Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 13 February 2006
12:10 pm ET


2005 Offerings Raise $3 Billion, But Long-Term Questions Linger

The six public stock offerings of satellite companies that occurred in 2005 raised more than $3 billion and are generally considered as successful despite the concerns that many satellite operators have not laid out a convincing long-term plan for growth, Wall Street analysts said.

The companies going public — Eutelsat of France, Inmarsat of London, New Skies Satellites of The Netherlands, PanAmSat of the United States, WorldSpace of the United States and XM Canada — cannot be grouped together because their business models are so different. But for many of them, the markets are waiting to see what strategies their managements will pursue to generate growth beyond today’s steady but unexceptional rates.

The stock offerings “weren’t always easy to get done,” said Max G. Herrnstein, managing director for telecommunications at Morgan Stanley. “Books weren’t oversubscribed by 4 to 5 times a lot. There was no sustainable long-term growth story. This is something the industry still needs to clarify.”

Several analysts said the larger satellite-fleet operators should look for growth by purchasing ownership stakes in regional operators in the Middle East and Asia. How many of these companies are available for sale remains unclear, as is the likely reaction of their host governments to the idea of foreign ownership. But on Wall Street, the idea of further consolidation as a way to growing the business apparently has credence.

“There will be lots of smaller transactions” in which regional satellite operators are purchased, said J. Tracy Mehr, a managing director at Credit Suisse. Carol Goldstein, ABN Amro’s head of telecom, media and technology, said emerging markets are one of the few satellite sectors that show real promise. “In these countries, satellite is a necessary part of the communications infrastructure,” Goldstein said. “That will drive industry growth.”

Philippe-Olivier Rousseau, managing director for telecom finance at BNP Paribas, said satellite operators in Europe and North America will need to look to other regions if they want to grow more than a modest 5-6 percent per year.

“A likely scenario is one in which we see more industry consolidation in places like South Africa, Asia-Pacific, Russia and the Middle East,” said Rousseau. “You have a huge amount of targets in India, China and the Asia-Pacific.”

Hughes Says Full Insurance Not Mandatory for Spaceway 3

Hughes Network Systems’ Spaceway 3 broadband satellite presents the company — to be known as Hughes Communications after a planned stock offering this year — and insurance underwriters with unique challenges as they seek to structure coverage for the satellite’s launch and in-orbit performance.

Dean Manson, Hughes’ general counsel, said the company plans to seek insurance coverage but is willing to forgo at least some coverage if the price is not right. “Full insurance is not an absolute requirement,” Manson said, adding that the Germantown, Md.-based company has not yet decided how much coverage it will buy.

“The satellite’s onboard processor and spot-beam architecture and phased-array antennas permit dynamic allocation of capacity on the downlink,” Manson said. “So we can recover from any capacity losses” by adjusting coverage in the event of a partial onboard failure. “We are trying to determine what loss scenarios make sense. There are going to be some interesting issues as we go to the [insurance] market this year.”

Impact of Self Insurance Unclear to Underwriters

Space insurance industry officials appeared to share no consensus on whether the self-insurance trend among some large satellite-fleet operators will continue, and whether insurance underwriters should be worried about it.

With the consolidation of the fixed satellite services industry, several big players have elected to insure only the launch and the first year’s operations of their satellites. After that first year, they forgo the annual in-orbit insurance policy, which can carry premiums equivalent to more than 2 percent of the value of the satellite.

Instead of purchasing coverage, these fleet operators rely on being able to recover from a satellite failure by reassigning their customers to another satellite in their fleets.

The practice removes from the insurance market a steady source of income from some of the industry’s biggest and most reliable customers, putting upward pressure on insurance rates for those remaining in the market and leading to a potential snowball effect as they, too, exit the insurance market.

Tim Rush, senior vice president of insurance broker Aon Space, said these companies soon will be returning to the insurance market as they streamline their in-orbit fleets. Rush said fleet rationalization in a consolidating industry will make each operating satellite more valuable, forcing companies to continue in-orbit coverage.

“The average fleet is 65 to 70 percent utilized,” Rush said. “With the new private-equity owners of the satellite companies, these rates will go up and any in-orbit loss will be more dramatic. So as a more disciplined approach to fleet management arrives, demand for insurance will go up.”

Eric Allenspach, a space insurance underwriter at Swiss Reinsurance, said some satellite operators seem more concerned with comparing their insurance premiums with those of their competitors than with trying to structure coverage that would force rates down.

“We see them focusing exclusively on rates, and less on what they need to cover,” Allenspach said. He said he understood that satellite operators resist having to pay out the equivalent of 50 percent of their value of a satellite in insurance over the spacecraft’s 15-year life. “But we [underwriters] have not walked away as extremely rich people,” Allenspach said.

Jean Fournier, a space insurance broker with Marsh S.A. of Paris, said the idea of launching an extra satellite to protect against the loss of another already in orbit is a rational move for some satellite operators and something underwriters will need to address.

“If you have a fleet of some 50 satellites and are paying 2 percent of the value of the fleet in insurance premiums per year, that’s equivalent to launching a new satellite every year,” Fournier said. “Operators would rather launch an in-orbit spare and generate revenues from it. It can be viewed as a more efficient allocation of capital and underwriters will have to address this problem.”

