Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 16 January 2006
01:54 pm ET


Congress Notified of Nunn-McCurdy Breach on NPOESS

The U.S. Air Force formally notified Congress Jan. 12 that the cost of a new generation of weather satellites has risen by more than 25 percent, triggering a mandatory review of the program that could possibly lead to cancellation, according to an Air Force news release.

The review of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), which is jointly funded by the Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was required by the so-called Nunn-McCurdy legislation developed by Congress with the goal of ensuring better oversight of procurement programs.

Kenneth Krieg, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, will decide in May whether to cancel the program, or to continue it, according to the Jan. 12 news release.

Continuation of a program that triggers a Nunn-McCurdy review can be justified for several reasons including: importance to national security, lack of an available equivalent capability at a lower cost, a reliable current cost estimate, and confidence that the management structure for the program can keep its cost under control for the future, according to the news release.

The projected cost of the NPOESS program, which is run by Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles, has risen well above its previous estimate of $7.4 billion largely due to technical difficulty with its sensors.

New Detailed Guidelines Issued To CEV Bidders

NASA has issued detailed guidelines to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman for updating their competing proposals to build the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) the U.S. space agency would like to see in service no later than 2012. The new proposals are due March 20. NASA expects to select a CEV prime contractor later this year.

As expected, the so-called Call for Improvements, released to the two contractor teams Jan. 11, specifies that the CEV should be a blunt-bodied capsule. More surprisingly, the Call for Improvements drops a requirement for using a liquid-oxygen methane engine for the CEV service module. In addition, contractors are no longer being asked to design a version of the CEV capable of delivering unpressurized cargo to the international space station.

QinetiQ Sets IPO Goal At 150 Million Pounds

British defense and space technology company QinetiQ Group plc expects to raise 150 million British pounds ($265.7 million) in gross proceeds following a planned February introduction of shares on the London Stock Exchange, the company announced Jan. 12.

QinetiQ’s two principal shareholders — the British government and The Carlyle Group, a private-equity company — will sell part of their existing stakes in QinetiQ at the same time as the initial public offering (IPO).

Britain’s state secretary for defence, John Reid, notified Parliament Jan. 12 that the government was reducing its stake in Farnborough, England-based QinetiQ in a continuation of a privatization policy for defense research companies that began in 1998.

QinetiQ was formed in 2001 with the government as sole owner. In early 2003, the U.S.-based Carlyle Group purchased 51 percent of the voting shares in QinetiQ as a start to the company’s full privatization.

In his statement to Parliament, Reid said the British government will retain “a significant stake” in QinetiQ and “will also retain a special share in the company to ensure that the U.K.’s defence interests are safeguarded.”

QinetiQ has been widening its product range to include civil and military space technologies. The company is system prime contractor for the British government’s TopSat Earth observation satellite, launched in October 2005, and is also a regular contractor to the European Space Agency.

QinetiQ reported an operating profit, before exceptional items, of 69.3 million British pounds on revenues of 872.4 million pounds for the fiscal year ending March 2005. Profit was up 28 percent, and revenue increased by 10 percent, compared to the previous year.

Credit Suisse First Boston Europe Ltd., JPMorgan Cazenove Ltd. and Merrill Lynch International are representing QinetiQ, the British government and Carlyle for the stock-market introduction .

NGA Issues New Strategy To Meet Future Challenges

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency released what its officials called a vision for the future that addresses challenges faced by the agency and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which oversees NGA’s operations.

In a Jan. 12 press release, NGA said that the document, called the “National System for Geospatial-Intelligence Statement of Strategic Intent,” emphasizes the adoption of fresh analytical approaches, collaboration with peers and partners, improved information sharing and rapid incorporation of new technologies.

Some of the statement’s goals include using geospatial intelligence to effectively respond to global threats, making systems more interoperable, attracting a work force with the skills necessary to face global threats, and improving technologies so that intelligence stays timely and relevant.

In the report, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, NGA’s director, said that the agency will need to be open to change in order to reflect the new approach to national intelligence defined by the DNI.

“It will require adapting and realigning to new ways of doing business, adopting and complying with accepted standards and guidance, and most importantly, embracing change and accepting risk as fundamental to remaining vital and relevant,” Clapper said.

