Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 10 October 2005
12:57 pm ET


Negroponte, Rumsfeld Order Rewrite of NRO Charter

U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are completely rewriting the charter governing the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) for the first time since the original document was penned in 1964.

In a related move , Negroponte and Rumsfeld named Don Kerr, the NRO director, to the new post of assistant to the secretary of the Air Force for intelligence space technology. An Oct. 3 memo from Rumsfeld says Kerr “will support the Secretary of the Air Force in carrying out his [Defense Department] executive agent for space duties. Dr. Kerr will also ensure that [Defense Department] and NRO programs, activities and operations are properly aligned.”

Kerr’s new appointment is just one step in the effort to rebuild and realign the relationship between classified and unclassified space following the decision earlier this year to separate the NRO director’s position from that of Air Force undersecretary .

“They want to go back to ground zero and see where we should go,” Maj. Gen. James Armor, head of the National Security Space Office, said Oct. 5 at the Strategic Space conference in Omaha, Neb.

NASA Shifts R&D Funds to Crew Exploration Vehicle

Determined to shave at least two years off the development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and its launcher, NASA sent Congress a revised spending plan in late September that would permit an extra $483 million to shift to Project Constellation in 2006. Project Constellation includes the hardware that NASA will need to fulfill its plan to return to the Moon by 2018.

Assuming lawmakers do not object, the latest change in NASA planning would give Project Constellation a budget of roughly $1.9 billion as the agency prepares to give either Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman the prime contract to build the CEV.

U.S. President George W. Bush announced in January 2004 that NASA would build and launch by 2014 a CEV that would permit the United States to return humans to the Moon by 2020. In response , NASA developed a detailed plan, unveiled in September, that calls for conducting the first CEV flight in 2012 in preparation for returning to the Moon by 2018.

To help finance the accelerated CEV timetable, NASA is cutting back sharply on previously planned spending on exploration-oriented research and technology efforts. NASA is canceling 28 so-called human systems research and technology contracts for work in such areas as radiation shielding , long-duration close-loop life support systems and artificial gravity for $243 million in savings next year. NASA also is discontinuing 80 exploration systems research and technology projects in fields such as nano-materials and inflatable structures for another $174 million in savings next year. Finally, NASA found $66 million for Project Constellation next year by further reducing its spending on nuclear power and propulsion research.

Globalstar Inks Deals For Satellite Launches

Mobile satellite-telephone operator Globalstar LLC has signed a contract with the French-Russian Starsem company for the launch of four Globalstar satellites aboard Russia’s Soyuz rocket in the first half of 2007. Globalstar also signed backup launch options with the German-Russian Eurockot venture for Rockot vehicles.

Financial terms were not disclosed. Soyuz launches generally are sold for $40 million or less. Each Soyuz vehicle can carry four Globalstar satellites. Globalstar, headquartered in Milpitas, Calif., operates a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit to provide global telephone and data services. Six Soyuz rockets were used in 1999 to launch a total of 24 Globalstar satellites from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Paris-based Starsem said its contract includes an option for a second launch.

Globalstar spokesman Dean Hirasawa said Oct. 6 that Globalstar has eight first-generation satellites already built and awaiting launch as needed. He said the Starsem contract is firm for four of these satellites, which are identical to the spacecraft already in orbit. He declined to say how many Globalstar satellites are currently operational in orbit.

Eurockot Launch Services GmbH of Bremen, Germany, signed a contract to launch up to eight Globalstar satellites, also in 2007. Hirasawa said the Eurockot deal is to protect Globalstar’s launch schedule in the event Starsem cannot perform on the contracted date. Each Rockot vehicle can lift two Globalstar satellites at a time. The vehicle is launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

Starsem said it will place the Globalstar satellites in a 920-kilometer orbit. Globalstar spacecraft operate at an orbit of about 1,400 kilometers and would need to use their own power to climb into operational position. Eurockot said it would be launching its Globalstar payload into an orbit “near” the final 1,400-kilometer operating position.

Integral Systems Buys California Telemetry Firm

Satellite ground systems provider Integral Systems of Lanham, Md., announced it has purchased aircraft and missile telemetry product provider Lumistar LLC of Carlsbad, Calif.

Lumistar will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Integral, according to Integral’s Oct. 6 press release. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed .

Lumistar builds telemetry components and systems used in monitoring aircraft and missile flight tests. According to Integral’s release, Lumistar will report to RT Logic, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based subsidiary that specializes in satellite telemetry.

