Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 30 June 2009
04:06 pm ET





NASA, ESA Prepare To Pull Plug on Ulysses Sun Probe

The U.S.-European Ulysses solar-science satellite is scheduled to be switched off on June 30 after more than 18 years of studying the sun’s polar regions, a mission that was originally designed to last just five years, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced June 26.

The decision to shut down the satellite was made a year later than planned. Ground controllers in early 2008 had feared that Ulysses’ on-board power supply had dropped to a point at which its fuel lines could freeze, a development that would have placed the satellite outside the control of its managers. By firing the satellite’s on-board thruster motors for brief periods every two hours, ground controllers were able to keep the fuel warm and continue operations, although Ulysses was only followed by NASA’s Deep Space Network of ground-based tracking antennas when those assets were not otherwise occupied.

Ulysses’ current orbit has carried it so far from Earth that the amount of data it is sending has dropped even as higher-priority traffic on the Deep Space Network has increased. “Most importantly, the overall return of scientific data has decreased to a level where it is hard to justify the cost of keeping Ulysses in operation,” ESA said in a June 26 statement.

Ulysses will continue to orbit the sun indefinitely after its mission-support team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., switches Ulysses’ radio communications to monitor-only mode.

“ESA and NASA are to be commended for supporting this unique mission to the very end,” ESA Ulysses Mission Manager Nigel Angold said.

Hearing For NASA Picks Could Take Place July 8

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee is expected to hold a confirmation hearing July 8 for retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden and Lori Garver, the White House’s nominees for NASA administrator and NASA deputy administrator, respectively.

Although the committee had not formally scheduled the hearing at press time, multiple sources confirmed the date was being considered.

Bolden is a former space shuttle commander and Garver is a former NASA associate administrator for policy and plans. The two were nominated as a pair May 23.

Extra $80M for NPOESS Included In Defense Bill

The Senate Armed Services Committee added $80 million to the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) during a June 25 closed-door markup of the Pentagon’s $534 billion spending request for 2010. The U.S. Air Force, which is developing the program jointly with NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), requested $400 million for the effort.

However, the bill directs that the Air Force spend no more than half of the funds available for NPOESS until the Pentagon, Commerce Department and NASA submit a program management and funding plan to Congress. A NOAA top official said June 17 the agency is prepared to take lead responsibility for the next-generation polar-orbiting weather satellite program, which is over budget, behind schedule and hamstrung by a dysfunctional management structure, according to recent government and independent reports.

In addition to the NPOESS funding, the Senate markup provides $50 million for new military satellite communications technology development, adds $40 million for the ORS Sat-1 satellite, directs the Pentagon to develop competitively a commercial 1.5-meter imaging satellite, and adds $115 million for the Operationally Responsive Space Office to develop new small satellite imaging capability.

LRO Enters Lunar Orbit as Companion Craft Flies By

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) reached the Moon June 23 on a mission to seek out potential landing sites and hidden water for future astronauts.

The $504 million LRO spacecraft launched June 18 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

LRO carries seven instruments to map the Moon in unprecedented detail, seek out water ice hidden in permanently shadowed craters at the lunar south pole, and measure the temperature and radiation hazards future astronauts might face.

LRO was accompanied at launch by the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), a $79 million spacecraft that streamed live images of the Moon as it swung by June 23 to get into position for a planned Oct. 9 crash into the lunar south pole.

LCROSS snapped pictures as it flew over Mendeleev crater, a large ancient impact basis. At closest approach, the spacecraft passed within roughly 3,200 kilometers of the lunar surface.

NASA Plans Tanking Test To Verify Shuttle Repair

NASA will fill Space Shuttle Endeavour’s external tank with fuel July 1 to check repairs aimed at stopping a hydrogen gas leak that has twice delayed the shuttle’s launch.

NASA engineers think a misaligned Teflon seal between a hydrogen vent line and Endeavour’s external tank is to blame for the gas leaks that forced NASA to scrub launch attempts on June 13 and June 17.

“They think they have a pretty good handle on what they think caused the link,” NASA Kennedy Space Center spokeswoman Candrea Thomas said. “The tanking test will tell, but they’re confident they’ve got this thing figured out.”

Engineers are installing a new Teflon seal and special washers to fill in the gap caused by the misalignment, Thomas said.

Endeavour is scheduled to launch July 11 at 7:39 p.m. EDT on a 16-day mission to the international space station to deliver the final piece the Kibo Japanese laboratory, a porch-like external experiment platform.

