Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 15 January 2009
09:55 am ET





Northrop Reorg Merges Space & Aviation Sectors

Northrop Grumman Corp. is merging its Space Technology and Integrated Systems sectors to create a $10 billion Aerospace Systems division led by Gary W. Ervin, the company announced Dec. 7.

Ervin previously was corporate vice president and president of Integrated Systems. Alexis Livanos, previously corporate vice president and president of Space Technology, has been named corporate vice president and chief technology officer, the company said.

The move is part of a wider restructuring that will reduce the Los Angeles-based company’s number of operating units from seven to five. Also being combined are the Information Technology and Missions Systems sectors, with the resulting Information Systems unit to be led by Linda Mills.

Philip A. Teel, corporate vice president and president of the former Mission Systems sector, is retiring, Northrop Grumman said.

The changes were effective immediately. Northrop Grumman’s operating sectors are now: Aerospace Systems, Electronic Systems, Information Systems, Shipbuilding and Technical Services.

In a prepared statement, Ronald D. Sugar, Northrop Grumman’s chairman and chief executive, said the realignment was critical in light of anticipated changes in the company’s markets. It follows last year’s consolidation of Northrop Grumman’s shipbuilding sector, he noted.

Aerospace Systems will be a provider of manned and unmanned aircraft, satellites, missiles and other advanced defense-related technologies, Northrop Grumman said. Most of the space-related business resides in the former Space Technology sector, but Integrated Systems also had space activities: The sector led Northrop Grumman’s unsuccessful bid in 2006 to build NASA’s space shuttle replacement, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.

The new Information Systems sector, meanwhile, is a $10 billion business focused on defense, intelligence, civil agency and commercial customers, Northrop Grumman said.

U.S. President-Elect Obama Fills Four Key DoD Posts

U.S. President-elect BarackObama announced Jan. 8 his intention to nominate William J. Lynn to the post of deputy defense secretary. Lynn would report to Robert Gates, the incumbent defense secretary whom Obama has asked to stay on.

Lynn was Pentagon comptroller from 1997 until 2001 and director of the Defense Department’s Program Analysis and Evaluation directorate from 1993 until 1997. He currently is Raytheon’s senior vice president for government operations and strategy.

In addition to naming Lynn, Obama also announced his selection of Robert F. Hale for Pentagon comptroller, Michele Flournoy for undersecretary of defense for policy and Jeh Charles Johnson for Pentagon general counsel.

Orbcomm

Customer Base Grew by 19,000 to End ’08

Satellite two-way messaging service provider Orbcomm added 19,000 net new billable subscribers to its system in the three months ending Dec. 31, bringing the total subscriber base to 460,000, the Ft. Lee, N.J.-based company said. Company managers told investors Jan. 6 they do not foresee a need to raise fresh capital to finance Orbcomm’s second-generation satellites.

Of the 19,000 new subscribers put onto the system in the fourth quarter of 2008, some 15,600 were satellite-only customers. The rest are using Orbcomm’s satellite service in conjunction with a terrestrial cellular network. Orbcomm has contracts with AT&T and T-Mobile to use these cellular-network providers’ infrastructure to offer higher-speed cellular connections where available, with the satellite links reserved for areas out of cell coverage or for lower-speed machine-to-machine communications.

Orbcomm
generates an average of $5 per month in revenue per subscriber. The company’s revenue base is moving toward one in which services provision, rather than selling subscriber hardware, is dominating its business.

Orbcomm
Chief Executive Marc Eisenberg, addressing a Jan. 6 investor conference in New York, said the company has retained a good deal of flexibility over when it launches its 18 second-generation satellites now under construction. While the satellites will be delivered in 2010, Orbcomm may delay the launches, or spread them over a months-long period, depending on the health of the existing constellation and the company’s need to preserve cash.

Orbcomm
has committed to spending $117 million for the 18 second-generation satellites, with an estimated $50 million to $60 million more needed to insure and launch the spacecraft.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy are testing Orbcomm’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) service, which is made possible by payloads added to the six so-called Quick Launch satellites that the company placed into orbit in June. These satellites are still being subjected to in-orbit testing and are expected to be fully operational by April. Orbcomm also operates 27 first-generation satellites in low Earth orbit that were launched in the late 1990s.

Elbit

Takes Majority Stake In Israeli Satcom Firm

Elbit
Systems Ltd. of Israel has purchased more than 90 percent of Shiron Satellite Communications Ltd., a privately owned satellite broadband-services company in Israel, as part of Elbit’s offer to purchase all of Shiron for $16 million, Haifa-based Elbit announced Jan. 8.

