Bigelow Launches Its First Inflatable Module

Bigelow Aerospace successfully launched its first inflatable space module July 17 aboard a Russian- and Ukrainian-built Dnepr rocket, a converted SS-18 missile that was launched from Russia’s Yasny Launch Base by International Space Company (ISC) Kosmotras.

In a posting on the company’s Web site July 13, company founder Robert Bigelow said the firm’s Genesis-1 module had successfully expanded and that all of its systems were operating within expected parameters with temperature, avionics, solar arrays and battery power all positive.

“All of the module’s initial orbits have had direct sunlight, which has helped in charging the main battery to maximum capacity. Pressure on board the spacecraft has remained constant at 7.5 pounds per square inch (PSI). That being the case, it appears that the integrity of the expandable module is good,” wrote Bigelow, who heads the Las Vegas -based entrepreneurial space firm.

Mike Gold, corporate counsel for Bigelow Aerospace in Washington, said in a telephone interview that Genesis-1, an experimental vehicle intended to pave the way for much larger inhabitable space systems, could remain in orbit for years, helping the company’s space engineers learn how the module’s systems cope with the harsh space environment.

“We believe that the expandable Bigelow Aerospace system will not only offer protection equal to traditional habitat designs, but will actually exceed those,” Gold said.

“Our motto at Bigelow Aerospace is ‘fly early and often.’ Regardless of the results of Genesis-1, we will launch a follow-up mission rapidly,” Gold said. “As a matter of fact, work on Genesis-2 was already under way last year, and is proceeding in earnest as we speak.”

Gold said the company plans six to 10 sub scale demonstrator flights, which will help establish both the technology and the business case necessary for the deployment of a full-scale, private sector expandable habitat, a successor to the Genesis-class hardware currently called Galaxy. The full-scale expandable module is called the BA-330, a designation noting the 330 cubic meters of usable volume that each individual habitat would provide.

Turkey Seeking Turnkey Optical Imaging Satellite

The Turkish military July 14 published a request for bids from companies interested in providing a turnkey optical satellite surveillance system, with a bid deadline set for Nov. 17.

The renewed interest in satellite surveillance by the Turkish Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM) follows a 2005 solicitation in which Turkey asked for bids on both a radar and an optical satellite. That bid request elicited interest from 48 companies from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine and the United States as well as Turkey.

The current project, called Gokturk, is for the in-orbit delivery of one optical reconnaissance satellite, plus one fixed and one mobile ground station.

THAAD Finds, Destroys Hera Ballistic Missile in MDA Test

Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency completed a successful test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system July 12 in which a seeker intercepted and destroyed a Hera ballistic missile, according Lockheed Martin, prime contractor on the program.

It was the first demonstration of the THAAD system that involved an interceptor target. The system, which is designed to knock down short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles, met all test objectives, including demonstration of the launcher, communications and interceptor operations, kill vehicle control and target acquisition, according to Lockheed Martin.

“This is the first opportunity to have a target in the air at this phase in the program,” Tom McGrath, Lockheed program manager and vice president for THAAD, said in a July 12 teleconference.

The demonstration, held at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, follows two successful flight and integration tests of the system held in November 2005 and May 2006. McGrath said two more demonstrations are expected to be completed at White Sands by early 2007 , then the program will move to the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii to complete the remainder of the 15 total flight demonstrations.

McGrath said he expected the system to be deployed “in a few years.”

JPL Presses To Preserve Funding for SIM Project

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Pasadena, Calif.-based NASA field center in charge of the Space Interferometry Mission, has dispatched allies to Washington to make the case to U.S. lawmakers for continued robust funding of the program, which is being cut as part of the effort to help pay for the completion of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA (see related story on page 6).

Industry representatives and hired lobbyists armed with briefing charts provided by JPL have been busy on Capitol Hill extolling the scientific virtues of SIM, which is designed to measure the distances between stars with unprecedented accuracy, detect Earth-like planets in nearby solar systems, and attempt the first sighting of dark matter. Advocates also are pointing out that SIM’s cost growth is a result of program delays caused by years of unsteady and insufficient funding. “Any program that gets stretched out costs more money,” one SIM backer said.

