Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 21 October 2008
08:46 am ET





U.S. Defense Bill Targets Use of Chinese Rockets

The U.S. secretary of defense will review whether allowing companies with U.S. defense contracts to launch satellites in China presents security risks under legislation signed into law Oct. 14 by U.S. President George W. Bush.

The law, called the “Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009,” mainly deals with U.S. defense programs and policies.

But it includes an order that the U.S. defense secretary investigate “whether there are any security risks associated” when companies that do business with U.S. Defense Department participate in “the development or manufacture of satellites for launch from the People’s Republic of China; and the launch of satellites” from China.

Satellite manufacturer ThalesAlenia Space of Europe has built satellites that are free of U.S. parts, which are effectively barred from being shipped to China under U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) rules. Another company, OHB Technology of Germany, is designing a new satellite line with European Space Agency funds that is intended to include a so-called ITAR-free option for customers wanting to launch from China.

Space Systems/Loral, a major U.S. commercial satellite builder, has complained to U.S. government authorities that the ITAR-free option gives these European contractors an advantage because China’s rockets are less expensive to use than U.S., European or Japanese rockets.

SES Exercises Options For 3 Ariane 5 Launches

Satellite-fleet operator SES has exercised options to launch three heavy telecommunications satellites aboard Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket between 2009 and 2012, the Arianespace launch consortium announced Oct. 17.

The satellites will weigh between 4,400 and 5,800 kilograms each. One will be the Astra 3B direct-broadcast television and broadband Internet satellite under construction by Astrium Satellites of Europe and scheduled for completion in 2009. The other two satellites covered under the agreement have yet to be identified.

SES in June 2007 signed multilaunch agreements with Evry, France-based Arianespace and with International Launch Services of Reston, Va., which commercializes the Russian Proton-M heavy-lift rocket.

The agreement was for 10 launches for each rocket provider. When one launch-services company was identified as the primary launcher – as in this case for the three satellites – the other is a backup option. SES has the ability to shift between one and the other several months before launch.

Arianespace did not put all 10 launch reservations into its backlog following the multilaunch agreement, saying satellites would be added only as SES confirms them. With these three new orders, Arianespace said, it has a backlog of 26 Ariane 5 launches. Most Ariane 5 vehicles carry two telecommunications satellites at a time.

China To Build Telecom Satellite for Pakistan

China’s satellite manufacturing industry has booked its third export order with the contract to launch Pakistan’s Paksat-1R telecommunications satellite into geostationary orbit in 2011, the Chinese government announced.

The contract was signed Oct. 16 in Beijing during a meeting between Chinese President HuJintao and Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari.

As with China’s two previous satellite export orders, for Nigeria’s Nigcomsat 1 satellite launched in May 2007 and Venezuela’s Venesat-1 satellite, to be launched late this year, the Paksat-1R contract includes a launch aboard Chinese Long March 3B rocket, operated from the Xichang spaceport in southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

Karachi-based Paksat is the commercial arm of Pakistan’s space agency, the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission, Suparco. Paksat operates the Paksat-1 satellite at 38 degrees east – a satellite that was launched in early 1996 for Indonesia, then changed ownership at least twice before Paksat took title.

Paksat-1 has been at its current orbital slot since early 2003 and will be replaced by Paksat-1R.

Telesat
of Canada, a satellite-fleet operator that also has a long-standing consulting business, was Suparco’s technical adviser on the procurement of Paksat-1R.

EMS To Provide Antennas For Airline’s Broadband

Atlanta-based EMS Technologies Inc. has signed a multiyear contract as the antenna supplier for an in-flight broadband service planned by Panasonic Avionics Corp. of Lake Forest, Calif., Panasonic announced Oct. 15.

EMS’ Defense and Space Group will provide its Aura-LE Ku-band antenna for Panasonic’s eXConnect service, which will provide aircraft crews and passengers with services including Internet access and transmission of voice, data and flight operations information.

