NRO Director Large, Come April 18, No Longer in Charge

U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Director Scott Large tendered his resignation April 8 to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, NRO spokesman Rick Oborn confirmed April 9.

Large was tapped for the position in October 2007 after serving as the office’s principal deputy director and holding high-level positions at the CIA and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. In a memo sent to his employees, Large said he concurred with Gates and the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair that the time was right for a change of leadership, Oborn said.

Effective April 18, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, now deputy director of the office, will assume temporary leadership. A permanent director will be nominated by Gates in consultation with Blair.

U.S. Army Taps Harris for Tactical Satellite Radios

Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., was awarded a $149.7 million U.S. Army contract for tactical satellite radios, associated spare parts and related support services, according to an April 8 Defense Department press release.

Harris’ AN/PRC-117G radio, nicknamed the Falcon-3, is a software defined, multiband model that operates on the radio frequency spectrum between 30 megahertz to 2 gigahertz and is fully compatible with all of the Army’s next-generation Joint Tactical Radio System models, according to product information from Harris. Work under the contract is expected to be complete by April 2013, the release said.

NASA Provokes Lawmaker With SCNS Contract Award

The head of one of NASA’s main congressional oversight committees is taking issue with the U.S. space agency’s April 9 decision to reissue a $1.26 billion space network services contract to ITT’s Herndon, Va.-based Advanced Engineering and Sciences division while allegations of procurement irregularities remain unresolved.

House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.)issued a statement the same day saying he had asked NASA not to make the award until the committee and the NASA Office of Inspector General had finished investigating “serious allegations of conflicts of interest that may have affected the procurement.”

NASA selected ITT last fall to maintain and operate the agency’s space and near Earth networks for the next five years, drawing a protest from the incumbent, Honeywell Technology Solutions of Columbia, Md. NASA source selection documents rated ITT’s past performance on similar contracts more highly than Honeywell’s, attributing the incumbent’s lower scores to “inconsistent implementation of quality systems engineering practices” on the legacy contract.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed Honeywell’s protest and recommended NASA re-evaluate proposals. NASA said in an April 9 written statement that after reviewing mission suitability, cost and ITT’s re-evaluated past performance, it concluded that it had made the right choice in selecting ITT.

Gordon had previously written NASA Acting Administrator Chris Scolese about the matter March 19, asking him to postpone awarding the Space Communications Network Systems (SCNS) contract until the House Science and Technology Committee finished its investigation of the procurement, including claims that ITT’s hiring of NASA’s former deputy associate administrator for space communications, Robert Spearing, and the company’s role overseeing Honeywell’s work on the legacy contract gave ITT an unfair advantage in the competition.

“While the Committee has not reached any conclusions regarding the allegations in the SCNS case, the Committee has asked for agency records to gather more information about the alleged conflicts,” Gordon wrote, adding that NASA had not delivered enough of the promised records to permit the committee “to complete even a preliminary review.”

With Honeywell’s 2003 contract not expiring until July, Gordon wrote, NASA could afford postponing a new award until the committee concludes its investigation.

“I am sure you share our goal of protecting the agency’s reputation for integrity in all aspects of contracting,” Gordon concluded his letter. “Finalizing an award that remains under a cloud will not further that goal.”

ITT spokeswoman Leah Lackey said April 10 that the company “is enthusiastic about commencing work on the SCNS contract, and we are pleased to put the suspension period behind us.”

NASA Adds 1 Year to SAIC Support Services Contract

Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) of Houston received a one-year contract extension worth $58 million to continue supporting safety and mission assurance activities at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the U.S. space agency announced April 9.

The cost-plus extension ensures that SAIC and more than a half-dozen subcontractors will continue to support NASA’s international space station, space shuttle and shuttle-replacement programs through April 30, 2010. Work under the contract will be performed at Johnson, Kennedy Space Center and the White Sands Test Facility.