Despite Upheaval, Telenor Says Strategy Is Unchanged

The resignation of the chief executive of commercial satellite operator Telenor Satellite Services AS (TSS) of Norway will not lead to a change in strategy at the company, which has been seeking growth opportunities in Europe and the Middle East, TSS Chairman Bjarne Aamodt said Jan. 12.

Oslo-based TSS has named Morten Tengs to replace Tore Hilde, who on Jan. 9 said he was leaving the company because of “differences of opinion relating to TSS’s operations,” according to a Telenor statement announcing the resignation. Tengs, currently chief executive of Telenor Global Services, will assume his new position Feb. 1.

In an interview, Aamodt declined to discuss the reasons for Hilde’s departure. He said TSS, which recently ordered a new satellite, called Thor 2R, to bolster its aging three-satellite fleet, would not depart from its current strategic direction.

TSS officials have said they are likely in 2006 to order another satellite to replace an in-orbit satellite that will be retired in 2010. Telenor co-owns the Intelsat 10-02 satellite with Intelsat Ltd. of Washington.

In 2004, TSS reported sales of $110 million.

In an unrelated announcement, TSS’s corporate parent, Telenor ASA, said Jan. 12 that it had sold slightly more than half its equity stake in mobile satellite-services provider Inmarsat plc of London for 75.1 million British pounds ($133 million), or 3.48 pounds per share. The sale leaves Telenor with a 4.6-percent ownership stake in Inmarsat, which is traded on the London Stock Exchange.

N.M. Grants Spaceport Access to 15,000 Acres

New Mexico’s Spaceport Authority has gained at least temporary access to nearly 15,000 acres of state trust lands near Upham, N.M., the proposed site for the Southwest Regional Spaceport.

In a Jan. 11 announcement from the Economic Development Department in Santa Fe, Patrick Lyons, the state’s commissioner of public lands, and Rick Homans, cabinet secretary of the Economic Development Department, said they have negotiated the right of entry permit with two ranchers who have held agricultural leases on state trust lands near the proposed spaceport site for more than 50 years. The right of entry permit is valid until January 2007. Homans said the first rocket launch from the spaceport is now slated for March 27, 2006. The vehicle to be launched is SpaceLoft XL, a suborbital rocket developed by UP Aerospace of Unionville, Conn., said Eric Knight, the company’s chief executive officer.

A more permanent solution than the right of entry permit may come from the legislation state lawmakers will soon turn their attention to: a proposed $100 million appropriation to pay for infrastructure at the spaceport site.

In a related development, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced Jan. 9 the Governor Richardson’s Investment Program (GRIP 2 ) plan to partner with local communities across New Mexico to pay for local transportation projects. The first project would be $25 million to support roads at the new spaceport.

U.S. Air Force Orders Third Advanced EHF Craft

The U.S. Air Force picked up the option for a third Advanced Extremely High Frequency (EHF) secure communications satellite from Lockheed Martin Jan. 12, according to a Pentagon contract announcement.

The Air Force had planned to pick up the option, which is worth $491 million, since the beginning of the program. The satellite is expected to launch in 2010, according to the contract announcement.

Northrop Delivers Sensor For NPOESS Demo Satellite

Northrop Grumman has delivered the first sensor for a satellite that will demonstrate key instruments for the planned U.S. civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), the company announced Jan. 5.

The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder, which will measure atmospheric temperature, humidity and pressure, was built in Azusa, Calif., by a division of Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems of Baltimore. It is part of the instrument payload slated to launch in 2008 aboard NASA’s NPOESS Preparatory Mission satellite.

The NPOESS satellites, slated to begin launching around the end of the decade, will monitor global weather conditions for both the U.S. Department of Defense and the civilian National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Another Northrop Grumman division is the prime contractor on the NPOESS program.

Sea Based X-Band Radar Makes Stop in Hawaii

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Boeing-built Sea-Based X-Band Radar has made an interim stop in Hawaii on its journey from the Gulf of Mexico to its operating location at Adak, Alaska, Boeing announced Jan. 10. The radar will be used to track incoming missiles as part of the Ground-Based Mid course Defense system, the U.S. territorial missile shield now being deployed.

