Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 06 February 2006
11:10 am ET


ILS to Loft Satellites for Sirius, JSAT and Telesat

An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket will place a Sirius Satellite Radio spacecraft into orbit by 2010 under a contract that may be used either for the Loral-built Sirius 4 spacecraft now in storage or for a next-generation Sirius radio broadcast satellite, officials with the companies said.

ILS also has signed contracts for the launch of Tokyo-based JSAT Corp.’s Lockheed Martin-built JCSAT-11 telecommunications satellite in 2007, and Telesat Canada’s Nimiq 4 satellite, built by EADS Astrium, in 2008.

Sirius Satellite Radio Chief Executive Mel Karmazin told a Citigroup investors conference in January that the company purchased the launch just in case one of its three current satellites, which operate as a single system in elliptical orbit covering North America, needs to be replaced. The satellites are healthy and should not need to be replaced before 2011-2012, he said.

Karmazin said Sirius also has begun reviewing options for its second-generation system. “We’re sort of interested in some of the new satellites that are out there, and we’re thinking about whether we would want to do something with a potential new satellite,” Karmazin said.

NASA Slated for Modest Budget Hike Next Year

U.S. President George W. Bush’s 2007 federal budget request, which is due to be sent to Congress and released to the public Feb. 6, includes $16.792 billion for NASA. That sum represents a 1-percent increase over the space agency’s 2006 budget.

Congress last year approved $16.6 billion for NASA for 2006, a figure that included $350 million in hurricane-recovery money and also accounts for a 1.28-percent rescission. Not counting that money, which NASA needs to repair its Gulf Coast facilities damaged last year by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the White House request would represent a 3-percent increase over the 2006 level.

Within the NASA request, roughly $6.2 billion would go to the international space station and space shuttle programs, about $3.9 billion would go toward the development of new human and unmanned spacecraft needed to replace the shuttle and send astronauts to the Moon, about $5.3 billion would go to space and Earth science missions, and about $720 million would go to aeronautics research.

NASA has yet to release its 2006 operating plan, so it is not clear exactly how much the agency intends to spend on each of its major programs this year. Based on last year’s request, however, NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, which is developing the hardware NASA needs for its return to the Moon, appears to be in line for the biggest increase. The $3.9 billion NASA is requesting for those efforts for 2007 is roughly $700 million more than it planned to spend this year.

The Space Operations Mission Directorate’s budget, which pays for the space shuttle and space station programs, would decline slightly under the 2007 plan, while NASA’s Science Mission Directorate would see only a modest 1-percent increase.

Aeronautics spending would be held essentially flat.

QDR Calls for Maintaining America’s Edge in Space

The U.S. Department of Defense reiterated a commitment to keep the United States at least a generation ahead of all other nations in space as part of a document that will guide future military planning and budgets.

The “Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Report,” which was posted online Feb. 3, also notes that the Pentagon plans to provide new incentives for personnel to serve in a variety of career fields including space.

The QDR calls for a new organizational scheme, dubbed “joint capability portfolios,” that initially would include Joint Command and Control, Joint Net-Centric Operations and Joint Space Operations. These portfolios will not significantly change acquisition and operations functions, but rather are designed to encourage wider discussion of requirements across the military services at the beginning of a new program, according to a Pentagon official.

The QDR also mentions plans to expand imagery and signals-intelligence collection capabilities with a balance of air and space assets, and states that the Pentagon will nearly double its current unmanned aerial vehicle coverage capability.

Targoff Replacing Schwartz As Loral’s Chief Executive

Michael B. Targoff will replace retiring Bernard L. Schwartz as chief executive officer of Loral Space & Communications March 1. Targoff has served as vice chairman of Loral’s board since November 2005.

Mark H. Rachesky will serve as non-executive chairman following Schwartz’s departure.

Targoff joined Loral in 1981 but left in 1998 as president and chief operating officer. He is chairman of the board of Communication and Power Industries and Leap Wireless International Inc., and also serves as chairman of their audit committees.

