Shenzhou-7 Mission Seen as Complete Success

China’s first-ever spacewalk was one of four main missions for the taikonauts on the Shenzhou-7 mission, which ended Sept. 26 with the safe landing of the capsule in Mongolia, said Dean Cheng, China analyst with Alexandria, Va.-based think tank CNA Corp.

The three taikonauts aboard Shenzhou 7 also tested a solid lubricant material, deployed a new satellite to take images and used a new data relay satellite for communications. Shenzhou-7 launched Sept. 25 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s Gansu province.

“From all accounts, that happened,” Cheng said. “If I were the Chinese, I would be very, very happy that all four tasks came off without a hitch. And obviously they used the spacesuit, so that came up good across the board.”

NASA Extends Boeing’s Space Station Contract

NASA will pay Boeing Co. an additional $650 million to continue its prime contractor role on the international space station program through Sept. 30, 2010.

The 24-month extension brings the total value of Boeing’s space station prime contract to $14.37 billion, according to NASA spokesman Michael Curie.

As prime contractor since 1995, Boeing has had engineering responsibility for all 18 major U.S. space station components as well as for integrating hardware elements built by international partners, including Japan’s Kibo laboratory module and Italy’s Harmony utility node.

“This contract extension allows NASA and the United States to stay on the right path to complete the station by 2010,” Brewster Shaw, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Houston-based Space Exploration division, said in a company press release. “Boeing is pleased that NASA continues to have confidence in the company’s ability to support the agency’s exploration mission.”

Northrop Grumman Gets DSP Sustainment Work

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., has been awarded a one-year, $38.3 million contract from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center for sustainment of the service’s Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite constellation, according to an Oct. 1 Defense Department press release.

Northrop Grumman built the satellites and the sensors for the missile warning system, which began launching in 1970. The contract includes four one-year options that could increase the value to $206 million.

SSTL Says Rocket Choice Sank Galileo Launch Bid

The head of British small-satellite manufacturer Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) said the company’s bid to launch 26 Galileo navigation satellites was rejected because it entailed using non-European launch vehicles to get the satellites into orbit.

Surrey had proposed using the two-stage Russian-Ukrainian Zenit rocket, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and the U.S. Falcon 9 rocket, which is being developed by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., according to SSTL Director Sir Martin Sweeting. In a Sept. 30 interview, Sir Martin said SSTL’s bid, made to the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA), was rejected apparently on the sole grounds that neither vehicle is operated from European territory.

“From a taxpayer point of view I can certainly regret the decision not to let the bidding take full advantage of competition,” Sir Martin said, adding that the Sept. 28 success of SpaceX in launching its Falcon-1 rocket likely would not have changed the Galileo bid equation.

The lack of a SpaceX success until Sept. 28 “was not what they cited in their reasoning.” SSTL is awaiting a full briefing on why the bid was rejected.

The Arianespace consortium is the only selected bidder in the Galileo launch competition. The Evry, France-based consortium has said it will propose the use of its Ariane 5 heavy-lift vehicle and the Russian Soyuz rocket in a new version to be operated, starting in 2010, from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport. That facility, while located in South America, is considered European territory.

The European Commission has budgeted 700 million euros ($1 billion) to place the 26 Galileo satellites into medium Earth orbit. Industry officials said it may be difficult to conduct the launches under this price ceiling if Ariane 5 vehicles are included in the mix. ESA is entering into negotiations with the selected bidders, including Arianespace, for the work to field the Galileo system and expects to award contracts by mid-2009.

The Ariane 5 version proposed for Galileo launches would carry four satellites at a time into orbit. Each Soyuz will be able to carry two Galileo satellites.

Galileo managers say budgeting about 50 million euros per Soyuz launch would get all 26 satellites in orbit for 650 million euros. But they concede that securing 13 Soyuz rockets to be operated from the French Guiana site may stretch the Soyuz supply chain, and the capacity of the Guiana Space Center as well.

