Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 04 August 2009
02:49 pm ET





Shuttle Returns from ISS After 16-Day Mission

Space Shuttle Endeavour touched down at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., July 31, completing a 16-day mission to deliver vital supplies to the international space station (ISS) and completing Japan’s science laboratory.

Endeavour launched July 15, reaching the space station two days later. Once docked, Endeavour’s seven-member crew joined the six astronauts and cosmonauts already on board, setting a new record.

Endeavour’s primary mission was to deliver the final component of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s $1 billion Kibo laboratory, an exterior platform designed to support experiments. Its installation, including the addition of three initial payloads, required a combination of five spacewalks and the use of three robotic arms, including the Japanese-built arm on Kibo.

The space station is now 83 percent complete and weighs 310 tons, with seven more shuttle flights ahead to finish construction before the end of 2010, when NASA plans to retire its three-shuttle fleet.

Endeavour is due to return to the space station early next year. NASA’s next shuttle launch, Discovery’s STS-128 mission, is targeted for Aug. 25.

White House Task Force Charting New NPOESS Plan

The White House is stepping in to resolve interagency management issues that have been blamed for the cost growth and delays with the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) told U.S. lawmakers July 30.

A task force that includes National Security Council and Office of Management and Budget officials is being established and will regularly meet with NPOESS leadership to address issues and monitor progress on the program, OSTP Director John Holdren said during a Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Committee hearing. Holdren did not offer a timeline for the task force’s work.

The weather satellite program is jointly funded by the Defense Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is managed by a tri-agency program office that includes NASA personnel. Originally planned for launch in 2009, the first NPOESS satellite is now scheduled to fly in 2014. A precursor satellite called the NPOESS Preparatory Project, now scheduled for launch in January 2011, originally was supposed to serve as a test platform for the primary NPOESS sensors but will now be thrust into an operational role.

The most recent lifecycle cost estimate for the program is $14 billion, double the original estimate, but industry officials say earlier estimates did not take into account many costs such launches and operations and maintenance in the out years.

An independent review panel led by former Martin Marietta Chief Executive A. Thomas Young was tasked with finding out what is wrong with the NPOESS program and making recommendations for its success. The panel reported back to NPOESS leadership in March, finding that the program as currently structured has little chance of success. The panel’s report, made public in June, said there needs to be a single decision-maker put in charge of NPOESS, and the program will need at least $1 billion more to succeed.

Young expressed disappointment July 30 that no actions have been taken to remedy the situation some four months after his panel made its recommendations.

“I’m not sure much has happened,” Young said at a meeting of the National Research Council committee on impediments to interagency cooperation in space and earth science missions. “My personal belief is I think the whole issue could be resolved before dinner.

“I think the program will be a failure. End of story.”

Dnepr Lofts DubaiSat-1, Five Smaller Spacecraft

A Ukrainian Dnepr rocket lifted off from the BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan July 29 carrying DubaiSat-1 and five other satellites for various customers.

DubaiSat-1 is a 200 kilogram optical Earth observation satellite built for the United Arab Emirates by Satrec Initiative of Daejeon, South Korea.

The five smaller satellites put in orbit by the converted SS-18 ballistic missile included two 100-kilogram-class Earth observation satellites, Britain’s UK-DMC2 and Spain’s Deimos-1, built by Surrey Satellite Technology of Guildford, England; a pair of cubesats built by SpaceQuest, Ltd., for Aprize Satellite Inc., both located in Fairfax, Va.; and the Spanish space agency’s Nanosat-1B.

NASA and JAXA Spell Out Roles for GPM Mission

The heads of NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) signed an agreement July 30 defining the terms of cooperation between the agencies on the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM)mission, a multi-satellite constellation due to begin launching in 2013. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and JAXA President KejiTachikawa signed the agreement at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Under the agreement, NASA is responsible for the core GPM spacecraft, which JAXA will launch in July 2013 aboard an H2-A rocket. The spacecraft will carry aa multi-channel microwave imager supplied by NASA and a dual-frequency precipitation radar supplied by JAXA. Japan also agreed to share data from a conical-scanning microwave imager flying on JAXA’s Global Change Observation Mission planned for a 2011 launch.