Rachesky, 46, serves as non-executive chairman of Leap Wireless and is on the board of Emisphere Technologies Inc.

Schwartz, 80, one of the best-known figures in the aerospace industry, has led the satellite operator and manufacturer since it was created in 1996. He had led the predecessor company, Loral Corp., since 1972, building it from a small defense electronics company into a multibillion-dollar defense and aerospace conglomerate .

Loral Space & Communications only recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which it entered in 2003 following a disastrous venture into the mobile satellite phone business and a sharp downturn in the satellite communications industry. Loral’s reorganization involved selling its Atlantic satellite fleet to Intelsat of Washington.

Schwartz said in a Feb. 1 interview that he is leaving Loral in “excellent” shape. “The company has never been more firmly entrenched in its market,” he said. “It is making money and its prospects are very good going forward.”

Schwartz said he had been contemplating retirement ever since Loral was relisted on the stock market in November following its emergence from bankruptcy.

He said he plans to be active in charities and political causes.

SpaceDev Closes on its Acquisition of Starsys

Poway, Calif.-based SpaceDev has completed its acquisition of Starsys Research Corp. of Boulder Colo., according to a Feb. 2 press release from SpaceDev.

Absorbing Starsys will require little reorganization and no consolidation of facilities, Jim Benson, SpaceDev founder and chief technology officer, said in a Feb. 2 phone interview. Scott Tibbitts, who was Starsys’ chief executive officer, will become a member of the combined company’s board of directors.

SpaceDev had previously announced the appointment of Mark Sirangelo as chief executive officer of the merged company.

SpaceDev paid approximately $9 million in cash and stock for Starsys. SpaceDev also assumed approximately $4.6 million of Starsys debt and forgave a $1.2 million loan it made to Starsys prior to the merger.

Benson said a main goal for Starsys is improving its robotics capabilities with increased automation. Starsys builds mechanical systems and structures that move components on spacecrafts.

“There’s really no company in the U.S. that focuses on space robotics,” Benson said. “Most of our space robotics work flows out into Canada. I think Starsys is the ideal candidate as a kind of center of excellence for space robotics.”

General Dynamics, Stratos To Market XTAR Capacity

General Dynamics Satellite Communications and Stratos Mobile Networks will market Xtar satellite capacity to U.S. and allied government customers under so-called master service agreements, Xtar LLC announced Feb. 3.

Rockville, Md.-based XTAR, a joint venture of Loral Space & Communications and Spain’s Hisdesat, operates the X-band Xtar-Eur satellite, which was launched last February. The company currently provides service to the Spanish Ministry of Defense, the Danish Armed Forces and to embassies and consulates in Africa and Asia for the U.S. State Department.

Strike, FIA Contract Change Cut Into Boeing’s 2005 Sales

Boeing Co. said the machinists strike that effectively shut down its Delta launch business and contract reductions in a classified defense program reduced year-2005 revenues by $700 million.

In a Feb. 1 presentation of its financial results, Chicago-based Boeing said its Launch and Orbital Systems division reported higher operating margins because of payments by the U.S. Department of Defense to assure Delta rocket production.

The so-called Assured Access payment to the Delta rocket program is unlikely to be repeated in 2006, Boeing Chief Financial Officer James Bell said.

Bell said Boeing still expects its proposed rocket-business merger with competitor Lockheed Martin to occur, but he declined to predict that the creation of the new company would be approved by U.S. regulators before spring. “I think it will happen, I just don’t know if it will happen this quarter,” Bell said.

Boeing’s Network Systems division is home to the multibillion-dollar Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) optical and radar reconnaissance satellite system. The optical portion of this contract was taken away from Boeing in 2005 because of technical problems that had delayed the program and increased its costs .

Bell did not mention the Future Imagery Architecture by name, but clearly was referring to that contract in his remarks.