Saft To Provide Batteries For Three MSV Spacecraft

Boeing has awarded satellite-battery manufacturer Saft a contract to provide lithium-ion batteries for the three MSV mobile communications satellites Boeing is building, a contract that Saft Group President John Searle said positions Saft as the dominant provider of lithium-ion technology for satellite applications.

Saft, based in Bagnolet, France, is expanding its Cockeysville, Md., production site to be able to produce the batteries from its U.S. site in addition to a production plant in France. Searle said some U.S. customers, and the U.S. government, have made clear their preference for a domestic supply base.

Saft already has established itself with Europe’s two satellite prime contractors, EADS Astrium and Alcatel Alenia Space, but has only recently made inroads in persuading U.S. satellite builders and their customers to move from conventional batteries, which Saft also builds, to lithium-ion.

Lithium-ion’s advantages include its lower weight and the lower maintenance needed for satellites on the launch pad or being prepared for shipment or storage.

Saft also has become a regular supplier of the smaller geostationary commercial telecommunications satellites built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and has scored a success in providing lithium-ion batteries on an Insat 4 telecommunications satellite built by the Indian Space Research Organisation.

The selection of Saft lithium-ion batteries for the Boeing-built MSV satellites is a first for Saft. The company also hopes to be supplying Lockheed Martin’s A2100 satellite frame for at least one prospective satellite — assuming Lockheed Martin wins the business.

Space Systems/Loral, the third U.S. satellite prime contractor, has a long-standing relationship with Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Co., which also builds lithium-ion batteries.

Searle said Saft’s success in the satellite business is helping the company win new orders for batteries installed on systems including the U.S. Air Force Joint Strike Fighter.

MDA Declines To Restore Kill Vehicle To NFIRE Mission

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) will not restore a controversial kill vehicle to a satellite that is slated to launch later this year, according to a Defense Department official.

That satellite, the Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) is designed to gather data that would improve the ability of a missile defense interceptor to discriminate between the body of an incoming ballistic missile and its exhaust plume.

Originally, NFIRE also was supposed to include an additional sensor mounted on hardware used for missile defense kill vehicles. That sensor was intended to take a closer look at a ballistic missile target during testing that is slated to occur later this year.

MDA officials also had said previously that the kill vehicle included on NFIRE would likely collide with a missile target during a test of the system.

The proposal to include the kill vehicle on NFIRE raised concerns among those opposed to space-based missile interceptors that the experiment was intended to open the door to the development of such systems.

MDA elected to remove it from the satellite in 2004 and replace it with a German laser communications payload in 2005, according to MDA officials.

Members of Congress expressed disappointment with that decision in the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act, which was passed into law Dec. 30, and included language encouraging the agency to restore the kill vehicle to the NFIRE spacecraft.

However, the Defense Department official said that the NFIRE satellite is too far along to restore the kill vehicle.

Spacehab Notified Its Stock Could Be Delisted

Houston-based Spacehab could be dropped from the Nasdaq stock exchange if it does not get its share price up soon. Nasdaq notified Spacehab Feb. 8 that the commercial space services company’s eligibility for continued listing on the exchange was under review because the company’s market value has fallen below the $10 million minimum.

Spacehab, whose stock has been trading below $1 a share since October, has until Feb. 23 to submit a plan for how it intends to get is market value up and keep it there.

Air Force Space Veteran Jimmey Morrell Dies at 59

Jimmey Morrell, a retired U.S. Air Force major general who served in a variety of space leadership positions throughout his career, died Feb. 8 at age 59.

Morrell’s last posting in the Air Force was serving as the director for the Eastern Launch Range. He also served as military assistant for space in the office of the secretary of the Air Force, director of operations at Air Force Space Command, and adviser on all national security space issues to the White House science adviser, according to his Air Force biography.

EchoStar, China Craft Deal To Avoid Export Delays

In a deal designed to avoid potential U.S. technology export delays, EchoStar is negotiating the purchase of a satellite that would be placed at a Chinese orbital location in time for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing to serve mobile video users in mainland China, according to U.S. industry officials.

Under an arrangement that EchoStar has been negotiating for several months, EchoStar would contract with a U.S. satellite manufacturer to build the S-band mobile-broadcasting satellite, which would be launched on a U.S., Russian or European rocket and used by Chinese broadcasters, officials said. EchoStar would incur the capital expense of purchasing and launching the satellite, with a guarantee from Chinese customers that the spacecraft would be fully leased.

Marc Lumpkin, a spokesman for Littleton, Colo.-based EchoStar Communications Corp., said Feb. 9 the company would have no comment on the matter.

The satellite in question would resemble the MBSAT-1 satellite, which was launched in March 2004, is owned by Japan and the Mobile Broadcasting Corp. of South Korea. MBSAT-1 operates in S-band and has met with initial success among Korean users, with a more modest reception so far in Japan. MBSAT-1 was built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif.

Officials said Chinese authorities have realized that their domestic industry cannot build such a satellite in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics. But turning to non-Chinese manufacturers would inevitably run afoul of U.S. technology-transport restrictions, which for the past six years have prevented U.S.-built satellite components from being shipped to China for launch.