Canceled KEI Program Is Resurrected in U.S. House

The U.S. House of Representatives passed July 30 a $636 billion defense appropriations bill for 2010 that includes funding for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program that the Defense Department tried to kill and additional funding for the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) communications system.

The House included $80 million for the KEI missile defense program in hopes that technologies developed by prime contractor Northrop Grumman could be harvested for other systems. It also added $425 million to the Air Force’s request for WGS to fully fund procurement of the seventh satellite in the constellation in 2010.

The Senate has not yet moved its version of the 2010 defense appropriations bill through committee.

U.S. Navy Shoots Down Target Missile in Space

The U.S. Navy and Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully intercepted a short-range ballistic missile in space during a July 30 test of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, according to a July 31 MDA press release.

The USS Hopper and USS O’Kane destroyers detected and tracked a missile fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, Hawaii. The USS Hopper fired one Standard Missile-3 block 1A missile and intercepted the target 160 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean, the release said. Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors of Moorestown, N.J. is the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System prime contractor, and Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., builds the family of Standard Missiles.

The test was the Aegis system’s 19th successful intercept in 23 attempts, including an operational mission in 2008 that destroyed a malfunctioning satellite as it re-entered the atmosphere, the release said. The next evolution for the missile defense system will be an upgrade to a more capable interceptor, the Standard Missile-3 block 1B. A critical design review for that missile was completed in May and will first be tested in late 2010, the release said.

Hubble Spots Aftereffects of Rare Jupiter Collision

Hubble Space Telescope scientists took a break from testing the newly refurbished observatory to take what NASA is calling the sharpest visible light picture yet of a dark bruise left by an unknown object that collided with Jupiter July 19.

Discovered by an amateur astronomer in Australia, the spot likely was caused by a small comet or asteroid plunging into Jupiter’s atmosphere and disintegrating. The only other time such a feature has been seen on Jupiter was in 1994 after the collision of fragments from comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, NASA said in a press release.

The image released July 24 was taken the day before with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. The new camera was installed by Space Shuttle Atlantis astronauts in May and it not yet fully calibrated, NASA said.

Ball Ordering Hardware For 2nd STP-SIV Satellite

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., has been awarded a $13.4 million U.S. Air Force contract to procure long-lead hardware for a second Space Test Program Standard Interface Vehicle (STP-SIV) spacecraft.

Ball was awarded a prime contract in 2006 that includes options for up to six of the satellites, which consist of a common spacecraft bus with a standard payload interface. ComtechAeroAstro of Ashburn, Va., delivered components for the first STP-SIV spacecraft to Ball in December. Integration was completed this spring and the satellite is currently undergoing environmental tests in preparation for an early 2010 launch.

GOES-14 Takes First Full Disk Image of the Earth

The latest U.S. Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, GOES-14, returned its first full-disk image of the Earth July 27.

The 1-kilometer ground resolution image was taken from an altitude of 36,000 kilometers above the Earth using GOES-14’s prime instrument, called Imager.

The satellite, known as GOES-O until it reached geostationary orbit, lifted off June 27 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a Boeing Delta 4 rocket.

The satellite’s manufacturer, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif., formally handed off control of GOES-14 to NASA July 18.

NASA plans to open GOES-14’s Imager and Sounder cooler doors Aug. 14 to allow the satellite to take infrared images of the Earth and soundings of atmospheric temperature and water vapor levels, according to a July 28 NASA press release.

NASA expects to complete post-launch testing of the satellite by mid-December before handing over operations to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which intends to place GOES-14 in on-orbit storage until it is needed.

GOES-14 is the second spacecraft in the three-satellite GOES-N series built by Boeing for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under a contract managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The third satellite, GOES-P, is in storage at Boeing’s El Segundo, Calif., facility.

Boeing bid for the GOES-R series, but lost the $1.09 billion contract to Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., in December.

Boeing filed a bid protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which dismissed the protest after NASA agreed to re-evaluate proposals. When the contract was again awarded to Lockheed Martin in May, Boeing filed a second protest but withdrew it July 21.

NASA Extends Wyle Life Sciences Contract to 2013

Wyle Laboratories’ Houston-based Integrated Science and Engineering Group will receive an additional $201 million from NASA to continue supporting space life sciences work at the Johnson Space Center through April 2013.

