Scientists Thrilled with Stardust Treasure Trove

The haul from NASA’s Stardust spacecraft, which grabbed samples from Comet Wild 2 in January 2004 and brought them back to Earth Jan. 15 dazzled scientists who were astonished at the results.

“This exceeded all of our grandest expectations,” said Donald Brownlee, principal investigator, University of Washington, Seattle. “We were totally overwhelmed.”

Stardust scientists cracked open the sample return canister Jan. 17 in a special clean room facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

“We were the first people in the history of the planet to see comet dust in hand,” Brownlee said, noting that more than a million particles larger than one-micron in diameter — a millionth of a meter — are believed to have been captured.

OSD Retains Control Over Air Force Space Procurement

The Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense has returned the authority for making milestone decisions on 10 procurement programs to the U.S. Air Force, but is holding onto that responsibility for space systems for the time being, according to a Jan. 20 Pentagon news release.

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne had taken milestone decision authority on several programs from the Air Force in March 2005 during his tenure as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. At the time he cited the number of vacancies in the Air Force’s most senior civilian positions and the problems facing a number of those programs.

Defense Department spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said the Office of the Secretary of Defense plans to continue reviewing the space programs before making a decision about returning milestone decision-making authority for space programs back to the Air Force.

Pentagon Considers Launch Delays in ’07 Budget Request

Launch delays of several satellites are on the table as U.S. defense officials try to finalize their 2007 budget request, which is expected to be sent to Congress in early February.

The proposals include delaying the first launch of the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) Communications System from 2013 to 2014, according to the Program Budget Decision No. 703, which is labeled For Official Use Only.

A delay on T-Sat is likely inevitable because Congress sharply reduced the Pentagon’s 2006 funding request for the program and demanded a slower pace. The Air Force also is proposing one-year delays in the launches of the fourth and fifth Boeing-built satellites for the Wideband Gapfiller communications constellation. Under the Air Force proposal the fourth satellite would be launched in 2011, and the fifth in 2012.

The document also indicates that the Air Force plans to put the brakes on demonstration and risk-reduction efforts on the Space Radar program, but notes that the service still plans to launch the first satellite in 2015.

The Air Force had planned to launch two quarter-scale Space Radar demonstration satellites later this decade when it sent its 2006 budget request to Capitol Hill last February, a plan that was threatened when Congress reduced the budget request and directed the service to take a slower pace.

The document also notes that the Air Force proposes to restructure its GPS efforts based on the current satellites lasting longer than expected. The Air Force had been planning as recently as 2005 to launch a new generation of satellites called GPS 3 in 2013. However, the first launch of those satellites already has been moved to the right several times.

All of the proposals in the document are labeled as being deferred pending completion of the Quadrennial Defense Review, which is used to guide the defense budget and other military plans.

Thales To Supply Imagery Stations for French Troops

Thales Group’s Land and Joint Systems division will provide fixed and deployable workstations to permit French troops to process imagery from French optical and German and Italian radar high-resolution satellite systems, Paris-based Thales announced.

Under the contract with the French arms procurement agency, DGA, valued at 16 million euros ($19.2 million), Thales will build 78 fixed workstations and 26 field-deployable units, with deliveries to start in 2007. The units will permit French forces to use French Helios and future Pleiades high-resolution optical satellite data, as well as imagery from Germany’s SAR-Lupe and Italy’s Cosmo Skymed radar systems, now in development.

France has bilateral agreements with Germany and Italy that give France access to the German and Italian satellite systems.

Thales’ OEIR, or Radar Image Exploitation Tools, product will be used to permit the workstations to manipulate both optical and radar satellite data. OEIR is part of Thales’ Multi-sensor Image Interpretation and Dissemination System.

EADS Astrium To Build Astronomy Spacecraft

EADS Astrium bested Alcatel Alenia Space in a high-stakes competition to build Europe’s Gaia star-mapping satellite, a contract expected to be valued at nearly 300 million euros ($364 million), according to European government officials.