These officials said China also concluded that Alcatel Alenia Space of France and Italy, which has a demonstrated ability to build satellites free of export-sensitive U.S. components, could not produce such a spacecraft quickly enough.

That leaves U.S. manufacturers, at least two of which are in continuing talks with EchoStar on the satellite, officials said.

What is unclear is why China solicited EchoStar, a U.S. direct-to-home satellite television supplier, instead of going to a Hong Kong-based satellite operator to arrange the purchase and launch of the satellite. Also unclear is whether EchoStar would retain ownership of the spacecraft for its entire service life.

Udall Pledges To Find Funding for Imagery

Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) pledged at an industry conference Feb. 9 that he will work to see that the legislation he introduced to bring more remote sensing imagery to state and local governments is backed up with adequate funding in 2006.

Udall, sponsor of the Remote Sensing Applications Act of 2005 (H.R. 426), which made its way into the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 (S. 1281), addressed members of the remote sensing industry at the U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Industry Conference in Washington.

His legislation establishes a program of grants for pilot projects that explore the use of remote sensing data to address state and local government needs. It also calls for the establishment of an educational outreach program to increase awareness of remote sensing applications at colleges and universities.

Udall hopes the pilot projects will help state and local offices solve some of the challenges they have faced in trying to make the best use of the available remote sensing data. Those problems include a lack of dollars to buy data, the absence of an organizational archive and communications difficulties that have made it hard for counties and cities to share data.

“Many states are more like developing countries in their need [for data],” Udall said.

But whether the program will get the funding it requires still remains to be seen.

“I’m going to go all out to find funding in 2007, but we have to be realistic,” Udall said. “I think we have an uphill battle, but as a mountain climber, I’m always willing to go uphill and see what we can accomplish.”

Udall said there needs to be as much of an emphasis on funding Earth science projects as there is on funding the rest of NASA’s research.

“There are a lot more humans living on this Earth right now than there are on Mars,” he said. He said awareness in Congress of remote sensing’s many applications is comparable to the public’s perception, namely that awareness is increasing, but not widespread.

Udall said support of remote sensing legislative efforts is not a partisan issue; senators and representatives see the need if their communities use the data or house related businesses. High-resolution imagery satellite operator DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo., and Dulles, Va.-based GeoEye both have major operations in Udall’s home state of Colorado.

Nilesat To Seek Bids in 2006 For Sat To Be Launched in 2009

Egyptian satellite operator Nilesat will issue a request for bids from satellite manufacturers by June for a telecommunications satellite to be launched in 2009, Nilesat Chief Operating Officer Salah Hamza said.

Cairo-based Nilesat’s two current satellites are nearly full and the company is leasing the Hot Bird 4 direct-broadcast satellite owned by Eutelsat S.A. of Paris to meet the surge in demand. The Eutelsat satellite is scheduled to be moved to Nilesat’s orbital slot at 7 degrees west longitude by June, after which it will be renamed Nilesat 103.

Hamza said Nilesat increased its revenues by more than 10 percent in 2005, to $66.6 million. The company is in a tax-free zone. The Egyptian Radio and Television Union is Nilesat’s biggest shareholder, with a 40 percent stake in the company.

Chinese Agency Provides Financing for Nigcomsat-1

The Nigerian government in January concluded terms on a $200 million loan from China’s export-credit agency to complete the financing package of Nigeria’s Nigcomsat-1 telecommunications satellite, which Chinese companies are building and launching, according to the director of Nigeria’s space agency.

Robert Boroffice, director-general of the National Research and Development Agency of Nigeria (NASRDA), said this financing, plus a $50 million cash down payment that Nigeria previously made to China, puts to rest the financial questions surrounding the project, which is the first commercial satellite China will build for export.

The 5,150-kilogram Nigcomsat-1 is scheduled for launch in December aboard a Chinese Long March 3B rocket. It is based on China’s DFH-4 satellite platform and will carry an unusually diverse payload of transponders in C-, Ku-, Ka- and L-band. It will operate in geostationary orbit at 42 degrees east longitude. As part of the contract, 55 Nigerian engineers are working in China to study satellite design and operations.

Boroffice said the China Export & Credit Insurance Corp. loan should end speculation that the project had been stalled over nonpayment issues. The Nigerian federal government is paying 20 percent of the project’s cost.

Nigerian companies and government agencies in 2004 leased a total capacity of 60 transponders from commercial global satellite-fleet operators, according to NASRDA estimates. This figure is expected to rise to around 90 transponders in 2010 and 140 transponders by 2020, a growth that Nigerian authorities say justifies an investment in their own domestic satellite system.

Boroffice said Nigeria will not insist that VSAT and other satellite users in Nigeria switch to Nigcomsat-1. But numerous incentives will be put into place to make the satellite more attractive than the competition for Nigerian users, he said.

Ciel To Pick Direct Broadcast TV Satellite Builder in March

Ciel Satellite Communications Inc. of Canada expects to select the builder of its large direct-broadcast television satellite by March and is evaluating bids from three prospective contractors, according to industry officials.

