Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 06 March 2006
03:43 pm ET


Dawn Asteroid Mission Won’t See Light of Day

Dawn, a NASA spacecraft designed to explore two large asteroids in the solar system, was officially canceled March 2.

Work on the probe, which had been scheduled for a mid-June launch, was put on hold late last year so that an independent team could look into cost growth and technical problems with the program. The team reported in January that Dawn had 29 individual major issues that needed to be addressed , according to Andrew Dantzler, director of NASA’s solar system division.

Dawn also was facing a 14-month launch delay and had exceeded its $373 million cost cap by 20 percent, Dantzler said. Canceling the mission was “the fiscally responsible thing to do,” he said.

Dawn was managed by the NASA-funded Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Orbital Sciences Corp. was building the spacecraft.

Space Station Partners OK NASA Assembly Plan

NASA’s plan to conduct 16 more space shuttle flights to complete assembly of the international space station by early 2010 was approved by the European, Japanese, Russian and Canadian space agencies during a high-level meeting that concluded March 2.

NASA previously had planned to conduct as many as 28 more shuttle flights before retiring the fleet in 2010. That manifest would have permitted greater scientific utilization of the station during assembly.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said shortly after taking office in April 2004 that conducting 28 more flights by the end of 2010 was too ambitious given the space shuttle’s historical average of 4.5 missions per year.

NASA intends to pare back the manifest to 16 flights by deferring virtually all scientific utilization of the space station until after its assembly is completed. NASA also will count on Russian, European, Japanese and potentially U.S. commercial systems to pick up some of the shuttle’s space station resupply duties.

The heads of the agencies participating in the international space station program approved NASA’s plan during a one-day meeting at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In a press conference at the conclusion of the meeting, Griffin said the choice facing NASA and its partners was between deferring utilization of the station and having to “cram more flights into the sequence and taking a chance of not finishing assembly.”

The newly approved assembly sequence would have the shuttle launch the European Columbus science laboratory and the Japanese Experiment Module to the space station in 2007, a little earlier than previously planned.

Columbus, due to arrive at Kennedy in May, would launch seven flights into the new shuttle manifest. The Japanese Experiment Module would launch on the eighth flight. NASA plans to resume shuttle flights in May and Griffin said that, whether the launch occurs then or in July, the agency would still expect to launch three times this year.

NASA’s new assembly sequence, Griffin said, aims for finishing the space station in early 2010, giving the agency the better part of a year to accommodate schedule slips that may occur.

Also during the meeting, the Russian space agency released NASA from an earlier commitment to launch a solar power platform to the station aboard the shuttle. NASA will instead use power generated on the U.S. side of the station to power the Russian segment starting in 2007.

Missile Defense Agency Plans NFIRE Follow On

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is weighing the possibility of building a follow-on spacecraft to its Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) that would include a kill vehicle-type projectile, according to MDA budget justification documents that were made public in late February.

The NFIRE satellite, slated for launch this year, is designed to distinguish between a missile body and its fiery exhaust plume. The program became a lightening rod for criticism a few years back after the MDA revealed that the satellite would include a sensor-carrying projectile that would approach a target missile in space. The agency later acknowledged that the projectile likely would strike the target missile, and eventually dropped it from the mission.

Congress, in language accompanying the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act, encouraged the MDA to reconsider. But a Defense Department official said Feb. 6 that it was too late to restore the projectile, which has been replaced by a German laser communications payload.

The MDA budget justification document said planning will begin next year for for a follow-on mission that includes the kill vehicle. The MDA is requesting $10.8 million overall for NFIRE in 2007; the 2006 budget for the effort is $13.5 million.

Cable Response to DBS Focuses on Programming

Increased competition from direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers has prompted cable TV companies to broaden their offerings but has not significantly lowered consumer prices, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concluded in a report released March 3.

“In particular, the effect of DBS competition has resulted in the addition of networks to cable operators’ channel lineups, although it has only lowered cable rates slightly,” the FCC said in its “12th Annual Report to Congress on Video Competition.”