Under a bioastronautics contract awarded in 2003 and extended in 2007, Wyle maintains the readiness of NASA’s Space Life Sciences facilities and laboratories and supports the international space station, space shuttle and other human spaceflight programs.

The new extension, which covers May 1, 2011, to April 30, 2013, brings the total value of Wyle’s contract to $976 million, according to a July 27 NASA press release.

Mathematics Research Inc.Gets JSC Support Contract

Mathematics Research Inc. of Houston received a contract worth up to $30 million to provide project services for the engineering directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.

The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract runs through July 15, 2012, and includes an option to extend the deal two years.

Boeings Gets Green Light To Move Ahead with TDRS

Boeing Space Intelligence Systems has received permission from NASA to move ahead with development of two Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, TDRS K and TDRS L, the El Segundo, Calif.-based company is building under a roughly $700 million contract awarded in December 2007.

NASA announced July 22 that the TDRS mission had passed its program readiness review and was cleared to move into the implementation phase.

The first satellite in the series is scheduled to launch in April 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

The total projected cost of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center-led TDRS replenishment and modernization effort is $1.4 billion, including launch services, NASA said in the press release.

NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense use the TDRS system to communicate with spacecraft in low Earth orbit.

Americom

Gov’t Services Completes AOS Acquisition

Americom
Government Services (AGS) completed its acquisition of AOS Inc. of Dallas, the McLean, Va.-based company announced July 24.

AGS is a wholly owned subsidiary of satellite fleet operator SES Americom.

AGS President and Chief Executive Tip Osterthaler said in a statement that the addition of AOS “brings valuable experience in innovative applications of secure communications technologies, network mobility and custom end-to-end solutions” enabled by SES Americom’s fleet of communications satellites.

Servicio

Satelital Orders Gilat’sSkyEdge 2 Network

Israel’s Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. will provide Argentina’s ServicioSatelital S.A. with the GilatSkyEdge 2 satellite-based broadband communications network under a deal announced July 27.

Servicio
Satelital, Argentina’s largest provider of satellite-based broadband services, already has deployed Gilat’s very small aperture terminals at nearly 2,000 sites nationwide, according to the Gilat press release.

The SkyEdge 2 deployment will enable ServicioSatelital to connect Argentine schools, oil and gas firms, and retail lottery sites, among others, to the Internet.

NASA Adds $40 Million to SGT Engineering Contract

NASA added $40 million to the maximum ordering value of the Multidisciplinary Engineering and Technology Support (METS) contract awarded in 2005 to Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies Inc. (SGT) to support flight projects at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

SGT stands to receive as much as $339 million from NASA under the METS contract, which has an ordering period that runs through Feb. 4, 2010.

Goddard and SGT both are located in Greenbelt, Md.

Thales

Orders Rose, Revenue Remained Flat

Satellite services and space-hardware supplier ThalesAlenia Space reported flat revenue and a drop in pretax profit but a sharp increase in new orders for the six months ending June 30 compared to the same period a year ago, parent company Thales Group announced July 27.

Big new orders booked in the first half of 2009 include nine pressurized cargo modules for Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Cygnus space station resupply vehicle, a contract valued at 180 million euros ($255 million); and a 162.7 million euro contract to build the W3B telecommunications satellite for Eutelsat.

Other contracts booked this year include the Sentinel 3 Earth observation satellite for the European Space Agency, and an updated contract to build 24 second-generation mobile communications satellites for Globalstar Inc. of Milpitas, Calif.

Globalstar
and ThalesAlenia Space officials had insisted that work on the satellites had not been abandoned, but only slowed as Globalstar sought additional financing that was secured July 1.

But Thales Chief Financial Officer Patrice Durand said in a July 27 conference call with investors that the Globalstar work had been “suspended for several months” before the new financing was made available. He said the contract had been subjected to a “temporary stop-work” order.

Thales
Alenia Space officials say they can re-engage full production quickly enough to complete the 24 satellites in time for launches in 2010.

Paris-based Thales said its space business, which includes a 67 percent ownership of ThalesAlenia Space and 33 percent of satellite services provider Telespazio of Rome, is meeting the expectations Thales set for it when it purchased the assets from Alcatel Lucent in April 2007.

