Briefs

by












  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 18 November 2008
02:43 pm ET





KEI’s

First-Stage Rocket Motor Successfully Tested

Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles, AlliantTechsystems of Minneapolis and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency successfully test fired Nov. 13 the first-stage rocket motor for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program, a Nov. 13 Northrop Grumman press release said.

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the high-speed mobile missile defense system, which is designed to destroy ballistic missiles in the boost and midcourse phases. It was the fourth of five planned static firings of the AlliantTechsystems-build first stage motor. The KEI team also includes Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., and Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va.

The KEI team has fired the second-stage motor two times and will fire it twice more before a planned booster test flight in summer 2009, Northrop Grumman KEI vice president and program manager Tony Spehar said in a Nov. 14 conference call.

MDA Gets Deal To Design Three Radarsat Satellites

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) of Canada was awarded a 40 million Candian-dollar ($33.7 million)contract by the Canadian Space Agency to begin the design of a constellation of three radar satellites to augment and replace the two existing Radarsat satellites, a Nov. 14 MDA press release said. The new constellation will provide complete daily C-band radar coverage of Canada’s land and waters as well as areas beyond the country’s borders, the release said. The constellation will be designed for as many as six satellites.

MDA also was awarded a one-year, $11 million contract from an undisclosed U.S. defense intelligence agency to provide Radarsat-2 data for surveillance and reconnaissance applications, a Nov. 13 MDA press release said. This is the company’s ninth Radarsat-2 data contract.

Ares J-2X Engine Passes Critical Design Review

The J-2X engine Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, of Canoga Park, Calif., is building to power the upper stage of NASA’s Ares 1 crew launch vehicle and the Earth departure stage of the Ares 5 heavy-lift cargo launch vehicle, completed its critical design review Nov. 13 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“The approval today by the upper stage engine critical design review board signals the beginning of manufacturing and full-scale testing of this high-performance engine,” Steve Cook, manager for the Ares Projects at Marshall, said in a press release

Comprised of engineers and project managers, including representatives from NASA’s Safety and Mission Assurance organization, the board reviewed the detailed designs of the new engine and concluded that Marshall’s planned technical approach meets NASA’s requirements for propulsion of the Ares 1 upper stage. Full-scale testing is slated to begin in the fall of 2010.

The J-2X engine will use advanced design turbo pumps, fuel injectors and a large extension added to the nozzle to achieve greater efficiency than other engines of its type. These enhancements deliver greater thrust, or liftoff power, while burning fuel more efficiently.

ULA To Cut 350 Jobs in Feb., and Possibly More

United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Denver will cut 350 jobs in February and may eliminate more jobs in the fourth quarter of 2009 depending on business conditions, according to a Nov. 13 ULA press release.

ULA, a joint Boeing-Lockheed Martin venture, planned for some layoffs as a result of changing operational needs, but the situation is being exacerbated by tightening federal budgets for 2009 and 2010, which will affect the company’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle contracts, the company said.

Since the formation of the joint venture in 2007, ULA had anticipated the need to adjust its work force due to several factors, including: integration of the Atlas and Delta launch vehicle product lines; the declining launch rate of the Delta 2 rocket; and the elimination of the company’s Huntington Beach, Calif., facilities, a company release said. ULA said it already had informed its work force of the pending reduction.

OHB Banking on Pending Deals To Boost Revenue

Satellite and rocket-component manufacturer OHB Technology reported modest revenue growth in the first nine months of 2008 and a decrease in net profit but said its forecast of full-year revenue growth depends on contracts to be signed in the coming weeks.

In a Nov. 11 conference call, the Bremen, Germany-based company said it expects to sign a contract with Hispasat of Spain for full development of a telecommunications satellite being designed with European Space Agency (ESA) funds, and that this contract may produce revenue to be booked in 2008.

In addition, the OHB-owned Kayser-Threde of Munich won a contract valued at 90 million euros ($115 million) Nov. 10 to build the EnMap Earth observation satellite, a contract that company officials also expect to produce revenue this year.

OHB Technology Chief Executive Marco R. Fuchs said the company, which reported 223 million euros in revenue in 2007, is sticking with an earlier forecast of 290 million euros in revenue for 2008 despite uncertainties about which expected contracts will be signed in the coming weeks, and which will be delayed until 2009.

Part of the reason for the sharp increase is that Kayser-Threde’s results were incorporated into OHB only starting in mid-2007.

