stratos Global says in a notice to prospective Inmarsat telephone subscribers. “As Inmarsat’s pre-pay service might infringe on Freedom’s patents, the pre-pay service shall not be available in the United States until further notification.”

Similarly, pre-pay subscribers from outside the United States will not be able to make calls from the United States or its territories, airspace or territorial waters, Stratos says. “Inmarsat will closely monitor the outcome of the Freedom litigation.”

An Inmarsat official said March 7 that the company believes it ultimately will be able to offer its hand-held telephone service in the United States.

New Test Confirms Wi-Max Interference with C-Band

A field test of a Wi-Max broadband-wireless unit used in the vicinity of a C-band satellite antenna has found that the satellite broadcast signals are substantially degraded and that co-existence is not feasible.

The conclusions of the test, organized by the Satellite Users Interference Reduction Group (SUIRG), were expected. They reinforce arguments made by C-band satellite users at the 2007 World Radicommunication Conference, held in Geneva, which declined to grant Wi-Max and other terrestrial wireless systems a global priority in certain C-band frequencies now reserved for satellite transmissions.

The SUIRG test was conducted in two ways. First, a satellite antenna was in a fixed location, with the Wi-Max unit moved from location to location at a distance of up to 1 kilometer from the satellite installation. The satellite signal “was rendered unacceptable for use,” SUIRG said in a March 3 statement.

A second series of tests was designed to simulate the use of a Wi-Max system on cellular network towers by placing it on a water tower at 50 meters in height, with the satellite antenna moved to different locations in the area. The result: “The Wi-Max transmit signal could cause significant problems to a satellite digital signal well in excess of 12 kilometers distance,” SUIRG said.

Specifically, the satellite video signal remained operational, but the bit-error rate, which telecommunications companies insist should be no more than one in 100 million, was increased to one in 10,000, SUIRG said.

EC To Invest More Millions Of Euros in Earth Observing

The European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA) have formalized their partnership to develop next-generation Earth observing systems with the commission’s release of 419 million euros ($629 million) to help build the first three Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, or GMES, satellites.

The commission will invest an additional 205 million euros in the program’s next phase following a late-November meeting of ESA governments, which will be asked to subscribe to their share of what is called GMES Segment 2.

ESA already has agreed to spend 728 million euros on Segment 1 of GMES, which includes the development and launch of three Sentinel satellites – one with a radar imager for land and ocean monitoring, one with a high-resolution optical imager and the third carrying an altimeter for ocean and land observation.

The Brussels, Belgium-based commission formally agreed to its GMES investment Feb. 28, when ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain signed the cooperation agreement with Heinz Zourek, the European Commission’s director-general for enterprise and industry policy.

MRO Camera Captures Large Avalanches on Mars 

A camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) recently photographed large avalanches of soil, possibly mixed with water-ice, as they occurred on the surface on the red planet, the U.S. space agency said March 3. 

The soil on the face of the 700-meter-high slope where the avalanches occurred is known to have concentrations of water-ice. Follow-up imaging at the base of the slope will confirm if the fallen material includes water-ice.

The cause of the avalanches still is unknown, but possibilities include temperature-related resizing of the ice layer, a Mars quake or a meteorite impact, NASA’s Web site said.

The MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) snapped the image Feb. 19. It is one of approximately 2,400 HiRISE photographs NASA recently released.

was being used to survey the red planet for seasonal changes when it caught the avalanches at 84 degrees north latitude.

“We were checking for springtime changes in the carbon-dioxide frost covering a dune field, and finding the avalanches was completely serendipitous,” Candice Hansen, HiRISE deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in the release.

Liberty Media Takes 41% Stake in DirecTV

Liberty Media Corp. has completed a deal with News Corp. that gives it the largest stake in satellite television provider DirecTV of El Segundo, Calif., Liberty of Englewood, Colo., announced Feb. 28 in a press release.

The DirecTV shares gained in the exchange with News Corp. did not give Liberty Media a controlling interest in DirectTV, Liberty Media spokesman John Orr said in a March 6 phone interview.

