Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 13 June 2005
10:50 am ET


Data From NASA’s Aura Spacecraft Data Poses, Helps Resolve Arctic Ozone Riddle

NASA’s Aura spacecraft helped scientists track and explain some unusual ozone conditions in the Arctic this past winter: While stratospheric ozone destruction peaked at near 50 percent in some regions above the North Pole — the second-highest level on record — overall ozone amounts did not deviate from average levels .

Data from Aura’s Microwave Limb Sounder recorded the high destruction rates, while the spacecraft’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument indicated little change in overall ozone levels from years in which far less destruction occurred. Scientists have determined that stratospheric winds shifted and brought ozone-rich air from Earth’s middle latitudes to the Arctic to offset the chemical destruction, according to a June 2 NASA press release.

Aura data allows scientists to differentiate ozone-level changes caused by air motion from those caused by chemical destruction. Launched in July 2004, it is NASA’s third and final Earth Observing System satellite. The mission is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Aerojet Nabs NASA Propulsion Contract

NASA awarded Sacramento, Calif.-based Gencorp Aerojet a $12.3 million contract to design, build and test an electric-propulsion demonstrator that could help point the way to highly efficient Moon- and Mars-bound cargo delivery systems.

Aerojet’s direct drive system is intended to deliver high-voltage power directly from a spacecraft’s solar panels to electric Hall thrusters. The direct drive system, Aerojet said, would eliminate the need for heavy primary power converters and reduce solar panel size. For lunar and Mars cargo missions, Aerojet believes the direct drive system could enable mass savings in excess of 1,000 kilograms .

The two-phase contract was awarded by NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. Under the contract, Aerojet would build a subscale-version of the direct drive system and test it in a thermal vacuum chamber at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Cleveland.

Integral Systems To Build BSAT-3a Control System

Broadcasting Satellite System Corp. (B-SAT ) of Tokyo has selected Integral Systems Inc. to supply the control system for its planned BSAT-3a TV broadcasting satellite, Integral of Lanham, Md., announced June 2.

BSAT-3a, which is being built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems based on that company’s A2100 satellite platform, is slated for launch in the second quarter of 2007. Integral also supplied the control systems for the BSAT-2a and BSAT-2c satellites, which were built by Orbital Sciences Corp.

The control system is based on Integral’s Epoch product line and will be installed at B-SAT’s primary and backup satellite control facilities.

In a prepared statement, Osamu Yamazaki, BSAT-3a program manager at B-SAT, said the Epoch system is designed to work with satellites built by different manufacturers and will create operating efficiencies for his company. He added that this is the first time B-SAT has contracted directly with a satellite control system provider.

Michigan Aerospace Opens Second California Office

Michigan Aerospace Corp. (MAC), an optical products and advanced engineering company, announced May 17 the opening of its second California office in Los Angeles.

The office will provide technical support for optical diagnostics instruments, light detection and ranging systems, and mechanisms for spacecraft docking. The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company opened its first California office in Berkeley in December 2004.

Canadian, Finnish Firms Collaborate on Projects

Canadian space companies will collaborate with industry partners in Finland to develop four Earth-observation projects aimed at creating applications for sustainable development, disaster mitigation and maritime navigation .

The partnerships will be developed through a Memorandum of Understanding between the Longueuil, Quebec-based Canadian Space Agency and the National Technology Agency of Finland. The memorandum was signed in 2003 to facilitate collaboration on remote sensing projects.

The projects will utilize data from one or a combination of images from Canada’s Radarsat and Europe’s Envisat , ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites. Canadian project partners include Dendron Resource Surveys Inc., Ottawa; MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, Richmond, British Columbia; Noetix Research, Ottawa; and Vexcel Canada, Ottawa.

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Escapes Martian Sand Trap

NASA’s Opportunity rover resumed rolling over martian terrain after escaping from a sand trap it drove into April 26, NASA confirmed June 6.

The U.S. space agency said mission engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., successfully freed the six-wheeled rover from a sand dune after almost five straight weeks of work.

