Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 24 April 2006
02:30 pm ET


Pentagon, FTC Officials Discuss Launch Merger

Officials from the Pentagon and Federal Trade Commission met March 17 to discuss the proposed merger of the government launch divisions of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing, according to Cheryl Irwin, a Defense Department spokeswoman.

Irwin said the Pentagon will not comment on whether it endorsed the joint venture, known as United Launch Alliance, before the Federal Trade Commission makes its decision on the proposed merger.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing had expected to receive government approval to conclude the deal last year. The companies last year set a March 31 deadline for wrapping up the deal, but could continue to negotiate after that point, said Dan Beck, a Boeing spokesman.

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) wrote a Feb. 28 letter in support of the joint venture to Kenneth Krieg, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. Salazar requested an explanation for the Pentagon’s delay in endorsing the deal.

Salazar’s letter states the deal will help the Pentagon save money while adding 800 to 1,000 jobs in his home state.

Inmarsat Managers Sell Off Some of Their Stock

Inmarsat managers took advantage of the end of a lock-up period to sell off a portion of their stock in the mobile satellite services provider, with some unloading the maximum 50 percent of the shares they received after the London-based company’s initial public offering (IPO) last June.

The stock sale by Inmarsat executives came a day after Inmarsat’s largest corporate owners divested nearly all their shares at an average price of 3.78 British pounds ($6.52) per share, according to documents filed with the London Stock Exchange. The institutional sale eliminated an overhang in Inmarsat shares that company officials had said could have put downward pressure on the stock.

Inmarsat’s stock price has increased by about 38 percent in the nine months since the IPO. It closed at a price of 3.86 pounds March 14.

The institutional sale, managed by investment banks Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley, totaled slightly more than 74 million shares, an amount equivalent to 16.2 percent of Inmarsat’s outstanding shares. The sellers included Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Comsat Investments Inc. of the United States and Telenor Satellite Broadcasting AS of Norway. Both were historic Inmarsat shareholders that had maintained their ownership stakes through the organization’s privatization and initial stock offering.

Also cashing in their Inmarsat ownership positions were Inmarsat’s two principal private-equity owners, Apax Partners and Permira.

Inmarsat managers received a total of nearly 210,000 shares March 14. Those shares were priced at 3.83 pounds based on the company’s 2005 financial performance, which met certain targets that permitted the share distribution. Inmarsat Chief Executive Andrew Sukawaty received 55,075 shares; Chief Financial Officer Rick Medlock, 25,456 shares; and Chief Operating Officer Michael Butler, 25,456 shares. The shares will be vested in three installments over the next three years.

Inmarsat managers were awarded an initial tranche of stock following the company’s June 2005 IPO, but they were forbidden to sell those shares until March 13, when they were allowed to sell half of their holdings. The remaining half may be sold Dec. 1.

Sukawaty, who received 4.86 million shares following the IPO, sold 20 percent of his stake March 13, the day the lock-up ended. Medlock sold 11 percent of his 2.44 million shares, a total that includes shares placed into a family trust. Butler sold 35 percent of his 2.19 million-share holdings.

Eight other Inmarsat managers sold most or all of the maximum 50-percent stakes they were allowed.

Alcatel Alenia To Build Ciel’s Ku-band Satellite

Canada’s new satellite operator, Ciel Satellite Communications Inc., has selected Alcatel Alenia Space of Europe to build the large all-Ku-band Ciel-2 satellite to provide high-definition television capacity to U.S. direct-broadcast television provider EchoStar and a yet-undetermined amount of capacity for Canadian users, according to industry officials.

The satellite is scheduled for launch in 2008, Ciel and Alcatel announced March 17.

Alcatel Alenia Space of France and Italy bested offers from U.S. manufacturers Space Systems/Loral and Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, officials said.

Alcatel Alenia’s win of the Ciel-2 contract would appear to confirm a lock on Canadian business by European manufacturers in recent years. Canada’s established satellite-fleet operator, Telesat, has selected EADS Astrium of Europe for its last three satellites.

The Ciel-2 satellite will operate in Ciel’s 129 degrees west longitude orbital slot. Under the terms of Ciel’s license with Canadian regulators, the spacecraft must be launched by Dec. 31, 2008.

