Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 23 April 2009
03:50 pm ET





CBO Report Casts Doubt on Orion-Ares Schedule

NASA’s plans to replace the space shuttle and return astronauts to the Moon will fall behind schedule under the current funding outlook even if the agency dramatically scales back its program of robotic science missions and aeronautics research, Capitol Hill budget experts warned in a report released April 16.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, “The Budgetary Implications of NASA’s Current Plans for Space Exploration,” also said there is a high probability that NASA will face significant cost overruns on its shuttle replacement and lunar exploration programs. That assessment was based on review of 72 programs in which more than half incurred cost growth of more than 50 percent.

The report focused on NASA’s Constellation program, which includes the Orion crew capsule and its Ares 1 launcher as well as the Ares 5 heavy-lift rocket and Altair lunar lander. Orion and Ares 1 are expected to replace the space shuttle in 2015; the Ares 5 and Altair are necessary for a planned return of astronauts to the Moon by 2020. The space shuttle is slated for retirement in 2010.

The report estimated the total cost of the Constellation program at $92 billion and warned that the price tag could climb as high as $110 billion. In September 2004, the CBO estimated Constellation’s cost at between $44 billion and $57 billion.

The CBO report examined four scenarios, two of which assume NASA’s total annual budget will average $18.2 billion through 2013, followed by increases to at least $19.1 billion annually from 2013 to 2025. This scenario most closely resembles NASA’s current budgetary outlook. Keeping Orion-Ares 1 and the lunar return on their current schedules under that budget profile would require delaying 35 of 79 planned robotic missions planned through 2025 and ending U.S. participation in the space station in 2015. Alternatively, NASA could delay just 15 of those robotic missions, in which case either Orion-Ares 1 would slip to 2016 and the lunar return would slip to 2023, or NASA would require an annual budget of $19.3 billion from 2010 to 2013 and more than $20 billion through 2025, the report said.

NASA would require an annual budget of $23.8 billion through 2025 to keep Constellation on its current schedule, extend space shuttle operations to 2015 and continue U.S. participation in the international space station to 2020.

Wayward Astra 5A Laid to Rest in Graveyard Orbit

Satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg has successfully placed the Astra 5A satellite into a graveyard orbit and switched it off, ending a four-month drama that the company had feared would result in the definitive loss of control of the satellite, SES announced April 15.

Astra
5A, the former Sirius 2 spacecraft, escaped control of its Swedish Space Corp. ground operators in January and had drifted outside its orbital slot at 31.5 degrees east.

Thales
Alenia Space, the satellites builder, said the satellite was placed into an orbit 200 kilometers higher than the geostationary lane to assure that it will not interfere with any satellite in geostationary position.

Raising the orbit of geostationary satellites by up to 300 kilometers is the course recommended by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). Space debris experts say most geostationary satellites are now retired in this way.

SpaceX

Inks Launch Deal With Argentina’s CONAE

Space Exploration Technologies signed an agreement with Argentina’s National Commission on Space Activity (CONAE) for two Falcon 9 launches between 2012 and 2013, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company announced April 16.

The payloads for the two missions are SOACOM 1A and 1B, a pair of Earth-monitoring satellites equipped with L-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) instruments. The two SOACOM satellites will join four of Italy’s X-band SAR COSMO-SkyMed satellites, three of which have already launched, to form the Italian-Argentine System of Satellites for Emergency Management constellation.

SpaceX
announced its launch agreement with CONAE as preparations were under way at the U.S. Army’s Kwajalein Atoll missile range for the launch of Malaysia’s RazakSAT satellite aboard the Falcon 1 rocket. SpaceX’s larger and more powerful Falcon 9 is at Cape Canaveral, Fla., being readied for its first demonstration flight this summer.

Lockheed Martin to Build JCSAT 13 Satellite

Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, which in recent years has had a virtual lock on Japan’s commercial satellite business, has booked another win with a contract from Sky Perfect JSAT Corp. for the construction of the JCSAT-13 satellite, to be launched in 2013 aboard Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket, Tokyo-based Sky Perfect JSAT announced April 16.