Dnepr Launches Thai Remote Sensing Craft

Thailand’s Theos high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite was successfully placed into a transfer orbit Oct. 1 by a Russian-Ukranian Dnepr silo-launched rocket after nearly two years of delays related to launch-vehicle availability, according to Thai authorities and satellite prime contractor Astrium Satellites.

The Dnepr rocket, a converted ballistic missile, placed the 715-kilogram Theos into a 690-kilometer parking orbit following the liftoff launch from Russia’s Yasny spaceport, in the Orenburg region 120 kilometers west of Orsk.

After initial tests at that orbit for several days, Theos will use its onboard propulsion to climb to its operating orbit at 822 kilometers, inclined at 98.7 degrees relative to the equator.

Astrium spokesman Matthieu Duvelleroy said initial telemetry showed the satellite had been placed into the correct orbit and was healthy.

Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) contracted with Astrium to build Theos in July 2004. The contract included a Theos ground segment and a training program for Thai engineers. The company now is training Chilean engineers for the launch of an Astrium-built Chilean optical Earth observation satellite in 2010.

Theos has two optical imagers, one providing 2-meter ground resolution and a swath width of 22 kilometers, and the second providing color images with 15-meter resolution and a 90-kilometer swath width. The satellite is designed to operate for five years, but has enough fuel to last at least seven years.

Thai authorities will use Theos for environmental management, civil security including natural-disaster monitoring and defense-related applications including illicit plant surveillance, as well as border and maritime control.

GISTDA originally had planned a launch in early 2007 with the Russian-German Eurockot Launch Services GmbH, whose Rockot vehicle launches from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The contract was canceled when Eurockot was confronted with a parts shortage and could not guarantee a 2007 launch.

But ISC Kosmotras of Moscow, which markets Dnepr launches, ran head-on into an ongoing Russian launch problem: drop-zone authorizations from states down-range of the launch site – states that no longer accept that rocket stages land on their territories.

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan all have objected to launches pending compensation agreements.

One industry official said Kosmotras’ likely ongoing difficulties in securing launch authorization from nations, plus a sharp price increase in Kosmotras launch prices, will cause owners of Earth observation and other small satellites to look for other options.

Sir Martin Sweeting, founder of small-satellite builder Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Guildford, England, whose company has used Dnepr in the past, said the Sept. 28 success of Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 1 rocket could help keep prices of small-satellite launchers down.

Orbcomm Touts Growth, U.S. Coast Guard Deal

Satellite two-way messaging service provider Orbcomm Inc. said its subscriber base increased by a net 21,000 for the three months ending Sept. 30, bringing the total subscriber count to 442,000, including users of the company’s terrestrial and satellite-based services.

The Ft. Lee, N.J.-based operator of a low-orbiting constellation of satellites also said Oct. 3 that the U.S. Coast Guard has selected the high-use option in its contract with Orbcomm to use a recently launched Orbcomm satellite equipped with the Automatic Identification System (AIS) payload.

The decision that will result in an additional $500,000 in revenue for Orbcomm in the next 12 months, the company said. AIS permits coastal authorities to identify ships in or near U.S. coastal waters. Orbcomm hopes to expand AIS worldwide with its second-generation constellation, to be launched in 2010 and 2011.

Dordain: ISS Partnership Is Key to Exploration’s Future

The head of the European Space Agency (ESA) said the most valuable product of the international space station is the partnership it created among the five contributing agencies – a partnership that he said will be the basis of any future space exploration program involving any of them.

ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said the partnership of Europe, the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada remains open to others, possibly including India and China. But he said any new entrants interested in future exploration with this established five-member group, to the Moon, Mars or elsewhere, would need to win the acceptance of all five partners.

Dordain said the space station partners also have agreed that none of them will make a unilateral decision to retire from the station, or to extend the facility’s life, without securing the agreement of the other four. “There will be no unilateral decisions,” Dordain said, adding that the existing station will be operated “at least until 2015.”

For future exploration programs, Dordain said, the sponsors must find a way to keep the interest of young engineers in a way that was impossible with the international space station because it took more than two decades to build.

