U.S. Senate Bill Requires NASA To Finish Station

The U.S. Senate passed legislation by unanimous consent Sept. 28 that would require NASA to complete the international space station.

The bill, the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 (S. 1281), also calls for designating the space station a national laboratory, a proposal put forward by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). However, the bill approved by the Senate no longer includes Hutchison’s language requiring NASA to keep flying the space shuttle until its successor, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, is in service.

That language had attracted White House opposition. Under NASA’s plan the space shuttle would retire in 2010, about two years ahead of when the Crew Exploration Vehicle is slated to enter service.

The House of Representatives passed its NASA authorization bill, H.R. 3070, earlier this year. The House and Senate must reconcile all remaining differences between the two pieces of legislation before they can be sent to President George W. Bush to be signed into law.

Goddard, Marshall to Lead Robotic Lunar Lander Work

NASA picked two of its field centers to lead the development of a $500 million-$750 million unmanned lunar lander that the agency hopes to launch as soon as 2010.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will lead a team that includes the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Baltimore. The robotic mission is intended to demonstrate precision landing and determine whether lunar resources can support a sustained human presence on the Moon.

Earlier this year, NASA chose Goddard to build the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is slated to launch in 2008.

ESA Eyes Technologies For Asteroid Deflection

The European Space Agency (ESA) has settled on two potential target asteroids for a proposed mission to test technologies that would be needed to deflect near-Earth objects from a collision course with Earth.

ESA does not yet have the funding needed for the mission, which is called Don Quijote. The idea is to send two small satellites to the target asteroid — one to crash into it and the second to monitor the event. The two target asteroid finalists are designated 2002 AT4 and 1989 ML.

The preferred target will be selected in 2007. By that time ESA hopes to have received satellite design bids and cost estimates from European industry. The Don Quijote mission then will be submitted to ESA’s customary technical and financial review boards before being given the go-ahead for funding.

Telenor Picks ILS Proton M To Launch Thor 2-R Satellite

Norway’s Telenor Satellite Broadcasting has ended a highly competitive launch-services competition by selecting an International Launch Services Proton M rocket to orbit Telenor’s Thor 2-R telecommunications satellite in late 2007 despite Proton’s higher price compared to a European Ariane 5 ECA rocket, according to industry officials.

Thor 2-R, under construction at Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., will weigh just 2,450 kilograms at launch — much lighter than most satellites carried by the Proton M rocket.

Because Proton will be launching Thor 2-R as a solo passenger, Telenor will be paying for the entire Proton rocket. Among the competitors for the launch was the Arianespace consortium of Evry, France, which offered to launch Thor 2-R as one of two satellites aboard the Ariane 5 ECA.

Industry officials said Telenor is paying substantially more to launch on Proton than it would have paid aboard Ariane 5, but in return the Oslo-based company likely will be able to operate Thor 2-R longer than would have been the case aboard the Ariane 5 launch.

Ariane 5 places satellites in geostationary transfer orbit, from which point they use their own fuel to climb into final geostationary position. By carrying such a small satellite and nothing else, Proton will be able to place Thor 2-R closer to its final destination, saving fuel that can be used to extend the satellite’s service life.

Cato Halsaa, managing director of Telenor Satellite Broadcasting, said Sept. 30 that a Proton launch will give Telenor three additional years of Thor 2-R operations. Halsaa also said Telenor’s schedule made it difficult to select Ariane 5 ECA because that vehicle, which recently was redesigned, has made only one flight.

Interim Radios May Ease Time Urgency for JTRS

Upgraded tactical radios purchased by the Pentagon to support current operations should take some pressure off the schedule for fielding the next-generation system, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Initial versions of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) are scheduled for fielding in 2008, but the program has encountered significant technical problems that will make it difficult to meet that timetable, according to a Sept. 28 report accompanying the committee’s version of the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act.

While the recently purchased radios are not quite as capable as the JTRS units, they are far better than the legacy equipment, the committee said. The panel directed the Pentagon to review the JTRS schedule in light of the program’s challenges and the availability of the interim radios and come back to Congress by Dec. 30 with a revised program plan.

