Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 27 February 2006
10:57 am ET


Former ESA Dir. Gen. Antonio Rodot� Dies

Antonio Rodot�, who was director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA) between June 1997 and June 2003, died Feb. 23 in Rome, ESA announced Feb. 24. He was 70.

The cause of death was multiple myeloma, from which Rodot� had been suffering for about six months, officials said. Multiple myeloma is an incurable, but treatable, cancer of the plasma cell that breaks down the immune system, according to the U.S. Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, which estimates that worldwide, there are five to six new cases per 100,000 people each year.

Rodot� was the first ESA chief to have spent his career in industry. Rodot� held a succession of aerospace positions at Italy’s Finmeccanica group, becoming chief executive of satellite and orbital infrastructure manufacturer Alenia Spazio in 1995. The company merged with Alcatel Space in 2005 to become Alcatel Alenia Space.

Rodot� took charge of ESA at a time of considerable unrest at the agency following budget cutbacks and tensions between agency employees and management over future direction. Soon after arriving, Rodot� re-established a dialogue with ESA personnel on the strength of his openness and humility. Throughout his six-year tenure, Rodot� never lost his sense of humor — nor his distaste for the red tape and bureaucracy that is often the daily fare of a multinational agency.

“Antonio Rodot� led ESA into the 21st Century,” Rodota’s successor, Jean-Jacques Dordain, said in a Feb. 24 statement. Dordain was also Rodota’s director of strategy. “I feel honored to have had the opportunity to follow his path and to build on the foundations he laid.”

China Outlines Plans for Shenzhou 7 Space Walk

Chinese space officials have ambitious plans for their next several piloted Shenzhou missions, including extended spacewalks and docking abilities.

According to a Feb. 24 report in China Daily, Shenzhou 8 is set to showcase the ability to dock, with that expertise leading to China establishing its own space station.

This step-by-step effort has been outlined by Wang Zhougui, director of China Manned Space Flight Engineering Office during a recent lecture, according to China Daily.

Wang was quoted as saying that one or two astronauts would walk in space for roughly one-half hour. Shenzhou 8’s mission of docking in space would be launched around 2009 to 2011, he noted.

Next up is Shenzhou 7, China’s third human spaceflight that will lift off in 2008 and include a space walk.

Turksat Orders Satellite From Alcatel Alenia Space

Alcatel Alenia Space will build the Turksat 3A telecommunications satellite for Turkey’s government-owned Turksat S.A. satellite operator under a contract announced Feb. 23.

Alcatel Alenia Space also will be responsible for selecting a launch-services provider for the satellite, to be placed at Turkey’s 42 degrees east longitude orbital slot in early 2008. It will replace the Turksat 1C spacecraft there now. The contract also provides for Alcatel Alenia to modernize Turksat’s existing ground network.

Turksat 3A will be a Spacebus 4000-B2 design and is expected to carry 24 Ku-band transponders to provide telecommunications and television broadcasting in a region centered on Turkey and including southern Europe and Central Asia.

Gen. Lord: Space Command Will Remain a 4-Star Billet

U.S. Air Force Space Command will continue to be led by a four-star general, despite rumors to the contrary, according to Gen. Lance Lord, commander of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based organization.

Lord told reporters during a Feb. 22 conference call that the service would find a four-star successor to him following his April 1 retirement, though a replacement has yet to be named.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Lord said.

Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, deputy commander of Air Force Space Command, will take over on an acting basis in the interim, Lord said.

Pentagon sources have said that the military has considered combining Air Force Space Command with Air Combat Command, and placing a single four-star leader at the helm of the new organization.

While Lord said that Air Force Space Command would retain its four-star leader and remain a major command, he said that no options are “off the table” as the service looks for options to trim 40,000 people from its roster.

ESA Approves Construction Of CryoSat Replacement

Earth observation program managers at the European Space Agency (ESA) formally approved the construction of a second CryoSat polar ice-monitoring satellite Feb. 22. It will replace the one lost in an October launch failure.

Meeting at ESA headquarters, the Earth observation program board, as expected, gave the go-ahead for the launch of a CryoSat-2 satellite in March 2009. The first CryoSat was built for 70 million euros ($84 million) by an industrial consortium led by EADS Astrium.

The same consortium is expected to receive the CryoSat-2 contract. CryoSat-2 is expected to operate in polar low Earth orbit for three years. Its main observing instrument will be Siral, the SAR/Interferometric Radar Altimeter.