Dordain, who became ESA director-general in July 2003, began working on space station utilization in the mid-1980s. ESA’s laboratory was launched this year, as was Japan’s laboratory – a 20-year wait that he said would not be acceptable if space exploration is to attract the best and brightest.

“There was only three years from the launch of Sputnik to the launch of Gagarin,” Dordain said of the first satellite and first man in space. “There was less than 10 years from Gagarin to Neil Armstrong,” the first man to walk on the Moon. “Today we are talking about missions in 2025, 2035 and beyond for the Moon and Mars. This is much too long.”

Dordain conceded that budgets and technology developments limit the speed of such programs, but he said milestone missions must be added to give engineers a sense of accomplishment even as they wait for the showcase programs to launch.

“For me, this has been the biggest drawback to the station,” Dordain said. “It may be its only drawback in fact. It has taken much too long to complete.”

The international space station’s first launch was Russia’s Zarya module in November 1998. The facility has been permanently staffed by astronauts since 2000. Its assembly is scheduled to be completed in 2010.

China Plans To Launch a Space Station by 2011

The administrator of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said his government has set priorities on establishing its own space station by 2011 and making a soft landing on the Moon by 2013. The lander mission will be succeeded by a lunar sample-return mission, he said.

“The lunar mission has the priority in China compared to Mars” exploration, Sun Laiyan said in a Sept. 29 address.

He said China’s top priorities in space applications include a high-resolution imaging satellite and associated ground segment, and the Beidou/Compass satellite navigation system that will start with regional coverage and eventually expand in to a global constellation.

Sun said China’s small satellite to be launched aboard a Russian vehicle to Mars is expected to be launched in 2009. But other officials said the launch in question, whose principal payload is Russia’s Phobos-Grunt probe to bring back samples from Mars’ moon, Phobos, is likely to be delayed by more than a year. The Chinese satellite will carry a camera to image the Mars surface.

Sun said a long-planned Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization would be created by the end of this year with the initial participation of nine nations. Its focus is on Earth observation missions and training experts in evaluating Earth observation data.

Griffin Says Lunar Outpost Must Precede Mars Mission

NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin defended his agency’s determination to establish a lunar colony before embarking on a manned Mars mission Sept. 30, arguing that those who prefer to focus only on Mars are overestimating what is known about the Moon and underestimating the difficulties of going to Mars.

Addressing the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, Griffin said the U.S. Apollo program spent a total of just 27 working days on the Moon, which he said is as big as Africa and merits substantially more exploration.

Several space agencies, including some in Europe, say their scientists are much less interested in the Moon than in Mars and that, since doing both is beyond their means, are weighing whether to focus on Mars.

Griffin wondered whether those pushing Mars-oriented efforts are fully cognizant of the difficulties of sending astronauts to Mars, and the amount of preparation needed before a mission is pursued.

Griffin said that before any attempt to send a crew to Mars is made, the sponsoring agency or agencies must at least be able to conduct the following mission: Send astronauts to the international space station for a six- or nine-month visit, after which they would be sent to the Moon for a similar amount of time, equipped with no additional supplies beyond those sent with them to the station.

Once they completed their Moon visit, this same group of astronauts would return directly to the space station for another six- to nine-month visit, again with no resupply.

Only then would they return home. Griffin said this mission would simulate what it will take to send astronauts to Mars and return them home.

“I am not saying that we have to have conducted such a mission, but that we have to be confident in our ability to conduct it before we send astronauts to Mars,” Griffin said. “Otherwise, the crew we send to Mars will not come back.”

Radiation Temporarily Sidelines ESA’s Giove-B

Europe’s Giove-B navigation satellite suffered a complete shutdown of its functions Sept. 9 in what program managers now believe was a “sudden event upset” that was caused when its onboard computer failed after exposure to a temporary spike in radiation, European government officials said.