The transaction will be completed only when Elbit has purchased 100 percent of Shiron. Elbit said it will use Shiron’s satellite-broadband services to remote locations to enhance the business offering to military customers of the Elbit Systems Land and C4I-Tadiran Ltd. division.

Harbinger Improves Terms OfSkyTerra Investment

Harbinger Capital Partners, a U.S.-based hedge fund that has invested heavily in several mobile satellite services companies, won improved terms for its purchase of $500 million in debt from SkyTerra Communications Inc., the former Mobile Satellite Ventures, SkyTerra said in a Jan. 7 filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The new terms give Harbinger a higher interest rate of 18 percent instead of 16 percent on the SkyTerra debt, and also provide Harbinger with options to take a bigger equity stake in SkyTerra than what was agreed to when the original deal was struck in July. But Harbinger is still expected to invest $500 million in Reston, Va.-based SkyTerra in four tranches. SkyTerra said the first payment, of $150 million, was made Jan. 7.

SkyTerra
has two large L-band mobile communications satellites under construction by Boeing Satellite Systems International, with the first scheduled for launch in late 2009 or early 2010.

Harbinger is also a large owner of London-based mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat and is weighing whether to merge SkyTerra and Inmarsat.

SES Satellite to Carry Navigation Payload for EU

Satellite-fleet operator SES of Luxembourg has won a contract to host a European Union navigation payload aboard an SES satellite already under construction and scheduled for launch to an orbital slot overlooking Europe in 2011, European officials said.

The L-band payload will replace capacity currently provided by the European Space Agency’s Artemis satellite at 21.3 degrees east longitude. Artemis is expected to be retired in 2011. The L-band payload is one of three identical transponders that relay positioning and timing signals as part of Europe’s EGNOS navigation project. EGNOS uses geostationary satellites to verify signals from the U.S. GPS navigation system. The other two transponders are on Inmarsat satellites over the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

An announcement on the SES contract win is expected by late January. SES has not acknowledged the deal, but the most likely satellite to be used to host the EGNOS transponder is the Sirius 5 spacecraft now under construction at Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, Calif. Sirius 5, to be located at 5 degrees east, is scheduled for launch in late 2011.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Awards BGAN Contract

Delta Wave Communications Inc. is partnering with mobile satellite services distributors Vizada and Stratos Global Communications to provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with Inmarsat and Iridium services under a three-year contract valued at up to $3 million per year, Morgan City, La.-based Delta Wave and Vizada of Paris and Washington announced.

The companies will provide Iridium and Inmarsat BGAN – Broadband Global Area Network – airtime as well as customer support during the contract period. The contract was awarded to Delta Wave as part of the Corps of Engineers’ Small Business initiative to favor smaller companies, Delta Wave said.

Former NRO Deputy Director Dennis Fitzgerald Dies

Former Deputy Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Dennis David Fitzgerald, 65, died the morning of Dec. 31 after suffering a heart attack.

Fitzgerald retired from the NRO as principal deputy director in 2007 concluding a 33-year government career that included serving in high-level positions in the U.S. Air Force and CIA. He joined the intelligence and national security consultancy 377 Omega in April 2008. He received his bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University in 1964 and went on to earn four master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University in applied physics, mathematics, electrical engineering and space technology.

NRO Director Scott Large praised Fitzgerald in a statement as a superb manager and engineer. Fitzgerald’s dedication to national security, Large said, was evidenced by his work in standing up the NRO University and advising senior NRO officials after his retirement.

377 Omega President John Stofer said Fitzgerald was an amazing man, personal friend and national treasure, in a posting on the Rockville, Md.-based company’s Web site.

“Over the past week it has been made clear that he has affected more peoples’ lives in a significant way than anyone else I have ever known,” Stofer wrote. “His style, experience, intellect, and leadership put him in a class of his own that inspired us all to be better than we are.”

He is survived by his wife Deborah Fitzgerald of Reston, Va., and his two children, David Fitzgerald of Oswego, N.Y., and Erin Vires of Manassas, Va. Visitation services were held Jan. 5 at Adams-Green Funeral Home in Reston, Va., and funeral plans remain private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum, P.O. Box 306, Reedville, Va., 22539.

For Spitzer, Dead Stars Hold Clues to Planet Birth

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has found new evidence that the material composing rocky planets like Earth could be commonplace in the universe, according to a Jan. 5 press release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Spitzer telescope analyzed the chemical composition of dust from pulverized asteroids in the vicinity of the systems of six separate white dwarfs, the release said.