Eumetsat To Fix Instrument Damaged in N-Prime Mishap

An agreement signed by NOAA and Eumetsat Feb. 22 calls for Eumetsat to repair a microwave humidity sounding instrument aboard NOAA’s N-Prime spacecraft.

The N-Prime satellite, which is slated to be placed into a polar orbit later this decade, was damaged when it was dropped on the factory floor during a September 2003 mishap at the facilities of Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Sunnyvale, Calif.

In exchange, NOAA will extend pre-launch support for the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer instrument slated for use on the third Metop satellite, according to a Feb. 22 NOAA news release.

NASA Telescope Resumes Operation After Near Death

NASA’s Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) telescope has resumed normal operations after a series of software malfunctions forced mission scientists to refurbish the spacecraft’s onboard control system, according to a Feb. 23 Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) news release.

Laurel, Md.-based APL, which manages the FUSE mission, said the telescope is operating at a level of efficiency not seen since its early years of operation when it was launched in June 1999. And after several years of setbacks, the ultraviolet telescope has resumed gathering spectrographic data on planets, comets and distant quasars.

In 2001, two of the four reaction wheels used to establish FUSE’s fine-pointing control failed, leaving the satellite temporary unusable for about two months as scientists worked to modify the control system software to operate on the two remaining reaction wheels. Once these modifications were made, it resumed operations once again.

But a third reaction wheel suddenly failed in December 2004, forcing scientists to again rejuvenate the control system by incorporating the spacecraft’s magnetic torquer bars into the system. After 10 months, the spacecraft resumed operation last November, and has since been tweaked to operate at a higher level of efficiency.

Hubble Image Confirms Discovery of Pluto Moons

Images taken Feb. 15 by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope confirm the existence of two more moons around the distant planet Pluto. The moons were discovered back in May by a team led by the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md.

The team members, who reported on the discovery in the Feb. 23 issue of the journal Nature, made their first observation of the moons May 15 and 18 using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, according to a Feb. 22 APL news release.

The Feb. 15 observations, made using the same instrument, confirmed the existence of the moons based on their predicted orbital locations, according to a Feb. 22 press release issued by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which manages Hubble’s science operations. The new observations also rule out the possibility of similar-sized moons orbiting Pluto located within the orbit of the newly discovered moons, the press release said.

The team believes Pluto is the first Kuiper Belt object to have multiple satellites, including its moon Charon, which was discovered in 1978.

In a companion article, planetary scientist Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., concludes that the newly discovered moons likely were created by the same giant impact as Charon, according to the APL news release. The moons are about 56 to 160 kilometers in diameter (about 10 times smaller than Charon) and are about 600 times fainter than Charon and 4,000 times fainter than Pluto. The glare from Pluto and Charon prevents the new moons from being observed with ground-based telescopes, according to the news release.

Lockheed Martin Would Assemble CEV in Florida

Lockheed Martin Corp. announced Feb. 22 that it would build NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) in Florida if selected by the U.S. space agency as prime contractor for the multibillion-dollar space shuttle-replacement project later this year.

John Karas, Lockheed Martin vice president for space exploration, made the announcement in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in front of an audience of state and local officials including Florida Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings.

“Lockheed Martin’s proposal to do final assembly and checkout of the Crew Exploration Vehicle – CEV for short — reinforces what we believe is the absolute advantage Florida has to offer as a location as we look toward the maturing of our nation’s space industry,” Jennings said.

Florida has put together a $45.5 million incentive package for locating CEV work in the state that is awaiting approval by the state legislature .

The incentives include $35 million in infrastructure improvements and $10.5 million in worker training assistance, according to Jennings.

Jennings said the incentives have been offered to both Lockheed Martin and its CEV competitor, Northrop Grumman .

“We will not play favorites,” Jennings said. “We have issued an incentive package to both of the companies. We are very pleased that Lockheed has come back and told us that this is the place for them.”

Northrop Grumman spokesman Brooks McKinney declined to say where his company would build the CEV if selected to do so.

“We are preparing a CEV program implementation plan as part of the Phase 2 proposal that we will submit next month to NASA,” McKinney said via e-mail. “That plan will articulate the work locations and work-flow processes that we believe offer NASA and the nation the best value for developing and producing the CEV. At the current time, we consider this information to be competition-sensitive.”

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have been in a head-to-head competition for the CEV prime contract since 2004. Bids for the project are due in March, with NASA expected to make a selection in late summer.

Karas said that if Lockheed Martin wins the competition, it would perform the CEV final assembly work at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the storied Operations & Checkout Building, using the incentive money offered by Florida to update the facility and do any worker training that may be necessary.