Ottawa-based Ciel also must reserve up to 50 percent of the satellite’s capacity for Canadian customers until the day of launch. If that capacity is not booked, the company is free to sell it to non-Canadian customers.

Littleton, Colo.-based EchoStar has agreed to lease virtually all of the 6,000-kilogram satellite’s capacity to broadcast high-definition television programming to its U.S. customers. The exact amount of capacity that EchoStar will have will depend on the amount of presold Canadian capacity at the day of launch.

EchoStar in mid-2005 moved its aging and damaged EchoStar 5 satellite to Ciel’s orbital slot, meeting a Canadian regulatory requirement that Ciel begin operating services by August 2005. The agreement was brokered by SES Global of Luxembourg, which is planning a similar arrangement with Mexico’s QuetzSat satellite operator.

QuetzSat now is using the former EchoStar 4 satellite in a Mexican-registered orbital slot. The new QuetzSat satellite is expected to be ordered this year, and EchoStar is expected to be the anchor customer for that spacecraft as well.

Microsoft Buys Remote Sensing Firm Vexcel

Vexcel Corp., a Boulder, Colo.-based supplier of remote sensing products and services, will be acquired by Microsoft Corp., a Vexcel spokesman confirmed March 15.

Jerry Skaw, marketing communications manager for Vexcel, said the two companies entered into the acquisition agreement March 15. The deal will require U.S. and European regulatory approval before it can be finalized.

Skaw declined to disclose the sale price.

“The people, products and services of Vexcel will play a key role in delivering Microsoft’s vision,” Skaw said. He said that the company will remain headquartered in Boulder, but would not provide details about how Vexcel facilities and jobs will be affected by the deal.

However, in an e-mail notifying customers and business partners of the pending acquisition, Vexcel said it will keep its global presence in its existing markets.

Vexcel will become a key member of the team for Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, a software application incorporating satellite imagery, according to a copy of the e-mail obtained by Space News. “The future of the geospatial field is being built around Internet-based applications, and the acquisition positions Vexcel to help play a central role in this revolution,” the e-mail said.

Vexcel specializes in satellite remote-sensing ground stations and processing equipment, aerial cameras and a variety of products and services related to radar imaging technology. Microsoft spokesman Austin Stewart could not provide additional details at press time.

“The acquisition is part of Microsoft’s exciting vision to deliver a dynamic, immersive digital representation of the real world that provides the best local search and mapping experience to consumers, business and government,” Stewart said in a written statement.

Ed Jurkevics, an analyst with Chesapeake Analytics of Arlington, Va., said the deal is an attempt by Microsoft to make sure Google is not the only player in the information-access market, and is significant for the remote sensing industry.

“Finally, the commercial market is now in sight; it just doesn’t look like what we thought it would look like,” Jurkevics said. He added the dollars invested in remote sensing by Microsoft, Google and other competitors such as Yahoo could end up being as profitable for the industry as deals with the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Sterner Leaving HASC To Work for NASA

NASA has hired former House Science Committee staffer Eric Sterner to serve as associate deputy administrator for policy and plans effective March 20. Sterner will be reporting to NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale, whom he worked for on the House Science Committee from 1995 to 1999.

In 2000, Sterner was named staff director of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee, a position he held until 2001 when he moved to the Pentagon to work as a special assistant to J.D. Crouch, then assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. Since 2003, Stern has been working for the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) as the lead staffer for policy.

Northrop Demonstrates KillerBee UAV to Air Force

Northrop Grumman has demonstrated its KillerBee unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to the U.S. Air Force to highlight its ability to conduct surveillance operations for protection of bases, convoys and borders, Northrop Grumman announced March 14.

The KillerBee is under development as a multi-mission, joint-service family of scalable UAVs.

Featuring a 2.7-meter wingspan and carrying both electro-optical and infrared sensors, the UAV can be used to collect video imagery and precision targeting data. It also can be used to relay voice and data across great distances, according to the news release.

