NASA, Russia Sign Deal On Soyuz Flights to ISS

NASA will pay the Russian Federal Space Agency $21.8 million per passenger for round trip Soyuz rides to and from the international space station starting this spring.

NASA spokeswoman Melissa Mathews said Jan. 5 that the U.S. space agency and its Russian counterpart concluded a $43.8 million deal just before New Year’s Day that includes transportation aboard Soyuz spacecraft to and from the ISS for NASA’s newly named Expedition 13 crew member, Jeff Williams, and a ride home for astronaut Bill McArthur, who has been living on board the station since October.

Russia also will provide what Mathews described as “a small amount” of cargo space aboard a Progress resupply spacecraft that is slated for launch to the station later this year and initial Soyuz training for NASA’s Expedition 14 crew member. That astronaut will head to the station this autumn aboard a Soyuz if the space shuttle is not back in service by then.

The agreement also reserves a seat for Williams should he and his cosmonaut crewmate be forced to evacuate the station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in an emergency.

Mathews described the new agreement as a short-term extension of an existing contract NASA signed with the Russian space agency before the Iran Nonproliferation Act became law in 2000, barring NASA from paying Russia for any space station-related goods and services as long as Russia continues to help Iran acquire missiles and other advanced weaponry.

While NASA only has contracted for six months of services at this point, she said Russia has agreed to honor the $21.8 million per seat price through 2011.

Rumsfeld Concludes Clapper’s Time is Up

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has directed that retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper leave his position as head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in June.

“June 13 was designated as his last day, and that’s the decision that was made,” said NGA spokesman Dave Burpee January 6. Clapper declined through Burpee to be interviewed.

Burpee would not elaborate on the reasons for Clapper’s departure. The news was originally reported in the Baltimore Sun, in an article which stated that Rumsfeld and Clapper had clashed over Clapper’s testimony before Congress in 2004 when Congress was debating the merits of creating the Office of the Director of National Intelligence which now oversees all government intelligence programs. According to the Sun, Rumsfeld was unhappy when Clapper testified that it would not harm NGA’s work if the Pentagon no longer had full control over the agency.

“Gen. Clapper has capably served as a director of NGA for nearly five years, at the behest and pleasure of the secretary of defense,” a Pentagon spokesman said on the condition that he not be identified. “His five-year tour is consistent with the findings of the 2000 NIMA [National Imagery and Mapping Agency] commission.”

That commission issued a report in 2000, when NGA was known as NIMA, which found that the shorter, two- to three-year terms of former NGA directors were hurting the agency. The report stated that the head of NIMA should “serve a term of not less than five years, absent cause for dismissal, and subject to the personal needs of the individual.”

Both Burpee and the Pentagon spokesman declined to speculate about who would be tapped to replace Clapper in June. Clapper’s tenure is the longest of any NGA director, according to Burpee.

Orbcomm Getting Ready To Build New Satellites

Orbcomm, which operates a global satellite-based messaging system, has raised $110 million in new equity from a group of backers led by investment firm Pacific Corporate Group (PCG). The new money is intended to help the company begin replacing its aging constellation of 30 satellites.

Dulles, Va.-based Orbcomm said in a Jan. 4 announcement that PCG has committed $60 million in cash, and that new and existing Orbcomm investors have agreed to invest an additional $50 million. New Orbcomm investors include MH Equity and Torch Hill Capital. Existing Orbcomm investors that agreed to take part in the new financing round include Ridgewood Capital, OHB Technology AG and Northwood Ventures.

Bremen, Germany-based OHB said in a Jan. 4 statement that it has invested $4 million and will now have an 11-percent equity stake in Orbcomm. OHB is building a satellite for Orbcomm that is intended as a prototype for a second-generation constellation, but a contract for the full fleet of next-generation Orbcomm spacecraft has yet to be signed.

Orbcomm said it expects to sign contracts early this year to build the second-generation system.

SpaceX Seeks Concessions If ULA Merger Is Approved

Rocket startup Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has asked the Pentagon for concessions to level the competitive playing field should the military endorse the proposed merger of Boeing’s Delta and Lockheed Martins Atlas launch businesses.