Satellite operator Intelsat is providing Ku-band connectivity for the service, while iDirect Technologies is providing bandwidth management.

In a written response to questions, EMS spokeswoman Anne Sargent declined to provide financial terms of the contract or details about its length or order volume. She did say it is a “large volume commitment” and that antenna deliveries will begin in 2009.

Lockheed Opens New Cyber Security Center

Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., has established a new Center for Cyber Security Innovation that will be led by Lee Holcomb, the former chief technology officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to an Oct. 17 Lockheed Martin press release said.

The new center will allow the company to organize and centrally manage its efforts in the cyber security field, the release said. Meanwhile, recently retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, the former director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), has joined Lockheed Martin as vice president of cyber security solutions.

Germany Begins Testing Of PAC-3 at White Sands

The German Luftwaffe for the first time Oct. 16 test fired the Patriot Advanced Capability Configuration-3 (PAC-3) missile system at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., an Oct. 16 Lockheed Martin press release said.

Along with the U.S. Army and Lockheed Martin, the Germans demonstrated the upgrades to their Patriot ground system, including the missile segment launcher and the fire control computer, the release said. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control of Dallas is the prime contractor on the PAC-3 system, designed for theater air defense.

Secretive NRO Discloses Several Site Locations

The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), buyer and operator of U.S. classified satellites, Oct. 15 declassified the locations of three of its ground stations and several other facilities.

In addition to its known Chantilly, Va., headquarters, the office now acknowledges Aerospace Data Facilities at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., Ft. Belvoir, Va., and White Sands, N.M. The office also disclosed two international presences, one at a joint defense facility in Pine Gap, Australia, and one with the Royal Air Force in Menwith Hill, United Kingdom.

Donley Sworn in as U.S. Air Force Secretary

Michael Donley was sworn in Oct. 17 as U.S. Air Force secretary, an Oct. 17 Air Force press release said.

Donley has been the acting secretary since June 21 and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Oct. 2. He has more than 26 years of experience in the national security community, including service in the Pentagon, Senate, and White House.

Scale Model of Ares 5 Begins Wind Tunnel Tests

Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., began wind tunnel testing the week of Oct. 13 on a 0.331 percent scale model of the Ares 5 launch vehicle that the agency is developing to launch cargo payloads to the Moon.

John Blevins, aerodynamic team lead for the tests, called this initial round “the tip of the spear” for determining the aerodynamic characteristics of the vehicle. The stainless steel and aluminum scale model being tested at this early stage is 38 centimeters long and could be likened to a cartoon of what the vehicle eventually will be like, Blevins said in an Oct. 17 telephone interview.

The actual Ares 5 vehicle will be approximately 114 meters in length – taller than the Saturn 5 NASA used for lunar trips during the Apollo program in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This initial wind tunnel testing is intended to help NASA determine basic requirements for guidance, navigation and control. The goal is to evaluate the aerodynamics of the vehicle in order to characterize the ascent trajectory of the Ares 5. Marshall officials said the testing also will help them better understand how the vehicle will respond to various flight conditions during ascent, including aerodynamic stresses, drag loss and other factors.

The testing included 60 runs of the model at various angles to show the air flow around the vehicle. Blevins said no “showstoppers” cropped up during the exercise and that wind tunnel testing would resume at each stage of development as the design gets more sophisticated and detailed based on data from previous tests.

Schmitt Abruptly Quits NASA Advisory Council

Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, a former U.S. senator and one of the last two men to walk on the Moon, has stepped down as chairman of the NASA Advisory Council. He was replaced by Ken Ford, a member of the council since June 2007 serving on the exploration committee.

According to NASA, Schmitt, who had chaired the council since November 2005, made the announcement Oct. 16.