“The arrival of [the Sea-Based X-Band Radar] in the Pacific builds on the momentum of the Ground- Based Midcourse Defense program, which recently conducted a successful flight test and installed its 10th operational interceptor missile at Fort Greely ” in Alaska, Pat Shanahan, vice president and general manger of Boeing Missile Defense Systems in Huntsville, Ala., said in a prepared statement.

The X-Band radar was transported to the Pacific Ocean aboard the heavy transport vessel Blue Marlin, which is owned and operated by Dockwise Shipping BV of Breda, The Netherlands. The radar will be able to independently move throughout the Pacific in support of missile testing or defense operations.

New FCS Regional Office Will Be Opened in Texas

Boeing of Chicago and Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, the prime contractor team for the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) , announced Jan. 9 that a new regional office for the program will be opening in El Paso, Texas, sometime in February. The office will be located in an existing Boeing facility .

The office will be co-led by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command and the FCS Program Management Office. In early 2007, it will move to Fort Bliss, Texas, an Army test range and “ideal location for FCS program test activities,” Charles Cartwright, an FCS program manager, said in the news release.

Northrop To Continue Providing RSLP Support

Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Va., has won a follow-on contract potentially worth up to $100 million over five years to provide technical support to the U.S. Air Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP), Northrop Grumman announced Jan. 11.

Northrop Grumman, with 25 years of experience on the RSLP program, will continue providing independent validation and verification services of Minuteman 2 ICBM motors , according to the news release. The RSLP provides the U.S. Defense Department with target missiles and space launch vehicles for missile defense and test programs.

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., is providing refurbishment and integration of the Minuteman rocket motors under a separate contract.

Firm Nabs NASA Contract To Continue Detector Testing

Global Science and Technology (GST) will continue its work testing detectors to fly on both the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes under a $3 million NASA contract awarded Dec. 5.

The contract encompasses a variety of tasks including the oversight of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Detector Characterization Lab. The contract will continue the work that the Greenbelt, Md. -based company has performed for the space agency since 1993, according to GST spokesman John Dahlia.

GST will be responsible for testing the detectors to ensure each can withstand the harsh conditions of space, said Anne Marie Russell, a senior scientist at the Detector Characterization Lab .

The detectors are tested for a variety of criteria, particularly for their sensitivity to light and their ability to withstand radiation, Russell said.

Integral Board Member Leaving Due to Concerns

A member of Integral Systems Inc.’s board of directors has declined to pursue re-election for her position, citing financial concerns about the company and governance concerns about its chief executive officer.

Bonnie Wachtel, in letters filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), characterizes several financial decisions by Integral as questionable and said the “unusual personality” of Steven Chamberlain, the firm’s chief executive, requires more attention by the board.

“This year … negative events of true seriousness have caused me to question if the current team should continue to manage the company’s assets,” Wachtel said.

Wachtel expressed concern over sexual misconduct charges involving a teenage girl that were brought against Chamberlain in June 2005, and which she said Chamberlain concealed from the board of directors. Chamberlain is scheduled to appear in Howard County District Court in Maryland Jan. 20 on fourth-degree sex offense and second-degree assault charges. Chamberlain has denied the charges publicly.

Wachtel also makes reference in her filings to a telephone conversation she says she had with Chamberlain in March 2005, where he allegedly asked her to step down and gave a “wide-ranging critique” of her personality.

“In my opinion, this call was inappropriate and unwarranted,” she said.

A letter signed by Integral president Thomas Gough and also filed with the SEC reads, “The company disagrees with the contents of Ms. Wachtel’s written correspondence.”

ISRO Successfully Tests Scramjet on the Ground

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced that it has successfully ground tested an indigenously built supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, engine as part of an effort to develop air-breathing propulsion for rockets.

“Scientists at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre of ISRO at Thiruvananthapuram have successfully carried out the design, development, characterization and realization of the scramjet ,” ISRO said in a press release Jan. 10.

