Proposed Mars Mission Modeled on Deep Impact

In hopes of winning a contract under NASA’s Mars Scout program, Arizona State University in Tempe and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are proposing a mission to search for subsurface water ice by firing a high-speed projectile into the martian surface.

“The mission’s goal is to expose snow and ice in a previously unexplored part of Mars — the deep subsurface. We’ll do this by blowing a crater at least 30 feet deep (9 meters) in the Martian ground,” Phil Christensen, Arizona State’s principal investigator for the proposed Tracing Habitability, Organics and Resources (THOR) mission, said in a Jan. 25 press release announcing the proposal. Christensen is a planetary geologist and also the head of the university’s Mars Space Flight Facility.

NASA issued a draft announcement of opportunity Jan. 9 for the 2011 Mars Scout mission and plans to issue a formal solicitation later this year.

The THOR mission also would look for organic compounds, including methane, that Earth-based telescopes and spacecraft have detected in the martian atmosphere.

The spacecraft configuration would be similar to NASA’s Deep Impact mission, with a mother ship that gathers data as the projectile penetrates the surface and transmits that data back to Earth.

“With such a large target region on Mars, delivering THOR’s impactor will be less challenging than the Deep Impact comet encounter,” David Spencer, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s study lead engineer for THOR, said in the release. Spencer served as mission manager on Deep Impact.

Lockheed Wins USAF’s $2 Billion TMOS Contract

Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems and Solutions won a U.S. Air Force contract worth more than $2 billion Jan. 27 to supply the ground segment for the Transformational Satellite Communications System (Tsat) program.

The ground system is known as the Tsat Mission Operations System (TMOS), and is designed to provide network management for a group of communications satellites being developed by the Air Force to provide real-time intelligence data to the military. The system is supposed to enable “communications on the move,” which soldiers can access while in the field.

“We are honored to have been selected by the Air Force’s MilSatCom Joint Program Office to lead this program,” said Lockheed Martin spokesman Keith Mordoff.

Lockheed’s team for the contract includes Northrop Grumman’s Mission Systems sector of Reston, Va.; SAIC of San Diego; Tel cordia Technologies of Piscataway, N.J.; and Verizon Federal Network Systems of Arlington, Va.

So far, $35 million has been obligated for the contract. Mordoff said the TMOS system is expected to begin operation in 2014. Lockheed Martin’s work on the project will be based in San Jose, Calif., Mordoff said.

The Lockheed team was competing against two other teams, one led by Raytheon Corp. of Waltham, Mass., and the other by Northrop Grumman of Los Angeles.

Landsat 5 Problem Solved; Satellite Resumes Imaging

Mechanical problems with the Landsat 5 remote sensing satellite have been fixed, and the satellite is now back in operation and functioning normally.

Engineers at NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) were able to bring the satellite back online during the weekend of Jan. 21-22, according to Ron Beck, program information specialist for USGS. The satellite went through days of testing and now is collecting data over the United States. International ground stations that receive Landsat data will be brought on line in the next two to three weeks, Beck said.

The satellite, which had been out of service since late November when its solar array drive began malfunctioning, had been operating on a back-up drive after the original failed in January 2005.

Engineers increased the speed at which the device’s solar panel changes its position, Beck said, which is allowing the device to get the power it needs to charge its batteries. The solar array drive needs to change its position frequently during orbit in order to get the best possible angle towards the Sun, Beck said.

Landsat 5 has been in operation since March 1984, and has long outlasted its expected shelf life. When it began experiencing problems, those who rely on the Landsat satellites for imagery were concerned the malfunction would further contribute to a data gap created when the U.S. government’s other remote sensing satellite, Landsat 7, began operating at diminished capacity after its main instrument malfunctioned in 2003.

U.S. Instruments Added To Indian Lunar Mission

U.S. and Indian negotiators have agreed that two U.S.-built instruments will be included on India’s Chandrayaan-1 satellite, which is scheduled to be launched by an Indian rocket in 2007 for a two-year mission to the Moon, according to NASA and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) officials.