“My service as chairman of [NASA] Administrator Mike Griffin’s advisory council has been one of my most rewarding professional experiences,” Schmitt, 73, said in a NASA press release. “The members of the council represent the finest and most diverse group of advisors that could be assembled, and I am greatly indebted to them for the stimulating interaction and productive deliberations we have had during the last three years. The administrator, NASA and the nation have been served well by their dedication and hard work, and I am certain that even more productive activity will take place under the guidance of the new chairman, Ken Ford.”

Ford, a computer scientist and artificial intelligence expert, is the founder and director of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a not-for-profit research institute. He was appointed to the U.S. Air Force Science Advisory Board in 2005 and was nominated by President George W. Bush in October 2002 to serve a six-year term on the National Science Board.

Soyuz TMA-13 Capsule Arrives at Space Station

The Russian Soyuz TMA-13 capsule carrying two members of international space station’s Expedition 18 crew along with a space tourist docked at the orbital facility Oct. 14 after launching two days earlier from the BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz rocket.

Commander Edward Michael Fincke of the United States and Flight Engineer ValentinovichLonchakov of Russia will spend six months aboard the station. Richard Garriott, who paid for the third seat aboard the Soyuz capsule, will return to Earth Oct. 23 along with two members of the station’s Expedition 17 crew, Commander SergeiVolkov and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko. The three will depart aboard the Soyuz TMA-12 capsule, which has been docked at the space station since April.

Mirror Reinstalled on Airborne Observatory

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) – a telescope-equipped Boeing 747 jetliner – had its German-built primary mirror assembly reinstalled Oct. 8.

Technicians removed the glass mirror from the specially modified aircraft in April and sent it to NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., where a reflective aluminum coating was applied in a vacuum chamber. The ultrathin coating will be reapplied as needed during the 20-year life of the SOFIA program.

“We had completed system tests of our mirror coater but this is the first time we’ve actually coated SOFIA’s mirror,” Ed Austin, SOFIA science project manager at Ames, said in an Oct. 15 press release. “The team and equipment performed flawlessly and the results are magnificent.”

The mirror was transported back to NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Center in Palmdale, Calif., in mid-September for reinstallation.

During the coming months, the telescope and the aircraft’s telescope cavity door system will be adjusted in preparation for open-door ground testing. By next spring, NASA and its SOFIA partner, the German space agency, DLR, expect to begin a series of open-door flight tests to study the handling qualities of the aircraft as air flows over and into the telescope cavity.

More ground and flight tests will follow, leading to limited science operations toward the end of 2009. Routine science flights are expected to begin in 2011, with the observatory slated to be upgraded to its full capability around 2014.

Australian Subsidies Seen Boosting IPStar Business

Thai satellite-fleet operator Thaicom expects the Australian subscriber base for the company’s IPStar broadband satellite service to grow to more than 60,000 by the end of the year, compared to 53,000 as of Sept. 30, following Australian government approval of government-subsidy status for four IPStar distributors, Thaicom announced Oct. 14.

The Australian Broadband Guarantee Program gives subsidies to approved providers of broadband access to rural communities that are outside the terrestrial broadband grid. With the subsidies, IPStar Australia, a Thaicom subsidiary that manages the distributor network, is able to offer service with retail prices starting at 29.95 Australian dollars ($19.34) per month.

“There are still up to 1 million households in Australia that do not have access to terrestrial broadband services. Therefore we will continue to expand in the rural market,” IPStar Australia General Manager Park Boonyubol said in a statement.

IPStar
has been commercially available in Australia, one of its biggest national markets, since 2004.

Delta 2 Motor Casing Discovered in Australia

A nearly two-decade-old bit of space junk has been found in Australia. The solid-rocket motor casing from a U.S. Delta 2 launch vehicle was discovered in July nearly 18 years after it re-entered the atmosphere. The discovery was made during a routine muster of cattle on a parcel of land in the Australian outback.

First spotted by air from a Cessna aircraft flying over the property, the debris later was identified using a serial number. It was traced to the motor casing of a Delta 2 booster used June 12, 1990, to deliver the Indian Insat-1D satellite to orbit after launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

According to NASA’s Orbital Debris Quarterly News, the object joins similar solid-rocket motor casings found in Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Argentina during the past several years.

