Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 13 August 2009
12:32 pm ET





Polish Military Leases UHF Capacity on Sicral 1B Sat

The Polish Ministry of Defense will lease UHF-band capacity aboard Italy’s Sicral 1B military telecommunications satellite for more than 10 years under a 30 million euros ($42.7 million) contract with Telespazio of Rome, which owns rights to a portion of the satellite, Telespazio announced Aug. 6.

Sicral
1B, launched in April into the 11.8 degrees east geostationary orbital slot, is two-thirds owned by the Italian Defense Ministry. A portion of the capacity has been reserved for use by the NATO alliance under a long-term NATO contract that includes use of France’s Syracuse 3 and Britain’s Skynet 5 satellites.

Telespazio
co-funded development of Sicral 2 and has rights to about one-third of the satellite’s capacity. Sicral 1B includes one EHF, three UHF and five SHF transponders.

NASA Commits $50M to Commercial Crew Program

NASA plans to spend up to $50 million in federal stimulus funds on competitively awarded Space Act Agreements for commercial crew and cargo systems. Congress in mid-July signed off on the agency’s plan to spend $1 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

NASA said Aug. 4 it intends to issue a formal Commercial Crew and Cargo Program solicitation as soon as Aug. 10. Proposals will be due 45 days later with multiple awards expected in November.

Of the $400 million in stimulus money set aside for NASA’s manned space exploration programs, $90 million will be spent on crew and cargo efforts, including $50 million to be spent on multiple, competitively awarded Space Act Agreements intended to foster private sector growth in developing human spaceflight capabilities.

“These efforts are intended to foster entrepreneurial activity leading to job growth in engineering, analysis, design, and research, and to economic growth as capabilities for new markets are created,” stated an Aug. 4 announcement issued by NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA waited months for lawmakers to approve the spending plan, which was submitted to Congress in April. Congressional and industry sources said the funds were held up by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who wanted all $400 million for exploration to be spent on Constellation, NASA’s effort to replace the space shuttle with new systems. These include the Ares 1 and Ares 5 rockets under development at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

NASA Cargo Awards Draw New PlanetSpace Protest

Chicago-based PlanetSpace has filed a second protest of NASA’s December 2008 decision to award $3.1 billion in contracts to Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp. and Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) for delivering cargo to the international space station.

PlanetSpace
filed a protest with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims July 23 asking for NASA to reconsider the awards or reopen the competition. PlanetSpace’s first protest against the NASA award was filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Jan. 14. The GAO denied the protest April 22.

PlanetSpace
, a start-up company whose subcontractors include Boeing Co. of Chicago, Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Minneapolis-based AlliantTechsystems, earned a higher score and offered a lower price than Orbital Sciences.

NASA, however, selected Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to haul 20 tons of cargo to the space station through 2016 under separate contracts potentially worth more than $3 billion. The initial award calls for SpaceX to provide 12 flights for $1.6 billion and Orbital Sciences to provide eight flights for $1.9 billion.

SpaceX
earned the highest score from NASA’s Source Evaluation Board and offered the lowest price, followed by PlanetSpace, which earned the second highest score, NASA source selection documents show.

NASA spokeswoman Ashley Edwards declined to comment on the ongoing legal matter, but SpaceX Vice President of Strategic Relations Lawrence Williams said Aug. 6 that while the company does not comment on ongoing litigation, “… we do not anticipate any disruption of our progress within our NASA programs.”

Former NASA Official Guilty of Ethics Breach

Former NASA Chief of Staff Courtney Stadd of Bethesda, Md., faces up to 15 years in prison after a jury found him guilty Aug. 6 of breaking federal ethics laws by steering $9.6 million in NASA funds to a consulting client. He is scheduled to return to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Nov. 6 for sentencing.

Stadd
, 54, led former President George W. Bush’s NASA transition team in 2000 and stayed on to serve as chief of staff and White House liaison. He left the agency in 2003 to start a consulting business representing aerospace clients. He returned to NASA in 2005 for two months as a special government employee to help NASA’s newly installed administrator, Mike Griffin, reorganize the agency.

A jury found Stadd guilty of lying to ethics officials and inappropriately steering agency money toward a client in 2005 when he exerted his authority as a special government employee to ensure that $12 million of a $15 million Earth science applications earmark added by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to a NASA budget bill was spent in Mississippi, where one of his clients, Mississippi State University, was located. The university later received $9.6 million of the earmarked funds.

After leaving NASA, Stadd petitioned Mississippi State to raise his monthly fee from $7,000 to $10,000, citing his efforts to secure the $9.6 million.

SpaceX’s

Falcon 1e Rocket Replaces Cheaper Falcon 1

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., will replace its Falcon 1 rocket by the end of 2010 with the more capable and more expensive Falcon 1e rocket, the company said Aug. 6.

The upgraded version of the rocket uses a more powerful engine than the one originally designed for Falcon 1 and will be able to put larger, heavier payloads into orbit. A Falcon 1e launch will cost “under $11 million,” Rob Peckham, SpaceX vice president of business development, said in an e-mailed response to questions. Originally marketed as a $6-million rocket, SpaceX more recently pegged a Falcon 1 launch at $8 million.