The CEV work would provide 300-400 jobs, helping Florida offset job losses as the space shuttle program winds down in the years ahead, Karas said.

Lockheed Martin plans to make further announcements in the weeks ahead about where it would do CEV component and structures manufacturing, Karas said.

“We are extremely pleased and proud to partner with the state of Florida in support of NASA’s CEV program.” Karas said. “The point of final assembly and testing for each mission will be critical to the viability of NASA’s CEV program and the ideal location to do that is here in Florida adjacent to the launch site.”

X Prize Group Proposes Rules For Lunar Lander Contest

The X Prize Foundation of Santa Monica, Calif., is joining forces with NASA to sponsor a contest to develop prototype lunar landers that will be tested at the next X Prize Cup Oct. 21-22 in Las Cruces, N.M., the foundation announced Feb. 22.

The X Prize Foundation and NASA signed a letter of intent at the 2005 X Prize Cup to carry out the $2 million Lunar Lander Challenge. Under the agreement, NASA will provide the $2 million prize while the X Prize Foundation manages the competition, Ian Murphy, a spokesman for the foundation, said in a Feb. 23 phone interview.

The deal is contingent on NASA obtaining the budget and authority to offer prize money through its Centennial Challenges program and a final agreement between the two organizations, the foundation said.

The Lunar Lander Challenge will require a rocket to take off vertically from one pad, land the same way at another, and then return to its original launch site. The contest will have two courses — one with a flat landing surface and the other with a more difficult, rocky surface like that of the Moon — to attract the widest variety of entrants, Murphy said. Those that complete the tougher course are eligible to win more money compared to those that finish the easier course, he added.

If the prototype rockets do not successfully complete the courses this year, the prize money will be carried over for next year’s competition, when the courses will increase in difficulty, Murphy said.

The energy required for the winning flights must match that of an actual lunar landing profile.

The draft rules for the competition are available for public comment on the X Prize Foundation’s Web site at http://www.xprizefoundation.com/news/LunarLanderRules.pdf.

MDA Light Detection System Succeeds in Demonstration

The Light Detection and Ranging system onboard the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s XSS-11 microsatellite has successfully guided the spacecraft’s approach and rendezvous with inactive space objects over the past several months, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), which developed the system, announced Feb. 23.

The system was acquired from MDA by XSS-11 mission prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md. MDA of Richmond, British Columbia, developed the light detection system along with Toronto-based Optech Inc.

The XSS-11 was launched last April aboard a Minotaur 1 rocket to demonstrate on-orbit rendezvous and proximity-operations capabilities. It will continue to perform demonstrations for another year, according to the release.

BAE Signs Distributors for Photogrammetry Software

BAE Systems of Rockville, Md., has signed several agreements with international distributors to market the company’s imagery analysis software in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the company announced Feb. 22.

The Socet GXP and Socet Set software packages are used by commercial and government organizations for high-precision mapping, change detection, 3-D viewing and other geospatial applications.

The new distributors will promote software in their specific regions, with Rollei representing Austria, Switzerland and Germany; Marathon Data Systems representing Greece, Cyprus and Serbia; GEOTOP in Italy; ICS in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan; GSM Solutions in Korea; GIS Transport representing Lebanon; and several others.

Earthlink Signs Deals With DirecTV, Echo Star

Internet Service provider Earthlink announced partnerships with both DirecTV and EchoStar communications Feb. 20.

By the end of the first quarter of 2006, according to a Feb. 20 Earthlink press release, Atlanta-based Earthlink will offer customers in some markets a bundled package of DirecTV and Earthlink services such as data, voice and video. Under a separate agreement, it will offer bundled services with Echo Star’s Dish Network as well.

The prices at which the bundled services will be offered were not released, nor were the regions of the country in which the services will be offered.

WildBlue Connects Reseachers, Remote Earthquake Sensors

Satellite broadband is being used to transfer research data about earthquakes from sensors placed in remote areas.

QuakeFinder, a company based in Palo Alto, Calif., is using broadband connectivity provided by WildBlue Communications Inc. of Denver to transfer data collected by ground sensors that measure Extremely Low Frequency magnetic fluctuations that have been observed prior to earthquakes.

According to a Feb. 22 WildBlue press release, the data is transferred via WildBlue’s service back to the company’s data center in Palo Alto.

The research QuakeFinder is doing will be used to try to provide early warnings for earthquakes, the release said.