White dwarfs are the burnt-out remnants of living stars. Dying stars expand into red giants, which consume their inner planets and disrupt their outer planets before shedding their outer skins and becoming white dwarfs. Spitzer’s infrared spectrograph found in analyzing eight white dwarf systems that the asteroid dust in each case was chemically similar to that found on Earth.

“If you ground up our asteroids and rocky planets, you would get the same type of dust we are seeing in these star systems,” said Michael Juran of the University of California, Los Angeles, who presented the findings at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, Calif. “This tells us that the stars have asteroids like ours – and therefore could also have rocky planets.”

Spitzer was launched in August 2003 aboard a Delta 2 rocket.

Former Rohrabacher Aide Ruben Van Mitchell Dies

Ruben Van Mitchell, a space policy analyst who worked for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and House Science Committee before embarking on a consulting career, died Dec. 31 after a long illness and complications following surgery. Friends and colleagues said Van Mitchell had been dealing with a heart ailment for years. He was 54 years old.

Van Mitchell joined the House Science Committee in 2000 and worked for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee, until 2005, when Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) succeeded Rohrabacher in that position.

“Rubin was a friend and a true heart and soul member of the freedom space team,” Rohrabacher said in a statement. “There will be a little emptiness in my heart knowing he is no longer with us in body. However, as believers we know he will still be with us in spirit. I am happy I had a chance to work with such a fine person who has been called home too soon.”

Before joining the House Science Committee, Van Mitchell spent nearly a decade at FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

Patti Grace Smith, the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation from 1998 to 2008, said Van Mitchell would be remembered for his passion for space and knowledge of national security space matters.

Before entering government service, Van Mitchell spent 14 years in the private sector working as a systems analyst, spacecraft design engineer, market strategist and technical manager for Rockwell International, Westinghouse Electric Corp. and Loral Corp.

He graduated with honors from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1977 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He returned to USC for graduate school, earning a master’s degree in 1989 in international relations, with a concentration in defense and strategic studies.

After leaving the House Science Committee in 2005, Van Mitchell launched RVM and Associates, a consulting firm specializing in space policy. His clients included Lockheed Martin and the Institute for Defense Analyses. Billie Reed, director of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, said Van Mitchell advised the Virginia spaceport authority on the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space program and assisted with outreach to start-up firms interested in launching missions from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.

Reed said Jan. 5 that he had last spoken to Van Mitchell in November and was shocked to learn of his death.

“I’ve hung out with him a lot of over the years,” Reed said. “I really respect him a lot and am going to miss him.”

He is survived by his longtime companion, Dorinda White. The couple lived in Ft. Washington, Md.

NASA Seeks Proposals for At Least 10 Ares 5 Studies

NASA has issued a request for proposals for study contracts in support of the Ares 5 heavy-lift rocket the U.S. space agency intends to build to return humans to the Moon around 2020.

The request for proposals was issued Jan. 5 with multiple contract awards expected in the spring.

Proposals are due Feb. 9 to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., which will manage separate work packages for the rocket’s shroud, Earth departure stage, core stage, avionics and first stage. NASA officials have said they expect to award at least two study contracts for each of the five work packages.

The contracts will cover an 18-month period with two one-year options, according to a NASA press release announcing the solicitation.

Obama

Taps Panetta, Blair For Top Intelligence Posts

U.S. President-elect BarackObama has selected former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta to serve as director of the CIA and retired U.S. Navy Adm. Dennis Blair as the director of national intelligence.

Blair was in charge of the U.S. Pacific Command at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Panetta, who served under President Bill Clinton as the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget before becoming Clinton’s chief of staff, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977 to 1993.

Gilat

Details Settlement With Colombian Government

Satellite ground network provider Gilat Satellite Networks will need to spend about $9 million to upgrade its network of telecommunications stations in Colombia and remove several thousand rural telephone booths under the agreement the PetahTikva, Israel-based company reached with the Colombian government, Gilat Chief Executive AmiramLevinberg said in a Jan. 5 conference call with investors.

Levinberg
said the agreement is expected to release $24 million in payments to Gilat that had been withheld by Colombian authorities pending a resolution of a dispute over contracts signed in 1999 and 2002.

The contracts will continue in force through 2009 and 2010, respectively. Gilat has said it already spent $3.7 million investing in the Colombian operation, and that the withheld revenue amounted to about $3.7 million every three months.

The dispute with Colombia, which Levinberg said was due in part to squabbling among different Colombian government departments, had been a major concern to Gilat investors as well as a drag on the company’s quarterly results.

“As you can imagine, it is a big relief to have these new agreements,” Levinberg said during the call. He said that given the recent experience in Colombia, Gilat is uncertain whether it can negotiate an extension to the now-restarted contracts beyond 2009-2010. He said the level of communications traffic over the Colombian system was modest compared to a similar project managed in Peru.