“We got a contract-change notice that restructured that work. We had to increase our cost estimate and reduce what our fee-capture assumption would be on that program,” Bell said. “The same is true for the GMD [Ground Based Midcourse Defense missile interceptor program],” Bell said. “Both these issues had a relatively significant impact on Network Systems.”

Boeing’s Network Systems division reported 2005 sales of $11.3 billion, flat compared to 2004. Operating earnings for the division were $638 million, down 34 percent compared to the previous year.

Launch and Orbital Systems reported sales of $2.7 billion, an 8-percent decrease from 2004. Operating earnings were $780 million, compared to a $342 million loss in 2004.

Boeing’s space business is part of the Integrated Defense Systems division, whose revenues for 2005 increased by 1 percent, to $30.8 billion. But operating earnings were up 33 percent, to $3.9 billion, Boeing reported. Bell said the Integrated Defense Systems business “leads the aerospace industry” in its operating profitability.

Raytheon Tests GPS-Guided Air-to-Ground Missiles

The Pentagon and Raytheon Co. recently demonstrated new systems intended to enhance the ability of existing guided missiles to hit moving ground targets under adverse conditions , according to Raytheon news releases.

In one demonstration, Raytheon added a GPS navigation system and a UHF radio link to a Maverick air-to-ground missile, enabling it to avoid friendly forces and hit its target regardless of weather conditions , Raytheon said in a news release dated Feb. 1. Maverick missiles typically are fired by combat aircraft.

In another demonstration, the new data link on the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) enabled the GPS-guided missile to provide users with in-flight updates on its health and location. The new equipment also made it possible for controllers to receive target updates, according to a Raytheon news release dated Jan. 31.

Cmdr. Drew Hartigan, the Navy’s deputy program manager for the Joint Standoff Weapon effort, said in the news release that the demonstration represents a key milestone along the way to destroying moving targets at long range.

Global Hawk Sensor Suite Tested for Ocean Tracking

Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems of El Segundo, Calif., tested a new sensor suite for the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle intended for tracking targets in the ocean, according to a company news release dated Feb. 1.

The new sensor suite, developed by Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, was tested in three recent flights over the Pacific Ocean, according to the news release.

“Surveillance over the ocean is much more difficult than over land, because you have a moving target, such as a ship, against a moving background, the ocean,” said Bill Beck, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk maritime demonstration program manager. “During test flights, we proved that from an altitude of 18,288 meters, Global Hawk can track a ship or pinpoint a buoy in various sea states.”

After tracking the targets in the ocean, the Global Hawk flew over land and switched its sensors to a different mode for tracking objects on the ground, and was able to do so successfully, according to the news release.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman awarded a follow-on contract to Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems of Falls Church, Va., to build additional Global Hawk ground equipment, according to a Raytheon news release dated Jan. 30.

Raytheon declined to specify the financial terms in the news release. Under the contract, Raytheon will build equipment used for the launch and recovery of the Global Hawk aircraft as well as for verifying the drone’s health and status. Raytheon also will build mission control hardware, the company said.

Boeing Delivers Initial Batch Of JTRS Radios to U.S. Army

An industry team led by Boeing Co. has delivered the first batch of radios for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) to the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) program, according to a Jan. 31 Boeing news release.

The JTRS radios are intended to bring Internet-like capabilities to soldiers on the move in the FCS vehicles, a fleet of relatively light-weight manned and unmanned ground and aerial vehicles that will be connected by satellite and terrestrial communications links.

Soldiers will be able to use the radios to communicate via voice and text, as well as exchange video and audio feeds, according to the news release.

Boeing has delivered seven JTRS Cluster 1 radios thus far, and will bring that number up to 50 by the end of the summer, according to the news release.

New Object Is Confirmed To Be Larger than Pluto

An object considered by some to be our solar system’s 10th planet is indeed larger than Pluto, a new study confirms. The object, catalogued as 2003 UB313, is by many accounts a planet. It is round and orbits the Sun. But because several other objects meet those criteria and also approach Pluto’s size, astronomers have been wrangling for months over how to define the word “planet.”

