Marburger: U.S. Has Time To Resume Making Plutonium

White House science advisor John Marburger said the United States has not abandoned

plans to resume production of plutonium-238, a material used to power long-lasting nuclear batteries critical for deep space missions.

“NASA has access to enough plutonium to meet its known mission requirements through much of the next decade, and the administration ultimately determined that funding to restart pu-238 production was not

required in FY2009,” Marburger said March 21 in a written response to questions from Space News. “[The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget], NASA and other offices and agencies are planning an overall assessment to determine when additional production will be needed given existing and expected requirements for pu-238. This is not a ‘shelving of longstanding plans,’ it is part of the planning process itself, and necessary for deciding when to begin construction of related facilities and what funding levels will be required.”

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told

the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee March 6 that the U.S. Department of Energy is running out of plutonium

-238 and would not be able to meet the space agency’s demand beyond 2017 without resuming production of the radioactive material.

While the Department of Energy has been buying plutonium

from Russia to help meet NASA’s demand, Griffin said the agency has been informed that Russia is down to its last 10 kilograms – an amount equivalent to less than half of what NASA expects to use of its

outer planets flagship-class mission slated for 2016 or 2017. Restarting production would take about seven years, Griffin said.

Sea Launch Rocket Lofts High-Definition TV Craft

A Sea Launch Co. Zenit 3 SL rocket successfully placed the DirecTV 11 Ka-band high-definition television satellite into orbit March 19 in the second of six planned launches in 2008 by the Long Beach, Calif., company.

Sea Launch also is scheduled to inaugurate its Land Launch variant, operated from the BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan, in late April. Satellite-fleet operator Spacecom of Israel announced March 19 that its Amos 3 satellite had arrived at Baikonur and would be lofted by Land Launch in late April.

Sea Launch and Land Launch use the same basic vehicle, but Sea Launch operates from a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean on the equator. From that location, it can place heavy satellites into geostationary transfer orbit.

DirecTV 11, weighing 5,923 kilograms at launch and able to generate 14 kilowatts of onboard power, will add 50 nationwide high-definition television channels to El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV Inc.’s current portfolio, bringing the total to 150. The satellite also will enable DirecTV to double, to 150, the number of local high-definition channels provided by satellite spot beams.

The satellite is one of three nearly identical craft – DirecTV 10, 11 and 12 – built by Boeing Satellite Systems International of El Segundo. DirecTV 10 is already in orbit, and DirecTV 12 is tentatively scheduled for launch in 2009. DirecTV also operates the Boeing-built Spaceway 1 and Spaceway 2 Ka-band satellites for high-definition television.

Phil Goswitz, DirecTV vice president for space and communications, said during a pre-launch briefing that high-definition television requires five times more satellite capacity per channel than standard-definition television.

said it will take about two months of in-orbit tests before DirecTV 11 can enter service. After separating from the Zenit 3 SL rocket’s Block DM upper stage, the satellite was acquired by a ground station in Hartebeesthoek, South Africa, and was reported to be in good health, DirecTV announced.

Sea Launch said the launch was the 250th time that the Block DM upper stage had been used. The same upper stage, built by RSC Energia of Korolev, Russia, was formerly used on all Russian Proton rockets as well. But Proton prime contractor Khrunichev has since replaced Block DM with the newer Breeze-M stage for Proton commercial flights.

Sea Launch President Rob Peckham said in a March 18 interview that the failure of Breeze-M during a March 15 commercial Proton launch had no effect on Sea Launch operations because Sea Launch does not use components that are used on Breeze-M.

Proposal Overdue for Non-Proliferation Relief

The White House missed the March 14 deadline U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) set for sending Congress a legislative proposal for granting NASA additional relief from a non-proliferation law that bars the U.S. space agency from buying space station-related goods and services from Russia beyond 2011.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told the Senate Commerce space and aeronautics subcommittee in February that the agency needs relief from the Iran-North Korea-Syria Non-proliferation Act soon in order to enter negotiations with the Russian space agency for the Soyuz and Progress vehicles needed to staff and maintain the international space station in the years immediately following the space shuttle’s planned 2010 retirement. NASA’s space shuttle replacement, dubbed Orion, is not slated to debut before 2015.

Griffin said U.S. dependence on the Russian spaceships could continue until 2016, because Orion would need to be in service for the better part of a year before it could be certified to serve as the station’s crew lifeboat.

Nelson, chairman of the Senate Commerce space and aeronautics subcommittee, said the White House would need to submit a formal proposal by March 14 to give Congress enough time to act. Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said March 20 that the subcommittee had yet to receive a legislative proposal from the White House.

“The space agency has made a strong case for why they need it this year, but everything first has to go through [the White House Office of Management and Budget], which seems to be a choke point,” he said.

Kristen Scuderi, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) said March 20 that a proposal was in the works. “OSTP is working with NASA and other appropriate offices and agencies to coordinate the Administration’s next steps on this issue,” she said. “We expect this process to be completed soon.”