NASA Criticized by GAO For Misusing Airplanes

A Sept. 26 report by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticizes NASA’s use of space agency planes when former Administrator Sean O’Keefe was in charge, saying the agency spent five times more than it would have using commercial flights.

The report, made public Sept. 30, was requested by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“Use of NASA passenger aircraft services can save time, provide more flexibility to meet senior executives’ schedules, and provide other less tangible and quantifiable benefits,” states the report, “NASA Travel: Passenger Aircraft Services Annually Cost Taxpayers Millions More Than Commercial Airlines.” It goes on to say, “However, GAO’s analysis of available reported data related to NASA passenger aircraft services during fiscal years 2003 and 2004 showed NASA reported costs were nearly $25 million compared with estimated commercial airline coach transportation costs of about $5 million.”

Most of the flights — 86 percent, or seven out of eight — “were taken to support routine business operations specifically prohibited by federal policy regarding aircraft ownership, including routine site visits, meetings, speeches and conferences.”

The space agency issued a Sept. 30 statement under Administrator Mike Griffin’s name: “We at NASA have accepted the Government Accountability Office’s findings and have embraced new guidelines and procedures for the use of our airplanes that have been set by the Office of Management and Budget. Going forward, all airplane use will be within those guidelines.”

Calif. Wildfires Destroy Some Boeing Facilities

Wildfires in California’s San Fernando Valley had destroyed as many as three buildings at Boeing’s Santa Susana field laboratory by the afternoon of Sept. 30 and damaged a number of other structures, according to preliminary damage reports, but a company official said it was too early to determine how the fires will affect current testing operations there.

Boeing spokesman Dan Beck did not have details as to which buildings were affected specifically, but said preliminary reports indicate some office space, storage locations and a machine shop might have been damaged or destroyed.

“We don’t know what kind of an impact it will have on our operations at this point,” Beck said in a Sept. 30 interview. “As of now, there are no more blazes going on that are threatening the property.”

Boeing currently uses the 2,800-acre site to conduct testing on Rocketdyne’s RS-27 engines for its Delta 2 rockets. This past August, Boeing completed selling Rocketdyne to United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney of East Hartford, Conn., but kept the Santa Susana site in the deal.

Beck said the research and development facility has become much less active over the years, leaving many buildings either abandoned or inactive. Boeing has about 200 employees stationed there, he added.

Norspace Gets Deal with Space Systems/Loral

Norspace AS of Horten, Norway, will supply frequency converters and filters for three satellites under contracts with satellite prime contractor Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., Norspace announced.

Under the contracts, valued in total at about $20 million, Norspace will supply several hundred surface acoustic wave (SAW) filters and multiplexer assemblies to Loral. The satellites to incorporate the gear were not identified, but the equipment is used for multi-beam spacecraft as well as for mobile communications. Norspace estimated that its SAW equipment currently operational in orbit represents an 80-percent market share among commercial telecommunications satellites.

Lockheed Martin Ships Second SBIRS Sensor

Lockheed Martin Corp. has delivered the second payload for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High missile warning constellation to the U.S. Air Force, according to a company news release dated Sept. 28.

The infrared payload, like the first that was delivered in August 2004 , will be hosted by a classified satellite operating in a highly elliptical orbit. The SBIRS program also includes four dedicated satellites to operate in geosynchronous orbit, one spare, and ground systems.

The first dedicated SBIRS satellite is scheduled to launch in 2008. The launch dates of the elliptical-orbit satellites hosting SBIRS payloads are classified, but the first of those sensors was delivered more than a year late due to electromagnetic interference issues.

Joanne Maguire, vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., the prime contractor on the SBIRS program, said the company looks forward to building on the positive momentum from completing and delivering the second payload.

French Firm Evaluates Impact of Google Earth

Governments may have to camouflage sensitive installations or move them underground to keep them from appearing on Google Earth, a Web-based imagery library created by the Internet search-engine giant, according to a study by a French firm specializing in imagery analysis.

The assessment was prepared by EADS Fleximage of Paris, which analyzes satellite and aerial photographs for military and civil applications. It evaluated Google Earth’s potential to expose government secrets as well as its utility to professional imagery analysts.