Ciel Chief Executive Kevin Smyth declined to discuss the competition for what is likely to be the biggest satellite ordered in 2006 beyond saying a decision on a builder was expected “in the next two weeks or so.”

The Ciel satellite will be operating from the 129 degrees west longitude orbital slot, a Canadian-registered position that start-up company Ciel won by besting the proposal made by Canada’s established satellite services provider, Telesat Canada.

With the aid of EchoStar Communications Corp. of Littleton, Colo., and SES Global of Luxembourg, Ciel has been operating an old EchoStar satellite at its orbital position. Under the terms of the Canadian authorization, it must sign a contract for a dedicated satellite by July and launch it before January 2009.

Industry officials said the satellite, at around 17 kilowatts of end-of-life power, will be among the most powerful commercial satellites ever launched. Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, Alcatel Alenia Space and Space Systems/Loral are bidding for the work, industry officials said.

Smyth said Ciel has fully demonstrated to Canadian regulators that the company, as a common telecommunications carrier under Canadian law, will be 51 percent Canadian-owned despite the heavy financial commitments of EchoStar and SES Global.

Ciel has leased virtually all the capacity on the satellite to EchoStar, but must cede part of that capacity to Canadian broadcasters should demand develop.

It remains unclear who is putting up how much cash for construction of the satellite, which is expected to cost around $300 million including launch and insurance coverage.

“Canadian regulators have been very strict in verifying that we are not just a shell company for EchoStar or SES, as some have alleged,” Smyth said.

MSV Says Success of Anik F2 Led to 3-Satellite Boeing Deal

Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) Vice Chairman Larry Boisvert said the company “thought long and hard” before ordering three mobile-communications satellites from Boeing Satellite Systems International because of the trouble the company has had with a previous Boeing satellite and with U.S. technology-transfer regulations.

MSV is based in Ottawa and in Reston, Va., and Boisvert, who is chief executive of MSV shareholder Telesat Canada, has been outspoken in his criticism of Boeing’s engineering slipups on the Boeing 601 and 702 satellite designs, one of which Telesat purchased.

Boisvert also has been a vocal critic of the U.S. government’s technology-transfer regulations, which prevent any non-U.S. company or individual from receiving timely information about satellite problems.

But Boisvert said Telesat’s Anik F2 satellite — a second-generation Boeing 702 satellite — has been performing “beautifully. And the more we thought about it, we realized that only Boeing could have built this satellite.”

Boisvert said the MSV contract with Boeing has options that could increase the order to four satellites, or decrease it to two spacecraft.

Otherwise, he said, the MSV contract was solid and does not contain any unusual escape clauses. MSV is planning a next-generation mobile voice and data communications system for North and South America.

iPSTAR Generates Sales Of 27,000 User Terminals

Shin Satellite plc of Thailand has sold 27,000 user terminals for its iPSTAR/Thaicom 4 broadband satellite system, which became operational in December, Shin Executive Chairman Dumrong Kasemset said. The company forecasts that terminal sales will surpass 100,000 by the end of 2006.

Thaicom 4 is designed to create a consumer-based broadband business in a large swath of Asia by selling services at prices that in some places can compete with DSL or cable. Kasemset said some governments in Asia, including Australia and New Zealand, subsidize the costs of installing broadband Internet hardware as part of their rural telecommunications development policies.

Shin is currently is transferring traffic it has used to test its broadband system from spacecraft operated by competitors SingTel Optus, Intelsat and New Skies Satellites to Thaicom 4.

The company also has commissioned eight of a planned 18 planned satellite ground gateways.

Kasemset said the cost of the Thaicom 4 user terminals remains an issue. At $400 apiece, they remain too expensive for many users. He said that once production ramps up, prices will drop to around $200, a milestone he said should occur in two or three years.

“We can’t get to $100 per terminal,” Kasemset said. “But in governments that subsidize the one-time installation charges, such as Australia and New Zealand, we can charge the users just $30 or so — the same as DSL.”

GeoEye Talking to U.S. Military About Possible Gap-Filler Role

GeoEye has begun discussing with U.S. military authorities a possible role filling in gaps caused by the multiyear delay in the U.S. Defense Department’s Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) program, GeoEye President Matthew O’Connell said.

The Dulles, Va.-based company, which recently completed the purchase of competitor Space Imaging, operates three satellites, none with a ground resolution sharper than 1 meter. A fourth satellite, which is scheduled for launch in 2007, will have a 41-centimeter ground resolution.

These satellites’ imaging capabilities are generally considered to be far less precise than the optical and radar platforms that are part of the classified, multibillion-dollar FIA. But FIA is over budget and behind schedule. Part of the work on FIA’s optical satellites that was being performed by prime contractor Boeing Co. of El Segundo, Calif., was recently restructured, resulting in a removal of the work from Boeing.

O’Connell did not go into details over how GeoEye’s role in FIA might evolve. He said the company “could fill some of the gaps” in the program, at least on a temporary basis. Longer term, he said, GeoEye is positioning itself as a company that completes its government contracts on time and within budget. GeoEye currently has no role in FIA.

Iridium Reports Increases in Subscribers, Revenue

Iridium Satellite LLC reported revenue and subscriber increases for 2005.