JCSAT-13 will be an A2100AX satellite platform carrying 44 Ku-band transponders covering Japan, East Asia and the Pacific Ocean region. It will replace the JCSAT-4A satellite located at 124 degrees east longitude, but will also permit Sky Perfect JSAT to further expand its business to the south and west.

The satellite will carry a beam covering Japan, a beam targeting Southeast Asia and two steerable beams capable of delivering video and data transmissions to Southwest Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific, Sky Perfect JSAT said.

Sky Perfect JSAT currently operates 12 satellites, including satellites it co-owns. Its core television service in Japan is provided by the JSCAT-4A, JCSAT-3 and N-Sat-110 satellites.

The new satellite is the seventh Sky Perfect JSAT has ordered from Newtown, Pa.-based Lockheed Martin. Japan’s Broadcast Satellite Systems Corp. also has a demonstrated preference for Lockheed Martin, from which it has ordered its last three satellites.

Marshall Byrd, general manager of Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, said in an April 16 statement that the company’s previous performance helped deliver the latest contract. “By leveraging our experience [on earlier Sky Perfect JSAT satellites], we are able to provide our customer with confidence that JCSAT-13 will be delivered on schedule and meet the quality requirements,” Byrd said.

ATK Space Systems Hires Gen. Armor for BD Role

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. James B. Armor is joining AlliantTechsystems (ATK) as vice president of strategy and business development for spacecraft systems and engineering services, the Minneapolis-based civil space and defense contractor announced April 17.

Armor, the former director of the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office, will be working for ATK Space System’s Spacecraft Systems and Services business, based in Beltsville, Md.

Kepler

Space Telescope Transmits First Images

NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope transmitted its first images of a patch of sky where scientists hope to find Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars.

The images released April 16 show a swatch of stars between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra.

Kepler
, which was built by Boulder, Colo.-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies, was launched March 6 aboard a Delta 2 rocket.

Mars Science Lab Parachute Passes Qualification Tests

The parachute for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory lander has been cleared for flight following wind tunnel tests.

The parachute underwent testing in March and April in the wind tunnel at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., which is big enough to house a Boeing 737 jetliner.

The Mars Science Laboratory’s parachute, built by Pioneer Aerospace of South Windsor, Conn., has 80 suspension lines, measures more than 50 meters in length, and opens to a diameter of nearly 16 meters.

The new rover is slated for launch in 2011 after its initial launch window in 2009 had to be pushed back due to delays.

KEI Team Completes Test-Flight Launch Rehearsal

In preparation for a flight test later this year of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor’s booster, Northrop Grumman and its industry teammates recently completed a dry run of the ground operations that will support the launch, the Los Angeles-based company announced April 14.

During rehearsals at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., the Kinetic Energy Interceptors (KEI) ground operations team moved the assembled booster to the launch pad using the same transporter erector that will be used for the actual launch of the mobile missile defenses system. The so-called pathfinder booster was then lifted onto the launch stool by crane. Following launch preparations, the ground team rehearsed countdown procedures.

Prior to the first KEI flight test, Northrop Grumman and its government and industry partners must still test the interceptor’s steam-eject subsystem, conduct one more test of the first stage motor and two more tests of the second stage motor, Northrop Grumman spokesman Bob Bishop said.

Anthony Spehar, vice president and KEI program manager for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector, said in a statement that the pathfinder ground activities were a critical milestone leading to KEI’s first flight demonstration.

“While other tests still remain prior to the booster flight, we continued to gain confidence from the thorough and deliberate approach taken by team members to ensure all aspects of the booster flight are carefully planned, reviewed and executed, including contingencies,” Spehar said in the release.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman continues to work with Mississippi State University to prepare KEI for a possible sea-based deployment. The company has paid the university’s Computational Simulation and Design group more than $850,000 since 2004 to help with the complex simulation and modeling needed for the alternative platform, according to an April 15 Mississippi State University press release.

Pentagon Kills Gap-Filler Missile Warning Satellite

The U.S. Defense Department has spiked a plan to purchase a single infrared missile warning satellite that some in the Pentagon believe is needed to hedge against a gap in missile warning coverage as the U.S. Air Force transitions to its new constellation, according to industry sources.