The agreements, which are considered firm but still require formal signature, were concluded Jan. 20 following talks in New Delhi between R. Nicholas Burns, U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, and Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saram.

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., is scheduled to provide an imaging radar for the satellite, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Pasadena, Calif., will build the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, dubbed M3.

Officials said the agreement on the export of instruments from the United States to India for the Chandrayaan-1 satellite is mission-specific and does not automatically open the way to exports of other satellite hardware, or commercial satellites, for launch from India. But negotiations on a licensing regime that would permit such exports are under way.

MDA Scales Back STSS Sensor Requirements

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has scaled back the capabilities of one of the sensors aboard two experimental missile-tracking satellites slated to launch in 2007, according to a recently published report from the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester.

The “FY 2005 Report” from David Duma, acting director of operational test and evaluation, states that the payload sensors on the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellites will not meet one of their four key “minimum detectable target capabilities.”

An MDA official said that the agency waived the performance requirements for an optical sensor aboard the STSS satellites after ground testing of the payloads. However, the infrared sensors on the payload demonstrated sufficient detection and tracking capabilities during the testing that overall system performance is not expected to suffer, the official said.

WorldSpace Expands Its Subscriber Base in 2005

WorldSpace Inc. increased its satellite radio subscriptions by 53 percent in the last three months of 2005. The addition of 40,000 new subscribers gave World Space a total of slightly more than 115,000 subscribers and extended its reach in its prime market, India, to nine cities with 650 retail locations, the Silver Spring, Md.-based company announced Jan. 25.

The company has estimated that it would need to spend about $20 million to install a network of 150-200 terrestrial signal boosters in major Indian cities to assure seamless transmissions to fixed and mobile users in urban canyons.

WorldSpace operates two satellites in geostationary orbit and has a fully built third satellite and a partially built fourth in storage. Refurbishing the third satellite to prepare it for launch would cost up to $40 million, with a launch expected to cost between $70 million and $90 million, company officials have estimated.

Power System Failure Leaves IMAGE Satellite Lifeless

NASA’s Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) satellite has suffered a power-supply subsystem failure and no longer responds to ground commands, the space agency announced Jan. 20. The failure ends a six-year mission collecting data on the dynamics of Earth’s magnetosphere.

Launched March 25, 2000, the spacecraft gave researchers the opportunity to study the structure of the Earth’s magnetosphere as it responded to energy from solar winds. It successfully completed its primary two-year mission and transmitted data until this past December.

“The IMAGE mission showed us space around the Earth is anything but empty, and that plasma clouds can be imaged and tracked just as we do from space for Earth’s surface weather,” Barbara Giles, an IMAGE program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, said in a prepared statement.

The spacecraft is in an extended elliptical orbit and poses no threat of re-entry.

NASA Management Shuffle Affects Agency Field Centers

William “Bill” Parsons, director of NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, has accepted a position as deputy director of the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA announced Jan. 23.

Parsons, who became director of Stennis in September 2005, led NASA’s post-Columbia return-to-flight effort . He directed last summer’s STS-114 mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

He will be replaced at Stennis by Richard Gilbrech, who has served as deputy director of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and deputy director of the agency’s Engineering Safety Center.

In another management change, G. S cott Hubbard, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., since 2002, has accepted a position with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in Mountain View, Calif. He will serve as the Carl Sagan Chair for the Study of Life in the Universe beginning Feb. 15. Marv Christensen will be Ames’ acting director.

Vega Wins Contract To Support ESA Ops Center

Vega Group PLC of Hertfordshire, England, will provide user support and software-maintenance services to Europe’s Esoc space operations center in Darmstadt, Germany, under a two-year contract that includes an option for a two-year extension, Vega announced.

Under the contract, valued by Vega at “at least” 2 million euros ($2.4 million), the company will support all Esoc missions. Esoc is part of the European Space Agency (ESA) and operates ESA satellites as well as spacecraft for other organizations.