The satellite services provider, which provides global service to users of handheld telephones, said in a Feb. 6 press release that it finished 2005 with a total of 142,000 voice and data subscribers.

The company, which is privately held and does not report detailed financial results, said it achieved a 24-percent increase in subscribers compared to the number of subscribers it had at the end of 2004.

Iridium also reported a 55-percent increase in 2005 revenue compared to its 2004 figures but company spokeswoman, Liz DeCastro, said the company would not disclose the amount of the annual revenue for either year.

“It’s just a great year, a record year across the board,” Iridium Chief Executive Officer Carmen Lloyd said in a Feb. 8 interview. “It was partly driven by the events of Hurricane Katrina, but it’s sustainable.”

Iridium said that during the first 72 hours of the September hurricane alone, traffic for the company increased more than 3,000 percent.

NASA Seeks Centennial Challenges Criteria Opinions

NASA’s Centennial Challenges p rogram has issued a Request for Comments asking potential participants to help finalize draft rules for six upcoming prize competitions, NASA announced Feb. 8.

“We want to know what adjustments we should make to draft rules and what collaborations we should use to ensure these competitions are challenging, achievable and valuable to both NASA and the competing teams,” Brant Sponberg, the Centennial Challenges program manager, said in a prepared statement.

The Centennial Challenges program aims to promote technological innovation through prize competitions. The six upcoming events include the Fuel Depot Demonstration Challenge, the Human Lunar All-Terrain Vehicle Challenge, Low-Cost Space Pressure Suit Challenge, Lunar Night Power Source Challenge, Micro Re-entry Vehicle Challenge and the Station-Keeping Solar Sail Challenge.

Deep Impact Images Show Ice on Surface of Comet

Scientists analyzing images and data collected by NASA’s Deep Impact mission — whose Impactor spacecraft smashed into Comet Tempel 1 last July — have found water ice in three small areas on the comet’s surface, according to a Feb. 2 news release from the University of Maryland, College Park, which worked on the mission.

The images are the first to confirm the existence of water ice on a comet’s surface. Before Deep Impact, most observations of a comet’s nucleus (solid body) were obscured by a coma — the cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet. The finding was reported in the Feb. 2 online version of the journal Science.

While the data show ice on the surface of comet Tempel 1, the amount observed there is not enough to account for the amount of water found in the coma, an observation that gave researchers more information on how ice might be distributed in a comet.

“These new findings are significant because they show that our technique is effective in finding ice when it is on the surface, and that we can therefore firmly conclude that most of the water vapor that escapes from comets is contained in ice particles found below the surface,” Michael A’Hearn, Deep Impact’s principal investigator at the university, said in the news release.

Telenor Offers Discounts For New BGAN Service

Telenor Satellite Services, a subsidiary of Telenor of Norway, will be offering free airtime and discounts on equipment for their Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) through June 2006 for customers who turn in an old handheld satellite phone for a new BGAN terminal, the company announced Feb. 8.

Telenor also has eliminated BGAN activation and subscription fees under certain plans. Telenor’s BGAN service is available to customers in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The company plans to expand into the Americas during second-quarter 2006.

Microspace To Deliver AccuWeather Forecasts

Microspace Communications Corp. of Raleigh, N.C., will deliver AccuWeather reports and forecasts via its Velocity high-speed satellite service to hundreds of sites across the United States, Microspace announced Feb. 6. AccuWeather is a commercial weather service that has been in business since 1962 and today serves over 250,000 clients in the media, government and educational fields.

NASA Selects Consolidated Safety for Health Support

Consolidated Safety Services Inc. of Fairfax, Va., will provide support for occupational safety and health programs at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., under a contract worth up to $33.7 million, NASA announced Feb. 8.

The contract has a two-year base period and three one-year options. Consolidated Safety will support the center in several areas including industrial hygiene, health physics, occupational safety, fire protection engineering and injury/illness data analysis.

Lord Urges Development of $5 Million-per-Launch Rocket

While a variety of space-based technologies have proven essential to the military in recent years, one of the U.S. Air Force’s top officers said the services still need much more affordable access to space and even better space services.

Gen. Lance Lord, commander of Air Force Space Command, said that since the war in Iraq began, space-based surveillance has been key in locating prisoners of war. “Space takes the search out of search and rescue,” Lord said. The military needs even greater space capabilities in the future such as better integration of air, space and land sensors, and also needs much more affordable access to space, he added.

What the military would like to see is a launch option with a recurring cost below $5 million a launch that can be responsive within two hours’ time, and put 1,000 pounds of cargo into low Earth orbit, Lord said.

Lord also predicted the services will spend more money in the years ahead on near space technology such as high-altitude balloons that hover between 20 and 99 kilometers above sea level.

Eventually, Lord said he believes a significant portion of the country’s gross national product will be devoted to space businesses.

Subaru To Offer XM in 3 Factory-Installed Models

Three new vehicle models will offer factory installed XM satellite radios when they debut later this year, Washington-based XM Satellite Radio announced in a Feb. 9 press release.