The report found that as of June 2005, approximately 26.1 million U.S. households subscribed to a DBS service, an increase of 12.8 percent since the same time in 2004. It also said that local broadcast station availability is approaching 100 percent for DirecTV and EchoStar, the dominant U.S. DBS providers.

Satellite Relief Services Could Be More Effective

Equipment shortages and malfunctions and a lack of properly trained emergency workers hampered the effectiveness of satellite services during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, according to a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from David Cavossa, executive director of the Satellite Industry Association.

During Katrina’s aftermath, some satellite engineers and technicians sent to repair broken equipment were denied access to hurricane-damaged areas by government officials, the March 3 letter to the FCC’s Hurricane Katrina response panel said. Issuing credentials allowing technicians into to disaster sites during an emergency could prevent this in future emergencies, Cavossa said.

Numerous first responders had difficulty using satellite equipment during Katrina, experiencing dropped calls and other problems, the letter said. Better training for emergency workers is needed, Cavossa said.

Bush Confirms Talks on U.S.-India Launch Accord

U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit to India confirmed that the United States intends to allow U.S. firms to export satellite hardware to India for launch.

In a fact sheet dated March 2, the day Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a joint press conference, the White House confirmed that “agreements are being completed that will allow for the launch of U.S. satellites and satellites containing U.S. components by Indian launch vehicles.”

An industry source said those talks appear to be well under way and that the United States does not intend to impose price or quantity constraints on Indian launches as was done with the deals struck in the 1980s and 1990s that permitted China and Russia to launch U.S. satellites. Among the items still pending, the source said, is a technical safeguards agreement between the two countries.

Virender Kumar, the ISRO representative at the Indian Embassy in Washington, said “we are in the process of putting all the agreements and other instruments in place, to enable our cooperation with the United States in space to further strengthen and diversify. This could include a commercial space launch agreement.”

Kumar also confirmed that the arrangement to include two U.S. instruments on Chandrayan-1, India’s lunar orbiter scheduled to launch in 2007, has been finalized. He said one of the instruments will be built at the Applied Physics Laboratory and the other at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Measat Achieves Higher Revenue, Profit in 2005

Malaysian satellite operator Measat Global Berhad reported a 2-percent increase in revenues and a 5.4-percent increase in net profit for 2005 compared to 2004, and said construction of its next satellite — Measat 3 — is running a year late. Measat 3 is being built by Boeing Satellite Systems International.

Previously scheduled for launch between May and November 2005, Measat 3 will not be ready for launch until late 2006, the Kuala Lumpur-based company said in a Feb. 28 filing to Malaysian stock market authorities.

Measat reported 2005 revenues of 132.3 million Malaysian ringgit ($35.6 million), compared to 129.6 million ringgit in 2004. Net profit, at 14.8 million ringgit, was up from 14 million ringgit the year before.

Measat currently operates the Measat 1 and Measat 2 satellites, located respectively at 91.5 degrees east and 148 degrees east longitude. Both are Boeing 376 models launched in 1996 with expected 12-year service lives.

In addition to Measat 3, a Boeing 601HP model, Measat has ordered a Measat 1R satellite from Orbital Sciences Corp. for launch in 2007. The company also is planning a Measat 5 satellite but has yet to order it.

2005 Transponder Revenue Declines for Thailand’s Shin

Satellite-fleet operator Shin Satellite Public Co. Ltd. of Thailand reported a drop in satellite transponder-lease revenue from its three Thaicom satellites in 2005 and said its defective Thaicom 3 spacecraft is not expected to survive in orbit beyond 2007.

Thaicom 3, launched in April 1997, suffered a loss of about half its power-generating ability in 2003. The satellite, an Alcatel Alenia Space Spacebus 3000 platform, was supposed to operate for 15 years. Bangkok-based Shin now estimates Thaicom 3 instead will be retired at the end of 2007 as a result of the 2003 incident and a mid-2004 failure during scheduled in-orbit satellite maintenance in preparation for an eclipse.

