Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 11 November 2008
08:35 pm ET





French Satellite Forced To Avoid Chinese Debris

A French microsatellite flying in formation with NASA’s Aqua and Aura Earth-observing science satellites had to maneuver in October to avoid debris from the Fengyun weather satellite China destroyed in a January 2007 antisatellite missile test, according to the U.S. Air Force Space Command.

U.S. Air Force Col. Amy Rogerson, a spokeswoman for Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., said Nov. 6 that Parasol, a microsatellite built and launched by the French space agency, CNES, was the latest of three satellites that have had to be repositioned to avoid debris created by China’s antisatellite test. Rogerson was following up on questions that surfaced during an Oct. 30 media roundtable with Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command.

The October incident follows a June 2007 debris-avoidance maneuver by NASA’s Terra satellite. A few months later, she said, an Orbcomm messaging satellite had to be maneuvered.

Lockheed Bests Boeing For Contract at Johnson

Lockheed Martin beat out Boeing to win a $667.3 million NASA contract to help keep Johnson Space Center’s Mission Control Center and related training facilities up and running for the next four to six years.

NASA announced its selection for the so-called Facilities Development and Operations Contract (FDOC) as expected Nov. 7. The four-year contract includes two one-year options that would extend the agreement to 2014 and result in a total contract value of $977 million.

FDOC combines work Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Services currently performs under a nearly $700 million Mission Support Operations Contract awarded in 2003, with a fifth of the work United Space Alliance performs under its $6 billion Space Program Operations Contract. United Space Alliance is the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that operates the space shuttle under that contract.

“This award offers the opportunity to effectively transition experienced mission operations capabilities from the Space Shuttle Program to the Constellation Program,” Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, said in a press release. “Specifically, this contract will make possible the efficient transformation of shuttle operations personnel, knowledge and facilities to enable success in future human spaceflight programs.”

Lockheed Martin and Boeing both included roles for United Space Alliance in their bids submitted earlier this year for the FDOC work.

ILS Proton-M Launches Astra 1M for SES Astra

Satellite-fleet operator SES Astra expects to begin commercial service of its Astra 1M satellite in January at the company’s prime orbital slot at 19.2 degrees east, following a successful Nov. 6 launch by an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton-M rocket, Luxembourg-based SES announced.

The 5,300-kilogram Astra 1M, a Eurostar E3000 platform built by Astrium Satellites, carries 36 high-power Ku-band transponders and three antennas, and will provide direct-broadcast television, including high-definition programming, throughout Europe. The satellite is capable of generating 10 kilowatts of power and is expected to operate for 15 years.

The Proton Breeze M rocket, built by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, was launched from the Russia-run BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Breeze M upper stage conducted five ignitions before placing Astra 1M into geostationary transfer orbit nine hours and 12 minutes after liftoff, according to Reston, Va.-based ILS, the company that markets Proton launches.

The launch is the third successful ILS mission since a March Proton failure, which destroyed SES Americom’s AMC-14 satellite. A Proton in a different configuration, carrying a Russian government satellite, also has been launched since the March failure.

ILS’s
next launch, scheduled for December, is expected to carry the Ciel-2 telecommunications satellite into orbit for Canada’s start-up Ciel Satellite LP, which is majority-owned by SES.

Aegis Gets 1 Hit, 1 Miss In Navy Fleet Exercise

The U.S. Navy’s first test of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system as part of a fleet exercise Nov. 1 yielded one hit and one miss, according to a Nov. 1 Navy press release. The ship-based Aegis BMD system was developed by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats.

The system has successfully intercepted 15 of 17 target missiles during MDA testing. This was the first test conducted solely by the Navy and was part of a larger fleet operation called Fleet Exercise Pacific Blitz.

The destroyer USS Paul Hamilton successfully detected and tracked a short-range ballistic missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility near Hawaii and intercepted it with a Standard Missile 3. Following the engagement, another missile launched from the same site was detected and tracked by the destroyer USS Hopper. However, the subsequent intercept attempt failed. The Navy now is analyzing the cause of the failure, said Cmdr. Dora Lockwood, a Navy spokeswoman.