It’s Official: NRO Revamps Boeing Satellite Contract

The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has formally restructured Boeing Co.’s contract to build the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) spy satellites, according to Rick Oborn, a spokesman for the agency. Oborn declined to comment further on the program, which is classified.

The FIA program, which includes optical and radar imaging satellites, has run into significant cost and schedule problems. Lockheed Martin, which lost to Boeing in the competition to build the FIA satellites in 1999, is expected to get additional work as a result of the contract restructuring.

XM Radio Subscriber Gains Disappoint Some Analysts

XM Satellite Radio announced Oct. 3 that it had added more than 617,000 subscribers during the third quarter of 2005, though some analysts characterized the gains as less than expected.

The additions bring XM’s total subscriber base to more than 5 million, according to the company’s press release. More subscribers were added during the third quarter of 2005 than in the same period last year, when 415,000 new subscribers signed up.

Nonetheless, an analysis prepared by SG Cowen & Co. said XM’s gain fell below expectations of 640,000 new subscribers.

SG Cowen’s analysis said Washington-based XM likely reduced its marketing efforts during July and August because its retail market share was significantly higher than that of its rival, New York-based Sirius Satellite Radio. The analysts said subscriber numbers for XM should shoot up in the fourth quarter, when XM will push hard against Sirius’ expected promotional efforts related to shock jock Howard Stern’s arrival to the airwaves in January.

Meanwhile, Sirius announced in an Oct. 4 press release it had added more than 359,000 new subscribers during the third quarter of 2005, up from 182,000 new subscribers during the same period last year. Sirius had more than 2.17 million subscribers as of Oct. 4.

The subscriber information comes in advance of both companies’ third quarter financial reports, which have yet to be released.

France Agrees to Join ESA‘s Swarm Mission

The French space agency, CNES, has agreed to invest 9 million euros ($10.8 million) to provide magnetometers for the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Swarm mission to study the Earth’s magnetic field, CNES announced Oct. 6.

The three small, identical Swarm satellites are scheduled for launch in 2009 on a four-year mission as part of ESA’s Earth Explorer program. Swarm is budgeted at 180 million euros, including the construction and launch of the satellites, ground infrastructure and four years of operations. The mission will supplement data gathered by the Danish Orsted satellite in the late 1990s, and Germany’s Champ spacecraft, launched in 2000.

The CNES-provided magnetometers will be manufactured by CEA/LETI — the French Atomic Energy Commission and the Information Technology and Electronics Laboratory.

ESA’s Ulysses Spacecraft Celebrates 15 Years in Space

The Ulysses spacecraft marked its 15th year in space — it launched Oct. 6, 1990, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery — by continuing its four-dimensional survey of the Sun and enabling scientists to better understand the solar system environment, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Oct. 6.

The European-built Ulysses, which is operated by both ESA and NASA, is in a polar orbit around the Sun, collecting data for scientists about solar wind, the Sun’s poles and its magnetic field. The spacecraft has traveled nearly 7 billion kilometers to date as it makes six-year-long orbits around the Sun.

In February 2004, ESA’s Science Programme Committee extended the Ulysses mission until March 2008. ESA said in a prepared statement the craft is “still going strong” after 15 years.

Telesat Canada’s Anik F1R Enters Commercial Service

Telesat Canada has begun commercial operations of its Anik F1R telecommunications satellite, which in addition to its 24 C- and 24 Ku-band transponders carries a two-transponder navigation payload to augment the performance of the U.S. GPS satellite navigation system, Ottawa-based Telesat announced Oct. 3.

Anik F1R, built by EADS Astrium of Europe, was launched Sept. 9 by an International Launch Services Proton-M rocket and is co-located with the Boeing-built Anik F1 satellite at 107.3 degrees west longitude. Anik F1, launched in 2000, is one of the six first-generation Boeing 702 satellites that have defective solar arrays. Anik F1R, which uses EADS Astrium’s Eurostar 3000 frame, is the first non-U.S.-built satellite ever ordered by Telesat Canada. The company subsequently ordered the Anik F3 satellite from EADS Astrium, for delivery in 2006.

2nd ESA Deep Space Antenna Declared Ready for Operation

The European Space Agency (ESA) has opened the second of three planned ground stations as part of its deep space network to communicate with future science satellites.

The Cebreros, Spain, antenna was inaugurated Sept. 28 and will meet its contractual deadline to be operational in time to track ESA’s Venus Express satellite, scheduled for launch Oct. 26 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket operated from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Cebreros station, featuring a 35-meter-diameter dish, was built for ESA by an industrial consortium led by SED Systems of Canada and including antenna manufacturer Vertex Antennentechnik of Germany under a February 2003 contract valued at 30 million euros ($36 million).

