Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 17 April 2006
12:03 pm ET


Suspicions of Collusion Cloud ESA Competition

European Space Agency (ESA) program managers are threatening to reject all proposals for an Earth observation satellite amid suspicions that bidders may be colluding to divvy up work among themselves instead of competing for it.

ESA officials say they are concerned that European satellite-hardware builders have reached a tacit agreement on who will win the Sentinel-1 radar satellite contract as part of a broader deal covering the Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3 spacecraft, which will carry different instruments.

The Sentinel series is part of ESA’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program, being managed with the European Union. A contract for Sentinel-1, which would take measurements now gathered by radar payloads aboard the ERS-2 and Envisat satellites , is expected to be signed this year.

But agency officials say they suspect that prospective contractors have quietly decided who will win Sentinel-1, with the loser then being guaranteed a win on the later satellites.

ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said the agency “will proceed with Sentinel-1 only if there is real, serious competition. I am not going to accept only a semblance of it. I have told all concerned that we will pursue other avenues for this program if we do not receive truly competitive offers,” Dordain said in an April 11 interview.

India Offers To Supply Imagery to Google Earth

Indian government officials say they have offered to supply Google Inc. with satellite images of Indian territory, scrubbed clean of data on sensitive installations, to populate the company’s Google Earth map archive.

India, along with other countries including South Korea and Thailand, have complained that Google Earth has made images of sensitive installations readily available to potential enemies.

“We told them that if they use our maps there will be no contradiction between Indian map policy and what is available on the Web,” Valangiman Ramamurthy, secretary for India’s Department of Science and Technology , said in an interview . Indian mapping policy blurs images of sensitive installations such as military bases.

Ramamurthy also said that because Google combines images from several sources, features such as roads often do not match up and that it is difficult to tell when the imagery was taken.

Google spokeswoman Megan Quinn declined to address specific questions regarding Google’s relationship with India. She said in a statement that talks between Google and the Indian government are continuing.

“No government with which Google has discussed Google Earth has, after study and examination, presented an objection to Google Earth,” Quinn said in the statement.

EchoStar to Invest in Mystery Satellite Firm

EchoStar Communications Corp. has agreed to invest up to $150 million in an unnamed “non-U.S. satellite services project” and already has paid an initial $34 million for an equity stake in the venture, Littleton, Colo.-based EchoStar said April 13 in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The direct-broadcast television provider said its investment is contingent on the project’s meeting certain financial and development milestones, and that the funds will pay “a portion of the construction costs of a satellite to be used by the project,” the company said in the filing. EchoStar spokeswoman Kathie Gonzalez did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the investment.

EchoStar has agreed to be the principal customer for start-up companies Ciel in Canada and QuetzSat in Mexico, alongside partner SES Global of Luxembourg. Ciel signed a contract in March for the construction of its Ciel-2 satellite. QuetzSat has yet to announce the purchase of a satellite.

U.S., European Agencies Confirm Jason-2 Roles

Four agencies — two U.S., two European — have confirmed their respective roles in the development, launch and operations of a Jason-2 ocean-topography mission that users want launched before a nearly identical satellite, Jason-1, fails in orbit.

Jason-1 was launched in December 2001 on a planned five-year mission. Jason-2 is scheduled for launch aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket sometime in 2008.

The $300 million Jason-2 is being financed by NASA; the French space agency, CNES; the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmopsheric Administration (NOAA); and Europe’s Eumetsat meteorological organization. The four agencies announced April 11 that the final agreements on Jason-2 were concluded.

The 550-kilogram satellite resembles Jason-1 and is based on the same Proteus platform provided by Alcatel Alenia Space, the prime contractor.

But in addition to the Poseidon-3 ocean altimeter and other instruments on Jason-1, Jason-2 will add three new payloads. CNES will supply the Carmen 2 radiation detectors and the T2L2– time transfer by laser link — instrument to monitor the clock on Jason-2’s orbit-determination instruments. The Japan Space Agency will provide the Light Particle Telescope, which will complement the Carmen 2 radiation measurements.

NOAA and Eumetsat are participating in Jason-2 on the assumption that, after the Topex-Poseidon and Jason-1 research missions, space-based ocean altimetry develops into an operational service for their users, who require that data interruption periods be minimal. The four main Jason partners are hoping that Jason-1 proves as robust as its predecessor, Topex-Poseidon, which was launched on a three-year mission in August 1992 and was retired in January 2006.

Raytheon Wins More PAC-2 Upgrade Work

Raytheon Co . will upgrade 102 Patriot Advanced Capability 2 (PAC-2) air-defense missiles to a configuration called GEM Plus under a U.S. Army contract worth $47 million, according to a Raytheon news release dated April 13.