While making clear it remains opposed to the merger, SpaceX wrote Kenneth Krieg, U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, in December suggesting several conditions the Pentagon could impose on the creation of United Launch Alliance (ULA) to help protect competition.

Specifically, SpaceX asked Krieg to either eliminate the subsidies ULA stands to receive from the U.S. Air Force or offer comparable subsidies to other rocket companies. SpaceX also asked for the elimination of multi-year Air Force launch allocations.

Lastly, SpaceX called for the creation of a launch monopoly control board to oversee ULA and suggested that ULA be required to disclose what their launches would cost absent the Air Force subsidies. A copy of the proposed remedies SpaceX sent to Krieg were obtained by Space News.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said Jan. 5 that the Defense Department has not reached a decision on the merger. However, industry sources tracking the approval process said the Pentagon appears close to endorsing the creation of ULA, clearing the way for the Federal Trade Commission to rule on the proposed merger.

These sources said Pentagon officials have been discussing remedies to the concerns expressed by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, which is seeking assurances the a Boeing-Lockheed Martin launch merger would not disadvantage the Los Angeles-based company in satellite competitions, but it is not known what remedies, if any, the Pentagon would demand.

Arianespace Wins Deal To Launch Skynet 5C

EADS Astrium has awarded Arianespace a contract to launch the Skynet 5C British military communications satellite in 2008.

The contract, which was signed in late December, is the result of a decision by Paradigm Secure Communications Ltd., the Skynet 5 system manager, to exercise an option to build and launch a third Skynet 5 spacecraft instead of purchasing insurance for the Skynet 5A and 5B satellites.

Paradigm’s move to add a third satellite will extend its 15-year, $4.4-billion Skynet 5 system operations contract with the British Defence Ministry by two years, to 2020. Paradigm also has ordered components of a fourth satellite from EADS Astrium.

Paul Millington, Paradigm business development director, said it is less expensive to build and launch a third Skynet 5 than to insure the first two satellites. In addition to conventional satellite and launch coverage, Paradigm was seeking an insurance package that would include compensation for revenue lost in the event of a launch or in-orbit failure.

Paradigm Financial Director James Beazley said an insurance package of this size, including three years of revenue-loss compensation, would exceed the space insurance market’s current capacity limits.

Arianespace expects to report revenues of 1.05 billion euros ($1.24 billion) for 2005 and a profit of “several million euros” on the strength of five successful Ariane 5 rocket launches conducted during the year, Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said Jan. 4. The launches carried a total of eight satellites into orbit.

Arianespace’s 2005 revenues include about 200 million euros in support payments made by European governments to help offset certain fixed costs the Evry, France-based company incurs in launching Ariane 5 vehicles from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

The same level of fixed-cost reimbursement is expected to continue through 2010 following an agreement by member governments of the European Space Agency.

USGS Offers Free Landsat Data on Two Web Sites

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is now offering selected Landsat data for free download at two Web sites.

USGS is offering orthorectified Landsat 4, 5 and 7 data through two portals: its Global Visualization Viewer at and its Earth Explorer download program at, according to a Dec. 27 press release.

Orthorectified data is grayscale imagery that is modified to remove geometric distortions that occur in the normal imaging process. The datasets provide two full sets of global coverage over a 10-year interval, as recent as 2000, the release said.

Users can download an entire scene as a single zipped file, the release said.

Stardust To Return Soon With Interstellar Particles

NASA’s Stardust mission is set to return to Earth Jan. 15 after a 4.6 billion-kilometer round trip, bringing back interstellar dust and comet particles that scientists believe will shed more insight on the origins of the solar system, NASA announced Dec. 21.

“Comets are some of the most informative occupants of the solar system. The more we can learn from science exploration missions like Stardust, the more we can prepare for human exploration to the Moon, Mars and beyond,” Mary Cleave, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a prepared statement.