EADS Astrium and Alcatel Alenia Space, Europe’s two biggest satellite prime contractors, had made Gaia a high priority because missions of this size in Europe come along only once every few years.

One European government official said that given the EADS Astrium win, Alcatel Alenia should be considered the favorite for the European Space Agency’s (ESA ) next big satellite contract, the Bepi Colombo mission to Mercury, for a launch around 2012.

Following a planned launch in December 2011 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, Gaia is expected to map 1 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy and also search for star-orbiting planets. Gaia’s total cost to ESA , including launch and operations , is estimated at 557 million euros, not including the instruments provided by individual ESA member governments.

A formal signing of the Gaia contract must await a Jan. 31 meeting of ESA’s Industrial Policy Committee, which approves all major agency contracts. The mission also must pass muster with ESA’s Science Program Committee in February. But European space scientists’ enthusiastic endorsement of Gaia during a Jan. 18-19 meeting in Orsay, France, leaves little doubt that the mission will be approved.

SpaceDev Raises $5.2 Million To Help Finance Starsys Buy

SpaceDev of Poway, Calif. has raised $5.2 million in financing needed for a variety of purposes, including transaction expenses from the company’s recent merger.

SpaceDev acquired its financing through the sale of convertible preferred stock and warrants to a small group of new and existing investors, according to a Jan. 17 SpaceDev press release.

The money is needed for SpaceDev’s acquisition of Boulder, Colo.-based Starsys Research Corp. The companies signed a merger agreement Oct. 26, 2005, and the transaction is expected to be completed by early February, according to the release.

Spot Signs Deal with U.S. Geological Survey

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has awarded a contract to Spot Image Corporation of Chantilly, Va. for the purchase of satellite imagery products, the company announced in a Jan. 19 press release.

The contract is not for a specific dollar amount, but sets the pricing and acts as a vehicle for the agency to purchase various items from the company, according to Spot Image spokesman Clark Nelson. Spot Image signed a similar contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in December.

NGA, Agencies Outline Next Decade’s Imagery Goals

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is coordinating with other agencies to produce a document that will specifically outline the goals for geospatial intelligence collection and analysis during the next decade.

“National System for Geospatial-Intelligence Strategic Concepts 2015” is expected to be released in February or March, according to Tom Ferguson, director of the office of geospatial intelligence management. Its purpose will be to recommend such things as how the various agencies involved with collecting geospatial intelligence can better share information, and how they can allocate additional resources in that direction, Ferguson said.

The document will be modeled in the spirit of the recently released “National System for Geospatial-Intelligence Statement of Strategic Intent,” which NGA unveiled Jan. 12. That statement outlined the agencies’ broad vision for the future. The new report also will take into account performance measures outlined by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Ferguson said.

ESA Expects Early Galileo Registration

European governments expect to register their Galileo satellite navigation system’s operating frequencies with international regulators as early as the week of Jan. 23, a month earlier than expected, following the continued clear signals generated by the first experimental Galileo satellite since Jan. 12, government and industry officials said Jan. 19.

The frequencies have been reserved with the U.N.-affiliated International Telecommunication Union of Geneva, which set a June 30 deadline for Galileo backers to begin beaming a signal from orbit. The planned registry would confirm that Europe has met its commitment to begin beaming the signals before the deadline.

To keep the reservation, the Galileo system must continue to broadcast in its operating frequencies nonstop — one reason why the European Space Agency (ESA) still plans to launch a second Galileo test satellite this spring.

In a symbolically important event, Galileo backers on Jan. 19 celebrated the signing of a contract valued at 950 million euros ($1.15 billion) for construction of the system’s ground network and a first batch of four satellites. The contract, which legally took effect Dec. 21, was signed between ESA and Galileo Industries S.A. of Brussels, a consortium of European space- hardware manufacturers.

EADS Astrium To Build Telesat’s Nimiq 4 Satellite

EADS Astrium will build Telesat Canada’s Nimiq 4 direct-broadcast television satellite for launch in 2008 under a contract announced by the two companies.