In the deal, first announced in December 2006, Liberty exchanged its 16.3 percent stake in News Corp. for the latter’s 41 percent stake in DirecTV, regional sports networks in Denver, Pittsburgh and Seattle, and $431 million in cash, the press release said.

Liberty Media’s did not previously own shares of DirecTV, Orr said.

Sheridan Heads to SMC; Pawlikowski to NRO

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John “Tom” Sheridan has been nominated to receive his third star and take command of the service’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) in Los Angeles, according to a Pentagon news release dated Feb. 28.

Sheridan currently is deputy director of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and program executive officer for the Space Radar effort, which has ground to a halt and appears in danger of cancellation.

If confirmed by the Senate, Sheridan would replace Air Force Lt. Gen. Mike Hamel, who will retire in May, according to Tonya Racasner, an SMC spokeswoman.

Sheridan will be replaced at the NRO by Brig. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, currently SMC’s vice commander, according to an Air Force Web site. Brig. Gen. Susan Mashiko, commander of the military satellite communications wing at SMC, has been tapped to replace Pawlikowski.

House Staff Changes Affect Military Space

The congressional committees that oversee U.S. national security space spending are getting several new hands. Adrienne Ramsay, formerly the lead Democratic staffer on space issues at the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, joins the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. She replaces Adam Harris, who becomes staff director of the Appropriations Committee’s Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created in late 2006 to better inform the committee’s intelligence spending decisions.

NASA Modifies Lockheed External Tank Contract

NASA signed a $47.5 million contract modification with Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ Michoud Operations in New Orleans for space shuttle external tank hardware that will serve as program spares. The modification includes final assembly of one tank, partial assembly of a second, and the acquisition of components for a third, NASA announced Feb. 29.

The modification, the second in less than a year, brings the total value of Lockheed Martin’s external tank contract to $2.93 billion.

The contract was awarded in October 2000 and runs through Sept. 30, 2010, the date by which NASA intends to stop flying the space shuttle. The contract calls for the delivery of 18 tanks.

NASA spokesman John Yembrick said a few of those tanks already have flown, with the remainder needed to support the 12 shuttle missions that remain on the NASA manifest.

The external tank contract modification follows NASA’s Feb. 15 announcement of an $812.5 million adjustment to AlliantTechsystems‘ deal to provide solid-rocket motors for the remaining shuttle missions. The modification brought the total value of AlliantTechsystems‘ contract, originally awarded in October 1998, to $3.9 billion.

Sea Group Picked To Build Radiometer for EarthCare

Sea Group Ltd. of Britain will design and manufacture the advanced radiometer instrument for the EarthCare Earth observation satellite being built for the European and Japanese governments and scheduled for launch in 2013, Sea Group announced March 3.

Sea Group has signed a preliminary contract for the Broad-Band Radiometer with Astrium GmbH of Germany, which is expected to be EarthCare’s prime contractor. Once the final contract is signed, Sea Group expects the work to be valued at 12 million British pounds ($24 million).

is being developed for the European Space Agency as part of the agency’s Earth Explorer program. Some of the hardware will be provided by Japan under a bilateral agreement. EarthCare will study cloud and aerosol phenomena in the atmosphere from a sun-synchronous orbit of about 450 kilometers in altitude.

Final contracts with Astrium GmbH and the principal component builders are expected to be signed this year.

L-3 Software To Support NASA Radiation Probe

The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) has contracted with L-3 Telemetry West for software for a NASA mission designed to study the Earth’s radiation belts, the San Diego-based company said in a Feb. 28 press release.

APL will use L-3’s InControl software for the Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission operations center. The software will support bench-level testing, integration and testing, and on-orbit operations, L-3 spokeswoman Vivian Shelton said March 4. Typically different software is used for these three phases of a program, she said. Shelton declined to disclose the contract value.

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission is designed to predict how solar energy affects electrons and ions in Earth’s radiation belts. It is slated to launch in 2012.

Air and Space Museum Deputy Director Dies

Donald S. Lopez, deputy director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, died of a heart attack March 3 at age 84, the museum said in a March 4 press release.

In 1972 Lopez became a member of the team charged with building and opening the Air and Space Museum, which first welcomed visitors in July 1976. He first served as deputy director from 1983 to 1990 and then again from 1996 until his death.