Mission navigators will perform several targeting maneuvers early this month for the Jan. 15 landing at the U.S. Air Force’s Utah Test and Training Range. Stardust’s sample-return capsule will enter Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of more than 46,000 kilometers per hour — the fastest of any human-made object on record. It will release a drogue parachute at about 169,000 kilometers and then deploy its primary parachute after descending another 16,000 kilometers. It is scheduled to land on the range about 5:12 a.m. EST.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver developed and operates the spacecraft with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managing the Stardust mission.

ISRO Successfully Completes Test Fire of Strap-on Motor

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully completed the final test firing of a new solid-propellant strap-on motor that will help boost the payload capacity of its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from 1,450 to 1,600 kilograms.

The 58-second static firing took place Dec. 29 at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, said S. Kishnamurthi, an ISRO spokesman. “The performance of the new motor was as per the prediction,” he said.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle typically uses six strap-on motors, each filled with 9 tons of solid propellant. The new motor, dubbed PSOM-XL, is 13.4 meters long and carries 12.4 tons of propellant. It was developed by ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre at Thiruvananthapuram.

Krishnamurthi said the newly developed motor will be employed in all future Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle missions beginning next year with the launch of ISRO’s Risat radar imaging satellite. This year’s planned launch of the Cartosat 2 optical imaging satellite will be the last of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle outfitted with the older motors.

ComDev Wins Satellite Component Contracts

ComDev International Ltd. of Cambridge, Ontario, has won several contracts to provide satellite core switches and multiplexers from a customer for an Asian commercial satellite program and another two customers for a U.S. military program.

The company announced Dec. 29 that the contract with the unidentified Asian customer is valued between $5 million and $6 million, and will cover two satellites providing international communications in the Asian region.

ComDev also announced Dec. 23 it had won two contracts totaling 14.8 million Canadian dollars ($12.7 million) from two unidentified customers for core switches and multiplexers for a U.S. military program.

Satellite work for both contracts will take place at ComDev’s Cambridge facilities.

WildBlue Offers Clients VSAT-Based Broadband

WildBlue Communications of Denver will offer its customers high-speed Internet access using Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs).

The company has contracted with four resellers — Calif.-based Ground Control and PptiStreams, Virginia-based Amtech and Oregon-based Broad Sky Networks — to handle sales, installation and service, according to a Dec. 21 WildBlue press release .

WildBlue’s target market for the VSAT service will be small- and medium-sized enterprises, telecommuters and specialized industries, according to the press release said. The service, which will feature download speeds up to 1.5 megabytes per second and upload speeds up to 256 kilobytes per second, will be branded WildBlue Enterprise Solutions.

In a Jan. 3 press release, the company announced it has discounted the installation price for its high-speed satellite Internet service for consumers by $100. The company will now provide installation for $79.95.

Vega Launch Facility Work Awarded to Telematics

Telematics Solutions S.p.A. of Milan will provide a telecommunications network and security system at the launch complex for Europe’s future Vega small-satellite launch vehicle under a contract with Vitrociset of Rome, Telematics Solutions announced.

Under the contract, valued at 8 million euros ($9.4 million), Telematics will install the equipment at the Vega launch site at Europe’s Guiana Space Center, in French Guiana, in time for Vega’s first launch, scheduled for early 2008. Telematics Managing Director Lanfranco Zucconi said the Vega contract “will reinforce our leading role in telecommunications and security management for complex and sensitive sites.” Telematics is a subsidiary of Bremen, Germany-based OHB System .

Iridium Used To Test UK Maritime Safety System

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a search-and-rescue operation in the United Kingdom, is using the Iridium satellite network to test a new maritime safety system. By using Iridium satellite services, the institution will be able to monitor its lifeboats and more effectively coordinate rescue efforts, Iridium state in a Dec. 19 press release.

If the tests are successful, the institution plans to outfit 128 all-weather lifeboats and 208 inshore lifeboats in the United Kingdom and Ireland with the Iridium equipment.

“With this system, we will be able to monitor the lifeboats at all times from the shoreside headquarters, providing enhanced levels of safety and operational efficiency in our lifesaving operations,” Mark Morgan of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution said in the news release.