NASA Space Telescope Views New Class of Pulsar

Scientists working with data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Telescope have discovered the first known pulsar to emit only gamma rays, according to an Oct. 14 press release from Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Pulsars – the rapidly spinning core remnants of exploded stars – give off pulses of energy at various electromagnetic wavelengths. But CTA 1, located about 4,600 light years away in the Cepheus constellation, is the first known pulsar to only send out powerful gamma-ray bursts. Despite being the only one yet observed, CTA 1 is thought to be one of a larger population of such pulsars, the release said.

“This is the first example of a new class of pulsars that will give us fundamental insights into how stars work,” said Peter Michelson, principal investigator for Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) instrument at Stanford.

CTA 1 projects a “lighthouse-like” gamma-ray pulse toward Earth about three times a second, the release said.

“The LAT provides us with a unique probe of the galaxy’s pulsar population, revealing objects we would not otherwise even know exist,” said Steve Ritz, a Fermi project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The scientists’ findings appear in the Oct. 16 edition of Science Express.

NGA Awards Contracts for Imagery Access, Support

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has selected four companies for indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts for engineering support and integration services for remote sensing imagery access and retrieval, according to an Oct. 7 press release from Harris Corp, one of the four companies.

The five-year contract for Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., has a potential value of $140 million, the press release said.

The three other five-year contracts, each with a maximum value of $25 million, were awarded to Concurrent Technologies Corp. of Johnstown, Pa.; Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash.; and IBM of Armonk, N.Y., NGA spokesman Marshall Hudson said.

Cassini

Provides Look at Polar Cyclones on Saturn

NASA’s Cassini probe has captured images of a massive, newly discovered cyclone at Saturn’s north pole and a similar giant storm at the planet’s south pole, according to an Oct. 13 press release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

Shrouded from visible light by winter darkness, the north pole storm was captured by Cassini’s near-infrared cameras. The storm is rotating at speeds of 530 kilometers per hour – more than twice the speed as the fastest measured on Earth – the release said. Although the cyclone is surrounded by the north pole’s mysterious hexagon, it does not seem to disrupt the hexagon, the release said.

The northern storm reaches out about 12,000 kilometers from the north pole, whereas the southern cyclone extends about 15,000 kilometers from the south pole, according to the JPL Web site.

With Saturn’s south pole in the sunlight of summer, Cassini’s instruments captured images of the southern storm at both visible and infrared wavelengths, the release said.

Unlike cyclones on Earth, the saturnian cyclones are locked to the planet’s poles and are not driven by oceanic heat and water from ocean clouds. But the storms behave similarly. Scientists believe condensing liquid from saturnian thunderstorms may power its cyclones in much the same way that condensing water clouds power Earth-based cyclones, the release said.

“These are truly massive cyclones, hundreds of times stronger than the most giant cyclones on Earth,” said Kevin Baines, a visual and infrared mapping spectrometer scientist for Cassini at JPL. “Thunderstorms are the likely engine for these giant weather systems,” the scientist said in the release.

The Cassini photographs of Saturn’s poles were taken in mid-June, the JPL Web site said.

MUOS Satellite Platform Shipped for Integration

Lockheed Martin Space Systems has delivered the propulsion-equipped spacecraft structure for the U.S. Navy’s first Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite to its Sunnyvale, Calif., facilities in preparation for integration with the payload, an Oct. 13 Lockheed Martin press release said.

Lockheed Martin currently is under contract for two of the mobile communications satellites and associated ground systems and could be tapped to build as many as five satellites. The company’s MUOS contract could be worth $3.26 billion if all options are exercised.

The A2100 spacecraft structure and propulsion system were designed and built at Lockheed Martin’s Mississippi Space and Technology Center. Final assembly and testing of the MUOS satellite will begin later this year in preparation for a late 2009 or early 2010 launch.