“Don Lopez was an American Ace fighter pilot, author, educator, and museum professional beloved by all who came in contact with him,” ChristinSamper, the Smithsonian Institution’s acting director said in the release.

NASA Administrator Says Parochialism Hurts Agency

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin took scientists and contractors to task March 5 for doing end runs around the U.S. space agency’s established priorities to secure startup funding for their pet projects.

Speaking at the Goddard Memorial Symposium here, Griffin said NASA loses credibility when scientists, contractors and the agency’s own entrenched parochial interests downplay the cost and technical challenges of a proposed project in order to win congressional support.

“Anyone here knows that once started, any given mission is nearly impossible to cancel,” he said.

Griffin said everyone loses when groups and individuals pursue their own self-interest without regard for the bigger picture.  

“The rift and harsh rhetoric between the proponents of robotic science and human spaceflight as far as I can tell increases no one’s budget, does not increase the overall budget, does not help our nation’s space efforts one iota, but does cause division and divisiveness that weakens us,” he said.

Griffin said NASA has lost credibility with its political stakeholders and the public at large.

“This is a matter of integrity for our community,” Griffin said. “NASA managers, the White House and Congress have seen this behavior too many times and the agency has lost a great deal of credibility over the decades as a result. There was a time … when what NASA said could be taken to the bank. Anyone here think it’s like that today? No show of hands for how great our credibility is? Thought not.”

Griffin called on the space community to censure groups and individuals who put their interests ahead of the space program as a whole.

“If we wish a better reality for tomorrow we as a community need to police this behavior. Those who engage in it must be made to feel and must be unwelcome in the community at large,” he said. “My hope for today is that there will in the future be more respect for each other’s work.”

Northrop Grumman Ships Second AEHF Payload

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., has delivered the second Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure satellite communications payload to prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., Northrop Grumman said in a March 4 press release.

The payload delivery was ahead of schedule, as was the first payload delivery one year ago, the release noted. The first U.S. Air Force AEHF satellite is scheduled to launch later this year. Lockheed Martin now will integrate the second payload with the satellite platform and other components and put the full assembly though environmental testing in preparation for launch in 2009.

The AEHF satellites will provide highly secure, jam-proof communications links for U.S. strategic and tactical forces. 

DARPA Picks 3 More Firms for F-6 Space Mission Studies

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded contracts to Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis, Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp. of Redondo Beach, Calif., and Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., to develop concepts for a proposed in-space formation-flying experiment dubbed F-6, according to announcements from the Pentagon and the companies.

F-6 is DARPA shorthand for Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft United by Information Exchange. The program seeks to demonstrate the utility of clusters of small, wirelessly linked spacecraft flying in close proximity that would function like a single, larger satellite or network.  The Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin contracts cover a period of one year and are valued at $10.6 million, $3.3 million and $5.7 million, respectively, the companies said.

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., received an F-6 contract earlier in February. Orbital will develop technology and analyze costs as a part of its one-year, $13.6 million contract.

DARPA has requested $37.3 million for the F-6 program in 2009, a $16.3 million increase over this year’s funding.

Raytheon Co. To Support Patriot Under 2 Contracts

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., won two U.S. Army contracts totaling $143.7 million to provide engineering services for the Patriot air and missile defense system to the United States and its allies, according to March 3 and March 5 Raytheon press releases.

Under a $115 million contract, Raytheon will provide Patriot support to the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Israel, Kuwait, Spain, Taiwan and Greece. Under the other contract, valued at $28.7 million, Raytheon will integrate Patriot fire units purchased by South Korea through a U.S. government Foreign Military Sale.

RT Logic Marketing New Spectrum Analysis Tool

A new radio spectrum analyzer developed by Integral Systems subsidiary RT Logic is now available for purchase, the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based company said in a Feb. 21 press release.

RT Logic’s T400MSP modular signal processor is both a signal generator and spectrum analyzer, Steve Williams, RT Logic business area manager for signal monitoring, said in a Feb. 27 phone interview.

The T400MSP can perform spectrum analysis to determine the signal security of satellites. Phenomena such as Doppler shifts, interference and even jamming can be monitored, Williams said. Parts of a signal can be isolated for more detailed analysis, he said.