Subaru of America, Inc., based in Cherry Hill, N.J., will offer XM as an option in its 2007 Legacy, Outback and B9 Tribeca SUV models , the release said. A special edition of the SUV will include XM as standard equipment.

The three cars comprised 50 percent of Subaru’s U.S. sales in 2005, the release said.

Manufacturer Readies Hardware For New Inmarsat Service

The Netherlands-based Thrane & Thrane has developed a new ground terminal for vehicles that will be equipped with London-based Inmarsat’s new high-speed mobile broadband communications service, which will be launched in the United States the second quarter of 2006.

The terminal, known as the Explorer 527, is designed to be used in conjunction with Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN). The Inmarsat-4 satellite, which will be used to provide BGAN service in the United States, was launched in November and is still being tested. Inmarsat also needs regulatory approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission before distribution partners like Thrane & Thrane can start selling the ground terminals.

Thrane & Thrane developed the Explorer 527 using $15 million from Inmarsat and $15 million of its own funds, said George Spohn, the company’s vice president for sales and marketing.

Thrane & Thrane used the investment to develop a type of chip that can be used for many types of similar terminals in the future, Spohn said.

Nera of Norway and Hughes Network Systems of Germantown, Md., also developed terminals of different sizes for BGAN users, and those two companies also got development funding from Inmarsat.

The Thrane & Thrane system consists of terminal and tracking antennas. The system is largely being eyed by military customers, Spohn said, but users in other markets, such as construction and insurance companies, also have expressed interest in it for use in remote areas, he said.

Thrane & Thrane also announced at the Satellite 2006 conference in Washington Feb. 7 that it has chosen eight companies — Agiosat of Burbank, Calif.; AOS Inc. of Dallas; Network Innovations Inc. of Canada; TeleCommunication Systems of Annapolis, Md.; Video & Telecommunications Inc. of Springfield, Va.; GCS Inc. of Vienna, Va.; Satcom Direct Communications Inc. of Satellite Beach, Fla.; and Mackay Communications Inc. of Raleigh, N.C. — to distribute its BGAN-related products and provide value-added services.

Telenor, Singapore Firm Team On Satellite Broadband for Asia

Telenor Satellite Services of Norway has entered into a business arrangement with a Singapore-based satellite solutions provider to bring high-speed broadband products to Asia , Telenor announced Feb. 9.

Under the agreement with Addvalue Technologies Ltd., Telenor and its subsidiary, GMPCS Personal Communications of Pompano Beach, Fla., will work with Addvalue to design, develop, market and distribute satellite services. Emphasis will be on distributing Addvalue’s terminals for London-based Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN).

“The purpose behind this business agreement is to bring BGAN to Southeast Asia,” Britt Carina Horncastle, chief executive officer of Telenor Satellite Services, said in a Feb. 9 interview.

The terminals constructed by Addvalue are one of many options for distributing BGAN, but Larry Paul, director of business development of Telenor Satellite Services, said Feb. 9 they are unique in their affordability. “The product is closely aimed at the consumer. It is the most economical version with all the basic capabilities that they would need.”

As part of the business arrangement, Telenor also has the option to invest in Addvalue stock, though the company has yet to exercise the option, Horncastle said. “Part of the whole strategic vision for the corporation is maybe some time in the future to invest.”

The Addvalue BGAN terminals are expected to be available for purchase in the second quarter of 2006, Paul said.

Veteran of Iraq, Hurricanes Says DoD Needs Multiple Comm Options

The military needs a variety of “on-the-move” communications options coming from different frequencies to overcome weather-related challenges on the battlefield, a tactical specialist said.

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Kobsar, a technical director for the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, and Communications Tactical , said that during his experiences in Iraq and during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, using communications services that relied exclusively on one source such as the Ku-band of the spectrum led to problems.

“The entire Army stopped communications for a day because of a sandstorm,” Kobsar said. A similar problem occurred in the days before and after Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast in September 2005, he said.

“You have to keep in mind a tool kit of different frequencies that will allow us to fight a fight,” Kobsar said to commercial satellite communications equipment providers during a panel discussion at Satellite 2006 in Washington Feb. 8.

Technologies that provide “communications on the move” to warfighters — including voice, data and broadband services — have been gaining emphasis in military circles, panelists said. But though technology has made these services more affordable, faster and more lightweight, the military has been slow to adapt when it comes to procuring them, panelists said.

“The industry today … is providing a much greater value than it was 10, 15 years ago,” said Ric VanderMeulen, director for government broadband for San Diego-based ViaSat. “But the acquisitions community has yet to come to grips with the fact there are products out there which are more advanced than they’d dreamed of five years ago, and how to use those capabilities to bring even greater value to the warfighters.”

Commercial manufacturers of on-the-move terminals have struggled to find a “sweet spot” that takes into account practical size, weight and delivery of services while still remaining affordable, said J.J. Shaw, director of Navy programs for Inmarsat Government Solutions in Arlington, Va. .

“I think we’re almost there,” Shaw said.

Iridium’s Alaskan Ground Station To Open in July

A new ground station in Alaska will give Iridium Satellite LLC a heightened presence in the United States , its chief executive officer said Feb. 8.