The demonstration took place at the Air Force’s UAV Battlelab at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

Northrop Grumman of Los Angeles is developing the KillerBee with Swift Engineering of San Clemente, Calif., to meet a broad range of needs for the Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Marburger: Economics Must Drive Moon Agenda

John Marburger, the White House Office of Science and Technology policy director, said setting the stage for market-driven exploitation of the Moon’s material resources “must be a primary consideration of the long-range planning for the lunar agenda.”

“The Moon has unique significance for all space applications for a reason that to my amazement is hardly ever discussed in popular accounts of space policy,” Marburger said in a March 15 speech at the American Astronautical Society’s Goddard Memorial Symposium in Greenbelt, Md.

“The Moon is the closest source of material that lies far up Earth’s gravity well. Anything that can be made from lunar material at costs comparable to Earth manufacture has an enormous overall cost advantage compared with objects lifted from Earth’s surface. The greatest value of the Moon lies neither in science nor in exploration, but in its material. And I am not talking about mining Helium-3 as fusion reactor fuel. I doubt that will ever be economically feasible. I am talking about the possibility of extracting elements and minerals that can be processed into fuel or massive components of space apparatus. The production of oxygen in particular, the major component — by mass — of chemical rocket fuel, is potentially an important Lunar industry.”

Marburger said one approach to making such a future a reality would be for governments to invest heavily in the lunar infrastructure needed to support commercial activity.

“A not unreasonable scenario is a phase of highly subsidized capital construction followed by market-driven industrial activity to provide Lunar products such as oxygen refueling services for commercially valuable Earth-orbiting apparatus ,” he said.

Glowlink Improves Device For Interference Detection

Glowlink Communications Technology of Los Altos, Calif., has developed a new device that can detect interference and unauthorized satellite access and pinpoint the offending emitter’s position on Earth, the company announced March 15.

The system also can provide the name, address and telephone number of whoever is operating the device if that information is available, Glowlink said.

The product is integrated with Glowlink’s Model 1000 interference-detection technology, combining spectrum monitoring, interference detection and geolocation functions in a single package.

The product will first be deployed to existing Model 1000 customers, and will be available to the general public in three to six months, according to the news release.

SM-3 Third Stage Motor Completes Initial Firings

Raytheon Co. and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) have successfully completed the first fire tests on the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block 1A third-stage motor, which features several nozzle-design enhancements to more efficiently boost a kill vehicle out of the atmosphere and toward its intended target, Raytheon announced March 10.

The SM-3 is part of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s sea-based Aegis missile shield. Once the interceptor’s third-stage motor burns out, the kill vehicle separates and uses an infrared seeker to home in on its target warhead.

The firing tests were conducted Feb. 28 at ATK’s Elkton, Md., facility. Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., produces the SM-3 missiles while ATK of Edina, Minn., provides the third-stage motor under a subcontract.

Space Station Crew To Move Soyuz to Aft Port

The crew aboard the international space station is scheduled March 20 to undock a Soyuz capsule and move it to the station’s aft port in preparation for the arrival of a new station crew .

NASA announced March 14 that Commander Bill McArthur and Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev are slated to undock the Soyuz spacecraft at 1:45 a.m. EST. It will then take approximately 35 minutes to move the vehicle from the front docking port on the Zarya living quarters module to the aft docking port. NASA TV will provide live coverage of the operation.

The new station crew, Expedition 13 Commander Pavel Vinogradov, Flight Engineer Jeff Williams and Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes, is scheduled to arrive at the station March 31.

NASA Picks Student Projects For Sounding Rocket Mission

NASA has selected 10 student-built experiments to fly on an Orion suborbital sounding rocket that is slated to launch June 7 from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, NASA announced March 14.

Both students and teachers will work with NASA engineers and technicians to prepare their experiments for flight. Five projects will fly in the main body of the rocket’s payload section, while the other five will be placed in the nosecone. This is NASA’s ninth year holding such a launch.

The experiments will be carried nearly 40 kilometers above the Earth’s surface and then descend by parachute into the Atlantic Ocean, where they will be retrieved and returned to students later that day. The projects are focused on areas such as wireless communications, magnetic fields, fluids and thermal dynamics .