The device also can generate signals replicating these and other phenomena to train personnel in spectrum analysis, Williams said. The device retails for $89,500, Williams said in a March 5 e-mail.

Public-Private Partnership Sought for Data Relay Sats

The European Space Agency (ESA) will begin negotiations in the coming weeks with European satellite operators on a joint investment in three geostationary-orbiting data-relay satellites that also would carry payloads selected by private-sector operators, ESA Telecommunications Director Giuseppe Viriglio said.

The consultations will begin with several European satellite operators including Astrium Services, Telespazio, Hispasat, SES Astra and Eutelsat, he said.

The goal is a public-private partnership along the lines of what ESA has created with the Alphasat satellite bus, being built with mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat of London; and with the Small GEO platform to be used by  Hispasat of Spain.

In a briefing March 5 at ESA’sEstec technology center, Viriglio said ESA hopes to present a data-relay proposal to its member governments when they meet in November to set the agency’s long-term strategy.

By then, he said, the agency expects to have initial indications from one or more potential commercial partners that would co-invest with ESA in three relatively small – 3,000 kilograms at launch – data-relay satellites that would carry secondary payloads to be selected by the commercial partners.

ESA has not determined what amount it would need to invest on its own, but Viriglio said it likely would not exceed 350 million euros ($532 million) including the construction and launch of the three spacecraft. The final split between public and private investment would be decided after a competitive bidding process with the operators.

For European governments, creating a permanent, global data-relay system in orbit would serve both civil and military customers, whose Earth observation satellites now require ground stations around the world to speed data to Europe.

“We have several Earth observation systems in Europe and they could all use a data-relay capability to eliminate the need to maintain so many ground stations around the world,” Viriglio said, referring to civil, commercial and military optical and radar satellites in development or in operation in France, Germany and Spain, in addition to ESA’s own environmental satellites.

For any future European astronaut programs, data relay also would be needed. ESA is paying NASA for access to the U.S. Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System for this month’s planned launch of the first Automated Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned cargo-supply ship for the international space station. Future cargo vessels are planned.

The data-relay satellites also could be used to track launches from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. Launches currently are followed by a network of ESA-owned or -leased ground facilities along the launch trajectory. Viriglio said the cost of maintaining and leasing this capacity could be eliminated with the data-relay service.

House Members Say NASA Request Inadequate

U.S. President George W. Bush’s final budget request for NASA got a rough reception from the House appropriators who will draft a spending bill funding the U.S. space agency.

“You’re cash-strapped,” said Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), chairman of the House Appropriations commerce, justice and science subcommittee. “The budget has been characterized as staying the course. It doesn’t seem adequate anymore.”

The Bush Administration requested $17.6 billion for NASA for 2009, a 1.8 percent increase that would leave the agency struggling to keep pace with inflation.

Over the course of two days of hearings March 5 and 6, Democrats and Republicans alike criticized NASA’s budget proposal for doing nothing to narrow the nearly five-year gap between retiring the space shuttle in 2010 and fielding its successor, and not adequately budgeting for the cost of transitioning between those two programs.

NASA’s budget request also was criticized for shortchanging the agency’s science programs. The strongest pushback came from Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and John Culberson (R-Texas).

Under NASA’s plan, overall science spending would be held flat in 2009 with the Mars Exploration Program cut $170 million next year to fund an increase for Earth science. NASA’s five-year plan calls for spending roughly $1 billion less on robotic Mars missions than had been called for under the agency’s previous five-year plan.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin’s arguments about rebalancing a science program that has recently favored Mars did not sway Schiff, whose Pasadena, Calif.-area district is home to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The testimony you can’t give, I will give,” Schiff said. “If you weren’t constrained to be soldiers in the service of the administration, you might come in and say, ‘we have to make drastic cuts to Mars and it’s criminal because Mars is one of the best programs that we fund, but we are going to cut it in half in the next five years because of what we’ve been given.’”

Schiff also said he intended to push for more 2009 funding for the Space Interferometry Mission, which NASA has proposed to cut back to $6 million while it weighs alternative approaches for conducting the expensive JPL-led planet-hunting mission.