Millicom Selects Intelsat For Chad Cellular Services

Intelsat has entered a long-term, multimillion-dollar agreement with Millicom International Cellular S.A. of Luxembourg to provide cellular backhaul services in Chad, Intelsat announced Dec. 14.

The service already has been launched in the capital city of N’Djamena and will be available in six other major cities in Chad over the next several months. Intelsat, which is based in Bermuda and Washington, now provides satellite-based cellular backhaul services to over 60 mobile operators.

Millicom was awarded a 10-year license to operate a wireless GSM 900 telephony network in Chad within the past year that uses Intelsat’s 702 satellite.

ZeroG Aerospace Offers Public Access to Space

ZeroG Aerospace is offering space access to the public aboard its ZGS-1 payload starting at $49.95 for a standard-sized business card to nearly $1,000 for a box to send up small keepsakes or even ashes, the company announced Dec 20.

The company’s payload is scheduled to be launched March 27 from the Southwest Regional Spaceport near White Sands, N.M., aboard a suborbital rocket built by UP Aerospace Inc. The 6-meter-long rocket will reach space in under two minutes, according to the news release.

“Up until now, space has been reserved for NASA, other international powers and the very, very wealthy,” ZeroG Chief Executive Officer Eric Gorrell said in a prepared statement.

Ariane 5 Successfully Lofts Indian, European Satellites

Europe’s Ariane 5 GS rocket successfully placed an Indian telecommunications satellite and a European weather satellite into orbit Dec. 21, marking the first time the heavy-lift version of the rocket has conducted five launches in a calendar year.

The launch of the Indian Space Research Organi sation’s Insat 4A telecommunications satellite inaugurates a new generation of domestic communications spacecraft. Insat 4A will be used for Indian domestic governmental and commercial telecommunications. Its 12 Ku-band transponders already have been sold to direct-broadcast television companies serving India, an illustration of the surging demand for satellite television in the subcontinent. The satellite also carries 12 C-band transponders.

It is a demand that several commercial satellite-fleet operators would like to serve. But India has a policy of obliging direct-broadcast satellite television companies to use India’s satellites unless those satellites are full. The Indian Space Research Organi sation plans three more Insat 4 satellites for launch by the end of 2008.

The launch of Meteosat 9 will give Europe a backup satellite to join its twin, Meteosat 8, which is already operational. These two satellites are the first of the four Meteosat Second Generation spacecraft, which provide imagery from 12 spectral channels every 15 minutes. Both are operated by Eumetsat, the meteorological organization funded by 18 European governments.

The four Meteosat Second Generation satellites will provide climate and weather data through 2018. The total program is valued at 2 billion euros ($2.36 billion), including the production, launch and operations of the four satellites.

Ikona Receives Additional Orders for Antenna Pedestal

Ikona Gear International Inc., a developer of gearing systems technology, has received an order for four more satellite antenna pedestal prototypes under a five-year agreement signed in October 2005 with a U.S. defense contractor, the company announced Dec. 27.

Under the terms of that agreement, the pedestals will be limited to government and military tactical applications. With the development of 100 units a year, the company estimated the agreement will be worth about $3 million. Ikona, which is based in Coquitlam, British Columbia, initially received $108,000 for the first prototype.

Congress Approves $216 Million For KEI PRIVATE puncspace:p in 2006

The Pentagon’s effort to develop a new rocket that can knock down enemy missiles shortly after launch received more funding in the conference report that resolved differences between the House and Senate versions of the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act than either side had provided in their versions of the bill.

The conference report provided $216 million for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program in 2006. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had requested $218 million for the program, which is run by Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Va.

The House had provided $202 million for the effort, while the Senate had provided $105 million.

The conference report also added $10 million to the 2006 defense budget for a study on the threat posed by short-range missiles to the U.S. homeland.

The conferees directed the Defense Intelligence Agency to provide a report on the threat to Congress by March 1, and MDA to consult with U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command in developing a recommendation for the response to the threat in a report by June 1.