Japanese Terminal Firms Invest in Stratos Venture

Mobile satellite services distributor Stratos Global Corp. has signed up two Japanese maritime satellite terminal builders as shareholders of a company created in August to provide service to government and business customers in Japan, Bethesda, Md.-based Stratos announced Nov. 6.

Japan Radio Co. Ltd. (JRC) and Furuno Electric Co. Ltd. each will take a 10 percent stake in JSat Mobile, in which Stratos and satellite-fleet operator Sky Perfect JSat Corp. are the founding shareholders.

Stratos
, which is expected to be purchased in April 2009 by London-based mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat, expects the Japanese venture to grow by distributing Inmarsat’s mobile-broadband services to maritime and aeronautical markets.

Meanwhile, Stratos reported revenue of $478.4 million for the nine months ending Sept. 30, a 7 percent increase over the same period a year earlier. Net profit, at $14.6 million, was up 22.7 percent, Stratos reported.

Stratos
and competitor Vizada of Paris are Inmarsat’s two biggest distributors. Two-thirds of Stratos‘ revenue for the first nine months of 2008 came from Inmarsat-based services. Half of StratosInmarsat business is in maritime communications.

Inmarsat’s
growth in the coming years is expected to be from services related to its Broadband Global Area Network, or BGAN, high-speed links provided by the three Inmarsat 4 satellites in orbit.

In a break with past practice, Inmarsat will own the land Earth stations for BGAN services, rather than purchase capacity from distributors such as Stratos. As BGAN-related services grow in importance in Inmarsat’s portfolio, Stratos‘ profit margins from Inmarsat are likely to decrease, Stratos said, adding that it hopes to recoup this revenue from increased sales of BGAN services.

Stratos
also distributes services provided by Iridium Satellite LLC of Bethesda, Md., an Inmarsat competitor. Stratos said Iridium-derived revenue has increased in 2008 compared to 2007, but did not provide specific data.

Raytheon Nabs MDA Contract For Multiple Kill Vehicle

Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a one-year, $54 million contract by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) for development work on the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) program, an Oct. 31 Defense Department press release said.

The deal is the first MKV contract MDA awarded directly to Raytheon, said KathrinKjos, Raytheon’s kill vehicles director. The company has received $32 million during the past two years for MKV work, but that money came via a subcontract with Northrop Grumman using money for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program that was redirected by Congress, she said.

Lockheed Martin was awarded the prime contract for the MKV in 2004, but the MDA in 2007 chose Raytheon to develop an alternative design. Congress appropriated $284.5 million for the program in 2009, cutting $55 million from the agency’s request for Raytheon’s MKV work.

Raytheon’s indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract could be worth as much as $441.9 million through 2011, the release said.

Ares-1X Test Hardware Reaches Cape Canaveral

A simulated upper stage built for the Ares 1-X test launch that NASA had hoped to conduct in July 2009 reached Florida’s Port Canaveral Nov. 3 following a nearly two-week journey that began on the Ohio River.

The upper-stage simulator, consisting of 11 individual components built and assembled at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, was transported to Florida’s Port Canaveral aboard the Delta Mariner, a barge normally used to transport the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket. The Delta Mariner set sail Oct. 22 from Wellsville, Ohio, and traveled down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River, across the Gulf of Mexico before rounding the Florida Keys and ultimately docking at Port Canaveral.

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said the Ares 1-X hardware would be moved off the barge and into High Bay 4 of Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building by Nov. 6.

The upper-stage simulator eventually will be stacked atop a four-segment solid-rocket booster and rolled out to Kennedy’s Launch Complex Pad 39B for a test flight intended to prove various hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with NASA’s planned Ares 1 crew launch vehicle, which is expected to make its operational debut in 2015.