Levinberg
said the global economic downturn may present Gilat with an acquisition opportunity as once-expensive targets become less costly. The company had some $112 million in cash on hand as of Sept. 30.

“We generally say we look at acquisition opportunities and maybe this is a good time to do that. We definitely will do so,” Levinberg said.

Gilat
is suing a group of investors that had agreed to purchase the company before pulling out, saying the investors own Gilat the agreed-to $47.3 million deal termination fee. The legal action is occurring only in Israel and is not being pursued in the United States, Levinberg said.

Peace Corps Orders VSATsFromGlobecomm Services

The U.S. Peace Corps awarded Globecomm Systems’ Globecomm Services Maryland subsidiary a $2.4 million contract to provide Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) for a communications network.

The five-year contract, announced by Globecomm Jan. 6, includes maintenance of the Peace Corps’ existing network equipment as well as installation and maintenance of the new VSAT sites.

Astrotech

Signs Contracts For GOES Launch Processing

Spacehab’s
Titusville, Fla.-based Astrotech subsidiary was awarded contracts totaling $3.2 million from Denver-based United Launch Alliance to support ground processing of two U.S. Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) scheduled to launch later this year.

The two satellites, GOES O and GOES P, are slated to launch aboard separate Delta 4 rockets out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in April and December, respectively.

Eumetsat

Licenses Oman To Download Ocean Data

The government of Oman has signed an agreement with Europe’s meteorological satellite organization, Eumetsat, to receive access to Eumetsat’s Indian Ocean Data Coverage service, which includes data from the Meteosat-7 satellite stationed over the Indian Ocean.

Under the license agreement announced Jan. 5, Oman will pay Darmstadt, Germany-based Eumetsat 300,000 euros ($417,000) per year for access to the Indian Ocean service. In addition to Meteosat-7 data, the service features access to the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System, which relays data from about 40 data-collection platforms to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii via a Meteosat satellite. The Hawaii center then issues alerts. Oman was struck by a tsunami in 1945.

Eumetsat
said it will ask its ruling council in 2009 to extend the Indian Ocean service beyond its current planned expiration date of 2010.

Near Earth Object Study Seeks Community Input

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Space Studies Board – in coordination with the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the National Research Council – has begun a two-part study on near Earth objects (NEOs) and is soliciting “ideas from” the scientific and technical community.

The Committee to Review Near Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies has been asked by NASA to examine the detection, tracking and characterization of NEOs and the potential mitigation of any that pose a threat to Earth.

Irwin Shapiro, the committee’s chairman and a researcher at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the study is intended to address a call from the U.S. Congress to suggest priorities for government-sponsored NEO tracking and mitigation efforts.

In addition to looking at all current efforts and ideas, the committee wants to learn about new approaches that might be valuable. “Hence, we’ve issued a request to the scientific and technical communities for such suggestions,” he said.

“Even the far more probable event of a modest-sized impactor, 150 feet [45.5 meters] or so in diameter, can cause great devastation,” Shapiro told Space News. “Witness the Tunguska event of 1908 in which an impactor about this size wiped out nearly 1,000 square miles [2,600 square kilometers] of forest in Siberia. Had it hit, say, Paris instead, the impact on the media would be resounding to this day and beyond,” he said.

In its request for information, the committee has asked that those wishing to offer ideas to first submit a letter of intent by Jan. 30. Follow-on submissions are due March 20.

The committee is due to deliver its final report by the end of 2009.

For more information, go to: http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ssb/NEO_surveys_mitigation_RFI.pdf

Earth-Observing Satellites Getting Cheaper To Build

The number of Earth observation satellites in orbit is expected to rise by more than 80 percent, to around 275, by 2017, but the annual revenue from building them will increase by just 29 percent, to $4.5 billion, as per-satellite costs continue to drop with the advance of technology, according to a market report by NSR LLC.

The report, “The Changing Face of Earth Observation,” notes that more than 20 nations now have their own Earth observation satellites, and that the trend is for continued declines in the cost of building these spacecraft.

NSR estimates that in 2008, the global business of building Earth observation satellites generated $3.5 billion in revenue. This is expected to climb to $4.5 billion by 2010 but then to stagnate through 2017, the study concludes, even as the number of spacecraft climbs steadily from 150 in 2008 to around 275 in 2017.

In one of the surprising conclusions, the report forecasts that the current ownership of Earth observation satellites of 65 percent by civil government authorities, 35 percent by military organizations and 5 percent by the private sector is unlikely to change in the coming decade.