The Army has now ordered GEM Plus upgrades to a total of 770 PAC-2 missiles , Raytheon said. The work has been worth $256 million to the company since 2000, according to the news release.

Upgrading existing PAC-2 missiles to the GEM Plus configuration gives them a capability approaching that of the Army’s PAC-3 missile interceptors but at far less cost, Raytheon said.

MDA Launches Rocket From Hawaii Test Range

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) launched a rocket April 13 from the Pacific Missile Test Range in Hawaii carrying payloads designed to help the agency design better sensors and interceptors, according to an MDA news release.

The rocket included complex countermeasures, a mock re-entry vehicle, and a variety of experimental sensors for gathering radar and optical data that will feed into planned upgrades of various missile defense systems, according to the news release.

XM Seeks To Reduce Interest Rate on Debt

XM Satellite Radio is pursuing financial transactions designed to lower the interest rate on its debt and free up as much as $230 million in cash, the company said in an April 13 press release.

Chance Patterson, a spokesman for XM, did not return calls seeking details of the refinancing.

Shaun Parvez, an analyst with investment banker SG Cowen & Co. of New York, said the transactions are fairly standard and likely reflect the fact that XM’s credit profile has improved recently .

“It’s going to be a year of inflection for them, where they go cash flow positive,” Parvez said. “That in itself is an important milestone from a credit perspective.”

European Teams To Study Asteroid Deflection Mission

Three European consortia have been selected to do competing studies of an asteroid-deflection mission that the European Space Agency (ESA) is considering for a possible launch in 2011.

The three consortia are led by satellite prime contractors Alcatel Alenia Space and EADS Astrium, and QinetiQ of Britain, a defense and aerospace engineering company. ESA has given each consortium about 450,000 euros ($544,000 ) to produce a preliminary design of a mission called Don Quijote.

The Don Quijote mission includes two small satellites — one to ram into an asteroid, the other to witness the collision from close to measure the resulting change in the asteroid’s trajectory.

New Control System Can Operate Multiple Drones

Raytheon Co. has successfully demonstrated a prototype control system that can operate multiple unmanned vehicles from a single station, the company announced April 10.

Raytheon used the Multiple Vehicle Control System to simultaneously operate two unmanned aerial vehicles and one unmanned surface vehicle. The system, derived from the Tactical Control System (TCS) used to operate a single unmanned aircraft , can receive and display multiple video feeds and meets the STANAG 4586 specification, which allows members of the NATO alliance to share data gathered by their aerial drones .

Raytheon of Waltham, Mass., is under contract to the Naval Air Systems Command and U.S. Navy Program Execution Office for Strike Weapons and Unmanned Aviation to develop ground-based control systems.

“The unmanned air systems that are deployed today consist of one ground station with one type of air vehicle,” Steve Daniel, a program manager at the Naval Air Systems Command who led the demonstration effort, said in the news release. “This experiment demonstrates how the TCS program is going even further by using a single TCS-based ground station to control multiple air and surface unmanned vehicles.”

The demonstration followed a script for a special operations rescue scenario in which the unmanned vehicles were used to help detect and engage enemy forces and relocate from a primary to a secondary extraction point.

ISS Crew Returns to Earth With Brazil’s First Astronaut

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(0.000,0,” “,)> After spending six months in space, a two-person international space station (ISS) crew returned to Earth April 8 along with Brazil’s first astronaut aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA capsule.

ISS Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev, and Brazilian Marcos Pontes, landed safely on the steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

McArthur and Tokarev spent 189 days aboard the ISS before returning to Earth. Pontes racked up 10 days in orbit, a week of which was spent performing experiments aboard the ISS under a $10 million agreement between the space agencies of Brazil and Russia.

Pontes launched toward the ISS March 30 along with the space station’s new crew, Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov and flight engineer Jeffrey Williams. Vinogradov and Williams will spend the next six months aboard the orbital laboratory.

During their stay aboard the ISS, McArthur, 54, and Tokarev, 53, staged two spacewalks, tossed an unmanned Russian spacesuit into orbit as part of a radio experiment, and had the fortune of being in orbit during a solar eclipse, in which the Moon’s shadow was visible on Earth.

Japan Tests Space-to-Ground Optical Communications Link

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communication Technology have successfully demonstrated an optical communications link between a low-orbiting satellite and ground station, JAXA announced April 7.

The series of experiments, held March 22 through March 31, successfully established an optical communications link using laser beams between a ground station near Tokyo and JAXA’s Kirari (Oicets) communications satellite orbiting at an altitude of 600 kilometers.

Establishing such a link requires the satellite to accurately send laser beams to the ground station while it is moving at orbital speed. Kirari will continue testing its laser link with ground stations operated by the Institute of Information and by the German space agency, DLR. Kirari also will test intersatellite laser links with the European Space Agency’s Artemis satellite .