Some modifications NASA needs to make to Pad 39B for Ares 1-X are on hold until NASA launches a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission that requires two space shuttles to be positioned for back-to-back liftoffs if necessary. NASA had been planning to launch the Hubble mission this past October, but a Hubble computer failure in late September left the telescope temporarily disabled and in need of further repair, prompting NASA to put off the long-planned servicing mission until at least February. NASA officials told reporters Oct. 30 that problems with a spare part would postpone the Hubble mission until at least May. Ares officials, meanwhile, told reporters they were targeting July 12 for the Ares 1-X launch on the assumption that the Hubble mission would occur in February.

MSV Taps Telesat for Satellite Operations

Satellite-fleet operator Telesat will support in-orbit operations for the two mobile communications satellites being built for Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) under a service contract, Reston, Va.-based MSV announced Nov. 3.

Under the contract, whose financial terms were not disclosed, MSV will operate the MSV-1 and MSV-2 satellites from facilities owned by Telesat in Ottawa, and Mount Jackson, Va. The satellites, under construction by Boeing Satellite Systems International, are scheduled for launch in 2009 and 2010.

Telesat
operates MSV’s two aging satellites and also operates 11 other non-Telesat satellites in addition to Telesat’s own fleet.

General Dynamics Unit Delivers WIN-T Hardware

General Dynamics C4 Systems of Taunton, Mass., has completed the first hardware delivery of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 1 to the U.S. Army, a Nov. 3 General Dynamics press release said.

The delivery included networking hubs, network management suites and network nodes. The Army infantry brigade that received the hardware now is training on the equipment in preparation for operational use, the release said.

The WIN-T program was designed to connect troops in ground vehicles to satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles. General Dynamics is the prime contractor for the first three increments of the program. The fourth increment has yet to be awarded.

U.S. Air Force Conducts Successful Test of ICBM

The U.S. Air Force performed a test launch of a Minuteman 3 ICBM Nov. 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., a Nov. 5 Air Force press release said.

The unarmed missile traveled 6,743 kilometers before splashing down at a Pacific Ocean target near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The test was designed to prove the missile’s reliability and accuracy. The launch command was delivered from an airborne control system, designed to ensure the missile can launch even if it loses contact with its terrestrial control site, the release said.

Thaicom

Inaugurates Gateway in Philippines

Satellite operator Thaicom of Thailand opened an 11th gateway Earth station for its IPStar satellite-broadband service and said the new Manila station will permit the company’s partner in the Philippines, We are IT Phils. Inc. (WIT), to transfer traffic from a conventional satellite to IPStar. In a Nov. 6 press release, Thaicom said the Philippines’ 7,000 islands make satellite Internet a logical choice for government-backed Internet services to schools and rural development projects.

WIT has been marketing the IPStar service using other spacecraft. With the Manila gateway now operational, that traffic will be shifted to the higher-capacity IPStar. Thaicom also has IPStar gateway Earth stations in Australia, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam.

Ares Inks Contract with Glenn Research Center

NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland has awarded Ares Corp. a five-year, $24 million contract for safety and mission assurance support, a Nov. 3 Ares Corp. press release said.

Ares Corp. of Burlingame, Calif., will provide support system safety, reliability, quality assurance and risk management for NASA’s Constellation program, aerospace research and development, propulsion and other research and engineering programs, the press release said.

NOAA-N Prime Satellite Arrives at Vandenberg

NASA has begun final preparations for the launch of NOAA-N Prime, a civilian weather satellite that had to be rebuilt following a factory-floor accident in 2003. Developed by NASA for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA-N Prime is the last of the civilian Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite series of spacecraft.

The satellite arrived at its launch site, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Nov. 4 and will undergo a month of testing and launch preparation before its scheduled Feb. 4 liftoff on a Delta 2 rocket, according to a Nov. 4 NASA press release. Meanwhile, the first and second stages of the Delta 2 will be placed on the rocket the week of Dec. 1. After a series of checks, NOAA-N Prime will be hoisted atop the Delta 2 at the launch pad in mid-January.

Built built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. of Sunnyvale, Calif., NOAA-N Prime is similar to NOAA-N, which was launched May 20, 2005.

The $233 million spacecraft was damaged severely in 2003 when it fell onto a concrete floor while being turned from a vertical to horizontal position. After an estimated $135 million in repairs, a second mishap in April 2007 forced a safety standdown and extensive tests on a key sensor, the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU) A1.