Ericsson To Help Upgrade Globalstar Ground Network

Ericsson Federal Inc. will build upgrades for nine gateway ground stations operated as part of the Globalstar Inc. mobile satellite services network, and for Globalstar’s Milpitas, Calif., operations center, under a contract announced Oct. 14.

Under the contract, valued at about $22.7 million, Columbia, Md.-based Ericsson Federal will supply hardware and software upgrades for the Globalstar facilities. Globalstar, which is building a higher-capacity, second-generation constellation of 48 satellites set to start launching in late 2009, said its payments to Ericsson would be made during the next four years, with peak payments in 2010 and 2011.

New DLR Center To Develop Space Systems, Technology

The German aerospace center, DLR, has opened a space systems development facility in Bremen, Germany, as part of an investment in future spacecraft and space mission design, DLR announced Oct. 13.

The DLR Institute of Space Systems will house an initial 68 staff employees who have relocated from a DLR site in Berlin-Adlershof, with 11 more to transfer when the new center is expanded with an assembly hall and new laboratories in 2011.

DLR said the German Economics and Technology Ministry, which controls most of the DLR budget, invested alongside the federal state of Bremen and the European Development fund to complete the center. Total development funding so far is 12.5 million euros ($16.77 million), with operating costs expected to be 17.5 million euros per year, DLR said.

The center already has signed cooperation agreements on research with Astrium, the space division of EADS, which has a large facility in Bremen; and with the University of Bremen.

The center’s early focus will include cryogenic upper stages for rockets, compact satellite designs, high-precision position control systems and optical landing navigation techniques. The center also includes two large granite dishes that will simulate formation flying of satellites with the use of air cushions.

DataPath

Gets Order for Satellite Terminal Gear

DataPath
Inc. of Duluth, Ga., has been awarded a $4.8 million contract from the U.S. Army to provide spare electronics and other equipment for its deployed transportable satellite communications terminals, an Oct. 13 DataPath press release said.

The company has delivered more than 800 of its Satellite Transportable Terminals to the military since 2004. The terminals and their hub satellite communications trucks enable high-bandwidth capabilities via the Warfighter Information Network�Tactical and Joint Network Node programs. The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, Fort Monmouth, N.J., is the contracting authority.

DARPA Contracts for Third HyFly Flight Test

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis has been awarded an $18.3 million contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to conduct a third flight test of its HyFly hypersonic missile, an Oct. 2 Boeing press release said.

Boeing is the prime contractor on the HyFly program, which seeks to achieve sustained flight at speeds of Mach 6. Boeing’s partners on the effort are Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., the dual combustion ramjet (DCR) engine provider; the Office of Naval Research; Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory of Laurel, Md.; and the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.

The two previous flight tests of the air-breathing hypersonic vehicle failed but provided valuable information in the process, the release said. The first test in September 2007 successfully demonstrated stage separation and ignition of the DCR engine, but due to a software error the missile failed to accelerate.

The second test, in January 2008, reached Mach 3.5 before failing due to a fuel system problem. That flight did demonstrate the accuracy of the vehicle’s terminal guidance system, the release said.

Avanti

Books Contract for Hylas Broadband Capacity

Start-up satellite broadband Internet operator Avanti Communications Group of London has booked a three-year contract for capacity on its planned Hylas satellite, set for launch in mid-2009, with Pacific Satellite Broadband, a division of Prime Satcom Consulting Ltd. of Britain, Avanti announced.

Under the contract, Avanti will provide wholesale bandwidth capacity for three years. The contract’s initial value is 228,000 British pounds ($389,000), Avanti said.

Hylas
, Avanti’s first satellite, is scheduled for launch in 2009 aboard the new Falcon 9 rocket being developed by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of the United States.

The satellite’s core coverage area will be Europe. Avanti said the commission of the 27-nation European Union has set aside 1.8 billion euros ($2.4 billion) in funding for projects to deliver broadband access to rural areas during the next five years.