New SAIC Mapping Center Will Aid Disaster Response

Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) has established an Emergency Mapping and Analysis Center at its Melbourne, Fla., facilities to assist the state in responding to hurricanes , according to an April 11 SAIC news release.

The new center will use optical remote sensing and synthetic aperture radar data to track storm damage and plan relief efforts.

“With this information, we can assess the differences in topography, land cover or structures that result from damage and then these differences can be rapidly depicted in map form,” Dave Bookman, senior systems engineer at SAIC’s Advanced Radar Research and Development and Production Center in Melbourne , said in the news release.

“The [center] will facilitate the calculation and assessment of consequences by converting the geographic distribution of hazards into probabilities of casualties,” John Thomas, SAIC senior vice president, said in the release.

Microcosm Releases Daytime Star Tracker

Microcosm Inc. of El Segundo, Calif., has developed a star-sensing system that can detect 7.1-magnitude stars in daylight hours and could supplement GPS and other navigation systems aboard ground and sea vehicles , according to an April 6 company news release.

The DayStar system houses three telescopes, each with a 7.6-centimeter aperture, in one unit. Using the system, Microcosm successfully imaged stars at sea level at various times throughout the day, including early afternoon when the sun is at its peak.

The DayStar tracker was developed under a Small Business Innovative Research Phase 2 contract with the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and the Naval Observatory.

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Saab, Austrian Aerospace To Supply Galileo Hardware

Saab Ericsson Space Group of Gothenburg, Sweden, and its subsidiary, Austrian Aerospace of Vienna, will provide computer systems, navigation signal generators, C- and S-band antennas, and payload-handling devices for the first four Galileo navigation satellites under contracts announced April 7.

Under the contracts, whose combined value is 30 million euros ($36 million), Saab Ericsson Space Group will deliver the hardware to various Galileo system prime contractors as part of Galileo’s In-Orbit Validation phase, which is being financed by the European Space Agency and the European Union.

Galileo is a 30-satellite constellation expected to be in service around 2011. Contracts for the remaining 26 satellites will be subject to a separate competitive bidding process managed by a private consortium now negotiating the final multi year Galileo concession contract terms with European governments.

Debris Disk Circling Pulsar May Generate New Planets

Scientists using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered a disk of debris circling a pulsar that eventually could agglomerate to form planets, NASA announced April 5.

The pulsar, which is the remnant of a star destroyed in a supernova explosion, is located 13,000 light years away in the Cassiopeia constellation. Scientists say the disk of debris is material left over from this supernova explosion.

The debris disk orbits the pulsar at a distance of about 1.6 million kilometers and contains nearly 10 Earth-masses of material, according to the news release.

“Pulsars emit a tremendous amount of high-energy radiation, yet within this harsh environment we have a disk that looks a lot like those around young stars where planets are formed,” Deepto Chakrabarty, the study’s principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of Cambridge, said in the news release. A paper on the finding can be found in the April 6 issue of the journal Nature.

The finding could shed light on an older discovery, when astronomer Aleksander Wolszczan of Pennsylvania State University found three planets circling a pulsar called PSR B1257+12+. Astronomers had theorized these planets formed from a debris disk, but no direct evidence of such a disk had been discovered until now.

Globecomm Wins Contract From Unidentified U.S. Agency

Globecomm Systems Inc. of Hauppauge, N.Y., will provide satellite infrastructure for an unnamed U.S. government agency under a contract worth about $1.1 million, the company announced April 5.

“The company is a prime contractor for a major government agency who has turned to Globecomm multiple times over the past few years for its satellite infrastructure requirements,” David Hershberg, chairman and chief executive officer of Globecomm, said in the news release. “We believe that our relationship with this customer is strong and will result in additional awards in the future.”

Globecomm provides telecommunications solutions using capacity leased from commercial satellite operators.

WildBlue Adds 5 Resellers For Satellite Internet Service

WildBlue Communications Inc. of Denver has signed reseller agreements with five more companies for its satellite-based broadband Internet service, WildBlue announced April 10.

The five new resellers are: Dove Digital Services of Louisiana; Horizon Technical Services Inc. of Florida; CVG Inc. of Reston, Va.; August West Enterprise Solutions of Colorado; and NetSky of Massachusetts. WildBlue’s Internet service provides download speeds up to 1.5 megabits per second and upload speeds of up to 256 kilobits per second.

WildBlue currently provides its service using leased capacity on Telesat Canada’s Anik F2 satellite, but plans to launch its own dedicated satellite in late 2006.