The rover churned nearly 192 meters worth of wheel rotations in its first few weeks of capture before gaining enough traction to move about 1 meter . The engineering team then carefully directed the rover out of the sand trap in a series of maneuvers lasting from May 13 until June 4.

Opportunity will next examine the site to help explain why that sand ripple was so difficult to cross compared to similar ones that it easily traversed . Opportunity has been exploring the martian surface since January 2004.

Photon M2 Capsule Successfully Launched

A Russian Photon recoverable capsule carrying experiments for the European Space Agency (ESA) was successfully launched May 31 aboard a Soyuz rocket in a reflight of experiments destroyed following a Soyuz failure in 2002, the Soyuz builder and ESA announced May 31.

The Soyuz-U rocket, launched from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, placed the Photon M2 capsule into a low Earth orbit, where it will remain for 16 days before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere and landing in Kazakhstan near the Russian border. It was the first time Soyuz has orbited a Photon capsule from Baikonur. All previous missions of the recoverable capsule have occurred from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

The 600-kilogram payload includes 39 experiments in biology, fluid physics and technology provided to ESA by European scientific institutes. The mission is a reflight of experiments that were lost following an October 2002 Soyuz launch failure caused by a defective rocket engine.

Starsem S.A. of Paris, a French-Russian joint venture that commercializes Soyuz vehicles, said the May 31 launch delivered the Photon M2 capsule to its intended location. The company said 12 Soyuz launches are planned this year. The May 31 launch was the 1,696th flight of Soyuz.

The flight follows an October 2003 agreement between ESA and the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, covering two Photon missions. The second is scheduled for 2007.

Virgin Blue DBS Service Will Utilize EMS Antennas

In-flight entertainment provider LiveTV has selected EMS Technologies Inc. to provide direct broadcast satellite (DBS) antenna systems for the Australia-based Virgin Blue Airlines, allowing passengers to view 24 channels of real-time FOXTEL and AUSTAR programming in their seats during flight, according to a May 19 EMS news release.

The value of EMS’s contract is estimated at $6.8 million over 12 months. EMS, headquartered in Norcross, Ga., and Melbourne, Fla.-based LiveTV together provide in-flight programming aboard 115 commercial aircraft operated by companies including JetBlue Airways, Frontier Airlines and WestJet Airlines.

Boeing and Cisco Form Network-Centric Alliance

Boeing Co. and Cisco Systems have signed a nonbinding memorandum of understanding declaring their intent to work together on network-centric defense and security programs, the companies announced June 8.

Boeing of Chicago would serve as prime contractor and lead systems integrator on such joint efforts, while Cisco of San Jose, Calif., would provide networking and other information technologies.

The two companies already are working together on the U.S. Air Force’s Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) communications program, and the alliance is expected to build upon that relationship. Boeing Satellite Systems is competing for the role of prime contractor on the T-Sat program, while Cisco is providing Internet Protocol-based router technology that is at the heart of the system.

Boeing announced a similar nonbinding alliance last year with IBM of White Plains, N.Y.

Vandenberg Atlas 5 Pad Clears Testing Milestone

Lockheed Martin Space Systems on June 2 performed its first successful propellant-loading test at its Atlas 5 launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., the Denver-based company announced June 6.

The Atlas 5 is slated to make its West Coast debut in 2006 with the launch of a classified government payload. The launch was initially scheduled this year, but problems with the payload pushed back the date, Julie Andrews, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman, told Space News.

The refurbished Space Launch Complex 3 East at Vandenberg contains a stationary launch pad with a traditional mobile servicing tower, in contrast to Atlas 5 facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., where the rocket is stacked in a vertical integration facility and then rolled to the pad 12 hours prior to launch.

The Atlas team received the Atlas 5 booster and Centaur upper stage in March.

Microcosm Completes Rocket Engine Testing

Microcosm successfully completed tests on its 20,000-pound-thrust composite rocket engine for lower-cost launch vehicle applications, the company announced June 2.