In a Feb. 27 financial statement filed with the Thai stock exchange, Shin said transponder-lease sales from its Thaicom 1A, Thaicom 2 and Thaicom 3 satellites in 2005 totaled 3.523 billion Thai baht, or $89.8 million, down 5.9 percent from 2004.

The company’s large Thaicom 4/iPSTAR satellite, which entered operations in late 2005, generated lease revenues of less than 25 million baht for the year. The satellite is designed to provide high-speed data links to small consumer terminals throughout a wide area of East and South Asia.

Shin sold 17,992 Thaicom 4/iPSTAR user terminals in 2005 in preparation for the satellite’s operations. Shin has secured loan guarantees from commercial banks and the U.S. and French export-credit agencies totaling $389.3 million to cover Thaicom 4/iPSTAR costs. Shin officials say they expect total iPSTAR terminal sales to surpass 100,000 in 2006.

Shin said its total revenues for 2005, including iPSTAR terminal sales and terrestrial telecommunications services, were 5.59 billion baht, a 13.5-percent increase over 2004.

Shin said the decline in transponder-lease revenue was mainly due to a drop in demand for the company’s ProTrunk service to Internet service providers.

With iPSTAR in orbit and Thaicom 3 suffering a reduced operational life, Shin faced sharply higher depreciation costs in 2005.

Shin ordered a Thaicom 5 satellite from Alcatel Alenia Space in June. Thaicom 5, a modified version of a satellite Alcatel Alenia built in the late 1990s but never sold, is scheduled for launch aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket this year and will replace Thaicom 3.

Shin has returned to the French export-credit agency, Coface, for two loan guarantees totaling $71.37 million to cover Thaicom 5-related costs, the company said.

MST, Echostar To Bundle Voice, Video, Internet, Wi-Fi

Microwave Satellite Technologies Inc. (MST) has teamed with Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar Communications Corp. to offer a “quadruple play” of voice, video, high-speed internet and Wi-Fi services to its subscribers in the Trump Place building complex in New York.

The services will be available by the end of March. Eventually they also will be available in other Trump properties, including the Trump International Hotel, Trump Tower and Trump World Tower, according to a Feb. 27 press release from Germantown, Md.-based Telkonet, the parent company of Hawthorne, N.J.-based MST.

Beyond its business with the Trump properties MST is planning to install its services in more than 150 buildings in Manhattan, and then plans to deploy similar services in Philadelphia and Chicago, the release said.

Americom To Market Xtar Capacity To U.S. Government

Americom Government Services (AGS) will market Xtar LLC’s X-band satellite capacity to U.S. government customers under an agreement that could bring the U.S.-Spanish Xtar venture closer to its goal of securing a stable U.S. Defense Department market base, the companies announced March 2.

AGS, a Princeton, N.J.-based subsidiary of SES Global of Luxembourg, is not purchasing Xtar satellite capacity immediately, but will add Xtar to the product line that AGS sells to its U.S. government customers.

Rockville, Md.-based Xtar is 56 percent owned by Loral Space and Communications of New York and 44 percent by Hisdesat, a consortium of Spanish companies. The venture launched its first satellite, Xtar-Eur in early 2005 and expects its second spacecraft, Spainsat, to be launched by an Ariane 5 ECA vehicle — currently scheduled for launch March 9.

Spainsat and Xtar-Eur will offer capacity in X-band over a geographic area stretching from Denver in the western United States across Europe and as far east as Singapore. The Spanish Defense Ministry, which has been leasing capacity on Xtar-Eur while waiting for the Spainsat launch, will occupy most of Spainsat but will retain the equivalent of one or two transponders on Xtar-Eur, Spanish government and industry officials say.

Xtar will be responsible for making a business out of the balance of Xtar-Eur capacity, and the eight transponders aboard Spainsat that the company has agreed to lease.