Last year’s on-orbit failure of the most recently launched Defense Support Program satellite, DSP-23, prompted Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, to push for an effort to develop a gap-filler called the Infrared Augmentation Satellite. Chilton has maintained that while no missile-warning coverage gap exists today or is imminent, a failure involving one of the new Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites scheduled to begin launching around 2010 could leave the United States with an unacceptable gap in this essential capability.

The gap-filler effort is just one of many Pentagon programs to get the ax in the upcoming 2010 defense budget request. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced April 6 a slew of high-profile program cancellations, including the Air Force’s $26 billion Transformational Satellite communications system.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is the prime contractor on SBIRS, having delivered two payloads hosted on classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits. The company is under contract for two geosynchronous SBIRS satellites that will begin launching in 2010 or 2011, and it is buying long-lead items for the third satellite in the constellation. The Air Force last year was directed to finalize the contract for the third and fourth dedicated SBIRS satellites and begin the process of acquiring the fifth and sixth.

The potential for a coverage gap rises around 2014, between the launch of the second and third SBIRS satellites. The SBIRS program has a long history of technical difficulties that have put it years behind schedule. Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command, said March 31 he has a “medium to high” level of confidence that SBIRS will be able to stay on schedule going forward.

“The next couple of months will be critical to that assessment as we work our way through software issues,” Kehler said. “That’s not a surprise to me through, because they planned to work through it in phases, and the phases so far have been successful.”

Kehler
said he was very confident that the SBIRS satellites will work as advertised once on orbit.

China Agrees To Replace Nigeria’s Nigcomsat-1

Chinese satellite manufacturing and launch vehicle authorities have agreed to replace Nigeria’s failed Nigcomsat-1 satellite in late 2011 with a Nigcomsat-1R that will use a modified version of the Dongfanghong-4 (DFH-4) platform whose solar array systems have failed twice, according to Chinese aerospace officials.

Nigerian and Chinese officials signed the Nigcomsat-1R contract March 24 in Beijing. The satellite will carry eight Ka-band, 14 Ku-band, four C-band and two L-band transponders, a similar multi-bandwidth configuration as used on the Nigcomsat-1 spacecraft.

The 5,085-kilogram Nigcomsat-1 was launched in May 2007 aboard a Chinese Long March 3B rocket. The satellite failed in November 2008 following what Chinese officials have said was a defect in its solar array drive mechanism.

The satellite was insured in large part by Chinese underwriters. Nigcomsat-1R will be placed in geostationary orbit at 42.5 degrees east and is expected to operate for 15 years. Chinese officials said the Venesat-1 satellite launched in October for the Venezuelan government has shown no signs of any solar-array anomalies.

RapidEye

Picks Partner For Imagery Sales in U.S.

RapidEye
AG of Germany, whose constellation of five medium-resolution optical imaging satellites was launched in August, has selected MakaLani LLC of Hawaii as one of its distributors in the United States, concentrating on the U.S. defense and homeland security markets, Brandenburg-based RapidEye announced April 14.

Honolulu-based MakaLani is a subsidiary of HM LLC of Hawaii.

The selection of a U.S. distributor follows RapidEye’s April 2 announcement that Sovzond JSC of Moscow will be RapidEye’s exclusive imagery distributor in Russia and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

Sovzond
is a veteran distributor of Earth observation imagery from multiple satellite systems, including spacecraft operated in the United States, France, Japan, India and Russia.

Griffin Takes Teaching Post At Univ. of Ala. Huntsville

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin is headed to the University of Alabama, Huntsville, in May to teach engineering and conduct research, the university announced April 14.

“I intend to remain actively involved in all aspects of U.S. defense and civil space programs,” Griffin said in a statement.

Appointed in spring 2005 by then-President George W. Bush to replace Sean O’Keefe who stepped down as the head of the U.S. space agency to become chancellor of Louisiana State University, Griffin ran NASA until President BarackObama took office in January.

Griffin has five master’s degrees and one doctorate. His new position will put him in close proximity to Marshall Space Flight Center, the NASA facility in charge of building the Ares 1 crew launch vehicle, a rocket that got started under Griffin and is a key part of his legacy.