The satellite was placed into safe mode, with its solar arrays oriented toward the sun, while ground teams sought to determine the cause of the problem. It was returned to service Sept. 24 and now is working well, although there can be no certainty that a similar event will not recur, said Didier Faivre, head of the navigation department at the European Space Agency (ESA).

Industry officials said a similar incident occurred on Germany’s TerraSAR-X radar Earth observation satellite, which was launched in June 2007 and carries the same type of computer but operates in low Earth orbit at an altitude of 514 kilometers. In this orbit, TerraSAR-X is in principle exposed to lower radiation levels than Giove-B, which flies in a medium Earth orbit at an altitude of 23,173 kilometers.

Astrium Satellites is prime contractor of both TerraSAR-X and Giove-B. Astrium spokesman Jeremy Close referred questions about Giove-B to ESA.

In a Sept. 30 interview, Faivre said Giove-B’s fault-detection system shut down Giove-B on Sept. 9 after the computer glitch. Shutting down the satellite’s operations also places its atomic clocks out of service. Once the satellite is switched back on, it takes the atomic clocks a couple of days to recalibrate and return to service.

“We did not want to turn it back on right away as we needed to explore what the problem was,” Faivre said. “The satellite was in no danger; it was in safe mode. It’s true that the satellite’s security system is extremely conservative. We are now fairly certain that it was radiation exposure. We have set up a team to look at the affected components and try to reproduce the failure on the ground to be sure we understand it.”

Giove-B, launched April 27, is one of two in-orbit demonstration satellites intended to secure Europe’s frequency reservations for its future Galileo constellation, expected to be operational by 2014. Those frequencies now have been reserved with international regulators thanks to the Giove-A satellite launched in December 2005.

Giove-A and Giove-B both carry radiation-monitoring sensors to permit ESA to determine how much radiation the future Galileo constellation is likely to confront, and to design the operating constellation accordingly. Galileo program managers have said radiation levels in medium Earth orbit are substantially higher than in low Earth orbit but are not constant.

Faivre said four Galileo in-orbit validation satellites, all of which resemble Giove-B but carry a different computer design built by Saab Space of Sweden, are expected to be launched in mid-2010 aboard two Russian Soyuz rockets operated from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport.

Virgin Galactic Rejects Million-Dollar Proposal

The private company planning to take wealthy tourists to the edge of the atmosphere starting in late 2009 or early 2010 has refused a million-dollar proposal to film a sex video while the participants are floating gravity free, the company’s president said.

Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, said the offer, from an unidentified party, “was $1 million, up front, for a sex-in-space movie. That was money we had to refuse, I’m afraid.”

Whitehorn disclosed the rejected transaction here Sept. 30 during the International Astronautical Congress. He said Virgin Galactic, part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is planning to begin flights of the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft in late 2009 or early 2010 from Sierra County, N.M.

The aircraft will carry the SpaceShipTwo craft, which is released during flight and then climbs to 100 kilometers in altitude to offer fee-paying passengers around five minutes of weightlessness as the vehicle approaches the limits of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Virgin Galactic is charging about $200,000 per person for the two-hour flight. The company has received $40 million in deposits from 280 customers, Whitehorn said. Earlier this year, Whitehorn estimated that Virgin Galactic had spent some $100 million developing its business, mainly in research and development of the aircraft by Scaled Composites LLC of Mojave, Calif.

Radios That Get Both XM And Sirius Now Available

Satellite radios that allow customers to play both XM and Sirius satellite radio channels are now in U.S. stores, New York-based Sirius XM Radio announced Oct. 2.

Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio promised the a la carte option for customers during negotiations over the $3.9 billion merger of the two companies, which was finalized Aug. 28.

Customers of the New York-based Sirius XM Radio now are able to choose 50 channels for $6.99 per month, excluding premium channels such as Howard Stern. Premium channels cost more under this plan. For example, two Howard Stern channels and 50 other channels cost $12.95 per month, according to the Sirius Web site. A 100-channel option for $14.99 per month does not require an additional fee for premium channels. The new radio enabling the a la carte option, called Sportster 5, is available in stores for about $130.