Thales
and Alcatel Lucent had agreed at the time of the purchase to review the sales price two years later to determine an adjustment based on the performance of the space business. Because ThalesAlenia Space is performing well, Thales in May paid Alcatel Lucent a final purchase consideration of 129.6 million euros, Thales said.

In its July 27 presentation and supporting documents, Thales lumped together its 67 percent stake in ThalesAlenia Space and the 33 percent Telespazio ownership.

Thales
‘ portion of the revenue of the two companies was 629 million euros for the six months ending June 30, down 1.2 percent from the same period a year ago but up 1 percent if the dollar-euro exchange-rate effects are removed. Operating income was 2.7 percent of revenue, compared to 3.8 percent of revenue a year earlier.

New orders, at 904.6 million euros, were up 30 percent over the previous year.

Durand said the April earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, that destroyed much of a ThalesAlenia Space satellite-component facility has “delayed billing on several programs,” although most of the completed components were salvaged before aftershocks made the plant too unstable to visit.

In addition to its Globalstar work, ThalesAlenia Space has been selected as prime contractor for the eight-satellite O3B satellite broadband program. O3B continues to struggle to raise the needed financing. Durand did not mention O3B by name, but said “financing delays for constellations” has affected performance.

Telenor

Revenue Up But Subscribers Drop

Norway’s Telenor Satellite Broadcasting on July 27 reported increased revenue for the three months ending June 30 compared to the previous quarter despite fewer direct-to-home satellite television viewers, saying sales of higher priced multiroom and high-definition subscriptions have offset subscriber erosion.

Oslo-based Telenor said revenue for the three months ending June 30 was 262 million Norwegian kroner ($42 million), which is 5.6 percent higher than revenue for the previous three months and up 25 percent compared to the same three-month period in 2008.

EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was 70 percent of revenue, compared to 71 percent in the previous quarter.

Telenor
operates four satellites, including the Intelsat 10-02 spacecraft owned jointly with Intelsat and the aging Thor 2 satellite that has been leased to SES Sirius of Sweden. Telenor expects to launch the Thor 6 spacecraft aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket late this year.

Telenor
has been increasing its penetration of the Central and Eastern European market from its core 1 degree west orbital slot, but the Nordic countries remain the company’s core market. With that market nearing saturation for digital television, Telenor has been seeing its direct-to-home customer base in the Nordic region erode in the past year.

The effect on revenue has been minimized by subscriptions for multiroom set-top boxes and for high-definition programming, both of which carry higher priced subscription costs. Telenor said average revenue from its television customers has increased in the Nordic countries even as the number of subscribers has dropped by 42,000, to 1.08 million, in the past year.

Telenor
said the rate of churn – customer turnover – remains low in Norway and Sweden, but has been a problem in Denmark.

Northrop Grumman Opens Cyber Security Ops Center

Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles opened a cyber threat detection and response center at an undisclosed location in suburban Maryland that will provide security for the company’s networks and 105,000 clients and 10,000 servers worldwide, according to a July 29 Northrop Grumman press release.

The 585 square-meter Cyber Security Operations Center houses a classified conference facility and secure connectivity to numerous customer networks, the release said. The heart of the facility is the security operations center floor, where incident handlers, computer forensic examiners, intelligence operators and network defense experts will use customized tools to monitor more than 1.5 billion daily cyber events on Northrop Grumman’s and its customers’ networks around the globe.

“Northrop Grumman has one of private industry’s largest and most sophisticated digital infrastructures,” Tim McKnight, vice president and chief information security officer for Northrop Grumman’s Information Systems sector, said in the release. “The growing sophistication of cyber threats requires that we take assertive and holistic measures to defend our network and critical information assets.”

Raytheon Awarded Aegis Contracts Worth $16M

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., was awarded U.S. Navy contracts totaling $16 million to continue support of the Aegis radar system, according to a July 29 Raytheon press release.

Under the two contracts, Raytheon will provide radar transmitter ordnance alteration kits to enhance the processing and multimission capabilities of Aegis-equipped Navy cruisers and destroyers worldwide. The company will also continue logistical support to the Navy and manage system repairs under foreign military sales agreements, the release said.

Work will be performed in Sudbury, Mass., and Norfolk, Va.