Microcosm, based in El Segundo, Calif., is working on the Scorpius family of low-cost, pressure-fed rocket engines. Most modern liquid propellant rockets utilize high-speed turbopumps to direct propellant into the rocket thrust chamber.

The tests were run at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in conjunction with Carson City, Nev.-based Sierra Engineering, which designed the engine’s injector, and the Air Force Research Laboratory . Testing was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Falcon small launcher development program.

Italy and Canada Sign Earth Observation Accord

The Italian and Canadian space agencies have concluded a long-term cooperation agreement on Earth observation that likely will include a small hyperspectral-imaging satellite that could be launched in 2009, the two agencies announced June 6.

Italian Space Agency President Sergio Vetrella said the agreement is the first of its kind between the two nations and will make it easier to pool the partners’ scientific and technological expertise in Earth observation. Canadian Space Agency President Marc Garneau noted that Italy’s Alenia Spazio is providing the satellite platform for Canada’s Radarsat-2 radar Earth-observation satellite.

Italy also is developing the Cosmo-Skymed high-resolution radar observation satellite system for civil and military users, and is the principal backer of Europe’s future Vega small-satellite launcher, intended mainly for governmental Earth-observation and scientific spacecraft.

The bilateral accord provides for private-sector participation in future joint space efforts, the two agencies said.

Space Imaging Europe Selling Resourcesat-1 Data

European Space Imaging GmbH of Munich, Germany, has begun commercial distribution of imagery from India’s IRS-Resourcesat-1 satellite in Europe and North Africa following an agreement with IRS image-reception and distribution agent Euromap of Neustrelitz, Germany, European Space Imaging announced.

Resourcesat-1, launched in October 2003 on a five-year mission, provides optical imagery at resolutions of between 5 meters and 60 meters. It includes a multispectral scanner with a 140-kilometer swath width. It will be used to complement European Space Imaging’s core business of distributi ng Ikonos high-resolution optical imagery.

Euromap’s Neustrelitz satellite ground station collects Resourcesat-1 imagery directly from the satellite, which is equipped with an on board recorder. Euromap also collects and distributes imagery from India’s IRC 1C and 1D Earth observation satellites.

Ukraine Joins Europe’s Galileo Navigation Effort

The government of Ukraine formally has joined Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation project following negotiations with the European Union’s executive commission. Ukraine’s entry follows similar agreements with China and Israel on Galileo participation.

Ukraine’s involvement will include cooperation with European organizations on Galileo-related “science and technology, industrial manufacturing, service and market development, as well as standardization, frequency and certification,” the European Commission said in announcing the agreement.

Ukraine also is expected to invest in the Galileo Joint Undertaking, a Brussels-based organization that now is overseeing the initial phase of the multibillion-dollar project.

The Ukrainian agreement was signed June 3 in Kiev by Francois Lamoureux, the European Commission’s director-general for energy and transport, and by Oleh Shamshul, Ukraine’s deputy minister of foreign affairs.

Cablevision Suspends Contract With Lockheed

Cablevision Systems Corp. has suspended a $740 million contract with Lockheed Martin for five Ka-band satellites for high-definition television broadcasting as part of its Rainbow DBS division’s exit from the satellite-television business. The Bethpage, N.Y., company said June 6 that shutting down the operation will cost between $100 million and $130 million, including the costs of contract termination.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Cablevision said that on June 1 it suspended its contract with Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa., for five Ka-band satellites. It reserves the right to restart the contract until Nov. 21.

Cablevision’s Rainbow DBS and Lockheed Martin signed the contract for the satellites Nov. 21, 2004. Cablevision announced at the time that Rainbow DBS would pay a $48 million down payment on the contract.

The contract suspension, which was expected, follows Cablevision’s decision to abandon its attempt to become a third direct-broadcast satellite television service provider in the United States. The company’s Voom satellite-television service was shut down April 30. Cablevision has agreed to sell its Rainbow-1 satellite, already in orbit, to EchoStar Communications Corp. of Littleton, Colo., for $200 million in cash.