It is not known if or when the International Astronomical Union, which rules on such things, will issue a decision. Members of an advisory board weighing the issue cannot even agree on the parameters of a definition.

Meanwhile, 2003 UB313 is now known to be about 3,000 kilometers in diameter, give or take 300 kilometers. Pluto’s diameter is 2,300 kilometers.

The object’s size was initially calculated based on an estimate of how much sunlight it reflects. But astronomers don’t know exactly what its surface is made of, so they could not be sure how reflective it is. The new study, led by Frank Bertoldi from the University of Bonn, relies on new observations of 2003 UB313’s thermal emission. The calculations are based on the object’s size and its surface temperature, which can be estimated based on the object’s distance from the Sun.

The results are detailed in the Feb. 2 issue of the journal Nature.

“Since UB313 is decidedly larger than Pluto,” Bertoldi said, “it is now increasingly hard to justify calling Pluto a planet if UB313 is not also given this status.”

But 2003 UB313 is much farther away. Its elongated orbit takes it far out into the icy Kuiper Belt, twice as far from the Sun as Pluto. Many astronomers now say Pluto is a Kuiper Belt Object and should never have been called a planet.

So if 2003 UB313 is termed a planet, as some suggest, then a handful of other good-sized, round worlds known to exist — and perhaps hundreds yet to be found in the Kuiper Belt — would also have to be called planets. Among the other candidates: Sedna, which is about three-fourths as large as Pluto, 2004 DW and Quaoar.

One suggestion is to call the outer worlds “dwarf planets.”

Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute of Washington takes this view: “Whichever way you care to count them, with the discovery and measurement of the size of 2003 UB313 there are no longer nine major planets in the solar system,” Sheppard writes in an analysis for Nature.

JAXA Working To Cure Comm Glitch on Daichi

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said Jan. 30 it found a glitch in the X-band communication link between the Daichi land observing satellite launched Jan. 24 and the agency’s ground station. The glitch involves the loss of image data transmitted directly from the satellite to the agency’s ground station north of Tokyo, according to Kiyotaka Yashiro JAXA’s director of Public affairs director.

Investigators are not sure whether the issue with the 120 megabits per second X-band link is being caused by a fault on the satellite or on the ground station, Yashiro said in a Jan. 30 telephone interview.

The transmission glitch does not involve image data from the satellite’s three sensors, which have yet to become operational. But if the glitch is permanent, it could have an impact on the satellite’s ability to transmit the heavy amounts of data collected by its three sensors, he said.

The satellite uses several data transmission methods for science data, including the direct link between the satellite and ground stations and via JAXA’s geostationary Kodama data relay satellite. Testing to see if the link with Kodama and with Kodama to the ground for Daichi’s data will begin in a few weeks, Yashiro said.

Connexion, Intelsat Sign 2 Maritime Service Deals

Intelsat and Connexion by Boeing have signed two multi year service agreements to support the launch of a maritime Internet service, Intelsat announced in a Feb. 2 press release.

Under the contract, Connexion by Boeing, a provider of high-speed Internet service to airplanes in flight, will use capacity on two Intelsat satellites to provide mobile information services to maritime vessels, beginning in the first quarter of 2006. Intelsat spokeswoman Jodi Katz declined to specify the dollar amount of the contract.

Bermuda-based Intelsat’s 705 and 706 satellites will be used by Seattle-based Connexion by Boeing to provide coverage across the mid-Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

Euro-Indian Joint Venture Wins Eutelsat Contract

A Euro-Indian joint venture has booked its first win — a contract to build a commercial telecommunications satellite for Eutelsat S.A. of Paris.

EADS Astrium of Europe and the Indian Space Research Organi sation (ISRO) will provide Eutelsat’s W2M satellite, which will be equipped with up to 32 Ku-band transponders. The launch is scheduled to take place in mid-2008, according to a Feb. 1 press release by Eutelsat, which operates a fleet of commercial communication satellites. The contract is scheduled to be signed Feb. 20 in Delhi in the presence of the heads of state of France and India.