SpaceX
has launched four Falcon 1 rockets, finally succeeding in putting a satellite into orbit July 13. The Falcon 1e is scheduled to make its inaugural launch in 2010 and launch a satellite for Swedish Space Corp. in 2011. SpaceX has no more Falcon 1 launches on its manifest.

Starting with the third Falcon 1 launch attempt, SpaceX upgraded the rocket’s main ablatively cooled Merlin engine to a regeneratively cooled Merlin engine that resulted in increased performance, Peckham said. SpaceX is upgrading the structural components and avionics of the Falcon 1 to take advantage of this increased performance. The Falcon 1e will be capable of putting a 900-kilogram payload into orbit compared to the 420 kilograms of its predecessor, according to the SpaceX Web site. It will also have a wider and taller fairing.

GAO Says More Planning Needed for Missile Site

The U.S. Defense Department’s tentative plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe still face implementation challenges, and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has not provided to Congress adequate estimates for the site’s total cost, according to an Aug. 6 report from a government watchdog agency.

The Polish and Czech governments have yet to ratify key agreements with the United States to host parts of the missile shield, and the Defense Department has not yet finalized a plan for how the assets would be transferred from the MDA to the services, according the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Actions Needed to Improve Planning and Information on Construction and Support Costs for Proposed European Sites.”

Under the plan conceived by the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, the United States would place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and an early warning radar in the Czech Republic to defend allies and deployed forces in the region. The administration of U.S. President BarackObama has said it will conduct a review of U.S. missile defense policy and strategy, including whether to proceed with the European site, but have announced no decisions.

The MDA in 2008 estimated the cost of fielding the European system at $4 billion through 2015, the report said. The Defense Department’s cost estimates for military construction and operations and support “have limitations and do not provide Congress complete information on the true costs of ballistic missile defenses in Europe,” the report said.

The GAO recommended finalizing internal Pentagon agreements for responsibility for the missile shield and delivering to Congress detailed estimates for military construction and operations and support. The MDA in its response largely concurred with the GAO’s assessment but said it would not have detailed cost estimates available until the 2012 budget cycle because that information will not be available until the host nation agreements are completed.

Northrop Delivers Final ICBM First Stage Motors

Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles delivered to the U.S. Air Force July 23 the final first-stage solid-rocket motor for the Minuteman 3 ICBM modernization program, an Aug. 3 Northrop Grumman press release said.

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor on the Propulsion Replacement Program, for which it replaces aging ICBM propellants and obsolete components. Under a 10-year, $1.9 billion contract, the company and its partner AlliantTechsystems of Minneapolis have completed upgrades to 624 first-stage rocket motors. Delivery of the final second- and third-stage rocket motors built under the same contract is expected to be complete this month, the release said.

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor on eight separate Minuteman modernization programs that seek to ensure the reliability, safety and security of the United States’ land-based ICBM fleet, the release said.

Lockheed Studies Possible AEHF Upgrades

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $20 million contract modification from the U.S. Air Force to study possible enhancements to the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite constellation, according to a July 31 Defense Department announcement.

Lockheed Martin is the AEHF prime contractor and will deliver five of the protected communications satellites that are expected to be launching in 2011. The future of military satellite communications became unclear in April when the Defense Department canceled the next-generation Transformational Satellite communications system out of affordability and technological concerns. Since then the Air Force has been tasked by the Pentagon’s acquisition chief with making recommendations for evolving AEHF satellites and the unprotected Wideband Global Satcom satellites being built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif.

Air Force Ponders Seeking Bids for 2nd SBSS Craft

The U.S. Air Force intends to buy a duplicate of the Space Based Surveillance System (SBSS) satellite but may put the contract out for bid rather than make a sole source award to Boeing, according to a July 31 posting on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site.

The first SBSS pathfinder satellite, built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., to detect and track objects in geosynchronous orbit, is finally ready to launch this year. But its development was plagued by technical, managerial and budgetary problems that have caused the program to overshoot its original $350 million estimate by nearly $500 million.

In the posting, the Air Force said it wants to have a clone of the first SBSS satellite under contract by mid-2010 and built in time for a late 2014 launch. The new satellite would operate with the existing SBSS ground infrastructure.

Whether the Air Force holds a competition for the SBSS clone or awards a sole source contract to Boeing will depend on the response it receives to the July 31 posting. The Air Force is giving companies potentially interested in building the satellite until Sept. 1 to respond.

Turkey Takes Delivery of Milgem Satellite Terminals

Astrium
Services of Britain announced Aug. 4 that it has delivered the first set of Milgem military satellite telecommunications terminals for Turkey’s littoral combat ships in the latest deliveries as part of the multiyear Turkish Military Satellite Communications System, TMSCS.

Astrium
, as subcontractor to Aselsan of Ankara, has already delivered 16 ship-borne terminals for other classes of Turkish vessels under the program, which includes substantial technology transfer to Turkish industry. The terminals are based on Astrium’s Mini-SCOT – ship-borne communications terminals – which Astrium has delivered to about a dozen other navies worldwide.