Air-breathing propulsion systems like scramjets draw on atmospheric oxygen to burn fuel, whereas traditional rocket engines use an oxidizer that is carried onboard the vehicle. The use of scramjet engines has the potential to increase a rocket’s payload-carrying capacity because the vehicle does not have to lift the weight of the oxidizer.

“Through a series of ground tests, a stable supersonic combustion has been demonstrated for nearly 7 seconds with an [air intake rate] at six times the speed of sound, or Mach 6,” ISRO said. The turbojet engines used in aircraft — a familiar example of air-breathing propulsion — can operate only up to speeds of around Mach 3, according to ISRO.

The 7-second test firing took place in late November, according to S. Krishmurthi, an ISRO spokesman.

Because scramjet technology is still “in the nascent stage of development the world over, ISRO considers this achievement as a major technology breakthrough,” Krishnamurthi told Space News.

Scramjet engine technology has been flight-tested in other countries, including the United States, Russia and Australia.

ISRO said that in the coming years it is planning to flight test an integrated scramjet system aboard a two-stage RH-560 sounding rocket. “Development of such a high-technology system will come in a big way towards meeting the futuristic space transportation needs of our country,” the ISRO release said.

Spitzer Telescope Reveals Details of Milky Way’s Core

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has captured a detailed view of the Milky Way galaxy’s center showing hundreds of thousands of old stars amid glowing dust that is lit up by young, massive stars, NASA announced Jan. 10.

The Spitzer telescope was able to capture infrared light from the galaxy’s center in the Sagittarius constellation, which measures about 900 light years across. Visible light from that region is nearly impossible to observe because it is dimmed by a factor of 1 trillion by a surrounding plane of spiraling cold dust .

Near the Milky Way’s core, stars are packed closely together as they orbit the massive black hole at the center of the galaxy. Earth’s Sun is located roughly 26,000 light years from the core where stars are spread out much more thinly.

“One question we hope to address is how stars can form so efficiently in a place like the galactic center,” Susan Stolovy, a scientist at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., said in the news release. “Stars there are still able to form in an environment with unusually strong magnetic fields and tidal shear forces.”

To avoid overloading Spitzer’s sensitive sensors with the bright infrared light , Stolovy and her colleagues took very short exposures, collecting thousands of snapshots to make up a final mosaic of the Sagittarius region.

NGA’s ClearView Program Extended Through 2006

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) exercised the first round of options under its ClearView imagery-purchasing programs to buy $60 million worth of data from satellite operators DigitalGlobe, Orbimage and Space Imaging.

The initial contracts under the $500 million ClearView program were awarded January 2003 . The options, awarded Jan. 6, run from Feb. 1 through Jan. 31, 2007.

Space Imaging of Thornton, Colo., and DigitalGlobe of Boulder, Colo., each received contracts worth $24 million, while Orbimage’s award was worth $12 million. Orbimage announced the closing of its purchase of Space Imaging Jan. 12 , creating a new company called GeoEye.

Satellite Role in Emergencies Likely To Grow, Report Says

Satellite technology likely will play a larger, more integrated role in future emergency response activity, according to a new study by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The report, “On The Study To Assess Short-Term and Long-Term Needs for Allocation of Additional Portions of the Electromagnetic Spectrum for Federal, State and Local Emergency Response Providers,” was sent to Congress Dec. 19. It states that emergency responders’ reliance on satellite technology during disasters will probably increase and suggests incorporating satellite technology and wireless technology into an interoperable network.

The study does not lay out any specific plans to allot additional spectrum to satellite or wireless companies, though it said the FCC would monitor whether this becomes necessary.

Satellite Radio Firms Finish Strong in 2005

A Jan. 5 analysis by New York-based SG Cowen & Co. estimates that Sirius Satellite Radio added 1.13 million subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2005, while rival XM Satellite Radio of Washington added about 980,000 .

That would put XM at slightly more than 6 million subscribers with New York-based Sirius at about 3.3 million.

The SG Cowen analysis attributed Sirius’ growth to a strong holiday season and extensive promotion of the launch of radio personality Howard Stern’s talk show in January.

Italian Firms Complete New Astronomy Satellite

A consortium of Italian companies led by Carlo Gavazzi Space of Milan has completed construction of the Italian Space Agency’s Agile spacecraft, a gamma-ray and X-ray astronomy satellite that is based on Italy’s Mita satellite platform design, Carlo Gavazzi announced.