The Eutelsat contract is the first win for the EADS Astrium-ISRO venture, which was formed in mid-2005 to meet increasing demand from commercial satellite operators for smaller, less-expensive satellites. ISRO has built several satellites for domestic Indian use, but has never won an export order.

Eutelsat’s W2M will be based on the ISRO platform used for India’s Insat 4A satellite launched in December. ISRO’s commercial arm, Antrix Corp. of Bangalore, India, will provide the satellite skeletal structure, with EADS Astrium responsible for the communications payload.

Eutelsat Chief Executive Officer Giuliano Berretta said Feb. 1 that the ISRO hardware has sufficiently proved itself in orbit to win favorable premium rates from satellite insurance underwriters. In an interview, Berretta recalled that Eutelsat was also the first commercial customer for the Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 and Boeing Delta 4 rockets, demonstrating a willingness to trust new product lines when the price is right. “We received very good terms on this satellite,” Berretta said.

W2M is expected to operate for 15 years from Eutelsat’s orbital slot at 10 degrees east longitude.

SciSys Gets 6 Contracts For Galileo Simulators

SciSys of Wiltshire, England, will provide mission simulation and system-control procedures for Europe’s Galileo satellite project under six contracts with a combined value of more than 4 million euros ($4.8 million), SciSys announced.

Under contracts with EADS Astrium Ltd. of Britain and VCS GmbH of Germany, SciSys will develop a constellation simulator to train future Galileo system ground controllers and design facilities to permit remote monitoring of Galileo’s ground network.

SciSys also will lead development of algorithms to monitor the Galileo satellites’ signal integrity under a contract with GMV S.A. of Spain. The contracts are part of Gali leo’s in-orbit validation phase, during which the constellation’s ground network, and the first four satellites in the 30-satellite network, will be deployed.

SGI To Provide GOES R Risk-Reduction Support

Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) of Mountain View, Calif., will provide support during the program definition and risk-reduction phase of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) R series, an Earth monitoring system slated to launch in 2012, SGI announced Jan. 30.

In October 2005, Raytheon Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., the prime contractor on GOES R, won a six-month program definition and risk-reduction contract, during which time the companies would conduct performance and cost of alternative system architectures as well as develop system definitions and operational functions for the program. SGI primarily will provide support to Raytheon in the form of data-processing hardware, system software, maintenance and optimization of target platform applications.

Financial details were not disclosed.

Stephen Jurczyk Appointed New Langley Deputy Director

Stephen Jurczyk, director of the Research and Technology Directorate at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., will now serve as deputy center director, NASA announced Jan. 30.

In his previous position, Jurczyk managed research and technology projects in aerodynamics, acoustics, structures and airborne systems for the agency’s aeronautics, exploration systems, science and space operations.

He began his NASA career at Langley in 1988 as an electronics engineer. He worked at NASA headquarters managing the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission in 1993, and then was the instrument systems engineer and later the spacecraft systems manager for the Landsat 7 project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. In 1997, he returned to Langley as head of the electronic systems branch in the Aerospace Electronics Systems division.

Alcatel Awarded Design Contract for ExoMars

Alcatel Alenia Space will perform preliminary design work for Europe’s ExoMars Mars lander and rover mission under a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA), Alcatel Alenia Space announced.

Under the 12-month contract, valued at about 13 million euros ($15.6 million), Alcatel Alenia will define ExoMars component elements and the rover operations control center. The work will be followed by an ESA preliminary design review. ExoMars, scheduled for launch in 2011, is designed to search for evidence of past or present life on Mars. ESA governments in December agreed to spend more than 600 million euros on the ExoMars mission, which will include development of entry, descent and landing technologies.