The accident occurred when a search-and-rescue antenna aboard the spacecraft broke loose from its tether and banged into the instrument. NOAA and NASA officials concluded in August 2007 that the sensor suffered no internal damage as a result of the mishap. AMSU A1 will measure air temperatures, particularly inside thunderclouds and hurricanes, and was purchased as a set with a companion instrument – AMSU A2, which will measure atmospheric moisture – for $18 million.

NOAA manages the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Weather Satellite program, establishes requirements, provides all funding and the satellite data. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., procures and manages the development and launch of the satellites for NOAA on a cost reimbursable basis, the press release said.

NOAA’s
current generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites will be replaced starting in 2014 by the civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System spacecraft. That system is funded jointly by NOAA and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Harris Nabs Constellation Launch Control Contract

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida has selected Harris Corp.’s software for the launch control system for the agency’s Constellation program, a Nov. 4 Harris press release said.

The off-the-shelf OS/COMET software developed by Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris provides telemetry, tracking, and command and control capabilities for military, intelligence and commercial satellite systems. Kennedy will use the software to support command and control of Constellation launch vehicles and ground support systems, the press release said.

NASA has emphasized an increasing reliance on commercial off-the-shelf technologies for development of Constellation, which entails the vehicles and other hardware that will replace the space shuttle and eventually transport astronauts to the Moon.

Lunar X-Prize Contender Inks Technology Deal With NASA Ames

Odyssey Moon Ventures LLC, a U.S. company vying for the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize, has agreed to pay NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., up to $500,000 for help developing its entrant in the competition, a tiny robotic lunar lander called MoonOne.

Under a reimbursable NASA Space Act Agreement signed Oct. 30, NASA Ames will share its small-spacecraft expertise and technical data with Henderson, Nev.-based Odyssey Moon Ventures for the next two years. In addition to reimbursing Ames for the cost of providing the technical support, Odyssey Moon Ventures agreed to share with the center technical data from its engineering tests as well as actual lunar missions.

“NASA is a big supporter of developing the commercial space sector and is interested in developing small spacecraft for future lunar exploration,” Ames Director Simon “Pete” Worden said in a NASA press release. “By making these designs available to commercial enterprises, we hope to spark rapid development of low-cost, small spacecraft missions.”

According to Odyssey Moon Ventures, the MoonOnelander will be adapted from a small-spacecraft platform NASA is developing for use in either lander or orbiter missions. Called the Common Spacecraft Bus, the Ames-designed platform is the core of the approximately $80 million Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer orbiter Ames is building in cooperation with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Launch is anticipated in 2011.

Odyssey Moon Ventures is the U.S. offshoot of Odyssey Moon Ltd., a commercial lunar exploration venture based in the Isle of Man. Odyssey Moon was the first team to complete its registration for the Google Lunar X Prize, announcing in December 2007 that it aimed to be the first team to land a privately financed rover on the Moon and transmit high-definition video during a 500-meter traverse across the lunar surface. The company also announced then it had chosen MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. of Canada to serve as prime contractor for the MoonOne mission.

CBO Study Casts Doubt on Shuttle Retirement Date

The addition of a mission to the space shuttle’s flight manifest could significantly reduce the chance of retiring the orbiter fleet in 2010 as planned, possibly to as low as 5 percent, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a report released Nov. 3.

The CBO studied risks associated with delaying the space shuttle’s retirement and how that would affect work on the replacement system – consisting of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Ares 1 launcher – which is expected to debut in 2015. The CBO concluded there was a 20 to 60 percent chance NASA would be able to fly all of the 10 scheduled shuttle missions in the next two years. The addition of an 11th mission to transport the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the space station, as Congress has directed, would reduce that probability to between 5 and 30 percent, the CBO report said.

NASA plans to shift space shuttle program money to Orion and Ares after the shuttle retires, and has stated, according to the CBO report, that it might cancel shuttle flights not accomplished by September 2010. Meanwhile, the U.S. space agency continues to study options for speeding up the first Orion and Ares 1 flights by up to 18 months. NASA currently is working toward a September 2014 debut for the new system, a target six months sooner than the March 2015 date it has promised the White House and Congress it can meet, budget permitting.