Asked about JPL’s effort to muster political support for SIM, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin feigned surprise before saying he expected the field center to fall in line behind NASA headquarters’ decision.

“I’m shocked — shocked — to discover that field centers are pushing back on headquarters’ decisions,” Griffin said to the amusement of the crowd at a Capitol Hill luncheon sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association, which included Ron Sugar, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman, JPL’s industrial partner on SIM. “Let me collect my thoughts for a minute. … What I need from JPL as well as all of our other centers is loyalty to respect that necessary decisions have been made,” Griffin said.

Intelsat Asks To Lease PAS-5 Ku-Band Capacity to Arabsat

Intelsat has asked U.S. regulators to allow it to lease Ku-band capacity on its PAS-5 satellite to the Arabsat satellite organization until early 2007, by which time Arabsat is scheduled to have a new satellite in orbit. PAS-5, whose on board battery failure has made it less useful to Intelsat, since 2002 has been operating from Arabsat’s 26 degrees east longitude location to provide the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based satellite operator with C-band capacity.

Since the move, PanAmSat — now Intelsat — has retained ownership and control of the satellite, which Arabsat has renamed Arabsat 2C. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) limited the company’s original agreement with Arabsat to C-band.

The February loss of the Arabsat 4A satellite in a launch failure has forced Arabsat to scramble for additional capacity until its Arabsat 4B is launched in December.

Arabsat already is leasing the former Eutelsat Hot Bird 5 satellite, which Paris-based Eutelsat has subsequently renamed Eurobird 2. Arabsat has said repeatedly since the loss of Arabsat 4A that it would continue to honor its customer contracts.

Khalid Balkheyour, Arabsat’s chief executive, felt obliged to issue a public statement refuting rumors that some Arabsat customers would be obliged to look elsewhere for service because of the Arabsat 4A loss. “What has been circulating — the questioning of our technical capabilities and/or ability to honor long-term service contracts — has simply no grounding in truth whatsoever,” Balkheyour said in a March statement to Arabsat customers. “Moreover, we consider such maneuvers totally inconsistent with the very basic ethics and moral rules of normal and healthy professional and commercial business practices between respectable organizations.”

Intelsat is asking the FCC to approve a six-month lease of PAS-5’s Ku-band capacity starting July 18, meaning that it would expire at about the same time as the current C-band arrangement.

Pratt & Whitney Tests Potential Lunar Lander Engine

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has successfully tested a cryogenic engine that could be used for the lander that NASA intends to develop to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2020, the company announced July 6.

Pratt & Whitney demonstrated the Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine’s deep throttling capability — the ability to operate at widely varying thrust levels — required for traveling in space and performing a controlled decent and landing on the Moon, the news release said.

The engine, fueled by a mixture of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, packs 15,000 pounds of thrust. It is based on Pratt & Whitney’s RL10 engine, which today is used as the upper stage on Atlas 5 and Delta 4 launch vehicles.

“We are extremely pleased that the performance of the [cryogenic engine] clearly demonstrates the engine is fully capable of supporting NASA’s lunar-landing objectives,” Graham Webb, general manager of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s West Palm Beach, Fla., facilities, where the demonstration took place, said in the release.

NASA awarded Pratt & Whitney a $6 million contract in June 2005 to develop and test the engine. Thus far, the engine has a total run time of 900 seconds since testing began in April.

Chile Rethinks Sole-Source Imaging Satellite Contract

The Chilean Defense Ministry, in a policy shift, has decided against ordering an Earth observation satellite directly from Astrium of Europe and instead will conduct an international competition for the program, the ministry announced July 6.

Astrium and the Defense Ministry had signed a letter of intent for the satellite in March, before Chile’s change of government. The new defense minister, Vivianne Blanlot, asked Astrium to extend the deal’s May contract-signing deadline to permit the new government to establish its priorities and review the agreement’s financial details.