The station initially will be able to transmit and receive signals in X-band, and includes a receive-only Ka-band system that will be augmented with a Ka-band transmission capability, according to ESA. The agency said future science missions will send back ever-increasing amounts of data from greater distances that will require the use of higher radio frequencies including Ka-band.

The Cebreros facility will be used with a similar antenna in New Norcia, Australia, to provide deep-space communications for ESA’s Estrack network operated from the Esoc space operations center in Darmstadt, Germany. Plans call for adding a third facility either in North or South America later this decade to provide global deep-space tracking ability.

Regulatory Uncertainty Derailed Boeing-ISRO Deal

Boeing Co. and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) cited the uncertain pace of U.S. government approvals as the reason why Boeing shelved plans for a joint venture in satellite manufacturing.

“Over the past few years, Boeing had been exploring the viability of working with [ISRO] to jointly market satellites on a commercial basis by making use of each others’ complementary capabilities,” Boeing said in a prepared statement provided to Space News Sept. 26. “This requires U.S. government approvals, some of which have been granted. However, because the time frame for all necessary approvals was uncertain and because of other business factors, Boeing decided to place this activity on hold.”

A senior ISRO official, who did not want to be named, said Boeing became frustrated with the “bureaucratic hassles” involved in obtaining U.S. approvals for a business venture with limited potential.

Chicago-based Boeing and ISRO were exploring the possibility of incorporating Boeing technology onto Indian-built platforms weighing roughly 2 metric tons. Most of today’s communications satellites are in the 4- to 5-ton range, and the Boeing-ISRO joint venture would have competed in a market niche currently occupied by Orbital Sciences Corp.

The ISRO official said the scrapping of the venture indicates that Indo-U.S. cooperation in space, part of a wider diplomatic initiative aimed at expanding technical ties between the two countries, is not moving along as quickly as expected.

Officials with the U.S. State Department, which regulates U.S. trade in space technology, did not respond to a request for comment.

Scientists Solve Mystery Behind Gamma Ray Bursts

NASA announced Oct. 5 that scientists have unlocked a mystery behind the split-second flashes of light known as gamma-ray bursts, which occur so quickly that studying them has been difficult until recently.

Scientists were able to observe two gammy-ray bursts May 9 and July 9 using ground-based telescopes and NASA spacecraft. Upon examining the data , scientists determined that the flashes — which are brighter than a billion suns — occur when there are violent collisions between a black hole and a neutron star or between two neutron stars.

Gamma-ray bursts were first detected in the 1960s and are the most powerful explosions known. The randomly occurring bursts are “notoriously difficult to study,” Neil Gehrels, principal investigator for the Swift satellite at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., said in a prepared statement. “We now have the tools in place to study these events.”

The Swift satellite detected the May 9 burst, and NASA’s High-Energy Transient Explorer detected another July 9. The agency’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope also were used in studying the afterglow of the July 9 burst.

Cobra Dane Radar Tracks Air-Launched Target

The Pentagon used its Cobra Dane radar sensor to track a ballistic missile during testing Sept. 26, according to a U.S. Missile Defense Agency news release.

The Cobra Dane radar, which is located in Shemya, Alaska, is expected to play a key role in tracking ICBMs for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System.

During the test, the radar tracked a missile that was dropped by a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft before igniting. Data from the radar was then fed into the missile defense fire control system.

General Says Army Forces Need Better Access to Intel

The U.S. Army needs to better connect its intelligence databases to ensure that deployed troops have access to information about the various threats on the battlefield, according to a senior service official.

In some cases in Iraq, a lack of access to certain databases has kept troops from reading information about enemy ambush points that lay directly in their routes, said Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence.

Access to data about immediate threats to troops on the battlefield is “essential, not a luxury,” Kimmons said during a panel discussion at the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2005 Annual Meeting in Washington.

Meanwhile, Internet access has allowed Iraqi insurgents to rapidly ramp up the sophistication of their weaponry, Kimmons said. Online information enabled the insurgents to improve their bomb-making skills in a matter of weeks, whereas it took years for guerillas in places like Northern Ireland to make similar improvements, Kimmons said.

Northrop Grumman Tests New Global Hawk Sensor

Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles has completed testing of an upgraded imaging sensor suite for its Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle , clearing the way for the instrument’s operational use .

“The installation of this new sensor package on Global Hawk is a significant milestone for the program,” George Guerra, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk program manager, said in an Oct. 4 company news release. “The imagery provided by this sensor, even under the worst imaginable environmental conditions on the ground, will go a long way in meeting the needs of the warfighter.”