Nimiq 4 will be launched by International Launch Services (ILS) aboard a Russian Proton Breeze M rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, ILS announced Jan. 17.

The satellite will provide high-definition television broadcasts for Bell ExpressVu of Canada, one of Telesat’s biggest customers. Based on EADS Astrium’s Eurostar 3000 satellite design, Nimiq 4 is expected to weigh 4,800 kilograms at launch and will operate at Ottawa-based Telesat’s 82 degrees west longitude orbital position.

The contract is the third consecutive Telesat satellite order won by EADS Astrium of Europe. Telesat said Canadian industry will provide “a significant portion” of the satellite’s hardware. Nimiq 4 will carry 32 Ku-band and eight Ka-band transponders.

This will be the fifth Telesat launch for ILS, a McLean, Va.-based joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. ILS is scheduled to launch Telesat’s Anik F3 spacecraft aboard a Proton rocket later this year. ILS launched the company’s Nimiq 1 satellite in 1999, Nimiq 2 in 2002 and Anik F1R last September.

Boeing To Support Air Force Space Surveillance Systems

Boeing Missile Defense Systems of Arlington, Va., nabbed a U.S. Air Force contract potentially worth $413 million to provide technical support for research into high-energy laser and satellite-tracking technologies for up to seven years , the company announced Jan. 16.

Under the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Innovative Research and Optical Support Services contract, Boeing will provide technical assistance and infrastructure support at the Maui Space Surveillance System in Hawaii and the Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. Boeing will perform the work through its wholly owned subsidiary Boeing Laser Technical Services.

The new contract combines two prior support contracts for the Maui facility and the Starfire range, both of which Boeing has held for the past 15 years, according to the news release.

Northrop Grumman Gets First Fire Scout Airframe

Northrop Grumman has taken delivery of the first airframe for the U.S. military’s MQ-8B Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from partner Schweizer Aircraft Corp. of Horseheads, N.Y. This marks the start of Fire Scout production at Northrop’s Unmanned Systems Center at Moss Point, Miss., the company announced Jan. 12.

Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman is under contract to assemble 12 Fire Scout vehicles at the facility, located at the Trent Lott International Airport. Four of the vehicles will go to the U.S. Navy, with the other eight to be delivered to the U.S. Army.

Northrop Grumman currently has 25 employees at the new facility, which can accommodate up to 250 workers for full-scale production.

Canadian Satellite Radio Issues 1st Earnings Report

Canadian Satellite Radio Holdings of Toronto reported a net loss of 14.61 million Canadian dollars ($12.6 million) for its first quarter of business since inception. The loss was attributed to the expenses necessary to launch the radio service.

The company, which operates under the XM Canada brand, reported revenues of 46,010 Canadian dollars for its brief first quarter, which began with the Nov. 22 launch of the service and ended Nov. 30.

The company completed its 55 million Canadian dollar initial public offering Dec. 12, and is projecting 75,000 subscribers by August 2006, and 1 million subscribers by August 2010.

Astronaut Installs ISS Oxygen-Saving Device

Astronaut Bill McArthur, commander of the Expedition 12 crew aboard the international space station (ISS), completed installation Jan. 12 of a Boeing-built device that will conserve oxygen aboard the orbiting laboratory during space shuttle visits, the company announced. The Recharge Oxygen Orifice Bypass Assembly also will save wear and tear on the space station’s oxygen compressor, Boeing said.

The device, built by Boeing NASA Systems of Houston, consists of two hoses installed between the ISS Quest airlock and the docked space shuttle. It will allow space station crew members to directly use the oxygen from the orbiter’s tanks instead of expending the station’s onboard supply.

“On orbit hundreds of miles above the Earth, conserving consumables like oxygen is a big deal, and it makes sense to consume oxygen from the shuttle orbiter and only use ISS oxygen when the orbiter is not there,” Dan Leonard, one of the bypass assembly’s designers at Boeing , said in the news release.