Raytheon To Upgrade Early Warning Radar in Greenland

Raytheon Co. will upgrade an early warning radar in Greenland that provides missile detection and tracking for the U.S. Defense Department’s Ground Based Midcourse Defense system under a contract worth $114 million, the Waltham, Mass.-based company announced April 10.

As prime contractor, Raytheon will integrate new electronics, computer hardware and mission software to a phased array antenna facility in Thule, Greenland, which provides detection of potential ballistic missile attacks in conjunction with radars at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and the Royal Air Force Fylingdales. Under the contract, Raytheon also will support integrated tests of the Upgraded Early Warning Radar.

Northrop Grumman Tests KEI Fire Control System

Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Va., has successfully completed a second test of the fire control and communications system designed for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), the company announced April 10.

The test demonstrated that the system’s communications unit can fuse data from multiple sources to predict and track the course of threatening ballistic missiles, the company said in a press release .

The Kinetic Energy Interceptor is a high-speed interceptor designed to destroy a hostile missile during its boost, ascent or early midcourse phase of flight. In the April 5 test, the fire control and communications system was able to integrate sensor data from multiple sources to perform tracking, prediction and threat-typing duties within the tight timeline available to shoot down a target, according to the release.

Prime contractor Northrop Grumman said the interceptor program is on track for a booster flight in 2008. The first test of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor’s fire control system was conducted March 1.

Japan’s Superbird 7 Satellite To Launch on Ariane 5 Rocket

Tokyo-based Space Communications Corp.’s (SCC) Superbird 7 telecommunications satellite will be launched by a European Ariane 5 rocket in early 2008 under a contract announced April 10 between Arianespace and Superbird 7 prime contractor Mitsubishi Electric Corp.

The 5,000-kilogram satellite, carrying 28 Ku-band transponders, will be operated in geostationary orbit at 144 degrees east longitude, where it will replace SCC’s Superbird C satellite. Superbird C, a Boeing Satellite Systems International BSS-601 design, was launched in July 1997.

Superbird 7 will be the first commercial telecommunications satellite built by a Japanese company. The spacecraft will employ Mitsubishi’s DS2000 platform, the same structure used for the Japanese government’s MtSat-2 multipurpose satellite. Mitsubishi said the MtSat-2 project proved the cost-effectiveness of the DS2000 satellite bus. The satellite is designed to operate for at least 15 years.

Mitsubishi’s contract with SCC is for the in-orbit delivery of Superbird 7, meaning the satellite’s manufacturer, not its owner, selects the launch-services provider.

SCC’s Superbird A2 satellite, a Boeing 601 model launched in April 2004 and called Superbird 6 before launch, suffered a drop in pressure in its fuel tanks soon after launch and has since been declared a total loss. The satellite was designed to operate for 15 years.

NASA Seeks To Develop Work Park at Kennedy

NASA is seeking to develop a work park at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida where companies can do work that supports President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration, the agency announced April 6.

NASA hopes the facility, called Exploration Park at John. F Kennedy Space Center, will attract firms that provide space technology, space commerce and space education in support of NASA programs.

“Exploration Park will be a site where the private sector brings both traditional and nontraditional work to Kennedy Space Center in support of both our NASA programs and commercial space initiatives that find value in locating their operations here,” KSC Director Jim Kennedy said in the release.

Exploration Park would be located along Space Commerce Way behind the KSC Visitor Complex.

Royal Air Force To Use AGI Software for Analysis

Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI) of Exton, Pa., will provide software for satellite-data analysis and distribution to the Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom for its Satellite Warning Service, AGI announced April 6.

Operators at the long-range radar station in Fylingdales will use AGI’s 4DX software to analyze interrelationships between land, sea, air and space elements of England’s ballistic missile early warning system , and then can easily distribute reports to Ministry of Defence clients.

SSAI Inc. To Support NASA Atmospheres Lab

Science Systems and Applications Inc. (SSAI) of Lanham, Md., will provide scientific and technical support to three branches of the Laboratory for Atmospheres at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., under a five-year contract worth up to $45 million, NASA announced April 7.

SSAI will provide a number of scientific and technical support services, including analyzing data from NASA satellites to determine global rainfall distribution and atmospheric ozone levels, developing instruments for atmospheric measurements, and providing numerical modeling of hurricane and cloud systems, according to the NASA release.

Work will be done at Goddard as well as at SSAI’s Lanham facility.

Boeing Donates $15 Million To Air and Space Museum

Boeing Co. of Chicago has donated $15 million to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington to help fund programming and maintain artifacts at the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly Va., where items that cannot be displayed on the National Mall are kept.

The National Air and Space Museum announced April 10 that the central structure of the Udvar-Hazy Center will be called the Boeing Aviation Hangar in honor of the donation.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com