De Chassy Chosen To Run U.S. Operations for Spot

Spot Image S.A. of Toulouse, France, has named Antoine de Chassy as president of the company’s U.S. operations. He replaces Neal Carney, who will step down from the position March 1, Spot Image announced Jan. 24.

De Chassy has served the last three years as vice president for strategy and chief operating officer of Spot Image in Toulouse, where he oversaw Spot’s network of global subsidiaries and offices.

“Antoine has been instrumental in strengthening our global network and in helping to manage the technology/business interface for Spot,” Herve Buchwalter, Spot Image’s chief executive officer, said in the news release. “His sales and marketing background will help shape the future direction of our U.S. operations in relation to industry trends.”

Geospatial Intel Group Signs Up 12 New Members

The U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) announced that it has added 12 more companies to its membership roster.

The new members are BBN Technologies; BEA Systems Inc.; CACI International; DataDirect Networks; Essex Corp.; J.L. White & Associates; Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging; Pangia Technologies; The Potomac Advocates; Red Hen Systems Inc.; SI International; and Zanett Inc.

The USGIF, which now has more than 85 members, offers a forum for companies and organizations that work in geospatial intelligence to communicate better among themselves and with government agencies, according to a Jan. 17 press release from the foundation.

DataPath Inc. Acquires W ireless Network Firm

DataPath Inc. of Duluth, Ga., has acquired the assets of Third Rail Americas Inc., a wireless broadband network provider, extending the reach of DataPath’s satellite communications networks with wireless connectivity for voice, data and Internet transmissions , the company said in a Jan. 24 news release.

“Linking satellite and wireless terrestrial networks so that communication is not restricted by line-of-sight or cabling connectivity is an extremely attractive value proposition,” Darren Corbiere, an analyst with Frost and Sullivan’s Aerospace and Defense Group, said in the news release. “This could particularly benefit today’s military forces and civilian first-responders, who will be better equipped for success with mobile, high-bandwidth field networks.”

The combination of satellite and wireless network capabilities would allow the military to establish direct communications links between remote sites and command centers, according to the news release.

No financial details about the acquisition were disclosed.

Orbital Sciences To Debut Satellite Control Complex

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., will debut its new satellite mission control complex Jan. 31, as well as offer media tours of the complex along with the company’s satellite manufacturing facility, Orbital announced Jan. 24.

Trinnovations and AGI Team on Software Product

Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI) of Exton, Penn., and Trinnovations, a database and Web design company, have partnered to release a new tool for AGI’s analytical software that allows users to incorporate weather data variables into mission analyses, the companies announced Jan. 23.

Trinnovations of Temecula, Calif., has developed the tool, called Weather Sentinel, for AGI’s STK analytical software for land, sea, air and space assets.

Weather Sentinel provides data on temperature, pressure, cloud cover and wind velocity so users can visualize how these variables could affect of terrestrial and space-based missions.

PanAmSat’s Galaxy 3R Taken Out of Service

PanAmSat’s Galaxy 3R satellite has experienced an anomaly in its secondary control processor and has been removed from primary service, the Wilton, Conn.-based company announced Jan. 24.

“This satellite was at the end of its contract life and operating in an inclined orbit. We do not expect that this occurrence … will meaningfully affect the day-to-day operations of our business,” PanAmSat Chief Executive Officer Joe Wright said in the news release.

Built by Boeing Satellite Systems of El Segundo, Calif., Galaxy 3R was launched aboard an Atlas 2A rocket Dec. 14, 1995, with a mission design life of nine and a half years.

In recent years it operated in an inclined orbit at 74 degrees west longitude, providing C- and Ku-band coverage to North America and the Caribbean.

Glowlink System Locates Bandit Satellite Signals

Glowlink Communications Technology of Los Altos, Calif., has released a new product that can detect unauthorized radio transmissions and interference to satellites and then pinpoint the source of the bandit signals , the company announced Jan. 25.