For the nine months ending Sept. 30, OHB said revenue was 178.2 million euros, a 17-percent increase from the same period a year earlier. But when Kayser-Threde’s figures are removed, the increase is just 3.4 percent, which Fuchs said is acceptable, but not exemplary. Backlog at Sept. 30 was 381 million euros. Net profit, at 7.1 million euros, was down from 9.5 million euros the previous year, with the decrease due in part to a one-time gain in 2007.

OHB owns 70 percent of MT Aerospace, which is a builder of Ariane 5 rocket components. OHB also owns an 8-percent stake in the Arianespace launch consortium. Arianespace is expected to order 35 Ariane 5 rockets from its contractors late this year, but while that order will add substantially to OHB’s backlog it will not do much for the 2008 revenue picture.

Fuchs said OHB remains confident that a long-delayed Turkish Earth observation satellite project will be awarded late this year. He said final offers from the three bidders – Astrium Satellites of Britain, Telespazio of Rome and OHB – were due Nov. 11.

OHB said its ability to produce more satellite hardware in-house has allowed it to reduce the cost it pays for materials.

Chandrayaan-1 Propels Probe to Lunar Surface

India’s lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 dropped an instrumented probe onto the Moon’s surface Nov. 14.

The 34-kilogram probe with three instruments impacted the Moon about 25 minutes after it was ejected from the orbiter in what Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Madhavan Nair described to reporters as a “perfect operation.” The probe impacted near the Moon’s southern polar region.

The impactor built at the VikramSarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram was released a day after Chandrayaan-1 was maneuvered to its designated circular orbit 100 kilometers above the lunar poles.

The impactor is one of the 11 scientific instruments onboard Chandrayaan-1, India’s first unmanned spacecraft mission to the Moon. It was launched Oct. 22 .

The probe’s built-in video imaging system took pictures during its descent and transmitted them back to Earth. The first pictures were expected to be made public Nov. 15.

Jitendra
NathGoswami, the mission’s principal scientist, said the relatively lightweight impactor probably did not kick up enough lunar dust when it crashed to be detected by telescopes on Earth.

While the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter was not in position to photograph the crash, Goswami said he hoped the orbiter would be able get pictures of the crash site as it passes overhead during subsequent orbits.

FCC Grants TerreStar’s Launch Delay Request

TerreStar
Corp., a start-up mobile satellite services operator, has been given U.S. regulatory approval to delay the launch of its first satellite to June 30, with the deadline for operational service extended to Aug. 30, TerreStar announced Nov. 13.

Reston, Va.-based TerreStar had informed the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in June that an accident in testing the satellite’s 18-meter reflector antenna would delay the satellite’s completion by several months. The satellite is now in “an advanced stage” of construction at prime contractor Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, Calif., and will be ready for a June launch aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket, TerreStar said. The FCC deadline extension follows a similar move by Canadian regulatory authorities.

Czech Republic Joins European Space Agency

The Czech Republic has become the 18th full member of the European Space Agency (ESA), the organization announced Nov. 14.

Membership is effective immediately, although ESA and Czech authorities will begin a six-year transition period during which an ESA task force will evaluate how best to adapt Czech industry and technology capacity to ESA’s requirements.

ESA membership “is of tremendous importance for Czech science,” Czech Education Minister OndrejLiska said in a Nov. 14 statement. “This is an opportunity for Czech scientific, research and industrial organizations.”

Czech authorities began the process of joining ESA in 2004 by signing the Plan for European Cooperating States Charter. Hungary, Romania and Poland also have signed the charter, and ESA officials say they expect almost all of the European Union’s 27 member states will join ESA in the coming years.

Orbital Delivers OCO To Vandenberg for Launch

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., has shipped NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) environmental and climate research satellite to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in preparation for its early 2009 launch, a Nov. 10 company press release said.

The Orbital-built spacecraft will undergo integration and full system testing with Orbital’s Taurus rocket in preparation for launch into a polar, low Earth orbit.

OCO is designed to collect global measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere to help scientists studying global climate change.

The observatory’s main science instrument has three high-resolution spectrometers that break reflected sunlight into spectra that are analyzed by scientists to detect and quantify atmospheric gases. The spectrometers specifically measure the amount of sunlight absorbed by carbon dioxide and molecular oxygen, a Nov. 12 NASA press release said.

OCO will be placed in a 701-kilometer, near-polar sun-synchronous orbit inclined at 98.2 degrees and will map the globe every 16 days for two years, the NASA press release said.