In addition to the new a la carte radio and subscriber options, Sirius XM also began offering “Best of Both,” which offers to XM subscribers Sirius programs including Howard Stern, Martha Stewart Living, NFL Radio, NASCAR Radio and Playboy Radio. Sirius subscribers can choose XM channels including Oprah & Friends, The Virus, NBA and NHL play-by-play and live coverage of the PBA Tour. The Best of Both packages add $4 per month to existing customers, bringing the total monthly bill to $16.99.

First ATV Guided To Atmospheric Re-entry

Europe’s unmanned space cargo vehicle successfully re-entered the atmosphere over the South Pacific Sept. 29, breaking up into dozens of fragments that fell into the ocean along a preselected path that had been cleared of maritime traffic, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said.

Program managers expect that photographic data from two aircraft ESA hired out from NASA, and an imager aboard the international space station flying overhead at the time, will provide precise data on the amount of debris that survived re-entry.

The agency released pictures of the re-entry Sept. 29 that had been taken from one of the NASA planes. The photos showed what they said was the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) as it burned up into several pieces. The re-entry had been planned to occur at night to facilitate photography of the event.

The ATV undocked from the space station Sept. 5 and then was guided into position under the station. It had been launched March 9 to deliver food, water, fuel and supplies to the station.

ESA contracted with NASA to lease two specially fitted aircraft, a Gulfstream 5 and a DC-8, to be in the vicinity of the predicted atmospheric re-entry.

ATV managers had estimated that the vehicle, which had been filled with garbage from the space station before undocking, would weigh about 13,400 kilograms on re-entry into the atmosphere at an altitude of about 120 kilometers. Simulation studies concluded that it would break up into some 600 pieces weighing between 10 and 150 kilograms each. Of these, several dozen were expected to survive the descent and to fall into the ocean.

By comparison, Russia’s Mir space station weighed more than 100,000 kilograms when it re-entered the atmosphere, also over the South Pacific, in 2001.

ATV controllers had advised maritime authorities in the region that a no-go zone measuring 2,700 kilometers long and 200 kilometers wide should be established.

ESA is expected to ask its 17 member governments in November for funds to enhance ATV so that it is capable of surviving re-entry intact to return space station cargo.

Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA’s director of human spaceflight, said the successful completion of the ATV mission should help persuade ESA governments that it is worth 200 million euros ($292 million) to transform ATV from a one-way asset into a vehicle capable of returning several hundred kilograms of experiments back to Earth.

“The hardest part of the ATV mission had already been accomplished with the rendezvous and docking with the station,” Di Pippo said during the annual meeting of the International Astronautical Congress, which is being held in Glasgow, Scotland this year. “But we still needed to demonstrate the full mission capability. We have now done that today.”

ESA officials said they expect to have a full set of data from the two NASA aircraft and from the international space station camera providing details on ATV’s breakup by mid-October.

Antrix and Astrium Sign Deal for PSLV Launches

Satellite manufacturer Astrium of Europe signed an agreement with India’s Antrix organization Sept. 30 for the launch of Astrium-built Earth observation satellites on India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket starting in 2011, according to Astrium officials.

The letter of agreement, signed by Astrium Chief Executive Francois Auque and G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), was concluded during a state visit of India’s prime minister to France. As a commercial contract, it will be handled in India by Antrix, which is ISRO’s commercial arm.

Astrium officials declined to disclose the number of launches covered by the agreement. Astrium is under contract or in final negotiations for contracts to build several Earth observation spacecraft scheduled for launch in the coming years, including the TanDEM-X radar satellite for Germany, the Spot 6 satellite for Spot Image of France, and the Ingenio optical and Paz radar observation satellites for Spain.

India’s PSLV was developed in the early 1990s and has made 12 consecutive successful flights since 1994. In addition to launching Indian government Earth observation satellites, the PSLV has placed small spacecraft into orbit for several government organizations in Europe and elsewhere.