The conference report also includes language encouraging MDA to restore a kill vehicle to the Near Field Infrared Experiment, an experimental satellite sensor intended to help gather data on discriminating between the body of an incoming missile and its exhaust plume.

The kill vehicle, which was designed to rendezvous with the incoming target to take a closer look, was stripped from the experiment in late 2004, and MDA has since replaced it with a communications payload from the German government.

Meanwhile, the conference report resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of the 2006 Defense Authorization Act directs MDA and the Air Force to work together on three reports due back by Feb. 28.

Those reports must cover the potential value of increasing MDA and Air Force use of the Rocket Systems Launch Program, which facilitates the construction of space launch vehicles from excess missile parts.

The reports must also address the value of a proposed partnership between the Air Force and MDA to develop high altitude vehicles that fly at an altitude of about 20 kilometers, and determine whether an agreement between the two is necessary to facilitate the transition of operational control of MDA small satellites to the Air Force once the MDA has completed its experiments.

EC Directs Luxembourg To Drop SES Equity Restriction

The European Commission (EC) has asked the Luxembourg government to drop its restriction on the equity ownership of satellite-fleet operator SES Global, saying the long-standing policy violates European treaty provisions on the free movement of capital.

The Brussels-based commission, which is the executive arm of the 25-nation European Union, demanded a response from Luxembourg authorities by late February and “may decide to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice” if Luxembourg refuses to change its policy, the commission announced.

Under orders from the Luxembourg government, SES Global grants Luxembourg government authorities the right to limit the voting rights of non-government shareholders if such a move is deemed in the public interest. The commission said that other, less-restrictive ways should be found to achieve the same goal.

The rules governing voting rights of the Luxembourg government’s ownership of SES Global have been required of the company in return for the government’s long-term grant of Luxembourg-registered orbital positions to SES Global and its subsidiary, SES Astra.

SES Global, headquartered in Luxembourg, is the world’s largest satellite-fleet operator. Its stock is traded on the Euronext exchange.

SES Global Picks ILS To Launch Astra 1KR

An International Launch Services (ILS) Atlas 5 rocket will launch SES Astra’s Astra 1KR direct-broadcast television satellite in April 2006 under a contract announced Dec. 21 by Luxembourg-based SES Astra, a subsidiary of SES Global.

The satellite, under construction by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, originally was intended for launch on a European Ariane 5 rocket under a 2003 contract before switching to an ILS Proton vehicle in 2004.

McLean, Va.-based ILS said the two companies in 2004 signed a contract covering the launch of three Lockheed Martin-built satellites on Atlas and Proton rockets, with a decision matching satellites to launchers to be made based on launcher and satellite availability. Astra 1KR will be the first launch of an SES Astra satellite on an Atlas vehicle.

Europropulsion To Build 30 Sets of Ariane 5 Strap-Ons

Europropulsion, a joint venture between Avio S.p.A. of Italy and Safran’s Scnecma of France, will provide 30 sets of solid-fueled strap-on boosters for Ariane 5 rockets under a contract with EADS Space Transportation, the Ariane 5 prime contractor, Avio announced.

Under the contract, valued at 900 million euros ($1.1 billion), Europropulsion will provide the solid-fuel propellant, thermal protection and igniters in addition to the boosters’ structure.

Avio Space Division Director Pier Giuliano Lasagni said the contract is the largest signed by Avio’s space division in the past two years and will assure Ariane 5 production through 2010.

ELV Successfully Test-fires Zefiro-9 Motor for Vega

ELV S.p.A. of Colleferro, Italy, successfully test-fired the Zefiro-9 solid-fueled motor that will power the third stage of Europe’s future four-stage Vega small-satellite launch vehicle, ELV announced Dec. 23.

The ignition was conducted from ELV’s site in Salto di Quirra, Sardinia and was “a complete success,” according to the company. Zefiro-9 will power Vega’s third stage when the vehicle begins operations from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in early 2008.

ELV is 70 percent owned by Avio of Italy and 30 percent owned by the Italian Space Agency. Italy is financing some 65 percent of the cost of the Vega vehicle’s development by the European Space Agency.