The OCO project is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Sirius XM Faces Losses, $1 Billion in Maturing Debt

Sirius XM Radio Inc. of New York posted a $4.88 million loss in the third quarter of 2008, largely due to a write-off associated with declining stock values, and also faces the prospect of $1 billion in debt maturing in 2009, the company said in a Nov. 12 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

For the period ending Sept. 30, two months after the merger of Sirius Satellite Radio of New York and XM Satellite Radio of Washington, company officials said Sirius XM faces faltering automobile sales, competition from Apple’s iPod and a tough economic climate for refinancing debt.

Sirius XM officials are negotiating with banks to refinance $1 billion of the company’s $3.4 million debt.

“If we are unable to refinance our maturing debt in 2009, our failure to repay the debt will result in an event of default under the indentures and agreements governing our debt which, if not cured or waived, could cause us to discontinue operations or seek a purchaser for our business assets,” the SEC filing said.

In a Nov. 10 conference call with investors, Sirius XM Chief Executive Mel Karmazin said the company would have experienced growth in the third quarter if not for the write-off and costs associated with the merger. The company included pro forma earnings in the SEC filing that were based on the assumption the merger was completed in January 2007, when merger talks began, the SEC filing said.

“Revenue grew 16 percent on a pro forma basis in the third quarter,” he said. “This [happened] in the most difficult quarter most of us have ever seen.”

Using pro forma figures, Karmazin said the company lost $217,000 in the quarter that ended Sept. 30, compared to $265,515 in the third quarter of 2007.

In total, however, XM Sirius has lost $9.4 million – a sum that includes losses suffered since XM and Sirius began operations as separate companies and two months as a combined entity, the SEC filing said.

Sirius XM expects a positive cash flow of $1 billion by 2012, company officials said in the filing.

The volatile stock market has taken its toll on Sirius XM shares, which started the week of Oct. 10 trading at $.26. Because its common stock value dropped to below the $1 minimum required by the Nasdaq Global Select Market, Sirius XM sought and received a waiver Oct. 16. Nasdaq could rescind the waiver and initiate a delisting process if Sirius XM stock values remain below the $1 threshold for 30 consecutive days, the SEC filing said.

The combined company has five in-orbit satellites – two for XM launched in 2005 and 2006, and three for Sirius launched in 2000. Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., is building an XM satellite scheduled to be launched in December 2009 and two Sirius satellites, one expected to be launched in mid-2009 and the other no sooner than late 2010.

The XM constellation has two on-orbit spares, XM-1 and XM-2, which were built by Boeing and were converted to on-orbit spares after they experienced problems associated with the early version of Boeing’s 702 satellite platform, the SEC filing said.

Satellite Services Ltd. To Build Orbcomm Hardware

Satellite Services Ltd. of Britain will build reaction wheels for the second-generation Orbcomm two-way messaging satellites under a contract with MicroSat Systems Inc. of Denver, which is prime contractor for the spacecraft, Satellite Services announced.

Under the contract, which Satellite Services said is valued at several million dollars, the company will provide an engineering model and 18 flight models of the reaction wheels. The initial second-generation Orbcomm contract is for 18 satellites, with options for 30 more. The flight-model hardware will be shipped starting in mid-2009.

EchoStar

Scrambles To Find Buyer for CMBStar

EchoStar
Corp. Chairman Charlie Ergen said the company remains hopeful it will find some use for a nearly completed S-band mobile communications satellite whose intended customer no longer wants it, but he acknowledged that the financial climate today will make it difficult.

Ergen
said Littleton, Colo.-based EchoStar, whose businesses are mainly manufacturing television set-top boxes for Dish Network’s satellite-television business, and leasing satellite capacity to Dish, also will decide by the end of the year whether to write down the value of two satellites it is leasing from SES of Luxembourg.

In a Nov. 10 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, EchoStar said it may need to take a charge of $100 million if it is unable to find a buyer for the CMBStar S-band satellite that Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., built for EchoStar. EchoStar had planned to sell the satellite’s capacity to the Chinese government for mobile-television services. The Chinese partners have since soured on the deal.

“The environment is not as good as it was” for finding a replacement buyer for CMBStar, Ergen said in a Nov. 10 conference call with investors. “Satellites historically can be used for a variety of purposes, but then you have to look at the cost of re-purposing it.”