Russia Picks Contractors For New Crewed Launcher

The Russian Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos, awarded a pair of contracts totaling nearly 1.2 billion rubles ($37 million) to begin designing a next-generation spaceship and rocket capable of carrying cosmonauts to the Moon.

announced April 2 that it selected Samara, Russia-based TsSKB Progress over the Krunichev State Research and Production Center of Moscow to design the Rus-M rocket, a liquid-fueled vehicle Russia intends to operate from the VostochnyCosmodrome launch facility it plans to build in far southeastern Russia.

was also passed over in the competition to design a new six-person spaceship to launch atop the Rus-M. Roskosmos announced April 6 that the 800 million ruble design contract would go to RSC Energia, maker of the three-person Soyuz capsules that ferry crew to the international space station. Energia’s director, VitalyLapota, said in comments televised April 8 that Krunichev and others would be involved in designing and building the ship, which Roskosmos eventually wants to launch in a four-person configuration on trips to the Moon, according to design requirements posted on the space agency’s procurement Web site.

Design work on the rocket is proceeding under a two-year contract valued at 375 million rubles, according to Roskosmos. TsSKB Progress intends to work with Energia and the Makeyev State Rocket Center on the new rocket, which TsSKB Progress Director AleksanderKirillin described on Russian state television April 7 as a two-stage rocket capable of hauling an initial 23 tons to orbit. Kirillin said his company also is contemplating 30-ton and 50-ton variants of the rocket, which will feature an RD-180 first stage and RD-0146 second stage.

The first launch is targeted for 2015, according to Kirillin, with a crewed debut envisioned in 2018.


Mirror Undergoing Initial Cryogenic Testing

The first of 18 mirror segments that will comprise the James Webb Space Telescope’s 6.5-meter diameter main optic completed its first series of cryogenic temperature tests, NASA’s prime contractor for the $4.5 billion mission announced April 8.

Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector said in a press release that the 18 flight mirror segments, each measuring about 1.5 meters, would be tested in batches of six in a 215 cubic-meter helium-cooled vacuum chamber at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Plans call for chilling each batch of the Ball Aerospace & Technologies-designed mirror segments down to cryogenic temperatures four times in a six-week span. Northrop Grumman expects all flight mirror testing to be completed in June 2011.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is slated to launch in 2013 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket contributed by the European Space Agency.

AGI, Integral Systems Forge Partnership Pact

Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI) and Integral Systems Inc. have entered into a partnership designed to enable government customers to more easily leverage the products of both companies for space situational awareness purposes, Integral and AGI announced March 31.

Integral Systems of Lanham, Md., offers satellite control software, hardware and networking-communications systems based in part on commercial-off-the-shelf technology. AGI of Exton, Pa., specializes in software for orbital analysis and monitoring.

The U.S. Air Force has been stepping up its space situational awareness efforts in recent years, particularly in the wake of the Feb. 10 on-orbit collision between an active Iridium communications satellite and a spent Russian spacecraft.

Integral Chief Executive John Higginbotham said via e-mail that the purpose of the agreement is to ensure that AGI’s STK orbital modeling software suite works “seamlessly” with Integral’s Epoch satellite control system.

“Partnering with Integral Systems is an exciting leap forward for AGI and our customers who rely on our software for [space situational awareness] applications,” AGI Chief Executive Paul Graziani said in a prepared statement. “AGI’s and Integral’s combined expertise should greatly enhance the community’s efficiency.”

Delta 4 Heavy Ordered For 2011 NROL-15 Launch

United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Denver was awarded a $184 million contract to launch a U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload aboard a Delta 4 Heavy rocket around 2011, according to an April 6 Defense Department press release.

The contract was issued by the U.S. Air Force, which acts as a buying agent for the NRO, to launch the NROL-15 payload.

U.S. Scientist Sentenced for Helping China with Rocket

A physicist who has done work for NASA was sentenced April 7 to 51 months in prison for illegally exporting space launch technical data to China and bribing Chinese government officials, according to a U.S. Justice Department press release.