This new geo-location product, which is based on Glowlink’s Model 1000 interference detection technology, also can provide information on the unauthorized signal such as the name, address and telephone number of the suspected offender, according to the news release.

“The Glowlink geo-location system offers a new and affordable solution for the satellite community to tackle one of its most vexing and growing problems — interference and unauthorized accesses,” Michael Downey, chief technology officer at Glowlink, said in the news release.

GlobeCast WorldTV Renews Intelsat Satellite Lease

GlobeCast WorldTV has renewed its contract with Washington- and Bermuda-based Intelsat for capacity on the Intelsat-Americas 5 (IA-5) satellite, Intelsat announced Jan. 26.

GlobeCast WorldTV, a division of GlobeCast of France, has been using multiple transponders aboard IA-5 since 1998 to broadcast more than 161 international television and radio channels in North America. Financial details of the contract were not disclosed.

Ad Astra To Commercialize NASA Rocket Technology

NASA and Houston-based Ad Astra Rocket Co. have signed an agreement to commercialize an advanced plasma thruster rocket system technology NASA has been developing for 25 years that could generate a thrust up to hundreds of times higher than today’s chemical propulsion systems rockets, NASA announced Jan. 23.

The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASMIR) system produces a plasma exhaust at temperatures as high as those inside the Sun, and uses magnetic force fields to control and direct the exhaust jet. The technology could be used for future interplanetary human or robotic missions, satellite delivery and repositioning, and cargo delivery to the Moon.

“The transfer of this innovative technology to the private sector will accelerate its development,” Helen Lance, acting manager of technology transfer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in the news release. “The future exploration of space depends on cooperative research between private industry and NASA to advance technology.”

Franklin Chang-Diaz , the NASA astronaut and scientist who conceived of the rocket technology in 1979, retired from the agency in July to continue the development work at Ad Astra. NASA also will contribute some funding to the project over the next two years to ensure a smooth transition.

Shuttle TPS Gap Fillers To Be Installed Differently

Engineers from Boeing, United Space Alliance and NASA have devised a new installation technique that will prevent so-called gap fillers in the space shuttle’s thermal protection system (TPS) from protruding from the outer skin of the orbiter.

During the most recent space shuttle mission this past summer, mission teams discovered a pair of gap fillers sticking out from between the thermal protection tiles of the orbiter’s underbelly. Because the protruding gap fillers were deemed a potential heat hazard during re-entry, they were removed in a spacewalk before the Space Shuttle Discovery’s successful landing.

Teams are now in the process of replacing the gap fillers on space shuttles Atlantis and Discovery. In a press release, Chicago-based Boeing said the gap fillers in the so-called priority-one areas of the orbiters — those areas subject to higher heating during re-entry — will all be replaced using the new installation technique before the next shuttle mission.

Perdue Designs Quiet Hypersonic Wind Tunnel

Engineers at Purdue University in Indiana have developed a wind tunnel that is capable of running quietly at “hypersonic” speeds, helping researchers to design advanced aircraft and missiles, according to a Purdue news release.

No other wind tunnel runs quietly during experiments in airstreams traveling six times the speed of sound, said Purdue professor Steven Schneider.

The quiet operation is critical to recreate the smooth flow of air over the surfaces of aircraft, spacecraft or missiles re-entering the atmosphere. It will help engineers understand when and how air flowing over a surface changes from smooth to turbulent, allowing them to design aircraft and missiles that better resist friction as they re-enter the atmosphere.

Fire Scout UAVs Perform Automated Operations

The first fully automated landings of the Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) aboard a moving ship took place Jan. 16 and 17, according to Northrop Grumman.

Two RQ-8A Fire Scouts flying from the U.S. Naval Air Station at Patuxent, Md., carried out nine landings and takeoffs from the amphibious transport ship Nashville while it was steaming in the lower Chesapeake Bay.

Earlier shipboard tests were manually controlled, said Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems, El Segundo, Calif.