If Endeavour does not launch by July 14 it will have to stand down until July 27 to allow an unmanned Russian Progress cargo to dock with the station. The Progress is slated to lift off July 24 from the BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

NASA Scientist Arrested At Coal Mining Protest

Outspoken NASA climatologist James Hansen was arrested June 23 during a mountaintop coal mining protest in West Virginia.

Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, was among 31 protesters arrested on charges of impeding traffic and obstructing police officers.

Canada Adapting RadarsatFor Maritime Surveillance

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates of Richmond, B.C., will adapt the Radarsat-2 satellite to provide Canada’s Department of National Defence with a maritime surveillance service, a project begun in June 2007 and known as Project Epsilon, under a contract announced June 25. The latest contract, for 25 million Canadian dollars ($21.6 million), calls for MDA to use Radarsat-2 to monitor Canada’s Arctic and ocean maritime zones. The company said it will perform an “on-orbit upgrade” of Radarsat-2 as part of the contract, which includes the installation of ground-based surveillance stations on Canada’s east and west coasts. Canadian officials intend eventually to blend the Radarsat-2-derived Project Epsilon data with information from a space-based Automatic Identification System to enhance ship identification and tracking. The AIS spacecraft collect ship data emitted by terminals on board the vessels, and then send the data to coastal authorities. Longer-term, officials hope to equip future Radarsat satellites with their own AIS capability.

UK Studies Ways To Boost Domestic Space Industry

British Science Minister Lord Drayson on June 25 inaugurated a study to evaluate Britain’s space program with a view to proposing ways to stimulate the space sector and its contributions to the British economy over the next 20 years.

The Innovation Growth Team for Space, or Space IGT, is led by Logical Chief Executive Andy Green, with Terry Coxall of Astrium U.K. serving as program director.

In a June 25 press briefing in London, Green said he is determined that the new study will now end up as “a waffle” of recommendations that make no specific proposals for reorganizing Britain’s space industry to make it more competitive. He said space business, including hardware and services, provides 68,000 jobs in Britain today.

Lord Drayson told the briefing that Britain needs new vectors for growth and that the financial services industry in recent months has shown itself incapable of providing that growth.

In a June 25 interview, Coxall said the study will look at areas including Britain’s regulatory environment for the space sector, and at whether the government agencies now responsible for space investment are organized in the most optimal way. Another area of focus will be on how to maintain public awareness of, and support for, space technology, he said.

Coxall
said the Space IGT team’s findings are intended to be valid regardless of whether British elections result in a change in government in the coming months. An interim report is expected to be presented by the end of this year.

JAXA Releases Kaguya’s Final Images of the Moon

The final video footage shot by Japan’s Kaguya orbiter just prior to deliberately crashing into the Moon was released June 19 by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The 2,900-kilogram orbiter crashed into the lunar surface June 11, bringing to an end a mission that began in September 2007.

JAXA used stereoscopic images obtained by Kaguya’s Terrain Camera to produce a 3-D movie of the Moon’s surface.

ESA Soil Moisture Mission Delayed Until November

The launch of the Europe’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite has been pushed back nearly two months to Nov. 2, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced June 22.

SMOS had been slated to lift off Sept. 9 aboard a Eurorockot Launch Services’ Rockot launch vehicle from the PlesetskCosmodrome in northern Russia, but was bumped from that window by a Russian government launch.

“Since the launch date has been rescheduled for November to allow time for a Russian launch, we are now looking at September before we can start the launch campaign and start shipping the satellite and support equipment to the launch site in Russia,” ESA’s SMOS project manager, AchimHahne, said in a statement. “Although the delay is a little disappointing, the team is very much looking forward to launch in November.”

SMOS, which has been in storage for the past year at a ThalesAlenia Space facility in southern France, will launch along with a secondary payload called Proba-2, which is ESA’s second Project for Onboard Autonomy mission.

U.S. Satellite Imagery Aided Honduran Earthquake Relief

Servir
, a NASA-partnered Earth observation initiative, helped coordinate relief to needed areas after a May 28 earthquake in Honduras, a June 19 NASA press release said.

Servir
– Spanish for “to serve” – combines satellite imagery and ground observations to map areas hit by natural disasters and then sends that data to government officials and emergency response agencies.

Besides NASA, other Servir partners include the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources and the Latin American and Caribbean development and resource management organization, CATHALAC.

“The Honduras earthquake was a perfect example of SERVIR at its best,” Emil Cherrington, senior scientist at Servir’s facility at Panama-based CATHALAC, said in the release. “It was like a chain reaction. People from agencies and organizations in several countries worked together after the earthquake to pinpoint precise locations where support was needed.”