The company is building a Telemetry, Tracking and Command/Control site on a 5-hectare plot of land in Fairbanks, Alaska, according to Iridium Chief Executive Officer Carmen Lloyd.

“This primarily gives us a better line of sight to all our satellites,” Lloyd said of the facility. He declined to specify how much the company is investing in the project, which will be managed by Alaska-based employees.

Initial work on the building began approximately three months ago, Lloyd said, and the facility should be fully operational by July. The building itself is up, and equipment currently is being installed. Electricity and heat will be put in during later months, he said.

Iridium also released its 9601 Short-Burst Data Transceiver Feb. 6, a small satellite data modem which can be used for a variety of purposes including asset tracking and border security. The company is filling approximately 7,000 initial orders for a variety of clients, including those in the oil and gas industry and the transportation industry, Lloyd said.

High Growth Projected for HDTV, Internet TV, Broadband, Mobile

Satellite Industry officials are predicting that High Definition Television (HDTV) and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), as well as satellite broadband and mobile television applications, will be at the top of the list of high-growth satellite service markets for the next five years.

Brent Brunn, president of Americom Enterprise Solutions of Princeton, N.J., a division of SES Americom, said there will be more high-definition televisions sold in the United States in 2006 than standard televisions. By 2010, there will be 100 channels of HDTV, he said.

Customers who compare high-definition television pictures to traditional reception can see a significant difference, so even standard-television broadcasting requires more bandwidth to meet rising standards, said David Gilmore, commercial director for Telenor Satellite Services of Norway. “We’ve got an immediate demand for higher quality.”

Companies also see IPTV as an area for growth.

“We’re potentially at a crossroads for a major change in the way we watch TV in the future,” said Mark Cronin, business development director for Arqiva, a satellite-broadcast solutions company based in England.

While company representatives pointed to two-way satellite broadband as another market with potential, many had caveats.

Gilmore said re-engineering must occur in order for satellite broadband to compete on an affordable level.

“The satellite industry does not make the most efficient use of bandwidth. In the industry there is a fair amount of work to do,” Gilmore said.

Cronin sees the only clear markets for satellite broadband being in countries which do not have other Internet options, and on moving vehicles such as trains, boats and airplanes. Brunn, however, said rural areas of the United States should still be considered a viable market.

Oliver Badard, vice president for North America for Alcatel Alenia Space of France, said applications for mobile phones, such as video , are very promising, though they have yet to take off in the United States the way they have in countries like Japan and South Korea.

“Users want anything, anytime, anywhere,” Badard said. “There’s a tremendous amount of momentum, and the role of the satellite industry can be tremendous.” Executives debated, however, whether the American public will respond to viewing things such as television episodes on such a small screen.

Northrop To Continue With ICBM Refurbishment Work

The U.S. Air Force has awarded Northrop Grumman a $225 million, 27-month contract to continue the full-rate production phase of the ICBM Propulsion Replacement Program, which is refurbishing the aging solid-rocket motors in the Minuteman 3 missile arsenal, Northrop Grumman announced Feb. 7.

The award is the fifth of seven full-rate production options under the nine-year contract , which was issued in 1999 and has a total potential value of $1.9 billion . Northrop Grumman’s Mission Systems sector of Reston, Va., is prime integration contractor for the program.

The ICBM Propulsion Replacement Program will maintain the alert-readiness status of the Minuteman 3 missile arsenal through 2020.

Unisys Corp. To Support Simulations at Langley

Unisys Corp. of Reston, Va., has won a five-year contract worth approximately $49 million to provide simulation and flight information technology services at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., NASA announced Feb. 2.

Unisys will support the simulation and software branch of the Flight Research Services Directorate at Langley, providing analysis, design, development, testing, operations, maintenance and systems integration for the center’s flight simulation facilities.

The contract was awarded as a task order under the General Services Administration Information Technology Omnibus Procurement 2 program.

Construction Begins on Loral’s Telstar 11N Craft

Construction has begun on Loral Skynet’s Telstar 11N communications satellite, which is slated to launch in the second quarter of 2008 to provide services in North and Central America, Europe, Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean, Loral Skynet, a subsidiary of Loral Space & Communications, announced Feb. 1.

The satellite is being built at Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, Calif., and will offer services via 39 Ku-band transponders at 37.5 degrees west longitude. It will complement Loral’s Telstar 12 satellite at 15 degrees west longitude in providing trans-Atlantic coverage.

“In addition to adding service in North America, Telstar 11N is a key, strategic piece of Loral Skynet’s expansion plans in the high-growth data and IP service markets of Europe and Africa,” Patrick Brant, president of Rockville, Md.-based Loral Skynet, said in a news release.

The satellite is based on Space Systems/Loral’s 1300 geostationary satellite platform. Loral Skynet’s satellite fleet currently includes Telstar 10 and Telstar 18 over Asia; the Telstar 12 over the Atlantic that covers North and South America, the Middle East, Europe and South Africa; and Telstar 14/Estrela do Sul, which covers North and South America.

Vexcel Offering MODIS Data-Handling System

Vexcel Corp. of Boulder, Colo., has released a new ground system that directly receives and processes data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua Earth-observation satellites, Vexcel announced Feb. 1.