The ministry said the review concluded that the project remains interesting for both civil and military users but that it is best pursued by an open bid competition. The ministry said it hopes that Astrium will take part in the competition, for which no dates were announced.

Thuraya Phones, Service To Aid First Responders

Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Co. of the United Arab Emirates will provide hand-held satellite terminals and discounted air time to humanitarian and government agencies responding to disasters under an agreement reached with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) of Geneva, a United Nations affiliate, the ITU announced.

Under the agreement, Thuraya will provide dual-mode handsets capable of using both terrestrial cellular networks and, when those links are down following a disaster, Thuraya’s satellite for voice and data communications. The equipment will be provided to the ITU, which will distribute the units to first responders for disaster response. The air time will be billed at discounted rates when the handsets are used.

“The responsiveness of relief efforts can be made much more efficient through such partnerships,” Thuraya Chief Executive Yousuf Al Sayed said in a statement. Thuraya’s geostationary-orbiting spacecraft covers all but the southern tip of Africa, most of Europe, the Middle East, Central and South Asia.

SSTL, Astrium To Market Small Radar Satellite

Britain’s two principal satellite builders, Astrium Ltd. and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), have agreed to join forces to design a small radar Earth observation satellite using an SSTL platform and an Astrium synthetic-aperture X-band radar payload, the two companies announced July 10.

The AstroSAR-UK satellite as yet has no customers, but the two manufacturers hope the British government will show an interest in an eventual purchase once the spacecraft’s performance characteristics and price have been demonstrated.

Sir Martin Sweeting, chief executive of SSTL, said July 10 that the AstroSAR-UK idea has been in the works at SSTL for more than five years, but that finding a payload suitable for system has been difficult. Like most SSTL-built satellites, AstroSAR-UK would have a launch mass of less than 500 kilograms.

“Teaming with Astrium for the payload has been under discussion for some time, too, but we believe that we have now reached the stage where it all fits together — their payload and our platform,” Sweeting said.

David Carter, project manager at Astrium Ltd., said in a statement: “We want to have the opportunity to demonstrate a key capability for the U.K. government and bring in other niche capabilities from U.K. industry to provide a world-leading capability in the next three years.”

AstroSAR-UK would feature an X-band phased-array radar based on an airborne system Astrium has developed.

MT Aerospace To Supply Ariane 5 Upper-Stage Parts

MT Aerospace of Augsburg, Germany, will build components for the cryogenic upper stage of Europe’s Ariane 5 ECA rockets under a contract with Cryospace of Les Mureaux, France.

Under the contract, valued at 55 million euros ($70 million), MT Aerospace, a subsidiary of OHB Technology AG of Bremen, Germany, will supply the hardware between 2006 and 2009. MT Aerospace owns 8 percent of the Arianespace commercial-launch consortium, which operates the Ariane 5 vehicles.

QinetiQ, C&N To Incorporate GPS Into Personal Devices

London-based QinetiQ and C&N Inc. of Tokyo have signed an agreement to incorporate GPS technology developed by QinetiQ into electronic portable devices such as mobile phones, navigation devices, personal organizers, cameras and watches, according to a July 3 QinetiQ press release.

The devices would be outfitted with QinetiQ’s Q20 GPS chip, which is designed to enable satellite tracking in low signal environments, such as inside buildings, according to the release.

Radar Satellites Monitor French Riviera for Oil Spills

The French Riviera is adding radar satellite surveillance to its established airborne coastal monitoring program this summer to spot oil spills in time to permit cleanup vessels to intervene before the pollution arrives at area beaches.

The regional government of the Alpes-Maritimes said supplementing the aerial coverage with regular radar satellite imagery will permit it to act more quickly by permitting surveillance at night and through cloud cover.

Spot Image of Toulouse, France, has been enlisted to secure imagery from Canada’s Radarsat and Europe’s Envisat satellites to survey a 120-kilometer-long area during the summer vacation season. The program is budgeted at 144,313 euros ($185,000) and will end Sept. 15. An additional 221,000 euros will be spent on daily aircraft overflights of the area to complement the satellite data.