Quan-Sheng, 68, a native of China and a naturalized U.S. citizen, is president, secretary and treasurer of AMAC International Inc., a Newport News, Va.-based company that performs research through grants funded by NASA and the Department of Energy.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division, convicted Shu for helping the Chinese government design and develop a cryogenic fueling system for heavy-lift rockets built to launch from China’s Hainan province launch facility. The three-count criminal indictment charged Shu with exporting defense services and defense articles to China without first obtaining the required export license from the U.S. State Department. Prosecutors also argued that Shu had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by offering money to officials at China’s 101st Research Institute to steer a $4 million contract for a hydrogen tank system toward a French company he was representing. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the French company was not identified in the court documents.

Simonyi’s Soyuz Returns Safely from Space Station

A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying U.S. billionaire Charles Simonyi and two professional astronauts home from the international space station landed safely April 8 in Kazakhstan.

The flawless landing marked the end of a smooth flight for Simonyi, who paid about $35 million for his repeat 13-day visit to the space station. Simonyi first visited the space station in 2007.

The Hungarian-born software executive returned to Earth alongside the station’s Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke of NASA and Russian flight engineer YuryLonchakov.

ILS Proton Puts Eutelsat‘s W2A Spacecraft into Orbit

An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton Breeze M rocket successfully placed Eutelsat’s W2A telecommunications into orbit April 4 from Russia’s BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Reston, Va.-based ILS, Eutelsat of Paris and satellite builder ThalesAlenia Space of Cannes, France, announced.

In addition to a Ku- and C-band payload to replace existing capacity at Eutelsat’s 10 degrees west longitude orbital slot, the 5,900-kilogram satellite also carries a payload to permit a EutelsatSES joint-venture company to offer mobile satellite services in Europe.

W2A is a ThalesAlenia Space Spacebus 4000 C4 design carrying 46 Ku-band and 10 C-band transponders for coverage of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, with a separate beam aimed at southern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.

The satellite, designed to provide 15.4 kilowatts to the payload at the end of its 15-year service life, carries a 12-meter-diameter, unfurlable S-band antenna built by Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla.

The antenna, which ThalesAlenia Space said was successfully deployed April 9, will be used to inaugurate service by Solaris Mobile of Dublin, Ireland, a joint venture between Eutelsat and Luxembourg-based SES to provide mobile communications throughout Europe.

Solaris is one of four companies competing for a European Commission operating license, a selection process that is not expected to be completed until June.

New Products Seen Driving GMV’s 2009 Sales Higher

Satellite mission analysis and ground system provider GMV of Spain increased its revenue by 19 percent in 2008, to 91.8 million euros ($123.8 million) and expects further, although more modest, sales increases in 2009 as the company broadens its product portfolio to include installation of GPS-related navigation gear, GMV Chief Executive Jesus B. Serrano said.

Madrid-based GMV, which is also expanding in the United States through its Rockville, Md., offices, does about half its business in space-related sectors and is a supplier of ground gear to commercial satellite operators Intelsat, SES, Star One of Brazil, Nilesat of Egypt, Arabsat of Saudi Arabia and Hispasat of Spain.

While best known for building satellite ground control systems, GMV is developing a product and service offer in navigation-related services both with differential GPS products today and as it prepares for Europe’s future Galileo satellite navigation system, expected in the next decade.

GMV, which is already providing bus and rail fleet management systems in Madrid, created a new subsidiary in Poland for the ground transport market and is under contract to the city of Gdansk for a passenger information system using GPS and terrestrial wireless GSM signals.

The company in late 2008 joined with a Malaysian partner to win a contract to install a differential GPS network along the Malaysian coast. Differential GPS improves the accuracy of the GPS positioning and navigation signal by correcting errors with ground-based integrity-monitoring terminals. The U.S. Coast Guard operates a similar system in the United States.