Xtar has been struggling to secure commitments from the U.S. Defense Department for X-band capacity and has run into resistance from some military services that do not want to pay for capacity when they receive free transmissions from existing U.S. military spacecraft. Xtar has been trying to demonstrate it can provide a superior service, and the company has been striking marketing deals with companies that already have a well-established record with the U.S. Defense Department.

In February, Xtar signed agreements permitting General Dynamics Satellite Communications Services Inc. and Stratos Mobile Networks Inc. to sell Xtar capacity. Xtar previously had signed capacity-lease agreements with the Royal Danish Navy and with the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Telecommunications Service Program Office for X-band links to U.S. diplomatic posts in Asia and Africa.

Raytheon To Supply More Satcom Systems for Subs

Raytheon Co. will deliver 15 Submarine High Data Rate multiband satellite communications systems to the U.S. Navy under a contract worth $35.9 million, the Waltham, Mass.-based company announced March 1.

The system provides access to the Pentagon’s Global Broadcast service, the Milstar satellite constellation and the Defense Satellite Communications System by raising a mast just above the ocean surface while the submarine is submerged at periscope depth. The system ensures that U.S. Navy submarines have connectivity for voice, data and imagery transmissions, Internet access and video teleconferencing.

Over the last six years, Raytheon has delivered 71 submarine communications systems to the Navy under contracts totaling more than $160 million.

COWI and Vexcel Sign Deal For Aerial Mapping System

COWI A/S, a Denmark-based consulting group for engineering, environmental science and economics, has purchased an aerial mapping system from Vexcel Corp. that includes two digital cameras and a server for image archiving, cataloging and processing, Vexcel of Boulder, Colo., announced Feb. 24.

The system includes the Vexcel UltraMap server and two Vexcel UltraCam very-high-resolution panchromatic cameras and four-color channels (red, green, blue and near-infrared).

No financial details were disclosed.

Qinetic To Test UAVs For Civil Applications

Qinetic, of Aberporth, Wales, won a contract worth 17 million British pounds ($29.6 million) to run an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) demonstration project for the Welsh Development Agency in West Wales, according to a Feb. 28 company news release.

The project is intended to demonstrate potential civil applications for UAVs like land surveying, forestry and agricultural surveillance, search and rescue, coastline protection and monitoring transportation infrastructure, according to the news release.

Geraint Davies, executive director of the Wales Development Agency, said in the news release that he expected the demonstration to “stimulate interest from civil market users and generate interest within possible new civil markets.”

Boeing Tapped To Enhance More Shuttle Radar Data

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, St. Louis, received a $3.5 million follow-on order from the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to continue enhancing digital topographical data that was collected from an instrument that flew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor, according to a Feb. 27 company news release.

The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) award to Boeing brought the total value of the company’s work under the program so far to more than $35 million, according to the news release.

Under this task order, Boeing will work to improve the terrain models for locations where the radar sensor had problems collecting data during Endeavour’s 11-day SRTM mission in February 2000, according to the news release.

Global Hawk Prototype Flies 4,000 Combat Hours

A prototype Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle returned to the United States Feb. 20 after flying more than 4,000 combat hours, according to Revelle Anderson, a spokeswoman for Northrop Grumman Corp., which builds the aircraft.

The Air Force took the Global Hawk aircraft, which had flown more than 160 missions, out of action after U.S. Central Command received and checked out two production-line vehicles for use in current operations, Anderson said.

The prototype vehicle likely will be used for training purposes at Edwards Air Force Base in California, and could ultimately be displayed in an Air Force museum, Anderson said.

ATK To Refurbish, Refuel Minuteman 3 Motors

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) received a contract option worth $194 million from Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles to refurbish and refuel the motors on Minuteman 3 ICBMs through March 2008, according to an ATK news release dated Feb. 27.

This represents the fifth of seven options on ATK’s contract, bringing the value of that deal to date to $541 million , according to the news release.

Scientists Intrigued by Gamma Ray-Like Burst

Scientists using NASA’s Swift satellite have detected a gamma ray-like explosion that was 25 times closer to Earth and lasted 100 times longer than typical gamma-ray bursts, NASA announced Feb. 24.