In addition to contract-termination costs with Lockheed Martin, Cablevision likely will face substantial costs to end its long-term contract with SES Global’s SES Americom subsidiary for the lease of 16 transponders on Americom’s AMC-6 satellite.

Cablevision said in its SEC filing that it expected all Rainbow DBS shutdown-related expenses would be funded by the expected $200 million satellite-purchase payment from EchoStar.

Neste Oil Tanker Fleet To Receive Services

Telenor Satellite Services signed a three-year agreement June 7 with Neste Oil Corp. of Helsinki, Finland, to outfit its tankers for Sealink Ku-band satellite services, providing Internet access, e-mail, faxes and telephone calling to crew members.

Telenor, headquartered in Fornebu, Norway, will provide Sealink’s services onboard 11 tankers, with all vessels scheduled to be equipped with the technology by August.

Sealink’s Ku-band service can work at speeds up to 2 megabits per second with coverage throughout Western Europe. Telenor operates more than 350 broadband service systems on ships worldwide.

WildBlue Equips its First Rural Broadband Customer

WildBlue Communications Inc., a broadband provider aiming to link underserved rural communities with high-speed Internet service via satellite, equipped its first customer June 2 in the small town of Strasburg, Colo.

The first customer lives two miles from the nearest neighbor and until early June only had dial-up service available, according to a June 3 news release.

Bijou Telephone Cooperative, a Colorado provider and member of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, carried out the installation and will be the first to offer WildBlue’s service.

Denver-based WildBlue expects its service to be offered by over 280 rural telephone and electric companies by the end of June and aims to be at the national retail level by September 2005.

Australian State To Buy Spot Satellite Imagery

Spot Image announced June 7 that its Australian distributor, Raytheon Australia, will provide the New South Wales (NSW) government with high-resolution satellite images needed to manage infrastructure, emergency response and natural resources.

The Spot 5 satellite will provide 2.5-meter panchromatic and 10-meter multispectral imagery to the NSW Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources for project management, according to a Spot Image news release.

Spot Image, headquartered in Toulouse, France, operates satellites that can take medium- to high-resolution images of any ground location across the globe.

SUIRG Opens Registry for Satellite Uplink Stations

The Satellite Users Interference Group (SUIRG) on May 30 announced the launch of a Global Uplinker Registry that allows operators of ground-based uplinks to increase their visibility to both satellite operators and other potential customers .

SUIRG, a nonprofit group dedicated to reducing satellite radio-frequency interference, said the free registry also will allow companies to search for an uplink by region, frequency or equipment-type .

Registered uplinkers will be reviewed from time to time to determine whether their signals are causing any radio-frequency interference, SUIRG said in a news release. The group emphasized that faulty equipment and minimal technical training are two of the leading causes of satellite radio-frequency interference.

U.S. May Allow Export of Satellites to India for Launch

A U.S. interagency group met June 9 to discuss the policy implications of allowing U.S. commercial satellites or components to be launched from India, according to industry sources.

Washington is considering changing its current policy, which bars the export of satellite hardware to India. A State Department official said June 10 the possible shift would be part of the Next Step in a Strategic Partnership program designed to foster closer ties between the United States and India in civil space and civil nuclear technologies.

This was the third recent meeting on the launch topic, according to U.S. government e-mails inviting industry representatives to attend. A classified briefing was hosted by the Department of Commerce May 24 and an unclassified briefing was held May 26 at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, according to the messages.

A spokeswoman for the Trade Representative, which would represent the United States in negotiations with India on the matter, declined June 10 to comment on the matter. A spokesman at the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, which oversees the U.S. arms exports, was unaware of the discussions.

Antrix Corp., the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, markets secondary payload space aboard the country’s indigenously developed Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

Safran Delays Decision To Increase Arianespace Stake

Safran of France — the former Snecma — will not decide whether to increase its current 9.9 percent stake in the Arianespace launch consortium until after a December meeting of European Space Agency governments on future launcher-development projects, Safran Chairman Jean-Paul Bechat said June 10.