In a March 24 address to the Satellite 2009 conference in Washington, Serrano said merging navigation, telecommunications and satellite- and terrestrial-based maritime fleet monitoring technologies is fast becoming a reality.

Investing in developing niche technologies is necessary in Europe if GMV is to avoid having its markets encroached on by the large satellite prime contractors, Astrium and ThalesAlenia Space, Serrano said in an interview.

NASA Passes Over PICA For Orion’s Heat Shields

NASA has selected an Apollo-era material for the ablative heat shields that will protect the Orion crew capsule during atmospheric re-entry, the U.S. space agency announced in an April 7 press release.

, a material used for the Apollo capsule heat shield and on select regions of the space shuttle orbiter in its earliest flights, was put back into production for a three-year study that resulted in two final candidates.

NASA, working with Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, selected Avcoat over a newer material, Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA), that was used on NASA’s comet-chasing Stardust mission to protect a sample canister returned to Earth in 2006.

“NASA made a significant technology development effort, conducted thousands of tests, and tapped into the facilities, talents and resources across the agency to understand how these materials would perform on Orion’s 5-meter-wide heat shield,” said James Reuther, the heat shield study’s project manager at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Lockheed Martin will continue development of Avcoat in partnership with the material subcontractor, Textron Defense Systems of Wilmington, Mass.

is made of silica fibers with an epoxy-novalic resin filled in a fiberglass-phenolic honeycomb. Unlike PICA, which is manufactured in blocks and attached to the spacecraft after fabrication, Avcoat is manufactured directly onto the heat shield substructure and attached as a unit to the crew module during spacecraft assembly.

Data Buys Part of Next Gen Spy Sat Plan

U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis Blair confirmed April 7 that the government intends to buy more commercial satellite imagery and build a next-generation electro-optical satellite system to be owned and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office.

The decision, announced April 7, follows the recommendations of several study groups that convened over the past several years, most notably a recent panel chaired by former Pentagon acquisition chief Paul Kaminski. The studies examined the United States’ imagery needs, alternative architectures, cost and technological risk.

According to the release, the new satellite system the NRO will be asked to build and operated will be “evolved from existing designs.” The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, meanwhile, would be directed to increase its purchase of commercial imagery of the sort currently collected by Dulles, Va.-based GeoEye and Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe.

Assuming the DNI’s modernization plan is approved by Congress, implementation would begin in the next several months, according to the release. The commercial imagery elements would be ready in the next several years, and the full architecture completely deployed by the end of the next decade, the release said.

“Imagery is a core component of our national security that supports our troops, foreign policy, homeland security and the needs of our Intelligence Community,” Blair said in the release. “Our proposal is an integrated, sustainable approach based on cost, feasibility and timeliness that meets the needs of our country now and puts in place a system to ensure that we will not have imagery gaps in the future.”

ISRO Steps Up Security Following Terror Alert

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is taking increased security precautions to protect its facilities and personnel against a terrorist attack following a warning from India’s home ministry that Pakistani militants might be targeting the space agency, ISRO spokesman S. Satish said April 4.

He said the ministry has received intelligence reports that a Pakistan-based militant group was targeting ISRO scientists including the space agency’s chairman, Madhavan Nair.

said security around ISRO’s installations has always been tight and, following the request from the ministry, senior ISRO scientists have been asked to be careful when on the move and given extra protection.

The Press Trust of India reported that the alert was issued to ISRO after Indian intelligence agencies intercepted cell phone conversations between militants in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

Ion Engine Keeps ESA Gravity Mapper in Orbit

The electric ion propulsion engine for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) gravity field-measuring satellite GOCE has been turned on and is operating normally, an April 6 ESA press release said.

GOCE, which stands for Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer, is designed to measure minute changes in Earth’s gravitational field.

ion propulsion engine, built by the United Kingdom’s QinetiQ, is essential to maintaining its near-polar orbit at just 263 kilometers where Earth’s residual atmosphere would otherwise cause the satellite to slow and lose orbit prematurely.