Sweden Eyes Purchase of Surveillance Satellite

The Swedish government has instructed the armed forces to evaluate the possible purchase of a surveillance satellite and to report its conclusions by April 30. The evaluation, ordered Dec. 20 and to be conducted with the Swedish National Space Board, is to include possible synergies with potential civilian government users.

Officials from Sweden’s civilian-run Swedish Space Corp. have said the production of a surveillance satellite, tentatively named Svea, could be completed in tandem with Sweden’s Prisma science satellite now under construction, with both satellites using the same platform design.

Swedish Space Corp. officials estimate that Svea, carrying an optical imager with a ground resolution of between 1.2 and 1.5 meters, could be built for around 300 million Swedish krona ($38.1 million), including its launch aboard a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket and three years of operations. Another 300 million krona would be needed for the ground network and to train image analysts.

USAF To Hold Industry Day for Satellite Contract

The U.S. Air Force took some initial steps Dec. 21 to shape its planned competition for a new line of missile warning satellites.

Contractors were informed that an industry day will be held Jan. 11 in El Segundo, Calif., to help an Air Force study team develop a concept for the satellites that will replace the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High beginning in 2015, according to the notice.

The Pentagon initially had planned to buy a total of five SBIRS satellites from prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., but notified Congress Dec. 12 that it would buy no more than three spacecraft due to technical problems that have pushed the expected price tag from roughly $2 billion to more than $10 billion. The SBIRS program also includes two infrared sensors that will be installed in ground equipment and aboard classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits.

The Air Force study team is interested in industry’s input on telescopes and focal plane arrays capable of watching the entire Earth from geosynchronous orbit, according to the notice. The team will make recommendations to senior Pentagon acquisition officials on technology development work that should begin in 2006 and 2007, with a formal acquisition program beginning in 2008, according to the notice.

The Air Force study team will brief industry officials Jan. 11, and the industry officials will have the chance to come back to discuss their concepts Jan. 25-26, the notice said.

British TopSat Delivers First Images

The British-built TopSat Earth observation microsatellite has delivered its first high-resolution images six weeks after being launched Oct. 27 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.

QinetiQ, the British Defence Ministry spinoff which led a consortium of firms in developing TopSat, announced Dec. 19 it received the first TopSat image Dec. 7 at its West Freugh, England, ground station. The image showed morning traffic on the Queen Elizabeth 2 Bridge at the Dartford Crossing, England.

The 2.8-meter-resolution images provided by TopSat can be used in a variety of applications, such as mineral and petroleum exploration, forestry, flood monitoring and disaster relief operations. QinetiQ said in its news release that TopSat images are less expensive than those taken by larger Earth observation satellites.

TopSat is funded under Britain’s Mosaic program to develop small satellites, and can deliver images directly to users equipped with transportable ground stations.

EMS Reaches Deal To Sell Struggling SatNet Division

EMS Technologies of Atlanta has signed an agreement to sell its Satellite Networks (SatNet) division to Advantech Advanced Microwave Technologies Inc., a Montreal-based company that manufactures satellite and terrestrial wireless communication equipment, EMS announced Dec. 22.

The sale is worth approximately $8.8 million , according to Anne Wainscott-Sargent, a spokeswoman for EMS. The sale is set to close sometime this month, she said.

The SatNet division develops technologies for satellite broadband communications, but EMS President and Chief Executive Officer Alfred G. Hansen said the unit is a better fit for Advantech, which offers complementary products and technologies.

“While I believe its operations have a bright long-term future in the hands of Advantech, it remains a start-up venture whose orders stream is difficult to predict,” Hansen said in a prepared statement. “Continued delays in orders, and resulting continuing losses and cash funding requirements during the fourth quarter, underscore that EMS and its shareholders are better served by a sale to a company like Advantech …”

EMS estimates it will take a loss of $2.5 million on the sale , and said the unit, listed as a discontinued operation, could post additional losses for the fourth quarter, which ended Dec. 31.

DNA, Protein Components Found in Gases Near Star

Researchers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have detected the basic building blocks of ancient terrestrial DNA and proteins in gases surrounding a distant young star , NASA announced Dec. 20.