NASA has already agreed to pay Russia $780 million for Soyuz and Progress services the United States needs through 2011 fulfill its long-standing international space station commitments.

Struggling WorldSpace Eyes Italy, Switzerland

Satellite-radio service provider WorldSpace is focusing its attention on Italy and Switzerland in hopes of introducing a hybrid satellite-terrestrial service in 2009 and generating revenue before it runs out of money, company officials said March 20.

But they admitted that WorldSpace’s survival is now at stake if the company does not find fresh sources of cash and strategic partners needed to finance the European service rollout.

The Silver Spring, Md.-based company had $10.9 million cash and marketable securities as of Dec. 31. WorldSpace spent $19 million in the three months ending Dec. 31.

While this cash-burn rate is lower than before, WorldSpace’s auditors are likely to raise alarms about whether the firm can survive without a dramatic change in circumstances, WorldSpace Chief Financial Officer Sridhar Ganesan said during a March 20 conference call with investors.

received a promise of $40 million in January from YenuraPte. Ltd. of Singapore, which is controlled by WorldSpace Chief Executive Noah Samara and Saudi investor SalahIdris.

said WorldSpace was able to persuade its bondholders not to demand that the Yenura funding be used immediately to pay the $45 million WorldSpace owes them. WorldSpace has received about half the $40 million, with the remainder expected to arrive in the coming weeks, Ganesan said.

has received regulatory approval to deploy ground-based signal repeaters in Italy and Switzerland. But deploying these networks, which are needed to assure signal continuity in areas where WorldSpace’s satellite cannot reach, will cost between $100 million and $200 million for each European nation where service is activated, Ganesan said.

is still awaiting a license in India for a similar network of terrestrial towers and has reduced its Indian service rollout to a minimum pending receipt of the license, Samara said.

With the Italian and Swiss licenses now in hand, WorldSpace is looking for strategic partners there, Samara said. The company recently determined that capacity on its existing AfriStar satellite, he said, will be sufficient to begin commercial operations in two European markets. AfriStar is located at 21 degrees east longitude.

Former NASA Astronaut David Low Dies at 52

G. David Low, an Orbital Sciences Corp. executive and former NASA astronaut, died March 15, in Reston, Va., after a battle with colon cancer. He was 52.

Low designed planetary probes and flew three shuttle missions for NASA before joining Orbital

of Dulles, Va., where he most recently was senior vice president and deputy program manager for the advanced systems group. Barron Beneski, an Orbital spokesman, said Low was instrumental in the company’s recent win of a contract to develop a commercial logistics service for the international space station


The son of former NASA Deputy Administrator George Low, David Low was born in Cleveland,

where his father was working as an engineer for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA’s predecessor organization.

The family

moved to Washington soon after NASA was formally established in October 1958. When David Low was eight, the family moved to Houston where his father served as deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center before being put in charge of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office following the 1967 fire that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White

and Roger Chaffee as they sat in their Apollo command module during a launch pad test.

While working on a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University in the early 1980s,

David Low worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on the preliminary planning for several planetary missions. He later served as principal spacecraft systems engineer for the Mars Geoscience/Climatology Orbiter Project, later renamed Mars Observer, the military satellite-turned-science craft that went silent three days before its orbital insertion.

David Low had long since left JPL by then to join the astronaut corps, logging three

shuttle flights by July 1993. He

concluded his NASA career with a stint in the legislative affairs office before

joining Orbital Sciences in 1996


vice president for safety and

mission assurance in the company’s launch systems group. He also held

management positions in Orbcomm, Orbital’s satellite messaging

venture, and in the company’s technical services division.

Low is survived by a wife and three children.

Utah State Research Unit Wins NOAA Sensor Work

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded the Utah State University Research Foundation of Logan

a contract worth as much as $4.5 million over five years

to provide technical support and perform two technology development studies for instruments slated to fly aboard its new generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites, NOAA said in a March 13 press release.

The work is related to

the Cross-Track Infrared Sounder and the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder, which are slated to fly aboard the civil-military

National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) as well as a precursor satellite.


instruments are designed to provide improved atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles when NPOESS satellites begin launching in 2013.

The contract has a one-year base period with four one-year options.

ATV Put in Parking Orbit Ahead of Space Station

Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo carrier was maneuvered under the international space station and then raised into a parking orbit 2,000 kilometers ahead of the station, where it will stay until it begins preparations for an April 3 docking, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said March 19.

The 19,000-kilogram ATV, which was launched March 9,

previously had demonstrated an emergency-retreat maneuver, which would be needed in the event of a problem on its approach to the station.

In a series of engine firings

March 18, the vehicle was sent 30 kilometers under the station before its orbit was raised to place it in the station’s orbit, but 2,000 kilometers in front.

The space station partners

scheduled a March 25 meeting to validate ATV’s readiness for docking. If clearance is given, the vehicle will perform demonstrations of its rendezvous capabilities

March 29 and March 31 before the actual

docking, ESA said.