The satellite launched March 17 with 40 kilograms of xenon fuel. The propulsion engine ejects xenon ions – xenon atoms that have been stripped of their electrons – to push the spacecraft forward. Calibrated to automatically compensate for atmospheric drag, GOCE’s propulsion engine can throttle between 1 to 20 millinewtons.

“Solar activity is now in an extended minimum period, so the atmosphere is actually less thick and GOCE is experiencing less drag than forecast,” Marco Antonio Garcia Matatoros, GOCE lead flight dynamics coordinator, said in the release.

WGS-2 Satellite Transmits First Signals

The U.S. Air Force’s second Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellite, built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., successfully reached orbit April 3 and is sending back signals that it is healthy and ready to begin orbital maneuvers and operational testing, an April 6 Boeing press release said.

Launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., WGS-2 sent its first signals to a ground station in Dongara, Australia, 44 minutes after launch, the release said. The geosynchronous satellite will eventually be stationed to support the operations of U.S. Central Command.

Boeing is under contract to deliver six of the high-capacity X- and Ka-band communications satellites, and is procuring long-lead items for a seventh and eighth satellite. The first in the series became operational in April 2008.

1st STP-SIV Spacecraft Completes Integration

Ball Aerospace & Technologies of Boulder, Colo., has finished assembling and is ready to begin testing a 120-kilogram satellite it is building for the U.S. Defense Department under its Space Test Program Standard Interface Vehicle (STP-SIV) program.

Ball, the STP-SIV prime contractor, said in an April 8 press release that environmental and operational testing would continue through August. The satellite is about the size of a two-drawer file cabinet and is expected to launch in February 2010 aboard a Minotaur 4 rocket.

Ball was awarded a contract in 2006 for up to six of the satellites, which consist of a common spacecraft bus with a standard payload interface. ComtechAeroAstro of Ashburn, Va., delivered the STP-SIV bus components to Ball in December.

Protective Dust Cover Removed from Kepler

NASA controllers successfully removed the protective dust cover from the camera lens of the recently launched Kepler space telescope April 7, a key step in preparations to begin the probe’s planet-finding mission.

“The cover released and flew away exactly as we designed it to do,” said Kepler Project Manager James Fanson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “This is a critical step toward answering a question that has come down to us across 100 generations of human history: ‘Are there other planets like Earth, or are we alone in the galaxy?’”

mission is to spend more than three years gazing at more than 100,000 stars in the Milky Way galaxy for signs of Earth-size planets. Some of the planets are expected to orbit in a star’s so-called habitable zone, a warm region where water could pool on the surface.

The mission’s main science instrument, called a photometer, contains 42 charge-coupled devices that will detect slight dips in starlight, which occur when planets passing in front of their host stars partially block the light from Kepler’s view.

The telescope’s oval-shaped dust cover, measuring 1.7 meters by 1.3 meters, protected the photometer from contamination before and after launch. The dust cover also blocked stray light from entering the telescope during launch – light that could have damaged its sensitive detectors. In addition, the cover was important for calibrating the photometer. Images taken in the dark helped characterize noise coming from the instrument’s electronics, and this noise will later be removed from the actual science data.

“Now the photometer can see the stars and will soon start the task of detecting the planets,” said William Borucki, Kepler’s science principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “We have thoroughly measured the background noise so that our photometer can detect minute changes in a star’s brightness caused by planets.”

At 10:13 p.m. EDT April 7, engineers at Kepler’s mission operations center at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colo., sent commands to pass an electrical current through a burn wire to break the wire and release a latch holding the cover closed. The spring-loaded cover swung open on a hinge before drifting away from the spacecraft. The cover is now in its own orbit around the sun, similar to Kepler’s sun-centric orbit.

Calibrations based on observations of stars will last several weeks before science observations begin. Kepler was launched March 6.