The Spitzer data show the gases acetylene, hydrogen cyanide and carbon dioxide enshrouding a young star called IRS 46, which is about 375 light years from Earth in the Ophiuchus constellation. The carbon-containing gases are located in a larger disk of swirling gases and dust that may ultimately clump together to form planets.

“This infant system might look a lot like ours did billions of years ago, before life arose on Earth,” said Fred Lahuis, a researcher at the Leiden Observatory in The Netherlands and lead author of a paper on the finding to appear in the Jan. 10 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The data also indicate that the gases are hot, suggesting their distance from the star is comparable to that between the Earth and Sun.

Acetylene and hydrogen cyanide link together in the presence of water to form several of the 20 amino acids that make up proteins and one of the four chemical bases in DNA.

Grace Satellites Monitor Retreat of Greenland Ice

Data from NASA’s twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) satellites indicate the Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than previously thought , NASA announced Dec. 20.

Findings published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters show Greenland’s ice sheet — the largest freshwater reservoir in the Northern Hemisphere — shrank by 162 cubic kilometers between 2002 and 2005. That rate of retreat translates into a rise in global sea levels of about 0.4 millimeters per year .

The Grace satellites track minute changes in the gravity field resulting from changes in the Earth’s mass. The researchers used Grace to track changes in the ice sheet’s mass, and then used the data to gauge the intensity of deep sea currents that largely are responsible for these changes.

ILS To Begin Preparing for Launch of U.S. Weather Craft

International Launch Services (ILS), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, has received authorization from the U.S. Air Force to proceed with preparations to launch a military weather satellite aboard a Lockheed Martin-built Atlas 5 rocket in late 2007, ILS of McLean, Va., announced Dec. 20.

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft, called DMSP-18, also was built by Lockheed Martin and carries both visible and infrared sensors to assist in strategic and tactical weather prediction to support U.S. military planning and operations.

The DMSP-18 will launch from Lockheed Martin’s refurbished Space Launch Complex 3-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Modernized GPS Sate l lite Joins Operational System

The U.S. Air Force declared the first modernized GPS navigation satellite fully operational Dec. 16 after several on-orbit tests of the spacecraft’s military and civilian signals, according to a Dec. 19 Lockheed Martin press release.

GPS 2 R-14 , the first of eight GPS 2R spacecraft Lockheed Martin is modernizing , features an upgraded antenna panel for increased signal power , two new military signals, enhanced encryption and anti-jamming capabilities, and a second civilian signal. It was launched Sept. 25 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and declared operational by Air Force Space Command’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., where the GPS constellation is managed.

The Air Force and Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin now are preparing for the launch of a second modernized GPS 2R satellite early this year.

NASA Selects Software for Station Monitoring System

Composite Software, a San Mateo, Calif.-based information technology company, announced Dec. 19 that its Composite Information Server (CIS) 3.6 software will be used by NASA to operate a health-monitoring system aboard the international space station (ISS).

The monitoring system is designed to provide flight control teams with ready access to data on the status of space station systems and related information to analyze and correct problems quickly.

“Whenever an anomaly occurs on the ISS, the onboard astronauts and the ground support team need to find all related data, and then quickly and reliably analyze the fault, determine its cause and recommend a fix,” Ronald Mak, a computer scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz who is managing the project , said in a prepared statement. “By using CIS, we can configure access to the data sources, specify automatic data conversions and create joins between views.”

Astronomer Observes Meteor Striking Moon

Astronomers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., recorded a small but powerful meteoroid strike on the surface of the Moon Nov. 7 just northwest of the Mare Imbirum, or Sea of Showers.

While such impacts are not uncommon, it was not until 1999 that one was recorded as it took place. The recent meteoroid strike was spotted by Robert Suggs, Space Environment team lead in the Natural Environments branch of Marshall’s Engineering Directorate.

The rock is estimated to have been about 12 centimeters in diameter and to have left a crater 3 meters wide and 0.4 meters deep.