Griffin is expected to assume his new duties in mid-May.

Space Studies Board Head Starts Consulting Practice

Marcia S. Smith, a space policy expert who spent three decades with the Congressional Research Service (CRS), stepped down as director of the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board to start a consulting practice.

Smith resigned her National Research Council positions in late February and took several weeks of leave before officially launching Space and Technology Policy Group. The Arlington, Va., consultancy opened for business April 13.

Smith’s space career began in 1972 when the then-recent college graduate went to work for John Logsdon, a George Washington University professor who went on to head the school’s Space Policy Institute. After five months as Logsdon’s secretary, Smith went to work for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ then-newly opened Washington office. She joined CRS in 1975 and remained with the organization until joining the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board in 2006.

Thermal Vac Testing Done, AEHF Closer to Delivery

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., recently completed seven weeks of thermal vacuum testing of the second Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure communications satellite it is building for the U.S. Air Force, according to an April 14 Lockheed Martin press release.

Conducted at Lockheed Martin’s dual entry large thermal altitude chamber in Sunnyvale, the test verified the satellite’s ability to perform in the extreme hot and cold temperatures it will experience in space. Lockheed Martin along with payload provider Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems of Los Angeles will begin environmental test analysis prior to acoustic testing and final systems test activities.

The satellite, designed to last at least 14 years in orbit, will be delivered to the Air Force in 2011 for launch aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, the release said.

Hubbard to Lead NASA Mars Program Review

Scott Hubbard, the former NASA Ames Research Center director who served as the U.S. space agency’s Mars czar in the wake of two back-to-back spacecraft failures, will lead a review team to help shape NASA’s next decade of robotic Mars exploration.

Doug McCuistion, the NASA headquarters official in charge of the agency’s robotic Mars exploration program, said Hubbard will chair a program-level group McCuistion formed to analyze mission architectures the agency is developing for exploring the red planet through 2020 and beyond.

“This review team is much like a Standing Review Board that NASA has for projects, except it is reviewing program architectures rather than mission development progress,” McCuistion told Space News.

Hubbard, a physicist and astronomer who ran Ames from 2002 to 2006, currently is a consulting professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University in California. In 2003, he served full time as the sole NASA representative on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

More recently, Hubbard co-sponsored a February 2008 workshop to review the United States’ Vision for Space Exploration and examine alternatives to NASA’s plan to send human back to the Moon in 2020.

“The Mars program has been one of the outstanding successes of NASA’s science program. The program is now at a crossroads with an indeterminate future for the next decade,” Hubbard told Space News.

Hubbard said collecting rock and soil samples on Mars and returning them to Earth for study continues to be a top scientific priority, yet NASA’s budget is insufficient to accomplish a Mars sample return mission on its own any time soon. New results – such as the definitive detection of methane percolating out of the red planet – call for new missions and new measurements, he said.

Hubbard said the panel he is chairing, the Mars Exploration Program Analysis and Review Team, has been chartered by NASA headquarters to examine potential program architectures for the next decade.

“This group of 10 senior scientists, engineers and managers will offer comments on what might be the optimum balance of science requirements, technology development and programmatic considerations, including international collaboration,” Hubbard said.

This is not Hubbard’s first encounter with Mars. He served as NASA’s first Mars program director in 2000-2001, restructuring the entire Mars program following the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander in separate incidents three months apart.

Northrop, U.S. Govt. Reach Offsetting Settlements

Northrop Grumman Corp. announced April 2 it had reached settlements with the U.S. government on two separate legal matters, one of which involved selling the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) defective satellite parts. The other settlement pertained to a Northrop Grumman lawsuit over a canceled missile program.

The defective parts, heterojunction bipolar transistors, were produced by the former TRW Inc., from 1992 to 2002, a period that preceded Northrop Grumman’s acquisition of TRW’s Redondo Beach, Calif.-based space and electronics business. A U.S. Justice Department investigation, initiated by a whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2002 by an employee of The Aerospace Corp., concluded that TRW failed to properly test and qualify transistors subsequently integrated into NRO satellite components and then misrepresented the parts’ reliability.