The Servir team at CATHALAC began assembling broad-area satellite images of the earthquake-struck region, which included parts of Belize as well as Honduras. The team immediately pulled archived images from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat 7 satellite and the NASA Terra satellite’s Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, NASA spokeswoman Dauna Coulter said in a June 23 e-mail response to questions. Landsat and ASTER provided 30- and 15-meter resolution images, respectively.

The CATHALAC team retrieved ASTER imagery from May 11 and Landsat imagery from May 25 of the affected areas, Cherrington said in a June 23 e-mail response to questions.

Stuart Frye, an engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., coordinated the transfer of satellite imagery of areas damaged by the earthquake from Taiwan’s Formosat-2 satellite with its 2.5-meter resolution to the Servir team.

“Formosat-2 data was captured the day after the earthquake and was posted the next day, so it was both the only data after the event we were able to get in that short of a period of time, as well as the highest spatial resolution imagery,” Cherrington said.

Imagery was also obtained via Google Earth from GeoEye‘sIkonos satellite – at 1-meter resolution – to make a more direct comparison of areas before and after the disaster, Cherrington said.

“This is the 24th time that disaster response has been provided to Mesoamerica and the Caribbean regions in the framework of SERVIR, and the 6th event in 2009 alone,” Cherrington said in the release.

ITT Completes Prototype Of GOES-R Instrument

ITT Corp.’s Space Systems Division announced June 17 the completion of a prototype model of the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument it is building for U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) program.

The ABI is designed to monitor three times the number of atmospheric conditions measured by the current generation of GOES satellites.

The first satellite in the GOES-R series is supposed to launch in 2015, but that schedule has been put at risk by an ongoing dispute over the space-segment contract.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver won a $1.09 billion contract in December to build up to four GOES-R satellites, but the work was put on hold when losing bidder Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., protested the award to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In response, NASA re-evaluated the bids, and in early May awarded the contract again to Lockheed Martin. Boeing, in an unusual step, filed a second protest June 1, once again halting work on the program. A ruling is expected by September.

Land Launch Vehicle Places Measat-3a into Orbit

The Measat-3a telecommunications satellite was successfully placed into geostationary transfer orbit June 22 by a version of the Russian-Ukrainian Zenit-3SL rocket operated from Russia’s BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Measat and launch-services operator Sea Launch Co. said.

Measat-3a, built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., will be operated at 91.5 degrees east alongside the Measat-3 satellite, which has been in orbit since 2006. Carrying 12 Ku- and 12 C-band transponders and weighing 2,366 kilograms at launch, Measat-3a will provide Measat a 50 percent increase in capacity from that orbital slot.

Measat
said it expects the satellite to complete in-orbit testing by late July, after which it will enter commercial service.

Measat-3a’s launch came 10 months after a satellite-handling incident at the Baikonur site as the satellite was being prepared for launch. The resulting damage forced Measat-3a’s owners to de-fuel the satellite and return it to Orbital Sciences for repairs.

The launch is the third to be conducted by Land Launch, which Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch Co. hopes to develop as a second commercial offering. Sea Launch launches satellites from a floating platform stationed in the Pacific Ocean on the equator; Land Launch uses the same basic vehicle but handles smaller payloads due to its northern operating location, from which it is more difficult to reach geostationary transfer orbit.

The Measat-3a launch success removes a problem from the books of satellite fleet operator Intelsat of Washington and Bermuda, which was officially the Land Launch customer. Intelsat had purchased several Land Launch contracts before selling them to other operators, including Measat. Intelsat has said it will no longer be in the business of buying bulk launches for future resale.

Measat
said Measat-3a cost $69.9 million to build, and $44.2 million to launch. Intelsat subsequently agreed to pay Sea Launch a small supplemental fee to assure the launch occurred on schedule. Measat paid $27.75 million for a $185 million insurance policy for Measat-3a covering the satellite’s launch and first year in orbit.

N.Y. Couple Weds Aboard Zero Gravity Corp. Flight

Zero Gravity Corp. (Zero-G) hosted what it is billing as the first weightless wedding June 20 aboard its G-Force One aircraft, the company said in a press release. Space tourist and video game designer Richard Garriottofficiated the nuptials for the New York couple, Noah Fulmor and Erin Finnegan.