The flash from the impact, observed via recorded video imagery taken at Marshall, “was about as bright as a 7th magnitude star,” Suggs said. That’s dimmer than the faintest star a person can see with the naked eye.

New Software Is Operating DSCS-3, Milstar Satellites

Integral Systems’ CCS-C satellite control system now is being used to operate the U.S. Air Force’s DSCS 3 and Milstar communications satellites, Integral Systems of Lanham, Md., announced Dec. 15.

The CCS-C system, or Command and Control System-Consolidated, will replace an aging command and control system also provided by Integral. In addition to the DSCS 3 and Milstar satellites, the CCS-C system will be used to operate the Air Force’s planned Advanced Extremely High Frequency and Wideband Gapfiller communications satellites.

“[The CCS-C’s] streamlined user interfaces and task processing capabilities make it extremely responsive and enable us to fly and fight our Milstar weapon system much more effectively for warfighters across the globe,” Air Force Lt. Col. John Shaw, commander of the 4th Space Operations Squadron , said in a prepared statement.

Aviation Record Try Delayed; KSC Still To Be Launch Site

Virgin Atlantic’s GlobalFlyer aircraft, which will take off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla., in an attempt by pilot Steve Fossett to fly solo around the world without refueling, will not be transferred to KSC in early January as originally planned due to damage sustained to the aircraft’s wing following fueling in Salina, Kan., Virgin Atlantic announced Jan. 3.

If Fossett is successful in his attempt, it will be the longest such flight on either an aircraft or balloon, according to a Dec. 16 NASA news release. Take off originally was scheduled for February, but it is too early to determine if the delay will affect that date, Virgin Atlantic said.

The ultra-light GlobalFlyer aircraft was built by Scaled Composites Inc., the company founded by pioneering aviation designer Burt Rutan. For most of the flight the aircraft is scheduled to travel at altitudes near 14,000 meters and speeds up to around 460 kilometers per hour, NASA said. The GlobalFlyer is scheduled to circumvent the globe, pass Cape Canaveral and land in London, according to Suzanne Weldon, a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman.

The agreement to use Kennedy’s runway facility for the takeoff is part of a broader program to expand access to the space shuttle runway for non-NASA activities.

Students Build Parachutes For Shadow Sounding Rocket

Nearly 440 students at Oak Middle School in Los Alamitos, Calif., helped build parachute decelerators for the 2006 launch of a Shadow ID Sounding Rocket built by Lunar Rocket and Rover Co. of Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Following various trials , one of the 1.5-square-meter parachutes will be selected for the launch and will eject at an altitude of 76,200 meters to bring an unidentified payload to a splash-down in the Atlantic Ocean, according to a press release issued by Lunar Rocket .

Sixth and eighth grade students made the parachutes from sheeting material dubbed scrim, reinforced metalized mylar and polyimide that was laid out in long lanes in the school’s auditorium. The student teams marked out all the patterns on the sheets using plywood templates.

10th Midcourse Defense Interceptor Installed

Boeing Co. and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) installed the eighth interceptor rocket at Fort Greely in Alaska for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System, according to a Dec. 21 Boeing news release.

The Ground Based Midcourse Defense System also includes two interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“We have made steady progress providing MDA with the system needed to defend our country against a limited ballistic missile attack,” said Pat Shanahan, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems. “However, our job is just beginning. We will continue to bring Boeing’s wealth of expertise in system-of-systems integration to bear on the challenges of evolving the system to effectively address current and future missile threats as a part of the government’s spiral development plan.”

ITT Wins Missile Defense Support Army Contract

The U.S. Army awarded a contract worth up to $57 million to ITT Industries of White Plains, N.Y., for analysis and developmental support for missile defense projects, according to a Dec. 28 company news release .

ITT will help Army Space and Missile Defense Command better understand the threats posed by enemy systems as the military develops new interceptor systems, according to the news release.

“The tests and analyses performed by ITT will provide weapon developers and missile defense architecture planners with the information necessary to design solutions capable of defeating hostile missiles equipped with weapons of mass destruction,” according to the news release.