A test version of Google Earth has been available free to anyone with a late-model computer since June. The system features aerial and satellite imagery of just about the entire surface of the Earth, with a few exceptions. EADS Fleximage says in its analysis that images of several well-known sensitive military installations have been degraded, but many are clearly visible.

The South Korean government recently complained to the U.S. authorities about sensitive installations in that country appearing on Google Earth. The U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency said it would take no action on the matter.

Google has struck agreements with several satellite- and aerial-photography companies to show pictures with ground resolutions ranging from 15 centimeters to 15 meters. Most of the high-resolution satellite imagery is archived data at least two years old, meaning it is of limited value for some commercial and spying applications. Similarly, the date the images were taken, the ground resolution and other technical details are often absent, limiting Google Earth as a tool for professionals.

On the other hand, Fleximage said, Google Earth’s ease of use makes it a valuable addition to the professional imagery analyst’s toolbox, even for defense and security applications.

Emmanual Villers, commercial director of Fleximage, said concerns expressed by several governments about Google Earth have eased in recent weeks, mainly because capitals around the world are resigned to the inevitability of such a service.

“Ten years ago, images sharper than 1 meter in resolution were reserved for military users. Since then, commercial satellites offer images as sharp as 60 centimeters to anyone, without restriction,” Fleximage says in its study. “Now with Google Earth, these same 60-centimeter images —- but more than two years old —- are offered free on the Internet.”

Eutelsat‘s Post IPO Moves Could Affect Credit Rating

Standard & Poor’s credit-rating service is ready to raise its rating on Eutelsat’s debt if the Paris-based satellite operator’s up coming stock-market listing results in a debt-reduction commitment instead of, for example, a guarantee of high dividends to shareholders.

In a Sept. 26 note, Standard & Poor’s said Eutelsat, whose initial public offering (IPO) of stock on the Paris-based Euronext exchange is scheduled to occur before the end of the year, is bound by its debt covenants to reduce its debt load at least slightly. But beyond this minimum level, it remains unclear whether Eutelsat will decide — as have several of its competitors this year — to sweeten its stock listing with a promise of high dividend payments.

“The group’s leverage post-IPO will have to be assessed in the light of any potential dividend payments made to shareholders and/or acquisitions, as well as future free cash flow generation,” Standard & Poor’s said.

Astronomers Struck by Galaxy’s Apparent Age

NASA researchers using the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have discovered a distant galaxy that is unusually massive and mature for being so young , the space agency announced Sept. 27.

Astronomers believe early galaxies were once small clusters of stars that gradually merged to form larger galaxies such as the Milky Way. The HUDF-JD2 galaxy, however, appears to have grown quickly within the first few hundred-million years following the theorized big bang. The galaxy is in a location that depicts an era of the universe when it was only 800 million years old.

Scientists detected the galaxy while studying infrared images taken by Hubble. The infrared signal detected by Spitzer — which is more sensitive to redder and older stars — was even brighter, indicating a large galaxy.

“At a time when the universe was only 800 million years old, it’s positively massive,” said Mark Dickinson, a scientists at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz.

This discovery suggests at least a few galaxies formed quickly long ago, NASA said.

ESA’s Smart-1 Lunar Probe Boosts Orbit One Last Time

Europe’s Smart-1 lunar orbiter has used the last of its ion-electric power supply to reboost its orbit enough to permit continued mapping of the lunar surface until August 2006. After a three-month lull in observation to permit the orbit-raising , a fresh campaign to take color images of the lunar surface is scheduled to start in October, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced.

Since Smart-1 was launched in September 2003, its PPS 135 xenon-electric thruster has been fired more than 840 times and has operated for around 5,000 hours, according to its manufacturer, Snecma of Paris. The Snecma technology is based on designs from OKB Fakel of Russia, which has supplied electric thrusters on numerous Russian satellites. Electric propulsion systems weigh much less than conventional chemical thrusters and have been installed on heavy Western communications satellites in recent years.

The PPS 1350 thruster used 80 kilograms of xenon gas to propel Smart-1 from Earth orbit to lunar orbit, and keep it there for 18 months. The engine was shut down Sept. 17.

Smart 1, whose principal mission has been to test new technologies such as electric propulsion for future ESA satellites, is now in an orbit that is governed mainly by lunar gravity. It is expected to crash onto the lunar surface in August 2006, according to ESA.