The upgraded sensor was built for Northrop Grumman by Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif. Two Global Hawk aircraft outfitted with the new sensor package are expected to be deployed this fall, Northrop Grumman said in the news release.

The Global Hawk , which has seen extensive use in Iraq, is capable of providing surveillance from altitudes around 19,000 meters for more than 35 hours at a time.

Former SMC Director Kenneth Schultz Dies

Kenneth W. Schultz, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general who headed the service’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) from 1972 to 1975, died Sept. 20.

Shultz, who was born in 1920, served in several space- and missile-related positions prior to taking the top spot at SMC. He was in charge of the Air Force’s space development planning at the Pentagon from 1961 to 1964, and then became the service’s assistant for manned spaceflight.

In July 1965, Schultz went to Norton Air Force Base in California, where he served as deputy for ballistic missile re-entry systems. In June 1967, he became deputy for the Minuteman missile program, where he helped develop the Minuteman 3, the country’s first ICBM with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles.

Cassini Flybys Reveal Details of Saturn Moons

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft performed back-to-back flybys Sept. 24 and Sept. 26 of the Saturn moons Tethys and Hyperion, respectively, capturing images that reveal details of the moons’ topographies, the space agency announced Sept. 30.

Cassini passed approximately 1,500 kilometers above the scarred surface of Tethys , taking images of the ancient moon’s south pole –an icy land of steep cliffs and craters — that had not been seen by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft.

These photographs included images of the giant rift Ithaca Chasma littered with impacts, indicating the rift was created long ago.

Images taken during the spacecraft’s flyby of the spongy-looking Hyperion moon show a surface dotted with craters that have been modified by an unknown process. False-color images taken at a distance of 500 kilometers reveal the surface might be composed of a variety of materials. Scientists are especially interested in the darker material that fills many of the craters on the moon. NASA hopes the new images will help determine if landslide activity has occurred there.

Gravity Probe B Mission Ends Data Gathering Phase

NASA announced Oct. 3 that its Gravity Probe B satellite has completed collecting data that will be analyzed over the next year to try and validate Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which proposes matter causes space and time to curve.

Gravity Probe B — which was launched April 20, 2004 — successfully completed gathering scientific data after 17 months in orbit when the spacecraft’s liquid helium supply, which is used as a system coolant, was depleted. This depletion had no adverse effects on the mission, said Steve Roy, a spokesman at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., which manages the Gravity Probe B program.

The spacecraft used four ultra-precise gyroscopes to measure two effects postulated in Einstein’s relativity theory. The first phenomenon, known as the geodetic effect, says the Earth warps the local space-time in which it resides. The other, called frame-dragging, states that the Earth drags local space-time around as it rotates.

Nearly 50 weeks’ worth of data has been downloaded from the spacecraft to computers at Stanford University’s Mission Operations Center in California. Data analysis and validation is expected to take about one year.

Northrop Integrates Sensor For First SBIRS Satellite

Northrop Grumman has completed mechanical and electrical integration work on a payload for the first satellite in the United States’ next-generation missile warning system, the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS), the company announced Oct. 3.

The work was conducted at Northrop Grumman’s space systems facility in Azusa, Calif., where 100,000 lines of flight-software code were integrated into the payload hardware. Once the integration work was complete, the payload was successfully powered on, initialized and calibrated to complete function tests that included command and telemetry, internal data bus messaging and downlink interfaces.

The infrared payload features both scanning and staring sensors. The scanning sensor continually observes large swaths of territory for ICBM launches, while the staring sensor detects low-signature, short-burn missiles.

Northrop Grumman will provide the payload to Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., which is developing the SBIRS system under contract from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

NASA Extends Analex’s Launch Support Contract

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida has exercised an option to extend its Expendable Launch Vehicle Integrated Support (ELVIS) contract with Analex for three years, the Alexandria, Va.-based firm announced Sept. 29.

The $65 million contract option started Oct. 1 and lasts through Sept. 30, 2008. During this time, Analex will continue to provide ground services and technical support in the areas of engineering, safety, payloads, launch operations and systems management.

DirecTV To Offer Customers 72 Channels of XM Radio

El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV Group has entered into an agreement with XM Satellite Radio of Washington to offer 72 channels of XM audio programming to its television customers starting Nov. 15. The arrangement will nearly double the number of audio channels available to DirecTV’s 14.6 million customers.

XM announced Sept. 29 that the programming to be made available to DirecTV customers would include music channels, children’s programming and sports talk radio.