The VxEos MODIS ground station is equipped with a MODIS receiver, data capture system, and data processing and visualization workstation. The software for the station can be used on Linux and Microsoft Windows operating systems to receive, process and visualize MODIS data in a graphical format.

NASA’s Terra satellite is focused mainly on studying land masses while Aqua concentrates on Earth’s oceans.

New Center’s Mission: Save the Meteorites

A private collector of meteorites and a university scientist have founded a new center that they hope will grow into a world-class meteorite depository in order to conserve these space rocks that are being purchased, cut up and sold by commercial dealers without the scientific community getting the opportunity to analyze them.

Marvin Killgore, a collector of meteorites, and Dante Lauretta, a scientist at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, said meteorites are being collected by commercial dealers at such an alarming rate that the scientific community is worried meteorite samples could vanish within a lifetime. Meteorites are valued by scientists because they reveal a lot about the solar system’s history and the origins of life.

The Southwest Meteorite Center at the university’s planetary laboratory will offer collectors, dealers and owners a place to store their meteorite pieces for preservation. The center will document each meteorite and compile a database on all the pieces that will be available to the public.

Many meteorite collectors have had to wait years for scientists to analyze their samples, and as a result many are sidestepping the science community and distributing them without classification.

“What this center basically does is control the market situation and at the same time puts away some of the meteorite for future generations,” Killgore said in the news release.

Killgore has loaned a significant portion of his private collection — worth roughly $5 million — to jump-start the center.

NASA Awards Grant for Planetary Atmospheres

Space Environment Technologies of Pasadena, Calif., will support NASA’s Planetary Atmospheres Program under an agency grant worth up to $404,000 , NASA announced Feb. 3. The program supports scientific investigations into the origins and evolution of atmospheres on planets, moons and comets. The grant was awarded by the Solar System Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

IA-8 Satellite To Carry Content for MediaFLO

MediaFLO USA Inc., a subsidiary of San Diego-based QUALCOMM Inc. that delivers multimedia audio or video content to wireless devices, has signed a contract with Intelsat for Ku-band capacity aboard the Intelsat Americas-8 (IA-8) satellite.

Bermuda-based Intelsat announced Feb. 6 that MediaFLO network content includes live, streaming video and audio, short-format content and IP datacasting. Jodi Katz, an Intelsat spokeswoman, did not return phone calls regarding financial details.

The IA-8 satellite, launched last June, provides coverage of North America from its 89 degrees west longitude orbital slot.

Battelle Memorial Wins NASA Support Contract

The Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, has won a contract to provide research and development support to NASA’s Integrated Safety Data for Strategic Response project at the agency’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., NASA announced Feb. 1.

The project is part of NASA’s Aviation Safety Program. Battelle Memorial will be responsible for deploying, operating and maintaining archives of airline industry flight data and safety reports. The institute also will develop tools to convert and integrate digitally recorded or text reports of aviation data.

The contract has a one-year base period with four one-year options. The base period of the contract is worth $7.9 million, and if all four options are exercised, the deal is worth up to $40.2 million. The phase-in period began Jan. 31, with full contract responsibility beginning March 1.

Analex Work Grows Under NASA Launch Support Deal

Analex Corp. of Fairfax, Va., has received an additional $32.7 million from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for work on the Expendable Launch Vehicle Integrated Support (ELVIS) contract, Analex, a systems-engineering and security-services provider, announced Feb. 7.

NASA has expanded the ELVIS contract through September 2011 for launch vehicle certification services, which include mission analysis and vehicle systems engineering support. Analex also will conduct feasibility studies for increasing launch vehicle performance.

Boeing Notes Progress in GPS 2F Development Effort

Boeing Co. announced it has reached milestones in the GPS 2F satellite navigation program, including completion of electromagnetic capability and interference testing on the first GPS 2F satellite.

The electromagnetic and interference testing was performed at Boeing’s Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif., verifying the satellite is compatible with Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle rockets, Boeing announced Feb. 2. The company also performed GPS launch anomaly and software tests.

Boeing is building up to 12 GPS 2F satellites under a $1.3 billion contract with the U.S. Air Force. The first is expected to be launched in 2008.

Calif. Space Authority To Lead Work-Force Effort

The California Space Authority (CSA) won a $15 million federal grant to lead an effort designed to strengthen training for high-skill, high-wage jobs in the state’s space industry, CSA announced Feb. 2.

CSA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening California’s space industry, will focus on three main objectives: building and supporting sustainable entrepreneurship; supporting industrial competitiveness; and developing technical talent in the work force.

The grant is from the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development initiative. CSA also is coordinating with the California Employment Development Department on the project.

Connexion, Air China Sign Service Agreement

Air China and Connexion by Boeing have reached a preliminary agreement under which Connexion will provide the airline’s passengers with in-flight connectivity for Internet, e-mail and Intranet access , Chicago-based Boeing announced Feb. 7.

The agreement includes equipping as many as 15 Air China Boeing 747-400 aircraft for Connexion service, with other long-haul aircraft installations to be determined at a later date. The installations are expected to begin in October 2006 and should be completed by 2008.

No financial details of the agreement were disclosed.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com