Student-Built Buoy To Measure Antarctic Ocean Temps

About a dozen students from the Lycee International de Los Angeles, a French/American school, have built a buoy that will be launched off the coast of Antarctica to measure ocean temperatures and transmit data via satellite back to both students and scientists.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which helped the group of students build the buoy, announced Jan. 26 that the project is part of a program called Argonautica, which was organized by the French space agency to help students learn about oceans and the role of satellites in oceanography.

The students were given an empty plastic shell and outfitted the buoy with seven temperature sensors and an anchor made of plastic pipe and cement to keep the buoy steady as it drifts with the ocean currents.

Students can track the buoy through the French space agency’s education Web site and correlate data with measurements taken by the Jason satellite, a joint U.S.-French mission.

The buoy will be launched from Ada2, a ship owned by French sailor Isabelle Autissier who is on an expedition to retrace the routes of early Antarctic explorers like Jean-Baptiste Charcot.

New Horizons Makes First Maneuvers for Jupiter Flyby

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed its first post-launch maneuvers with two thruster firings Jan. 28 and Jan. 30 that put it on course for a February 2007 flyby of Jupiter, which will provide a gravity-assisted boost that hurls the spacecraft toward Pluto to conduct the first close-up study of the distant planet in July 2015.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JPL) of Laurel, Md., announced Jan. 30 that mission operators there conducted the two firings using a pair of hydrazine-fueled thrusters for a total change in velocity of just under 18 meters per second. The Jan. 28 firing lasted about five minutes, while the second firing was about 12 minutes and put the spacecraft nearly 11.9 million kilometers from Earth.

New Horizons launched for Pluto Jan. 19 from Cape Canaveral in Florida aboard an International Launch Services Atlas 5 rocket. Mission leaders at the Applied Physics Laboratory plan to conduct the next trajectory change Feb. 15.

The public can now track the spacecraft’s position as it travels through the solar system to reach Pluto through JPL’s Web site at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/mission/whereis_nh.php.

NASA Stardust Spacecraft Placed in Hibernation Mode

NASA’s Stardust spacecraft was placed into hibernation mode Jan. 29 to preserve it for possible future use after it successfully delivered a sample-return capsule to Earth Jan. 15 filled with comet and interstellar particles from around the solar system, the U.S. space agency announced Jan. 30.

Stardust was put in long-term hibernation as it travels in an orbit that takes it a little closer to the Sun than Earth’s to just beyond the orbit of Mars. Other than the spacecraft’s solar arrays and communications antenna, its essential systems were shut down to preserve its health.

“Placing Stardust in hibernation gives us options to possibly reuse it in the future,” Tom Morgan, Stardust program executive at NASA headquarters in Washington, said in the news release. “The mission has already been a great success, but if at all possible we may want to add even more scientific dividends to this remarkable mission’s record of achievement.”

Stardust has logged nearly 4.6 million kilometers over its past seven years in space.

New Rocket Racing League Issues RFP PRIVATE puncspace:p Seeking Venues

The Rocket Racing League (RRL), an aerospace sports and entertainment organization, has expanded its management team and issued a request for proposals for rocket-racing venues and teams as it prepares for the 2007-2008 racing season. The organization held its inaugural exhibition flight at the X Prize Cup in New Mexico in October 2005.

The request for proposals seeks competitive bids from cities, airport authorities and other venues to host four of the six races slated for 2007. It also calls for independently owned race teams that can cover the estimated $1.2 million upfront cost of purchasing and maintaining a Mark-1 X-Racer for competition, the RRL announced Jan. 30.

The company already has selected the first racing team: Leading Edge Rocket Racing LLC, which was co-founded by U.S. Air Force F-16 pilots Robert “Bobaloo” Rickard and Don A. “Dagger” Grantham Jr., according to a Jan. 30 RRL news release.

The company also has expanded its management team, appointing Granger Whitelaw as chief executive officer. Other appointments include film producer Robert K. Weiss and creative media director Ramy Weitz to the company’s board of directors; Tim Gormley as chief operating officer; and Tom Tauzin as director of European racing operations.