Radyne Receives $1.3 Million Order for Modems, Converters

Radyne Corp. snared a $1.3 million order for satellite modems and frequency converters from a South Asian integrator, according to a Feb. 21 Radyne press release.

The satellite electronics division of the Phoenix-based company said this is the third order in a series that totals almost $5 million from the same customer. The company is not disclosing the name of the customer, Malcolm Persen, Radyne’s chief financial officer, said in a Feb. 24 telephone interview.

The equipment is intended for use in the development of the country’s largest landline and mobile telephone network, the release said, and the equipment will be shipped during the first quarter of 2006.

Japanese Rockets Loft Two Satellites Four Days Apart

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched a satellite for weather and air traffic management and one for astronomical observations from two different sites Feb. 18 and Feb. 22, respectively.

In the first mission, an H-2A rocket successfully launched the Multifunctional Transport Satellite 2 (MTSat-2) for JAXA from the Tanegashima Space Center. MTSat-2 will be used for air traffic management and weather forecasting in the Asia-Pacific region.

The satellite is owned by the Civil Aviation Bureau and the Japan Meteorological Agency, which is part of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. It is one of the heaviest satellites ever launched by Japan, JAXA announced in a news release the day of the launch.

Just four days later, the Astro-F scientific satellite was placed into orbit by an M-5 launch vehicle that lifted off from the Uchinoura Space Center. The spacecraft reached its scheduled orbit and was performing well with one exception: a malfunction in the output of a two-dimensional solar sensor needed for attitude control. JAXA said in a Feb. 22 news release that it was working to compensate using the satellite’s Earth sensor and gyroscope.

The European Space Agency is a collaborator on the satellite — also named “Akari,” meaning “light” — providing ground and data-processing support as the spacecraft conducts infrared surveys from a polar orbit after two months of system checkouts.

ESA Successfully Fires Engine on Venus Express

Nearly 100 days after its launch Nov. 9, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Venus Express spacecraft successfully fired its main engine for the first time in space, the agency announced Feb. 17.

The Feb. 17 engine burn lasted about three seconds and changed the spacecraft’s velocity by roughly 3 meters per second. Data recorded during the test burn is currently being analyzed in detail by ESA and EADS Astrium, which built Venus Express, but ESA said the engine performed as expected.

Venus Express currently is more than 47 million kilometers from Earth. The next maneuver is scheduled for April 11, when the main engine is set to fire for 51 minutes to slow the spacecraft down to enter Venus orbit, from where it will conduct detailed observations of the planet’s atmosphere.

USGS Uses Satellites To Track Invasive Plants

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is using data from NASA’s Earth observation satellites as part of a new system to predict the growth patterns of invasive plant species in the United States, NASA announced Feb. 15.

The tool, called the Invasive Species Forecasting System, uses observations from NASA’s Terra, Aqua and Earth Observing-1 satellites as well as USGS-operated Landsat spacecraft. The observations are combined with field data from government and nongovernment contributors to generate forecast maps using specially designed software.

The USGS used this system to track and combat the growth of tamarisk (saltcedar) in the western United States last summer. The harmful plant taps into underground aquifers and absorbs water while also increasing the salt concentration in soil.

Silicon Graphics, Metacomp Support XCOR Design Work

XCOR Aerospace Inc. of Mojave, Calif., will use a server from Silicon Graphics and simulation software from Metacomp Technologies to run aerodynamic analyses and design tests on the vehicle it is designing to take passengers and payloads into suborbital space, XCOR announced Feb. 21.

Silicon Graphics of Mountain View, Calif., provided its Altix server with Intel Itanium 2 processors, a system that has a large enough memory to efficiently compute and solve aerodynamic and design problems, according to the release.

Agoura Hills, Calif.-based Metacomp Technologies’ Computational Fluid Dynamics simulation software can create 3-D models of the suborbital vehicle and analyze aerodynamic parameters such as air flow, pressure distribution, heating and vehicle trajectory.

No financial details of the arrangements were disclosed.

Raytheon Wins More Work Under Project Hercules

Raytheon Co.’s Integrated Defense Systems unit of Tewksbury, Mass., will develop advanced technologies and system-wide architectures for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Ballistic Missile Defense System under a follow-on contract worth $49 million, the company announced Feb. 21.

The work under the five-year contract will support Project Hercules, a program dedicated to the development of advanced algorithms that improve the performance of ballistic missile defense systems to react to increasingly sophisticated missile threats. Raytheon also will be responsible for developing the prototypes of the advanced technologies it designs.