The explosion originated in a star-forming galaxy nearly 440 million light years away and could be the precursor to a supernova. The burst of gamma rays lasted nearly 2,000 seconds while most bursts last only a few milliseconds to tens of seconds, and scientists said it was dimmer than they would have expected, according to the release.

“This could be a new kind of burst, or we might be seeing a gamma-ray burst from an entirely different angle,” John Nousek, the Swift mission director at Penn State University in State College, Pa., said in the release. “This off-angle glance — a profile view, perhaps — has given us an entirely new approach to studying star explosions.”

Scientists at Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics used a European Southern Observatory telescope in Chile to watch the burst’s afterglow in optical light, and reported that its spectral characteristics indicated a supernova is unfolding. If that is the case, scientists will have the rare opportunity to observe a supernova from start to finish across many wavelengths.

WildBlue Launch on Ariane Scheduled for Late 2006

Arianespace of Evry, France, will launch the WildBlue-1 consumer broadband satellite for WildBlue Communications Inc. in the fourth quarter of 2006 , WildBlue announced Feb. 28. The satellite will be lofted on an Ariane 5 vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

WildBlue-1, built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and based on the company’s 1300 spacecraft bus, will provide Ka-band capacity in the United States and is expected to handle the company’s consumer growth through 2008. Denver-based WildBlue currently leases Ka-band capacity serving the United States on Telesat Canada’s Anik F2 satellite, which was launched by Arianespace in 2004.

WildBlue said services on WildBlue-1 will be available in January 2007 once on-orbit testing is completed. The company said it will continue to use capacity aboard the Anik F2 satellite even after WildBlue-1 enters service .

Enterprise to Support NASA at White Sands

Enterprise Advisory Services of Houston will provide non-mission support services to NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, N.M., under a three-year contract worth $182.6 million, NASA announced Feb. 24.

Enterprise Advisory Services will provide construction, environmental and operations support at the facility . The company also will assist in testing and verification of spaceflight systems, according to the press release.

The contract, which begins in May, has two one-year extension options that, if exercised, could increase its value to $305.2 million. NASA’s White Sands Test Facility is managed by the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Land Launch Rocket Selected to Loft Amos-3

Israel’s Amos-3 telecommunications satellite will be placed into orbit by Sea Launch’s Land Launch affiliate from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in late 2007 under a contract announced by Sea Launch and its Russian-Ukrainian partner, Space International Services.

The contract, with Amos-3 prime contractor Israel Aircraft Industries of Lod, Israel, is the third commercial win for Land Launch, which uses a rocket that closely resembles the Sea Launch Zenit 3SL that Sea Launch Co. of Long Beach, Calif., operates from a Pacific Ocean platform near the equator. The Land Launch vehicle is offered for smaller payloads. Amos-3, featuring a 12-transponder Ku- and Ka-band communications payload built by Alcatel Alenia Space, is scheduled to operate for 12 years and to replace the Amos-1 satellite at 4 degrees west longitude. Its owner is Spacecom Ltd. of Tel Aviv, Israel.

ADNET Wins Goddard Mission Support Work

ADNET Systems Inc. of Lanham, Md., will develop and engineer data analysis systems as well as manage computer systems for research at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., under a contract worth $221 million, NASA announced Feb. 24.

ADNET’s work will support ongoing missions under NASA’s Science Mission Directorate that include the Advanced Composition Explorer, the Earth Observing-1 satellite, the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation satellite, Landsat-7 and several others.

SCC Buys QinetiQ System For Interference Detection

Space Communications Corp. (SCC) of Tokyo has purchased a system from QinetiQ that will allow the satellite operator to identify and locate sources of interference with its Superbird telecommunications satellites, QinetiQ of England announced Feb. 28.

QinetiQ’s satID satellite geo-location system alerts operators to both malicious and accidental satellite interference and pinpoints the source of that interference. The system can be deployed over existing satellite communications infrastructure and can be either purchased or leased with the option to buy. Alternatively, QinetiQ can provide the service over its own systems.