Boost Technologies of Brest, France, will be responsible for satellite imagery analysis. If an oil spill that threatens the beaches is spotted, Boost will notify Groupe Acri of Sophia Antipolis, which will analyze wind and current data to determine the likely drift of the spill before local authorities deploy pollution-cleanup vessels to the scene.

The program is purchasing two images per day from each satellite as it passes over the region. The spacecraft will be providing imagery with a ground resolution of 50 meters.

Vietnam Television Renews Measat-2 Capacity Contract

Vietnam Television has renewed its contract to lease capacity aboard the Measat-2 satellite operated by Measat Satellite Systems Sdn. Bhd. of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the 148 degrees east longitude orbital slot, Measat announced July 12.

Vietnam Television, which debuted its satellite-television service in 2004, offers 20 direct-to-home television channels and plans to add further channels in the coming months.

Measat operates two telecommunications satellites. Measat-3, under construction at Boeing Satellite Systems International, is scheduled for launch late this year. Measat-1R, being built by Orbital Sciences Corp., is scheduled for launch in late 2007.

HughesNet Subscriptions Reach 300,000 Mark

The number of subscribers to the HughesNet satellite broadband service grew to 300,000 during the second quarter of 2006, Hughes Network Systems announced June 28. The figure represents a 19 percent increase over the same time period in 2005, according to a June 28 press release from Germantown, Md.-based Hughes. The increase shows that more rural areas are choosing to sign up for a satellite broadband service, the release said.

During the first half of 2006, Hughes has averaged more than 10,000 new subscribers per month, the release said.

Meanwhile, Hughes Communications, which owns 100 percent of Hughes Network Systems, has applied for a listing on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Hughes’ common stock has been quoted on the Over-the-Counter (OTC) Bulletin Board market since February, when it became a publicly traded company.

Globecomm, EMS Satcom Team on NATO Contract

Globecomm Systems of Hauppauge, N.Y. will team with EMS Satcom of Ottawa to provide a multinational GPS -based tracking system for the NATO alliance under a $7.8 million contract.

NATO will use the system to locate NATO and other multinational forces, according to a July 10 press release from EMS Satcom. The system will help distinguish between friendly and enemy forces to prevent incidents of fratricide, the release said. Globecomm will serve as the prime contractor, with EMS as the major subcontractor, the release said.

Advatech Pacific Acquires Earth Space Applications

Aerospace engineering firm Advatech Pacific Inc. of Redlands, Calif., has purchased space and missile defense consulting firm Earth Space Applications Inc. for an undisclosed sum, according to a July 12 press release from Advatech Pacific.

The deal took effect July 1. According to the release, the two companies have worked together previously in support of both U.S. Air Force and NASA projects.

San Diego-based Earth Space Applications was founded by two former employees of Falls Church, Va.-based General Dynamics.

Saft Wins Contract for MSV Satellite Batteries

Saft America will supply what the company says may be the largest batteries ever mounted on a satellite for two Boeing BSS 702-model spacecraft being built for Mobile Satellite Ventures’ mobile communications project, Saft announced.

Under the contract with Boeing Satellite Systems International, which Saft values at several million dollars, Saft America’s Cockeysville, Md., plant will provide lithium-ion batteries for the MSV satellites, each of which will be capable of generating 11 kilowatts of power at the end of its service life. The contract includes an option for a possible MSV satellite for South America.

The satellites, to be operated in geostationary orbit for North American voice and data communications, are designed to operate for up to 18 years. Anne L. Sennet-Cassity, director of space sales in Saft’s space and defense division, said the batteries will be the largest ever built by the company and “the largest to be installed on a satellite, to our knowledge.”

The batteries will be delivered to Boeing in 2007. Saft has built lithium-ion batteries for satellites manufacturered by several other prime contractors, but this contract is the company’s first to provide the technology to Boeing. Similar technology using Saft’s VES140 lithium-ion product, but for smaller individual battery assemblies, is flying on Eutelsat’s W3A, Hispasat’s Amazonas and the French Defense Ministry’s Syracuse 3A satellites.