The French space agency, CNES, is offering to sell all or part of its 32.5 percent stake in Arianespace, but only if the price is right. CNES has hired an investment bank to advise it in the sale. Bechat said Safran and two other Arianespace shareholders — Finmeccanica of Italy and EADS Space of France and Germany — together hired their own banker to determine what the CNES shares are worth.

A sale had been expected this year following the successful February launch of the enhanced-version Ariane 5 ECA rocket, but Bechat said negotiations are now at a standstill because of uncertainty over whether European governments will agree to fund any substantial launcher-development projects.

Snecma has been working on a new upper-stage motor for Ariane 5, but that work ends this year and is not likely to be pursued to full development of the motor, called Vinci. “If there is no political will to maintain Europe’s policy of assuring access to space, then the [Arianespace] shares aren’t worth the same price,” Bechat said.

Telkom-2 Power Glitch Delays Other Launches

Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Telkom-2 satellite will be returned to the company’s Dulles, VA., manufacturing facility for inspection after officials detected an electrical supply problem during pre-launch testing in Kourou, French Guiana.

The delay in the satellite’s planned June 24 launch aboard an Ariane 5 ECA rocket will be at least two months and affect two other launches, according to industry officials. Telkom-2’s co-passenger is DirecTV Group’s Spaceway 2 high-definition television satellite, built by Boeing Satellite Systems International of El Segundo, Calif.

Orbital Sciences spokesman Barron Beneski said June 7 an inspection will be performed to determine the exact nature of the problem, and verify whether it is a concern for other Orbital Sciences satellites using the same Star-2 platform as Telkom-2.

In the meantime, two other launches of Orbital Sciences-built satellites are being put on hold.

The Arianespace launch consortium of Evry, France, had been scheduled to launch the Orbital-built Galaxy 15 satellite, owned by PanAmSat Corp., in July or August aboard an Ariane 5G rocket . The French Defense Ministry’s Syracuse 3A telecommunications satellite was the scheduled co-passenger for that flight.

Because of the questions surrounding Telkom-2, the Galaxy 15/Syracuse 3A flight has been postponed. Instead, Arianespace will launch a solo passenger, the iPStar broadband-data communications satellite owned by Shin Satellite of Thailand. That launch is scheduled for July 7.

PanAmSat had planned to launch its Galaxy 14 telecommunications satellite, also built by Orbital Sciences, aboard a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket in July or August. This launch too is being put on hold until the Telkom-2 propulsion questions are resolved.

“This could be something as simple as a short circuit,” said Beneski, who also said the problem has not turned up in any other Orbital satellite.

XM Satellite Radio To Buy Space Systems/Loral Satellite

XM Satellite Radio’s decision to break with supplier Boeing Satellite Systems International and purchase the XM-5 satellite from Space Systems/Loral is a further illustration of how price is becoming a decisive factor even for satellites once considered as too exotic to be decided on price alone, according to industry officials.

These officials also said the contract is further evidence of the return of Space Systems/Loral, still in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, as a force in the marketplace.

The decision by Washington-based XM Radio, announced June 7, was all the more surprising because the company had already purchased an option to buy XM-5 from El Segundo, Calif.-based Boeing when it signed the contract for the XM-4 satellite. XM-4, still under construction at Boeing, is expected to be ready for launch in early 2006. XM Satellite Radio said its XM-5 satellite will be completed by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Space Systems/Loral in 2007.

Industry officials had said that even the XM-4 satellite contract was hotly contested, as Boeing competitors viewed XM as open to other offers despite Boeing’s inside knowledge of the XM satellite system.

The first two Boeing-built XM satellites were launched in 2001. Both were part of the initial defective batch of 702-model satellites that had faulty solar arrays that will reduce their in-orbit service life. XM has since received $142 million in insurance proceeds.