G-Force One, Zero-G’s specially modified Boeing 727-200, took off from Titusville Airport outside Orlando, Fla., for the wedding flight. The wedding ceremony took place over a span of almost eight minutes total during which the plane performed a series of parabolas to produce a microgravity experience, the release said.

Ball Gets $11.6 Million To Fly Kepler Space Telescope

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., received an $11.6 million contract from NASA to operate the Kepler Space Telescope for the next three and a half years. NASA announced the contract June 17 as the spacecraft was recovering from an in-orbit anomaly that interrupted science operations for roughly 36 hours.

Ball was NASA’s prime contractor for Kepler, a Discovery-class spacecraft that overcame developmental delays and the threat of cancellation to finally launch in March aboard a Delta 2 rocket. The planet-hunting telescope completed its on-orbit commissioning phase in May and began science operations by searching a field of more than 145,000 stars near the Cygnus constellation for evidence of Earth-size planets.

Kepler
went into safe mode June 15 after a problem occurred in part of the spacecraft’s processor, according to Roger Hunter, the Kepler mission manager at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. In a June 19 posting on NASA’s Kepler Web site, Hunter said engineers were able to quickly return the spacecraft to its mission. While none of Kepler’s stored science data was lost in the incident, according to Hunter, the event consumed about one-and-a-half days that would otherwise have been spent collecting more science data. Kepler’s science plan allows for 12 days per year to be lost to safe-mode events and spacecraft malfunctions.

Hunter said that engineers will continue to sift through spacecraft telemetry files to better understand the root cause of the safe mode event.

SingTel

Makes Substantial Investment in ABS-2 Sat

Singapore Telecommunications, which in September 2008 formed a joint venture with Chunghwa Telecom of China to build the ST-2 telecommunications satellite to be launched in 2011, has agreed to make a substantial investment in the ABS-2 satellite recently ordered by Asia Broadcast Satellite Ltd. of Hong Kong, SingTel announced June 22.

SingTel
said it will be spending 100 million Singapore dollars ($68.8 million) to help pay for the construction and launch of ABS-2, to be built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and launched aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket in late 2011 or early 2012. In addition, SingTel will invest 80 million Singapore dollars over two years in exchange for ownership of multiple ABS-2 C-band transponders, to be marketed as ST-3/ABS-2.

SingTel
expects to use the ST-3/ABS-2 capacity to extend its reach into Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

“With the new … transponders, SingTel will enable businesses to grasp opportunities in emerging markets where communications infrastructure is often limited,” Bill Chang, SingTel Business Group executive vice president, said in a June 22 statement. “The satellite will cater to increasing customer demand for fixed and mobile satellite services, IP-based solutions and maritime VSAT [very small aperture terminals] as well as broadcast and direct-to-home services.”

JSC Awards Space Station Support Contract to ARES

ARES Corp. of Burlingame, Calif., received a NASA contract worth $144 million to provide program integration and control services for the international space station program.

ARES will perform the work on-site at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.

The follow-on contract announced June 22 extends by at least three years a $154 million contract NASA awarded ARES in November 2003.

The new contract is effective Oct. 1, 2009, through Sept. 30, 2012, and includes two one-year options that potentially could increase the contract’s total value to $180 million.

Czech Republic Agrees To Join Eumetsat by 2010

The Czech Republic signed an agreement June 22 to become a full member of Europe’s Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization by 2010. The Czech Republic has participated in the 23-member organization since 2005 as a Cooperating State, a status that permits unlimited access to Eumetsat data.

As a Member State, the Czech Republic will participate fully in Eumetsat’s decision-making process and its industry will be able to bid for contract, Eumetsat said in a press release.

The agreement was signed by Czech Environment Minister LadislavMiko and Eumetsat Director-General Lars Prahn.

German Team Joins Quest For Google Lunar X Prize

A group of mostly 20-something Germans calling themselves Team Part-Time Scientists have joined the hunt for the Google Lunar X Prize, an international competition to land a robot on the Moon, travel 500 meters over the surface and send images and data back to Earth. The Berlin-based team’s addition to the roster of competitors was announced June 24 by the organizers of the Google Lunar X Prize. Team Part-Time Scientists are the first German team to enter the competition.

A total of 19 teams are currently registered to compete for the $30 million in prize money. Teams have until Dec. 31, 2012, to claim a $20 million grand prize. After that, the top prize drops to $15 million and remains available until Dec. 31, 2014.

U.S. Air Force Takes Over Control of WGS-2 Satellite

Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., on June 15 transferred control of the second Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellite to the U.S. Air Force, which will operate the satellite from Schriever Air Force Base, Colo.