U.S. Urged To Keep GPS Working with Older Systems

The most important action the U.S. government can take as it moves ahead on global positioning technology is to make sure existing users can receive and use older satellite signals, according to several industry officials who spoke at a Jan. 25 conference in Washington on the future of the Global Positioning System (GPS).

“As we move to modernization of the system it’s very important that we don’t degrade the service that is provided to legacy users,” William Ball, General Motor’s vice president for public policy for OnStar, said during the conference, “Next generation GPS for Enhanced Business Productivity” organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Space Enterprise Council.

Radio Transmitter, Spacesuit Make for Unusual Satellite

Crew members aboard the international space station are deploying an unusual satellite called SuitSat that is made up of a Russian Orlan spacesuit with three batteries, a radio transmitter and internal sensors that scientists hope will reveal more about the durability of spacesuits and clarity of radio transmissions, NASA announced Feb. 1.

SuitSat, a Russian invention, is equipped with internal sensors to measure the temperature and battery power inside the spacesuit while it orbits the Earth. Scientists hope to learn more about the durability of spacesuits, the battery power life and how the tumbling spacesuit affects the onboard radio transmissions.

Amateur radio operators can tune into the spacesuit’s radio transmission at 145.990 Megahertz FM. SuitSat will transmit three types of messages: a recorded greeting in six languages; an update on SuitSat’s telemetry, temperature, battery power and mission-elapsed time; and a slow-scan television picture.

678 Student Teams Enter AIA’s Rocketry Challenge

A total of 678 middle and high school teams across the United States are preparing for the fourth annual Team America Rocketry Challenge, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a sponsor of the challenge, announced Jan. 30.

The three- to 15-member teams have until April 10 to meet the qualifications for the final competition. The rocket must both reach 244 meters in altitude and achieve 45 seconds in flight duration while safely returning the payload: a raw egg.

The top 100 teams will compete against each other in the final competition May 20 in The Plains, Va., for a $60,000 prize package. Additional sponsors for the contest include the National Association of Rocketry, NASA, the U.S. Defense Department and the Civil Air Patrol.

SAIC To Provide Support Services to NASA Goddard

Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) of Beltsville, Md., has won a five-year contract worth up to $19 million to provide support services for two laboratories in the Sun-Earth Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., NASA announced Feb. 1. SAIC will provide support to the center’s Laboratory for Atmospheres as well as the Hydrological Sciences Branch.

NASA Airborne Sensor Aids Local Weather Forecasting

An airborne sensor developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is improving local weather predictions by allowing small aircraft to automatically sense and deliver atmospheric weather conditions to forecasters, according to a Jan. 30 NASA news release.

The Tropospheric Airborne Meteorological Data Report instrument, which was tested by NASA’s Aviation Safety Program, was equipped aboard dozens of Mesaba Airlines aircraft that fly short commuter routes in the United States. The sensor takes atmospheric data readings — such as temperature, humidity, pressure, wind, turbulence, etc. — that are then transmitted via satellite to a ground data center where the information is processed and delivered to forecasters and pilots. Large airliners generally fly above weather clouds and collect limited data, but with this sensor, regional aircraft can provide more-detailed information.

“Meteorologists at the National Weather Service have found the [instrument] to be useful in forecasting severe thunderstorms, dense fog, precipitation types of winter storms and low-level wind shear,” Richard Mamrosh, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said in the release.

Romania Awards Study of Environmental Monitoring

Vexcel Corp. of Boulder, Colo., will lead a study in Romania that is intended to pave the way for an environmental monitoring system for the country’s mining industry, Vexcel announced Jan. 26.

The study, funded by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, will assist Romania, the site of a number of environmental accidents, in curbing future environmental degradation from mining. The proposed monitoring system will use satellites, aircraft and ground-based sensors to gather environmental data that will be integrated at a centralized data management support center.

The Romanian Ministry has identified over 140 mines that pose significant safety and environmental concerns that must be addressed if the country wishes to become a member of the European Union, according to the release.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com