The 360-kilogram satellite is scheduled to undergo a final series of environmental tests at IABG mbH in Germany before being shipped to India for a spring launch aboard India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle under a commercial contract with the Indian Space Research Organisation. Agile is designed to operate for two years in a near-equatorial orbit at an altitude of 550 kilometers.

First JTRS Radios in Software Integration

Boeing Co. has begun software integration work on the first batch of Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) terminals for the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS), according to a company news release dated Dec. 21.

Boeing of Chicago is the prime contractor for the JTRS Cluster 1 program as well as the FCS effort. Delivery of the radios to Boeing’s FCS team is expected to occur by at the end of January, according to the news release.

The JTRS effort also includes a series of terminals under development by General Dynamics of Falls Church, Va., that can be carried by troops on foot. Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., and Boeing are competing for a prime contract, expected to be awarded this summer, for a third series of JTRS terminals intended for ships, aircraft and fixed sites, according to Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling.

Hubble Telescope Observes Companion Star to Polaris

Scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have for the first time directly observed a small companion to the North Star, also known as Polaris , NASA announced Jan. 9. The small star is so close to Polaris it took every available bit of Hubble’s resolution to see it, NASA said.

Polaris is a triple-star system, and the North Star and one of its companions are easily viewed with small telescopes. But the recently viewed companion’s diameter is so small and so close to the North Star — less than two-tenths of an arcsecond — viewing it is comparable to attempting to observe a medium-sized coin located 30 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

“The brightness difference between the two stars made it even more difficult to resolve them,” said Howard Bond of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The North Star is a super giant more than 2,000 times brighter than the Sun while the companion is a more typical main sequence star, which is comparable to the Sun’s brightness .

GlobalFlyer Arrives at KSC After Wing Damage Is Fixed

Virgin Atlantic Airways’ GlobalFlyer aircraft, which pilot Steve Fossett will attempt to fly solo around the world without refueling, arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida Jan. 12 after damage to one of its wings was successfully repaired.

The damage was sustained during a fueling operation in Salina, Kan. The GlobalFlyer aircraft is expected to take off from KSC in early February in its attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

The window for takeoff opens in mid-January and runs until the end of February, with an exact date to be determined based on weather conditions and jet stream patterns.

Scientists Using Rossi Craft Locate Mid-Sized Black Hole

Scientists using NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer have found what they believe to be a medium-sized black hole whose existence has been suspected for more than a decade but has proved difficult to confirm , NASA announced Jan. 5.

Scientists have found a star orbiting the suspected black hole, which falls in an in-between category of black holes that are not as massive as those found at the centers of galaxies but more powerful than those formed by the collapse of one massive star. Based on observations of the orbiting star’s orbital period and velocity, scientists hope to be able to calculate the mass of the black hole .

“We caught this otherwise ordinary star in a unique stage in its evolution, toward the end of its life when it has bloated into a red giant phase,” said Philip Kaaret , a University of Iowa professor who led the science team. “As a result, gas from the star is spilling into the black hole, causing the whole region to light up.”

Rossi was useful in studying this black hole since mid-mass objects are bright sources of X-rays and sometimes are referred to as ultra-luminous X-ray objects. The leading theory as to how they form holds that numerous star collisions in a short period of time in a crowded region will create a short-lived gigantic star that collapses into the black hole.

Northrop Unit Awarded Laser Technology Work

Northrop Grumman Space Technology won a three-year, $56.7 million Pentagon contract to continue developing solid-state laser technology for ships, manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as ground vehicles for defense against cruise missiles , the Redondo Beach, Calif., company announced Jan. 5.

The contract was awarded Dec. 22 as part of the Joint High Power Solid-State Laser program, which is funded by the Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala.; the Office of the Secretary of Defense – Joint Technology Office in Albuquerque, N.M.; the Air Force Research Lab at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; and the Office of Naval Research in Arlington, Va.

The goal of the Phase 3 contract effort is to develop a laser system that can reach 100 kilowatts for both force protection and strike missions , according to the news release.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com