In recent years, the private sector in Europe and the United States has taken a bigger ownership stake in Earth observation spacecraft, even if the ultimate market for the data remains dominated by government agencies. Digital Globe and GeoEye in the United States and Spot Image/Infoterra and RapidEye in Europe are all either full or part owners of the satellites they operate.

U.S. Army Satellite Dishes Getting Ka-Band Upgrade

DataPath
Inc. of Duluth, Ga., was awarded a one-year, $100 million contract from the U.S. Army to manufacture and integrate kits that will make existing satellite communications terminals compatible with the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) communications system, a Jan. 6 DataPath press release said.

The upgrade kits will enable 800 portable DataPath terminals and 18 satellite communications hub trucks to send and receive in the Ka-band frequency used by WGS satellites. The first WGS satellite launched in October 2007. The second is due to launch early this year. The terminals and trucks slated for the upgrades were deployed by the Army under the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program, a system connecting U.S. troops on the battlefield to the Pentagon’s global information grid.

The contract could be worth as much as $225 million over four years, the release said.

Testing Gets Under Way on New KEI Launcher System

Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Va., has begun testing a gas-powered cold launching system for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) it is developing for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), a Jan. 6 Northrop Grumman press release said.

The MDA is seeking to develop a high-acceleration booster that could be used for intercepting missiles in the boost or midcourse phases. The system would use pressurized gas to eject the interceptor 60 meters into the air before its first-stage booster ignites, a method referred to as cold launching.

The solid propellant gas generator being supplied by AlliantTechsystems was successfully tested Dec. 18 at that company’s Elkton, Md., facilities. Data from the test will be analyzed over the next few weeks before the system is tested twice again in coming months. Two simulated missile-eject tests are slated for 2010.

U.S. Coast Guard Orders Maritime Tracking System

Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Va., received a two-year, $11.5 million contract from the U.S. Coast Guard to design, install and test a satellite-based maritime tracking system, according to a Jan. 6 Northrop Grumman press release.

The Coast Guard’s Nationwide Automatic Identification System will be a digital messaging service that continuously transmits and receives vessel data including position, speed, course and destination. Its data also will be combined with other government intelligence and surveillance data for enhanced maritime situational awareness, the release said.

Northrop Grumman will deliver all of the required system components for messaging, data processing, data storage and system monitoring. The contract includes six one-year options to extend the service that could bring the total value of the contract to $68 million, the release said.

Orbcomm
Inc. of Ft. Lee, N.J., in June 2008 launched six satellites equipped with Automatic Identification System payloads that will be the backbone of the system.

Gas Giants Form Faster Than Earth-Like Planets

Infrared observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that planetary gas giants such as Jupiter reach their enormous size within 5 million years of their birth, a Jan. 5 Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics press release said.

The finding is based on observations of a 5 million-year-old star cluster called NGC 2362 showing that stars at least the size of the sun lose their protoplanetary disks – the raw material used to form gas giants like Jupiter – within their first 5 million years or so.

“Even though astronomers have detected hundreds of Jupiter-mass planets around other stars, our results suggest that such planets must form extremely fast,” said lead researcher Thayne Currie of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., who presented the findings at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, Calif.

“The Earth got going sooner, but Jupiter finished first, thanks to a big growth spurt,” study co-author Scott Kenyon said.

Jupiter finished forming in 2 million to 3 million years, whereas Earth took 20 million to 30 million years to form, the release said.

ICO Satellite Passes Test As Judge Saps Settlement

Start-up mobile satellite services operator ICO Global Communications announced Jan. 7 that its ICO G1 satellite, launched in April, has completed tests with its ground-based beam-forming hardware. The company has begun trials of the video- and data-transmission service in Las Vegas and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Reston, Va.-based ICO announced separately that its legal victory over its former satellite and launch vehicle prime contractor, Boeing will be slightly less lucrative than expected.

ICO said Jan. 6 that the final judgment of the Los Angeles Superior Court judge includes about $75.5 million less interest on the damage award than ICO had predicted. The total award was set by the court at $631.07 million.

“We are disappointed that the court did not include in the judgment the full amount of interest that ICO believes it is entitled to under the jury’s verdict,” ICO General Counsel John Flynn said in a statement.

Boeing has said it would appeal the award and ICO has estimated it could take two years or so for the case to work its way through the appeals process if Boeing and ICO cannot agree on a settlement.

The court judgment said Boeing will owe 10 percent annual interest on the judgment, or some $63.1 million per year, starting Jan. 2.

ICO said it believes that despite the reduced interest award, “the judgment represents the largest jury verdict of 2008.”