EchoStar
has invested in TU Media of South Korea, which has an operational S-band mobile-broadcast satellite system, but Ergen declined to say whether EchoStar has declared its TU Media investment as impaired and written down its value.

EchoStar
leases the full capacity of the SES-owned AMC-15 and AMC-16 satellites under 10-year arrangements but has been unable to find many customers for the spacecraft. Both satellites began commercial service in early 2005.

The company said that if the situation does not improve, it could take a charge of up to $200 million. “We don’t see a need today to write it down, but we’ll look at it again at the end of the year,” Ergen said.

Starting in 2009, EchoStar will be paying an average $86 million per year to lease capacity on the SES satellites and 16 transponders on the Nimiq 5 spacecraft to be owned by Telesat Canada. Dish Network has contracted to use this capacity.

ESA Agrees To Purchase Data Collected By Jason-3

The European Space Agency (ESA) has agreed to purchase some 7 million euros ($8.9 million) in ocean-altimetry data from a proposed Jason-3 satellite backed by France and the United States, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain told reporters Nov. 10.

The decision removes one obstacle to approval of what has become an unusually controversial project in Europe. Some governments have not wanted to spend money on what has been essentially a U.S.-French endeavor since the two nations began working on space-based ocean altimetry in the early 1990s, first with Topex-Poseidon and then two follow-on Jason satellites.

But ESA’s commitment, made at the insistence of France, does not guarantee that Jason-3 will be built. Europe’s weather-satellite organization, Eumetsat, must still agree to fund its share of the project but has removed Jason-3 from the Eumetsat council meeting scheduled for December, according to Eumetsat officials. Other government and industry officials said it will be re-submitted for Eumetsat approval in mid-2009.

Eumetsat
had agreed to invest 46 million euros in Jason-3 and has been asked to find an additional 7 million euros to complete the financing package alongside contributions from the French space agency, CNES; the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); the European Commission; and now ESA. Jason-3 is expected to cost around 238 million euros.

Test Firing of Orion Abort Motor Slated for Nov. 20

The solid-rocket abort motor designed to carry NASA’s planned Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle away from its launcher during a launch pad emergency will undergo its first full-scale test firing Nov. 20 in Utah, a Nov. 10 NASA press release said.

The launch abort system will sit atop Orion during its launch atop the Ares 1 rocket, also in development. Orion is expected to replace NASA’s space shuttle, transporting astronauts to and from the international space station starting in 2015 and eventually making trips to the Moon.

NASA and ATK Launch Systems of Promontory, Utah, will conduct the test at ATK’s Utah facility. The test caps a series of motor and component tests in preparation for a demonstration with a mock-up of the Orion crew capsule scheduled for spring 2009, the press release said.

ATK is building the launch abort motor under a contract with Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., which is building the Orion launch abort system. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver is the prime contractor for Orion.

Cooke To Replace Gilbrech as Head of NASA’s Exploration Directorate

NASA veteran Doug Cooke will replace Rick Gilbrech as associate administrator of the agency’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate effective Nov. 24, NASA announced Nov. 12.

Gilbrech
announced earlier that day he was leaving NASA for the private sector. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin named Cooke, who had been serving as deputy associate administrator for the directorate, as Gilbrech’s replacement.

Gilbrech
moved to NASA Headquarters a little more than a year ago to replace astronaut Scott “Doc” Horowitz as the official in charge of the agency’s efforts to build the new spacecraft to replace the space shuttle and send people back to the Moon.

Gilbrech
started his NASA career in 1991 at Stennis Space Center and rose to director of the Bay St. Louis, Miss.-area propulsion testing facility before taking the exploration systems job in 2007.

Gilbrech
is taking a senior position with the North American division of GKN Aerospace, a British firm with several U.S. locations, including its Aerostructures North America Division in Hazelwood, Mo.

Cooke has been with NASA for 35 years working on the space shuttle, space station and exploration programs. Prior to coming to NASA Headquarters as deputy for exploration systems in January 2004, Cooke was manager of the Advanced Development Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

He served as an advisor to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and also helped lead the NASA and contracting team that returned the space shuttle fleet to flight after the 1986 Challenger disaster, NASA said.

“Doug Cooke has served NASA since the earliest days of the space shuttle program,” Griffin said in a prepared statement. “There is no better engineer in the agency, a talent which is indispensable at the top, and especially so in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, where so much of our future lies. I am tremendously pleased to ask him to head this team.”