The $325 million Northrop Grumman agreed to pay the government to settle the False Claims Act allegations was offset by $325 million the government agreed to pay Northrop to settle a 12-year lawsuit the Los Angeles-based company filed following the Pentagon’s 1995 cancellation of the Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile program. The whistleblower, Robert Fero, will receive $48.75 million as his share of the government’s recovery in the False Claims case.

Ariane

5 Launch Ordered For Intelsat‘s New Dawn

Europe’s Arianespace consortium will launch the Intelsat New Dawn satellite in late 2010 aboard either a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket as a secondary passenger or as the sole satellite aboard a Russian Soyuz vehicle operated from Europe’s equatorial spaceport under a contract announced April 14 by Evry, France-based Arianespace.

New Dawn, which is being financed through a joint venture between Washington- and Bermuda-based Intelsat and a South African investor group led by Convergence Partners, is expected to operate at 33 degrees east longitude with 28 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders. The satellite will be used to provide video, broadband and cellular-backhaul services in Africa.

New Dawn is under construction by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and is expected to weigh about 3,000 kilograms at launch – which is about the maximum payload that can be carried into geostationary transfer orbit by a Soyuz vehicle operating from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

A Soyuz launch pad is under construction at a new complex in French Guiana. The Russian vehicle is scheduled to make its inaugural flight from the facility either late this year or early in 2010.

Russian Plans to Launch “New ” Spy Sat This Year

Russia intends to launch a new-generation spy satellite this year, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin told reporters in Moscow April 10.

“We ought to launch a new reconnaissance satellite this year. It is fundamentally new,” Popovkin said, but provided no further details about the spacecraft.

The Russian Defense Ministry also plans to launch two new communications satellites this year, Popovkin said. The Russian defense industry also is busy developing a new generation of missile warning satellites, but these will not be ready before 2011 or 2012, Popovkin said. The industry also is working on a new generation of Glonass global navigation satellites, dubbed Glonass-K, he said.

The Defense Ministry also still hopes that the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center of Moscow will carry out the maiden launch of the Angara rocket in the first quarter of 2011 from the PlesetskCosmodrome, Popovkin said. On March 18, Khrunichev’s director Vladimir Nesterov said his center would need another 10 billion rubles ($297.7 million) to keep up with the Angara schedule so that the rocket has its maiden launch in 2011. The Defense Ministry hopes that launches of Angara from Plesetsk will help to reduce the Russian military’s reliance on the BaikonurCosmodrome, which Russia leases from Kazakhstan.

In addition to using the Plesetsk launch center in northern Russia, the Defense Ministry also has plans for the VostochnyCosmodrome, which federal authorities plan to build in the far eastern province of Amur. Popovkin said the “defense ministry is interested in using the Vostochnycosmodrome for a number of programs,” but did not specify which.

Next SBIRS Satellites Pass Preliminary Design Review

The U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center completed a successful preliminary design review March 27 for the third and fourth Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) geosynchronous satellites that will be built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., according to an April 10 Air Force press release.

Lockheed Martin is currently under contract for two geosynchronous missile-warning satellites that will begin launching in 2010 and has delivered two SBIRS payloads hosted aboard classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits. The company is procuring long-lead parts for a third geosynchronous satellite and third highly elliptical orbiting payload, full contracts for which are expected by the end of the year. The Air Force so far has been directed to buy six geosynchronous SBIRS craft.

Completion of the preliminary design review allows Lockheed Martin to begin working in detail on the final design of the satellites in advance of a critical design review in fall 2010, the release said.

DigitalGlobe

, University Sign Direct Download Deal

The National University of Singapore has signed a contract to become the first commercial user to directly task and downlink imagery from the WorldView-1 satellite owned by DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo., according to an April 1 DigitalGlobe press release.

The university’s Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP) will have access to WorldView-1’s half-meter, black-and-white satellite imagery. It will gain access to the half-meter black-and-white imagery and 1.84-meter multispectral imagery captured by DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-2 satellite following its launch in the third quarter of this year, the release said. The terms of the agreement would not be disclosed, DigitalGlobe spokesman Chuck Herring said in an e-mailed response to questions.