Northrop Is Delivering Upgraded Intel Software

Northrop Grumman reported progress Sept. 26 in its effort to upgrade intelligence data handling and processing software used on a variety of U.S. military programs.

The Los Angeles-based company is installing Version 7.3 of its Multi-Intelligence Core common software baseline, which is used in the U.S. Army and Navy Distributed Common Systems, the Marine Corps’ Tactical Exploration Group and the Air Force’s Extended Tether program.

There are more than 20 upgrades in the new version of the software. The enhancements are designed to improve a variety of functions, including data and imagery processing, target extraction and situational awareness, according to the company’s press release.

Upgrades have been installed in 18 of the 50 systems scheduled to receive it, said Northrop Grumman spokesman Tom Delaney. The company will work for the next few months on upgrading additional systems, and then start focusing on the 8.0 version of the software, which is scheduled for early 2006. Delaney declined to comment on the cost of the upgrades.

Sega Picks Payton To Serve as His Deputy

U.S. Air Force Undersecretary Ron Sega announced Sept. 27 that he had selected Gary Payton to serve as his primary deputy for military space programs.

Payton must be approved by the secretary of the Air Force, but not by the U.S. Senate.

A retired Air Force colonel and NASA astronaut, Payton returns to the service after having worked as deputy for advanced systems at the Missile Defense Agency, senior vice president for engineering and operations at Orbimage, and deputy associate administrator for space transportation technology at NASA.

U.S. Air Force Launches Updated GPS 2R Satellite

The U.S. Air Force on Sept. 25 successfully launched the first of eight GPS 2R satellites upgraded by prime contractor Lockheed Martin to provide enhanced and more-reliable navigation services.

Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Md., said the satellite will provide improved navigation performance for the U.S. military as well as civilian users.

The modernized satellites feature improved antenna panels to increase signal power to GPS receivers, making them less susceptible to interference or enemy jamming attempts. Other enhancements include two new military signals and a second civilian signal.

The modernized satellite launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket. The current GPS constellation consists of 28 satellites.

Solar-Powered Aircraft Completes Tests

The Pathfinder-Plus, an experimental solar-powered aircraft, has completed a series of research flights to investigate the effects of turbulence on its lightweight, flexible-wing structure, NASA announced Sept. 21. The tests took place at the agency’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.

The 23-year-old Pathfinder, which is due for retirement soon, performed two low-altitude flights, gathering data on turbulence and aircraft dynamics that will be used in designing future solar-powered aircraft.

For these latest flights, the aircraft was equipped with an atmospheric turbulence measurement system mounted on booms across the leading edge of its wing. The flights took place over the northern portion of a dry lake in an area designated for unmanned aerial vehicle testing. The Pathfinder-Plus tests were to take place in September 2004, but got delayed due to rainfall that flooded the lake bed.

AeroVironment of Monrovia, Calif., which built and owns the Pathfinder, conducted the tests. The company’s vice president, Bob Curtin, said data from these trials will be used in designing the next stratospheric unmanned aircraft, the Global Observer.

Orbital Sciences Delivers Cargo Containers for ISS

Orbital Sciences Corp. announced Sept. 21 it delivered five cargo transport containers to NASA for future space shuttle missions to resupply international space station (ISS) .

The reconfigurable containers each can accommodate up to five ISS hardware components , known as Orbital Replacement Units, such as heat exchangers and electronics control equipment. The reus able containers, each of which can carry about 180 kilograms of ISS hardware, can be opened and their contents removed via robotic methods or by spacewalking astronauts .

Orbital, headquartered in Dulles, Va., designed, built and tested the containers at its Technical Services Division in Greenbelt, Md., under contract to NASA’s ISS Program Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Barron Beneski, an Orbital spokesman, would not disclose the value of that contract.

Kinesix Sells Upgrades to NASA Simulation Software

Kinesix Software of Houston has sold upgrades and additional licenses for its Sammi control-room software product to NASA’s Integrated Training Facility in Houston, where the agency runs computer-driven training simulations for flight controllers and astronauts.