NASA Site To Teach Kids About Flying Over Mars

A new interactive Web site launched Oct. 1 by NASA is intended to educate and excite elementary and middle school students about the agency’s plans to explore Mars.

NASA announced Sept. 29 that the Web site, called Wings Over Mars, will feature background videos, animations and articles to inform students of the engineering challenges involved in developing an airborne Mars explorer. The site also will include a section for teachers on how to incorporate the information into their classroom curricula.

“The project exposes students to the benefits of planetary flight and engages them in the engineering challenges of planetary flight on Mars,” Christina O’Guinn of NASA said in a prepared statement. O’Guinn is a member of the education technology team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, which developed the Web site. It can be viewed at http://wingsovermars.arc.nasa.gov.

The Web site will support NASA’s future Quest Web, where students and NASA experts will work together online to explore the various problems associated with designing a Mars airplane.

Northrop Grumman Ships Reflector for I-4 Satellite

Northrop Grumman announced Sept. 29 it has completed an AstroMesh reflector for the third and final Inmarsat I-4 satellite, part of a series of spacecraft intended to provide mobile broadband communications services.

The reflector, which was shipped to prime contractor EADS Astrium of Toulouse, France, is part of the spacecraft’s antenna system, increasing its sensitivity to allow the use of laptop-sized terminals in a coverage area.

The first I-4 satellite was deployed in March, with the second planned for launch later this year. Both of these satellites also are equipped with AstroMesh reflectors. The reflector on the first satellite was successfully tested on-orbit earlier this year, achieving the correct pointing accuracy and other technical requirements that eliminate interference.

Alcatel Wins Contract for Amos-3 Satellite Payload

Alcatel Alenia Space of Paris announced Sept. 29 it has won a contract from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) to supply the payload for Amos-3 , a communications spacecraft IAI is building for Israeli operator Space Communication Ltd. (Spacecom).

The Amos-3 is slated to launch in late 2007 to replace the aging Amos-1 geostationary communications satellite, which launched in 1996. Amos-3 will expand Spacecom’s range of Ku-band services and also offer Ka-band capacity for broadcasting and other services covering the Middle East, Africa, Europe and parts of the Americas.

Under the contract, Alcatel must deliver to IAI a communications payload with Ku- and Ka-band transponders by the beginning of 2007. The payload will be assembled at Alcatel Alenia Space’s Toulouse, France, facility. No financial details about the contract were disclosed.

Astrotech To Support NASA Payload Processing

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida has awarded a contract valued at up to $4.9 million to Spacehab Inc. subsidiary Astrotech Space Operations to provide payload processing services for a number of scientific spacecraft scheduled to launch next year, Spacehab announced Sept. 29.

Astrotech will offer NASA the necessary services from its of Titusville, Fla., facility to process spaceflight hardware and will assist with other launch-related duties. The NASA spacecraft covered under the contract include the Stereo observatory, which is part of the Solar Terrestrial Probes program; the Dawn mission, a spacecraft that will study protoplanets in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter; and the Themis spacecraft to study aurorae.

NASA Underwater Tests Delayed by Rita Effects

NASA has delayed an exercise to test extravehicular activities and new space medicine concepts in an underwater laboratory in the Florida Keys due to damage and delays caused by Hurricane Rita, the agency announced Oct. 3.

The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations exercise was slated to take place Oct. 3-21, but will be postponed until this coming spring. The Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, owned by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, suffered some external damage from Rita’s undersea effects.

Rita also interrupted the training of the three astronauts and one doctor selected to participate in the exercise at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston when the facility closed as the hurricane approached.

The mission is a joint project involving NASA; NOAA; the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario; the U.S. Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, Fort Detrick, Md.; the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, Houston; and the Canadian Space Agency.

Missile Defense Motor Completes Round of Tests

Lockheed Martin announced Sept. 28 that ATK Alliant Techsystems of Edina, Minn., has completed the first round of qualification tests on the Orbus 1A solid-rocket motor, which provides second- and third-stage propulsion for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Boost Vehicle-Plus.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver is the contractor for the Boost Vehicle-Plus, one of two rockets designed to loft kill vehicles as part of the U.S. territorial missile shield. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., builds the primary booster rocket for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System.

ATK conducted the rocket motor tests one week ahead of schedule at the company’s Elkton, Md., facility, meeting all performance requirements. Lockheed Martin, headquartered in Bethesda, Md., manages the Boost Vehicle-Plus work at its facilities in Denver, Sunnyvale, Calif., and Courtland, Ala.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com