Kayser-Threde

To Build Mapping Satellite for DLR

The German space agency, DLR, awarded a contract Nov. 11 to Kayser-Threde GmbH of Munich, Germany, to build and launch the EnMaphyperspectral imaging Earth observation satellite in 2012, a reflection of Germany’s intent to broaden its Earth observation expertise beyond radar, Kayser-Threde and DLR announced.

The contract, valued at 90 million euros ($115 million), calls for the 800-kilogram EnMap to be launched in late 2012, a year later than initially planned. The launcher probably will be a Russian Cosmos rocket, though a final decision has not been made.

Kayser-Threde
, a subsidiary of OHB Technology of Bremen, Germany, will use a satellite platform provided by OHB for EnMap, which is intended to operate for five years in a 650-kilometer polar, low Earth orbit. Kayser-Threde will provide the payload instruments and be overall mission manager.

DLR already has financed development of the TerraSAR-X synthetic aperture radar Earth observation satellite, whose data is being marketed by Germany’s Infoterra group. A nearly identical follow-on satellite in development is called TanDEM-X, or TerraSAR-X add-on for Digital Elevation Measurement.

EnMap
will use 200 spectral bands to provide data on global vegetation and land use. Its imager, with 30-meter ground resolution, will scan scenes with a 30-kilometer diameter. Its onboard recorder will be able to store up to 1,000 kilometers of imagery per orbit, and up to 5,000 kilometers per day.

The German Research Center for Geosciences of Potsdam, GFZ, is contributing funding to the project alongside DLR.

ZIN Technologies Inc. To Support NASA Research

NASA has awarded ZIN Technologies Inc. of Middleburg Heights, Ohio, an indefinite- delivery, indefinite-quantity contract for scientific support work potentially worth a maximum of $94.5 million if all options are exercised, a Nov. 10 NASA press release said.

The three-year contract, which also includes two one-year options, is for projects in NASA’s Exploration Technology Development and Human Research Program. ZIN Technologies will conduct a variety of international space station investigations in human spaceflight, physical sciences and advanced technology development, the press release said. The contract is scheduled to begin in November.

Sofradir

Nabs Contract For Sentinel-2 Detectors

Sofradir
of Veurey-Voroize, France, will supply infrared detectors for Europe’s Sentinel-2 Earth observation spacecraft under a contract with Sentinel-2 prime contractor Astrium Satellites, Sofradir announced Nov. 12.

Under the contract, valued at 6.7 million euros ($8.5 million), Sofradir will design and build a three-band short wave infrared detector for Sentinel-2’s Multi-Spectral Instrument. It will be used to distinguish between trees and crops, and also to measure air-humidity.

Sentinel-2 is scheduled for launch in 2012 and is designed to operate for seven years. European Space Agency governments are expected to decide in late November whether to build a second Sentinel-2 satellite as part of the broader Kopernikus/GMES Earth observation system being designed with the European Commission.

China Successfully Lofts Two Environmental Craft

China successfully launched a pair of environmental monitoring satellites Nov. 5 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern part of the country aboard a Long March 2D rocket, China’s state run Xinhua news agency reported Nov. 5.

The Chuangxin 1-02 satellite, built by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, will collect meteorological and hydrological data for disaster relief purposes, Xinhua reported. The larger Shiyan Satellite 3 will demonstrate technologies for atmospheric research, the news agency reported, citing the spacecraft’s builder, the Harbin Institute of Technology.

The launch was the 112th of China’s Long March series of rockets, Xinhua said. It was also the third Chinese launch in an 11-day period.

On Oct. 25, a Long March 4B rocket lofted two satellites, said by Chinese officials to be the 03 Group of the Shijian 6 serial research satellites, from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China, Xinhua reported Oct. 26. On Oct. 30, a Long March 3B rocket successfully launched Venezuela’s Chinese-built Venesat-1 telecommunications satellite into geostationary orbit from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China.

Air Force Finishes GPS 3A Satellite Baseline Review

The U.S. Air Force’s GPS Systems Wing completed an integrated baseline review of the GPS 3A program Oct. 31, a Nov. 12 Air Force press release said.

GPS 3 prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., participated in the review along with members of the Air Force’s GPS 3 Squadron and subcontractors ITT Electronic Systems of Clifton, N.J., and General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems of Gilbert, Ariz. The review ensured program risks were identified, mitigation plans were developed and management processes were in place to stay on cost and schedule, the release said.

Lockheed Martin is under contract for two GPS 3A satellites, which are scheduled to launch in 2014.