TMSCS uses X-band links provided by the Turksat 2A satellite, which also carries a commercial telecommunications payload for land-mobile and naval communications, including backpack-carried terminals.

Under the contract, Astrium U.K. will train Aselsan personnel in Britain for the first sets of terminals, after which the Turkish company will take over production. The two companies have agreed to create a joint venture that Turkish authorities hope will secure Turkish industry a future role in Astrium military satellite communications ground system exports.

The joint venture has established the Delta Aerospace Space R&D Center to develop Turkish expertise in satellite ground systems.

Hispasat

Remains Bullish On Fleet Expansion Plans

Spanish satellite fleet operator Hispasat on Aug. 4 reported double-digit increases in revenue and net profit for the three months ending June 30 compared to the same period a year earlier and said its results justify its fleet-expansion plans, which will double its in-orbit capacity by late 2012.

The Madrid-based company, which currently operates three telecommunications satellites and has a stake in the Spainsat military telecommunications spacecraft, has three satellites under construction. Amazonas 2, which will continue the company’s links between the Americas and Europe, is scheduled for launch late this year. Hispasat 1E is set for launch in late 2010. Hispasat AG-1, to be the first model of a new Small-GEO line of satellites backed by the European Space Agency, is scheduled for launch in 2012.

Hispasat
said revenue for the three months ending June 30 was 75.5 million euros ($107.7 million), up 10.9 percent from the same period a year ago. Net profit, at 29.5 million euros, was up 55 percent.

EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization – a widely used financial metric among satellite operators – was 80 percent of revenue, placing Hispasat among the most profitable of the satellite fleet operators.

Hispasat
is 32.4 percent owned by Abertis Telecom of Spain and 27.7 percent by Eutelsat of Paris. Eutelsat, in announcing its annual results July 31, said it had received a one-time payment of 25 million euros following the sale of certain of its voting rights in Hispasat.

The pre-emption rights would have enabled Eutelsat to maintain a constant percentage share ownership of Hispasat. Eutelsat Chief Executive Giuliano Berretta said during a July 31 conference call with investors that the sale was made because “we can never become majority shareholder of Hispasat due to the resistance of the Spanish government.”

Abertis
officials have also suggested in the past that they would be interested in taking control of Hispasat, but have met with Spanish government resistance.

Space Enterprise Council Picked Up by TechAmerica

The Space Enterprise Council is back in operation with a new host organization and fewer corporate members.

Established in 2000 to lobby policymakers on behalf of the U.S. domestic space industry, the Space Enterprise Council was left in search of a host organization when it was dropped by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in May.

The Space Enterprise Council landed at the Washington-based advocacy organization TechAmerica in late June but had lost 10 of its 35 dues-paying members along the way.

“The space industry’s close ties to the technology community make this a natural partnership and a united front to promote and defend the critical importance of investing in space,” Space Enterprise Council Executive Director David Logdson said in a press release announcing the TechAmerica affiliation.

Planet-Hunting Kepler Bags its First Quarry

NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is in good shape to begin discovering Earth-like planets, according to its first science results, released Aug. 6.

Launched in March atop a Delta 2 rocket, Kepler detected the giant extrasolar planet HAT-P-7b within its first 10 days of gathering data.

Although this planet was previously discovered by ground-based telescopes, scientists said the fact that Kepler found it and measured it in such great detail bodes well.

Kepler
is on a three-and-a-half-year mission to root out distant worlds that resemble the Earth and might be hospitable to life.

Unlike various Earth- and space-based planet-hunting telescopes technically limited to finding worlds significantly larger and hotter than Earth, Kepler was designed to detect distant Earth-sized planets, including those that orbit stars in a warm zone conducive to the presence of water.

The preliminary results indicate the observatory, built by Boulder, Colo.-based Ball Aerospace & Technology, is up and running as expected.

“This tells us that Kepler has the photometric precision necessary to see Earth-like planets,” said Jon Jenkins, a Kepler co-investigator at the SETI Institute in California. “Kepler’s prospects for detecting Earth-sized planets transiting sun-like stars are good: The instrument is performing much as expected.”

Planet HAT-P-7b is nothing at all like Earth. This gas giant world circles its star every 2.2 days in a tight orbit that heats up the planet’s surface to a boiling 2,376 degrees Celsius.

“It is as hot as a glowing red heating element in your stove or toaster,” said David Koch, Kepler deputy principal investigator at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. “That means we can see light from the planet itself.”

As Kepler watched HAT-P-7b’s host star, the telescope observed a dip in the star’s brightness as the planet passed in front of it, blocking some of the star’s light. Kepler also noted a smaller dip in light when the planet passed behind the star, because the planet’s small contribution to the total brightness was briefly shielded.

Previous observations of HAT-P-7b were not able to measure this second, smaller effect, called an occultation.

“The depth of the signal from that occultation, that tiny blocking of the light from the planet itself, is about the same as a transit would be for a planet as small as Earth,” Koch said in an interview. “So we measured the same kind of signal as if we were detecting an Earth by seeing this occultation.”

The Kepler team, led by principal investigator William Borucki at NASA Ames, detailed Kepler’s first results in a paper published in the Aug. 7 issue of the journal Science.