The training facility , which features replicas of the space shuttle and international space station, uses Sammi for sophisticated graphical displays and user interfaces . The software upgrades will be used in the agency’s Integrated Planning System, which helps NASA prepare for space shuttle and international space station flights.

In a press release dated Sept. 20 , Kinesix said NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has used Sammi software since 1992 to run 90 percent of the graphical displays in its Mission Control Center, which oversees space shuttle flights.

EMS Sensor Will Help Point Webb Telescope

EMS Technologies of Atlanta announced Sept. 26 it has won a contract from the Canadian Space Agency to design a fine guidance sensor and filter for NASA’s planned James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2013 to replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope .

The fine guidance sensor will allow the Webb telescope to track the positions of distant stars with high accuracy so the telescope is fine-pointed, which also will allow the spacecraft’s other instruments to capture very high-quality images. The Webb telescope is expected to observe the formation of some of the earliest stars and galaxies in the universe with a main mirror that is seven times larger than that on Hubble and hundreds of times more sensitive to near-infrared light.

The Canadian Space Agency agreed to provide two major pieces of hardware for the international James Webb Telescope project: the fine guidance sensor and the near-infrared camera.

The telescope equipment will be manufactured at EMS’s Space and Technology division in Ottawa. The contract value was not disclosed.

NASA Pluto Probe Enters Final Launch Preparations

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft arrived at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., Sept. 24 for final preparations and testing before it launches in January to explore Pluto and its moon Charon, the agency announced Sept. 26.

The 450-kilogram probe is equipped with seven instruments to study the geology and environment of Pluto and Charon . It is scheduled to lift off Jan. 11, 2006, aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket and arrive at Pluto as early as summer 2015.

New Horizons is scheduled in October to undergo a series of functional tests and readiness checks. A final spin-balance test is slated for November.

The spacecraft recently completed space-environment tests at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., where it was designed and built.

This mission is the first in NASA’s New Frontiers program of medium-class planetary missions.

QinetiQ Helps Tourist Prepare for Station Visit

QinetiQ , a British defense technology company, has been helping future space tourist Greg Olsen prepare for his scheduled October visit to the international space station , providing medical assessments and gravity-force training, the company announced Sept. 27.

Olsen, a multimillionaire U.S. businessman and scientist, is slated to blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome Oct. 1 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. Also aboard the Soyuz will be NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev, who will replace long-term space station occupants Sergei Krikalev of Russia and John Phillips of NASA.

QinetiQ subjected Olsen to acceleration training using the company’s centrifuge in Farnborough, England, which simulates the gravitational forces experienced during liftoff and re-entry. Doctors also monitored his heart and general well being during the tests to make sure he was fit.

Space Adventures Ltd. of Arlington, Va., helped arrange Olsen’s flight. He will become the third space tourist following American Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth, both of whom paid the Russians less than $20 million for their flights to the space station.

Olsen is expected to help with general cleaning and prepare meals while on board the station. After a week, he will return to Earth with Krikalev and Phillips.

XM Satellite Radio Tops 5 Million Subscriber Mark

XM Satellite Radio of Washington announced Sept. 27 that it has surpassed the 5 million subscriber mark, a significant milestone for the United States’ leading satellite radio service.

“We are on track to have more than 6 million subscribers by the end of this year,” Hugh Panero, XM president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement, referring to expected sales dur ing the upcoming holiday season.

NASA, Industry Partners Test Prototype Solar Sails

NASA announced Sept. 27 that the agency and two industry partners have completed ground tests on a pair of prototype 400-square-meter solar sails that could be used to propel spacecraft using energy from the Sun.

Solar sails harness pressure created by light photons bouncing off their surfaces to propel a spacecraft through space and enable it to perform other critical maneuvers. A spacecraft using this technology would require no propellant, meaning more of its mass could be dedicated to payload.

The recently tested prototype sails, which are 40 to 100 times thinner than a piece of writing paper, were developed together by ATK Space Systems of Goleta, Calif., and L’Garde Inc. of Tustin, Calif. The work is led by the In-Space Propulsion Technology Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Both companies tested the solar sails at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. There, the technology was subjected to space-like temperatures, boom and deployment tests and other space-environment conditions.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate selected the technology for development in August 2002.