The oxygen bypass assembly, built and tested at Boeing’s facilities at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., was delivered to the ISS during the STS-114 return-to-flight mission aboard Space Shuttle Discovery last summer. The system will be tested for leaks during the next shuttle mission, STS-121, which has yet to be scheduled.

Northrop, U.S. Army Finish Payload Demo on Hunter UAV

Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Army recently wrapped up a 10-day demonstration of a new payload for the RQ-5A Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that will allow operators to quickly reconfigure the vehicle to perform a variety of operations for communications or intelligence-gathering missions, the Los Angeles-based company announced Jan. 12.

The demonstration was sponsored by the U.S. Joint Forces Command and successfully illustrated the new communications capabilities of the Adaptive Joint Intelligence payload that were not available on the battlefield before, according to the news release.

“The warfighter will be able to quickly re-task or re-program this software-driven payload as a communications relay, a signals intelligence-gathering device or an electronic-warfare tool,” Nick Yorio, director of tactical programs at Northrop Grumman, said in a prepared statement.

Northrop Grumman’s RQ-5A Hunter UAVs have flown more than 14,000 hours of combat missions in Iraq and the Balkans.

Army Cancels Lockheed’s Aerial Common Sensor Deal

The U.S. Army announced Jan. 12 it is terminating an $879 million contract given to Lockheed Martin Corp. for the development of the Aerial Common Sensor, a suite of intelligence-gathering equipment intended to operate on an existing, off-the-shelf aerial platform.

The contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Md., in August 2004. But when the Army determined in September 2005 that Lockheed Martin’s planned host platform, the Brazilian-built Embraer 145 airframe, was too small, Army officials issued a stop-work order and gave Lockheed 60 days to propose an alternative. In November, Lockheed Martin recommended switching to a Bombardier Global Express airframe, but the Army concluded it would not be cost-effective and decided to terminate the contract.

“After evaluating all of the alternatives including those proposed by Lockheed Martin, we found that we could not provide the value that the taxpayers and our warfighters would expect under the existing contract,” Army Lt. Col. Steven Drake, a production manager on the sensor, said in the news release.

“We decided that the prudent course of action at this time was to terminate the contract and bring the various players — industry, the acquisition and user communities, the Navy and Air Force — back to the drawing board, ” Claude M. Bolton, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said in the release.

Galileo Role Is Key to S. Korean Space Plans

The government of South Korea expects satellite-related technology exports to climb to between $1.4 billion and $3.1 billion by 2010, with employment levels reaching between 7,600 and 15,700 as the country continues with its long-term space program, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced Jan. 17. The ministry did not disclose current export and employment levels.

South Korean authorities and the European Commission expect to conclude an accord on South Korea’s participation in Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system in 2006. The outlines of an agreement were drawn Jan. 12 during a meeting in Brussels.

The deal is viewed in Seoul as a way of ensuring future export markets for satellite terminals and other navigation-related gear. The Foreign Affairs Ministry said in its Jan. 17 statement that joining Europe’s Galileo system will permit Korea “to reduce its dependence on the U.S. GPS satellite system, improving the stability of the [Republic of Korea’s] government infrastructure.”

South Korea currently is not a significant exporter of satellite-related technology, but the country has a long-term space-investment plan that includes a domestic line of Earth observation satellites.

SBIRS Payload Passes Key Testing Milestone

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., has successfully completed thermal vacuum testing on the main sensor payload for the first geosynchronous-orbit satellite in the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning constellation , the company announced Jan. 18.

During the tests, the payload successfully performed operations in an environment that simulates the harsh conditions of space . The payload consists of two infrared sensors: a scanning sensor for notification of ICBM launches and a staring sensor designed to detect low-signature, short-burn theater missiles.

“Successful completion of this critical test phase is an important achievement and gives us high confidence that the payload will meet all performance requirements,” Mark Crowley, vice president of SBIRS at Lockheed, said in the news release.

Comments: Warren Ferster,