The WGS-2 satellite was launched April 3 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

The Air Force has contracted for a total of six WGS satellites, which are designed to augment and eventually replace the Defense Satellite Communications System constellation.

Craig Cooning, vice president of Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, said in March that the company had begun ordering long-lead hardware for a seventh and eighth WGS satellite in anticipation of the Air Force placing an order.

Sigma To Support NASA Remote Sensing Projects

Sigma Space Corp. of Lanham, Md., was awarded a NASA contract worth up to $120 million to provide support to the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at the U.S. space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., NASA announced June 15.

Under the five-year cost-plus contract, Sigma will provide scientific and engineering support for the development and calibration of space-based and airborne remote sensing instruments and the development of systems for processing and distribution satellite data.

The work, which will be performed primarily at Goddard, will support the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, Earth Observing-1, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Earth Observing System missions Aqua, Aura and Terra, according to a NASA press release.

CNES To Supply Instruments For Russia’s Martian Moon Sample Return Mission

The French space agency, CNES, on June 17 signed an agreement with Russia’s Roskosmos space agency to supply instruments for Russia’s ambitious Phobos-Grunt mission to land on Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two moons, and return soil samples to Earth.

The agreement came even as doubts remain about whether Phobos-Grunt, which will also carry a small Chinese Mars orbiter called Yinghuo-1, can be made ready in time for the announced launched date of this October. Russian space officials attending the Paris Air Show nonetheless insisted that, despite a tight schedule, Phobos-Grunt would be ready for a Zenit rocket launch from the BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan in October, as planned.

It will be Russia’s first interplanetary mission since the failed Mars 96 probe was lost in 1996 following an upper-stage rocket failure.

Under the agreement between the French and Russian space agencies, French laboratories will provide a gas chromatograph and a laser spectrometer. Both will be part of the Gas Analytic Package for Phobos-Grunt to be provided under the management of the Moscow-based Institute for Space Research, IKI.

Under the agreement, the French contribution “raises the possibility” that France will receive Phobos soil samples for analysis.

Phobos
-Grunt includes a lander which will be equipped with an Earth return module. The lander will make in-situ analyses of the Phobos soil, and collect the samples to be returned to Earth.

Galileo Cost Overrun Passes European Commission Audit

The European Commission (EC) has bowed to the European Space Agency (ESA) in its judgment that the industrial consortium building the In-Orbit Validation phase of Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system has incurred about 376 million euros ($524 million) in justifiable cost overruns, according to commission and ESA officials.

The Brussels, Belgium-based commission was presented a bill including the budget overrun several months ago following an ESA audit that concluded the charges were reasonable given the customer-ordered contract modifications.

But the commission thought otherwise, and conducted its own audit on the assumption that it could ferret out savings where ESA could not. But three months after the audit started, the commission has concurred with ESA and with industry and will now pay virtually the entire amount.

The Galileo In-Orbit Validation phase covers the construction and launch of four Galileo spacecraft in 2010, plus much of the ground segment that has been developed to handle the full 30-satellite Galileo constellation.

Industry officials had long warned ESA and the commission that the development work was costing more than planned.

The European Parliament has said that even if these additional charges must now be paid, the total Galileo system budget of 3.4 billion euros will not be adjusted.

The In-Orbit Validation payments are the latest example of why many European government and industry officials believe Galileo will not be fully operational in 2013, as planned, and will cost substantially more than 3.4 billion euros to place into service.

Spot Infoterra Wins Serbian, Mauritian Imaging Contracts

Astrium
Services’ Spot Infoterra subsidiary has won contracts with the governments of Serbia and Mauritius to provide geo-information products, Astrium announced June 18.

The Infoterra Ltd. division of Britain will lead a consortium to develop a new Land Administration, Valuation and Information Management System for the Mauritius Ministry of Housing and Lands using aerial and satellite imagery. The result will be a topologically correct cadastral map of the entire island. A cadastral map typically shows the value and ownership of land for taxation and other purposes.

For Serbia, the Spot Infoterra Group has joined with IGN France International, a division of France’s national mapping agency, IGN, to deliver a range of geo-information products and services to the Serbian Geodesy Institute (RGZ) under a contract valued at 15 million euros ($21 million).

RGZ Chief Executive Nenad Tesla said the new system “will allow Serbia to improve the exchange of information and communication between its various administrations … [and] allow us to introduce online services, which will be a major asset.”

Astrium’s
Spot Infoterra division operates the French optical Spot and German radar TerraSAR-X spacecraft.