Sixth GPS 2RM Satellite Launched Successfully

The U.S. Air Force successfully launched March 15 the sixth modified GPS 2RM navigation satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 2 rocket, a

March 15 Air Force press release said.

GPS 2RM satellites, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., provide enhanced

features including higher signal power output, two new military signals for improved accuracy and anti-jamming capabilities and a new civilian signal that is more resistant to interference. This satellite will join 31

GPS satellites that are currently operational, the release said.

The latest

satellite, designated GPS 2R-19M, is expected to be set to healthy and enter operational use

next month.

The Air Force will launch the remaining two modernized satellites of this series later this year; the first of these is slated to launch in

June. The final series of GPS 2 satellites,

12 Boeing-built GPS 2F satellites, are scheduled to begin launching in 2009.

Raytheon Nabs MDA Radar Sustainment & Ops Orders

Raytheon Co.



U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) task orders valued at $28.3 million combined as part of an ongoing contract to operate and sustain the agency’s Sea Based X-band Radar

, the company said in a March 17

press release


The task orders were made under

a 10-year, indefinite quantity-indefinite delivery contract with a maximum potential value of $1.9 billion. The first order, worth $1.2 million,

provides management services for the operation and maintenance for the Raytheon-developed X-band radar aboard the ocean-going platform

. The second

order, valued at $27.1 million, covers day-to-day management and control operations for the same platform, the release said.

Work will be performed by Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., and Raytheon Technical Services Co. of Reston, Va.

Integrity Applications To Support GOES-R Program

Integrity Applications Inc.

of Chantilly, Va., won a U.S.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contract worth as much as $9.9 million to provide engineering and technical support for the next generation of U.S. geostationary weather satellites, according to a March 18 NOAA press release.

The company will provide planning support for NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) Program Office. The contract has a one-year base period with another one-year option. The GOES-R satellites, of which there will be at least two, are scheduled to begin launching in 2015.

ICO Will Tighten Belt if Markets Don’t Improve

ICO Global Communications, whose large S-band satellite is scheduled for launch April 14 aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket, is prepared to reduce spending to save cash if the financial markets have not improved later this year, ICO President Craig Jorgens said.

Addressing the Mobile Satellite Forum in London March 18, Jorgens said ICO has $50 million in cash for its operations that should carry the Reston, Va.-based company through the launch and the early trials of its mobile interactive media service to beam video to automobiles.

In addition, ICO has a $40 million debt facility available to it.

“If the markets don’t turn around we will change our course and speed to make sure that money lasts,” Jorgens said.

To roll out its service across the United States, ICO has estimated it would need to install between 1,500 and 2,000 towers to carry its

S-band signals to users in cities and other locations that are out of the range of the satellite. For customers using this ground based network, or

Ancillary Terrestrial Component

(ATC), the signal would be terrestrial only.

declined to comment on ICO’s status as one of the companies competing for a European license. The ICO satellite to be launched in April covers North America, but ICO is arguing that its medium

Earth-orbiting satellite, launched in 2001 as part of a planned constellation, should be enough to give the company an S-band license in Europe.

Whether the European Union will accept ICO’s reasoning, and include ICO among those securing a license, remains unclear.

ICO has 10 other medium Earth-orbit satellites, six of them mostly

built, in storage and is suing their builder, Boeing Satellite Systems International, for breach of contract, fraud, economic duress and other claims in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Boeing has countersued, alleging fraud on ICO’s part.

The trial is scheduled to start May 4. In a Feb. 15 filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

, Boeing said ICO is seeking “to recover damages significantly in excess of the $2.4 billion contract price.”

Missile Impact Ignited Dead Satellite’s Fuel

The toxic fuel aboard a failed U.S. spy satellite ignited and burned when the craft was hit by a missile Feb. 20, something that simulations of the event did not predict,

a top U.S. Navy official said March 19 at a

Navy League press conference in Washington.

“We did not predict there would be an explosion,” said Rear Adm. Alan “Brad” Hicks, the Navy’s program manager for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system.

The military was confident it put together the best possible set of outcome predictions, but the unique circumstances of this intercept left a considerable degree of uncertainty, Hicks said.

The kinetic interceptor that smashed into the satellite

contained no explosive payload, but the small amount of oxygen near the edge of the atmosphere where the intercept took place was enough to permit ignition, he said.

The hydrazine fuel that burned would have been the main safety threat

had the satellite been allowed to re-enter the atmosphere on its own

, and thus Hicks categorized its ignition as “a good thing.”

JWST Sun Shield Clears Preliminary Design Review

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., has completed the preliminary design review for the tennis-court-sized sunshield that will protect the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) the company is building for NASA, according to a March 20 company press release.

The next-generation space observatory, slated to launch in 2013, is the designated successor to NASA’s

Hubble Space Telescope

. The sunshield will protect the JWST’s cryogenically cooled sensor

that will peer deep into space to observe cosmic objects in the near- and mid-infrared wavelengths. The five-layer shield is made of extremely thin, reflective membranes on top of a support structure.

Northrop Grumman was selected by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in 2002 to lead an international team cooperating to build the telescope.