Student-Built Robot Arm Rides on NASA Airborne Lab

Two teachers from a Las Vegas middle school took a ride aboard NASA’s flying microgravity laboratory to test the performance of a student-designed robotic arm, NASA announced Feb. 21.

Perry Lopez and Tyrel Cooper, teachers at Bridger Middle School, which is part of NASA’s Explorer Schools program, arrived at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston Feb. 13 to prepare for their flight aboard the “Weightless Wonder,” a modified C-9 aircraft that produces 25-second periods of weightlessness as it flies on a parabolic pattern of steep climbs and descents.

The flight took place Feb. 14, and the teachers collected performance data on the robotic arm in a reduced-gravity environment to compare it with its performance observed in normal gravity. After the flight, the teachers reported the findings back to the school via a videoconference. The students and teachers will write a final report to NASA discussing the findings and conclusions.

Scientists Use Spitzer To Study Extrasolar Planet

A team of NASA-led astronomers has used the space agency’s Spitzer Space Telescope to gauge the temperature of a hot planet in a nearby star system, according to a Feb. 21 NASA news release.

The planet HD 189733b orbits a star about 63 light years away at approximately the same distance as Earth from the Sun. It was discovered last year by a team of astronomers at the Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory in France.

The NASA-led astronomers used Spitzer to measure infrared radiation emanating from both the star and planet. When the planet passed behind the star, the team took infrared measurements of just the star and from that was able to determine how much of the radiation came just from the planet. Astronomers say the gas giant planet likely has a temperature of about 844 degrees Celsius.

GPS Technology Firm Hires Satterlee as Chief Executive

Former DigitalGlobe chief Herb Satterlee has landed a new job as chief executive officer (CEO) of Novariant Inc., a Menlo Park, Calif.-based GPS technology company.

Satterlee, whose new position was announced by Novariant Feb. 14, was replaced as CEO at Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe last November by Jill Smith. He had remained on as chairman of the satellite imaging company.

Stratos Global Closes Acquisition of Xantic

Stratos Global Corp. announced Feb. 14 it has completed its $191 million acquisition of Xantic B.V., the Danish provider of satellite mobile telecommunications services, including access to the Iridium and Inmarsat satellites.

Jim Parm, chief executive officer of Bethesda, Md.-based Stratos, said in the press release that the acquisition will help his company expand its geographic presence, noting that Xantic is strongly-positioned in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Stratos, which specializes in both mobile and fixed site communications, said the two companies had combined annual revenues of $552 million for the year ending Dec. 31, 2004, and earnings before interest, taxes, deprecation and amortization of $92.7 million.

WIRESA To Market ICG Products in Spain

WIRESA, a technology marketing and consulting firm based in Madrid, will market International Communications Group (ICG) mobile, maritime and aeronautical satellite communications systems in Spain under a new agreement, ICG announced Feb. 21.

ICG of Newport News, Va., said WIRESA will pursue customers in the Spanish defense, aeronautical and electronics markets. WIRESA’s government customers already include the Spanish army, air force, navy, marines, police, civil guard and customs. No financial details were disclosed.

Boeing, IAI Team up on Missile Defense System

Boeing Co. of Chicago and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) of Lod, Israel, are joining forces to compete for an upgraded short range ballistic missile defense system for the Israeli military, according to a Boeing news release dated Feb. 16.

The two companies work together on Israel’s current Arrow 2 missile defense system . The Israeli Missile Defense Organization plans to pick a single team to begin risk reduction work in March on the upgraded short-range ballistic missile defense system, according to the news release.

Boeing To Begin Work on 4th Wideband Gapfiller

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis received a $148 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to begin work on the fourth satellite in the Wideband Gapfiller constellation, according to a company news release dated Feb. 20.

The first of five planned Wideband Gapfiller satellites is expected to launch in June 2007. The spacecraft is based on Boeing’s 702 satellite model.

Northrop Grumman Opens Missile Engineering Center

Northrop Grumman has opened a new Missile Engineering Center at its 43-year-old San Bernardino, Calif., complex that will support the company’s Minutema n 3 modernization and Kinetic Energy Interceptor programs, Northrop Grumman of Los Angeles announced Feb. 21.

The center, built by Opus Corp. of Minneapolis, features a robust communications network and an up-to-date research laboratory with the latest computer software and hardware , according to the release. It houses more than 230 scientists and engineers.

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor responsible for modernizing the U.S. Defense Department’s Minutema n 3 missiles as well as developing and testing technology for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, a boost- and midcourse-phase missile defense program.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com