Northrop is developing the Fire Scout for the U.S. Navy and Army. Twelve MQ-8B Fire Scouts — an improved model with a four-blade rotor replacing the three-blade rotor of the RQ-8A — are being built, four for the Navy and eight for the Army.

The first shipboard tests of the MQ-8B are scheduled for 2007.

The Navy plans to operate the Fire Scout from Littoral Combat Ships, destroyers and other ships.

Iridium Phone Service Coming to El Al Flights

Israel’s El Al Airlines has selected the Iridium satellite network to carry its in-flight calling service for passengers starting in early 2006, Iridium Satellite of Bethesda, Md., announced Jan. 24.

El Al passengers will be able to purchase calling cards in flight at a rate of $1.60 per minute, according to the news release. The cards are valid for up to 12 months after purchase.

El Al will offer the service aboard its Boeing-767 long-haul passenger aircraft. Iridium will install satellite terminals aboard the aircraft through Israel’s GayaCom, a subsidiary of Gilat Satcom and an authorized Iridium service provider. No financial details were disclosed.

Military Networks Firm Purchased by Raytheon

Raytheon Co. has acquired Houston Associates Inc. (HAI), a privately held Arlington, Va., firm that provides command and control networks and related services for U.S. Department of Defense customers.

The networks supplied by HAI are connected via satellite and terrestrial communications systems, said Bill Wasel, director of business development at Raytheon Command and Control Systems in Marlborough, Mass. “They are a consumer of satellite communications services in the overall scheme of network management and integration,” he said.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, and Wasel would not be specific about HAI’s size other than to say it is a small company. HAI will be integrated into Raytheon Network Centric Systems division, which is based in McKinney, Texas.

Production Global Hawks Enter War on Terrorism

The first two production-model units of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) built by Northrop Grumman have been deployed by the U.S. Air Force for use in the war on terrorism, according to a company news release dated Jan. 25.

Revelle Anderson, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman, said the vehicles have been deployed to the Middle East, but declined to be more specific .

The Pentagon pressed three Global Hawk test platforms into service in November 2001 following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Anderson said. Those vehicles have thus far racked up 5,000 flying hours over the course of 250 missions, according to the news release.

The production-line versions of the UAV use the same airframe as the test articles, but feature sharper and more reliable electro-optical, infrared and radar sensors , Anderson said.

Global Hawk UAVs are capable of flying at altitudes well above rough weather conditions for more than 35 hours at a time. During a single mission, a Global Hawk can provide detailed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information for an area approximately the size of the state of Illinois, according to the news release.

Deep Impact Crater Size Remains Anyone’s Guess

After six months of poring over the data from NASA’s Deep Impact mission, researchers still are not sure about the size of the crater caused by the projectile that was shot into Comet Tempel 1.

The impact produced a huge cloud of comet debris that was recorded by the main spacecraft. But that cloud did not dissipate in time for researchers to pinpoint the exact size of the crater before the Deep Impact spacecraft stopped gathering imagery. The best guess is that the crater was anywhere from 100 to 250 meters in diameter.

While such ambiguity is par for the course in planetary science, it did prove to be a prickly problem for the Planetary Society, which sponsored a contest challenging entrants to estimate the size of the crater within 10 meters.

More than 7,000 people entered; the median guess was about 90 meters. Since the estimated range was 100 to 250 meters, the Planetary Society picked three winners at random from among the 1,865 contestants contest entrants who submitted a figure within the estimated range. Winners receive a custom-made plaque from Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., which built the Deep Impact spacecraft. The plaque, made of the same kind of copper material used in the impactor, will be laser-engraved with the mission logo.

The grand prize winners were: Wojciech Karcz of Tarnowskie Gory, Poland (161 meters); Michael Ramo of Danielson, Conn. (153 meters); and Tim Thomas, of Hayward, Calif. (141.4272 meters). Each also will each receive a complimentary Planetary Society membership.