“The system can help minimize disruption to services, enabling SCC to provide a better service to their customers and reduce the financial costs that interference brings,” Nigel Smith, QinetiQ’s satID commercial director, said in the news release.

ScanEagle UAV Surpasses 10,000 Combat Flight Hours

ScanEagle, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed by Boeing and the Insitu Group, has logged more than 10,000 combat flight hours in the past two years supporting both U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, Boeing Phantom Works of St. Louis announced Feb. 28.

ScanEagle UAVs have completed nearly 8,900 combat flight hours in Iraq since being deployed with the First Marine Expeditionary Force in August 2004. They have provided Marines there with imagery to monitor enemy forces , vehicle and personnel movement, and buildings and terrain. The Navy has used the ScanEagle since July 2005, conducting nearly 1,600 hours of flight operations supporting Expeditionary Strike Group missions and monitoring oil platforms in the Persian Gulf.

The ScanEagle is approximately 1.2 meters in length and can fly for nearly 15 hours and reach altitudes of around 4,900 meters. The UAV carries either an electro-optical or infrared camera that allows operators to track stationary and moving targets.

SAIC To Support NASA Ocean Color Research

A unit of Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) in Beltsville, Md., will support Ocean Color research efforts at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., under a five-year contract valued at $30 million, NASA announced Feb. 27.

SAIC will support the Ocean Biology Processing Group, which handles data products from the Sea-Viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor aboard GeoEye‘s Orbview-2 satellite and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometers aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites . The group also reanalyzes ocean color data from the Coastal Zone Color Scanner and Ocean Color and Temperature Sensor, which flew aboard satellites that no longer are in operation. SAIC also will assist in developing a prototype data processing system for NASA’s planned Glory mission.

Lockheed GPS Satellites Mark 50 Years On Orbit

The GPS Block 2R navigation satellites built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., for the U.S. Air Force have accumulated a combined 50 years on orbit , the company announced Feb. 27.

The GPS satellite constellation was designed to provide navigation, timing and precision-weapon guidance for the U.S. military, but the system also is widely used for civilian applications including air traffic management

Lockheed Martin is upgrading the GPS 2R satellites that have yet to be launched with enhanced encryption and anti-jamming capabilities for the military and a second civilian navigation signal . Lockheed Martin is under contract to deliver eight of the upgraded GPS 2R-M satellites to the Air Force. Three of the modernized satellites have been delivered to the Air Force with the fourth currently undergoing integration and testing.

East View To Distribute Spot Satellite Imagery

East View Cartographic, a Minneapolis-based provider of geospatial data and satellite imagery, has entered into an agreement with Spot Image Corp. of Toulouse, France, to become an authorized reseller of Spot satellite imagery products, East View announced Feb. 23.

The French government-owned Spot satellites provide medium-resolution imagery for such uses as land management and telecom planning. Spot, which markets the data, has compiled more than 10 million images in its archives since operations began in 1986.

East View also is an authorized reseller of high-resolution imagery from the Ikonos and OrbView 3 satellites, which are owned by GeoEye of Dulles, Va.

Boost Vehicle-Plus Motor Passes Qualification Tests

Alliant Techsystems has completed qualification testing on the Orbus 1A solid-fuel motor that will serve as the second and third stages of the Boost Vehicle-Plus, the interceptor rocket being developed by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Lockheed Martin announced Feb. 28.

The tests were conducted at the U.S. Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee in a simulated at-altitude environment, Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems said in a news release.

The Boost Vehicle-Plus is being developed for the MDA’s Ground Based Midcourse Defense missile shield as an alternative to the primary interceptor rocket, which is supplied by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. Lockheed Martin is under contract to develop five deployment-configuration boosters and three test-flight vehicles. The future of the Boost Vehicle-Plus is uncertain beyond that.

The Boeing Co. of Chicago is the prime contractor on the Ground Based Midcourse Defense system.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com