The CBO report notes that until August, NASA had said there was a 30 percent chance Orion and Ares 1 would be operational by September 2013 if an extra $1 billion was added to the agency’s 2009 and 2010 budgets. NASA now says additional funding “can no longer significantly change either the estimated date for or NASA’s level of confidence about its achievement of the [initial operating capability] milestone,” the report states.

The gap between the shuttle’s retirement and the first flight of Orion and Ares 1 could widen if NASA cannot keep Orion’s mass from growing during development. Other issues that could delay Orion and Ares 1 include a longer-than-expected development of Ares 1’s J-2X upper-stage engine, difficulties with the Orion’s heat shields and excessive thrust oscillation in Ares 1’s first stage, the CBO report said.

The report also said a $577 million reduction in NASA’s 2007 funding prompted NASA to forego some robotic lunar surface exploration missions, which could delay plans to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020.

Eutelsat

Forecasts 6% Growth Rate Thru 2011

Satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat on Nov. 4 reported a 7 percent increase in revenue for the three months ending Sept. 30 compared to the same period a year ago and reaffirmed its forecast of 6 percent annual revenue growth through 2011. The figures lent credibility to the argument that satellite operators heavily focused on television services are relatively insulated from the global economic downturn.

The Paris-based company also confirmed that it would maintain its profitability levels in the next three years and keep its debt to between three and four times its EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Eutelsat
is the world’s third-largest commercial satellite operator by revenue. It expects to report 900 million euros ($1.15 billion) in revenue for its current financial year, which ends June 30, with EBITDA margins of at least 77 percent through 2011.

Eutelsat’s
quarterly report follows by a week that of its biggest competitor, SES of Luxembourg. Both companies are showing robust health and continued growth and displaying no signs of suffering from the global financial crisis.

More than most large satellite-fleet operators, Eutelsat’s business remains focused on delivering television service. Video broadcast accounts for 75 percent of the company’s business and is the main reason why Eutelsat’s fleet is 90 percent full – a fact that explains why Eutelsat is in the midst of the largest fleet-expansion program in its history, with seven new satellites scheduled for launch in the next 20 months.

The company has increased the number of TV channels carried on its fleet to 3,180 as of Sept. 30, a 16.4 percent jump from a year ago. The lineup included 63 high-definition channels as of Sept. 30, up 28 percent since June 30.

For the three months ending Sept. 30, all of Eutelsat’s business lines, including government services and data transmissions, reported growth compared to a year ago. Revenue for the three months totaled 226.7 million euros, up 7 percent over the year-earlier period. When the effects of exchange-rate fluctuations are removed, the growth would have been 7.5 percent, Eutelsat said.

Eutelsat’s
D-Star service, which provides broadband data transmissions for businesses, grew by 21.3 percent, to 9,484 installed terminals, compared to a year ago. Eutelsat’sTooway consumer-broadband service, now offering capacity on existing Eutelsat Ku-band and Ka-band satellites, is considered one of the most promising near-term growth opportunities for the company once the large all Ka-band Ka-Sat satellite is launched in mid-2010.

Gilat

Sues Investors That Backed out of Buying Firm

Satellite ground network provider Gilat Satellite Networks of Israel is suing the group of investors that had promised to purchase Gilat and then backed out of the deal, Gilat announced. Gilat is demanding that the group pay the promised $47.3 million deal termination fee.

The investor group in October had said it was suing Gilat for unspecified damages resulting from the now canceled purchase, a lawsuit Gilat termed “outlandish.”

Petah
Tikva, Israel-based Gilat said it filed lawsuits in Tel Aviv District Court against MivtachShamir Holdings Ltd., LR Group Ltd., Gores Capital Partners II and DGB Investments Inc., demanding that each pay its pro rata share of the termination fee.

Gilat
has argued that the buyers are guilty of an “intentional breach” of the purchase agreement.