Space Adventures Signs Repeat Soyuz Customer

Charles Simonyi, a Hungarian computer software executive who paid more than $20 million to fly to the international space station aboard a Russian-built Soyuz capsule in spring 2007, will train for a second Soyuz trip to the space station in spring 2009.

Vienna, Va.-based Space Adventures announced Simonyi will be the first repeat customer since the company began organizing space missions for private citizens in 2001.

The company’s sixth customer, Richard Garriott, son of NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, is scheduled to launch to the space station Oct. 12.

“Having a repeat orbital client demonstrates to the world that participating in a space mission is truly a magnificent and awe-inspiring experience,” Eric Anderson, president and chief executive of Space Adventures, said in a Sept. 29 press release. “It is also an excellent example that the marketplace is even larger than previously anticipated because of the potential occurrence of clients who fly on multiple occasions.”

Simonyi trained for six months before his 13-day mission to the international space station in April 2007. He detailed the mission on his Web site, During the mission, he answered hundreds of questions submitted to his Web site, participated in a lower back muscle study, mapped the station’s radiation environment and tested high-definition camera components. He also collected samples of microbes living aboard the space station for a European Space Agency experiment.

Space Shuttle Veteran Tapped To Run Kennedy

NASA has tapped veteran space shuttle commander Robert Cabana to replace William Parsons as director of Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Parsons is leaving the U.S. space agency to pursue a private sector opportunity.

Cabana currently is director of NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. He will be replaced there on an acting basis by his deputy, Gene Goldman.

The changes take effect mid-October.

Cabana, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer with four shuttle flights under his belt – he served as commander on the first international space station assembly mission in 1998 – was deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston before moving to Stennis in October 2007.

In addition, Cabana has served as chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office; manager of international operations of the International Space Station Program; director of NASA’s Human Space Flight Program in Russia; deputy director of the International Space Station Program; and director of Flight Crew Operations.

“Bob Cabana is a long-time colleague, and another whose Marine training has redounded to NASA’s benefit,” NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said in a Sept. 30 statement. “Bob has seen it all and done it all in human spaceflight, and done it with an open, collaborative style. There is just no better teammate.”

SGT To Support Work at Ames Research Center

Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies (SGT) Inc. of Greenbelt, Md., will support research and technology development work at NASA’s Ames Research Center under a contract with a maximum value of $300 million, a Sept. 26 NASA press release said.

The two-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract has three one-year extension options.

SGT will work with Ames at Moffet Field Calif., on autonomous systems, software engineering and software project management, the press release said.

General Dynamics Gets Satellite Control Contract

General Dynamics C4 Systems will provide engineering services for U.S. Navy satellite command and control facilities in California, Colorado, Maine and Guam under a one-year contract worth $7.5 million million, a Sept. 26 General Dynamics press release said.

The contract, which could be worth $57 million during seven years if all options are exercised, calls for the Falls Church, Va.-based company to support satellite command and control operations at the Naval Satellite Operations Center (NAVSOC) headquarters and Satellite Operations Center in Point Mugu, Calif., and other Navy facilities. General Dynamics won its first contract with NAVSOC in 1991, the press release said.

NAVSOC operates various satellite systems, including the Ultra High Frequency Follow On and Polar Extremely High Frequency communications constellations. The center will operate the Mobile User Objective System now in development for narrow-band, mobile communications.

NASA’s Stardust Capsule Lands at the Smithsonian

NASA’s Stardust sample return capsule, which collected thousands of dust particles from a comet in 2004, was placed on display Oct. 1 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

The Stardust spacecraft and capsule conducted a seven-year, 4.8-billion-kilometer journey, capturing particles in January 2004 with a tennis racket-like collector as it flew within 241 kilometers of Comet Wild 2. The capsule landed with the dust particles Jan. 15, 2006, in Utah. The spacecraft will travel on to observe Comet Temple 1 in 2011 in a mission called Stardust-NExt.

The Stardust capsule joins other relics at the museum such as the Wright brothers’ 1903 Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 11 command module Columbia that carried the first men to walk on the Moon.