The schools and organizations selected to fly experiments on the mission include Columbus High School in Georgia; GlenBrook North High School and Harriet Tubman School in Illinois; Parkside High School and Cub Scout Pack 151 in Maryland; Old Dominion University in Virginia; Key Peninsula Middle School in the state of Washington; Wendover High School in Utah; and Graham High School in Ohio.

Firms Win Contracts for Galileo Ground Systems

Spanish engineering and software-development company GMV of Madrid and its affiliate, SGI, will develop four separate facilities to monitor Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation constellation under contracts with Galileo ground segment prime contractor Galileo Industries S.A. of Brussels, GMV announced.

Under the contracts, whose combined value is more than 30 million euros ($36 million), GMV and SGI will design the Galileo orbit synchronization and processing facility, which will manage the 30-satellite constellation’s orbit; the integrity processing facility, which will monitor Galileo system performance; the flight dynamics facility, which will control the constellation; and the service products facility, which will permit information exchange between Galileo and other satellite navigation ground networks, including the U.S. GPS system.

Galileo’s first experimental satellite was launched in December 2005. The full constellation, now in development, is expected to be operational around 2011.

SAIC To Provide Safety, Mission Support to JSC

Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) of San Diego will provide safety and mission-assurance support to NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston under a contract worth $148.6 million, NASA announced March 15.

The contract has a three-year base period with two one-year extension options that, if exercised, would bring the value up to an estimated $256.5 million, according to the news release.

SAIC’s Technical Services Corp. will support safety and maintenance for the space shuttle and international space station. It also will provide support for missions and payloads launched from JSC’s White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, N.M.

NRO Chief Touts Services for Military

The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has been providing military officials with a variety of tools since Sept. 11 to help in the war on terrorism, the agency’s top official told Congress March 16.

The duties of NRO director were assigned to the undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force in 2001 in order to better facilitate classified and unclassified space work. The Pentagon decoupled those positions last summer to the disappointment of senior Air Force leaders like Gen. John Jumper, then chief of staff of the service, who raised concern that the split could disrupt the ability of troops to gain access to classified data.

Tools provided by the NRO include the Threat [Human Intelligence] Reporting, Evaluation, Analysis and Display System, which is prototype software that helps analysts compare data from human sources with information collected by spy satellites, NRO Director Donald Kerr (above) said in written testimony submitted to the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

“Information corroborated by several sources leads to more actionable intelligence that can be used more effectively against our adversaries,” Kerr said.

Other tools include devices for tracking friendly forces on the battlefield, and three-dimensional displays of intelligence-collection assets that help commanders visualize the best opportunities for gathering information, Kerr said.

ICO Picks Atlas 5 For 2007 Launch

ICO North America will launch its mobile communications satellite on an International Launch Services (ILS) Atlas 5 rocket in mid-2007, ICO and ILS announced March 16. ICO is under a U.S. regulatory deadline to launch the satellite by July 1, 2007, or risk losing its operating license.

Reston, Va.-based ICO’s satellite, which will operate in the 2-gigahertz radio frequency band, is under construction at Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, Calif. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has set a series of milestones for ICO to meet on the satellite’s construction, including a requirement that the integration of the satellite’s skeletal structure, or platform, be completed by July 1 of this year.

ICO Global raised about $650 million in a private debt offering in August 2005. It is one of several companies that plan to use geostationary-orbiting satellites to provide high-speed links to fixed and mobile terminals, including hand-held telephones, throughout the United States.

DigitalGlobe Awarded Clearview Contract

DigitalGlobe has received a $12 million contract from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to provide additional satellite imagery to the government, the company announced in a March 16 press release.

The contract is part of NGA’s ClearView program, through which the government purchases imagery from commercial providers. It is the second award Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe has received this year; the company was given a $24 million award in January.

An industry source said March 17 that Dulles, Va.-based GeoEye expects to announce a $13 million ClearView award sometime the week of March 20.

Iridium To Use Dual-Channel Terminal

A new dual-channel satellite communications terminal has been approved to operate on Bethesda, Md.-based Iridium Satellite LLC’s network.

The terminal, known as the ICS-200, features two receivers, and is a stand-alone system requiring only one cable and antenna to operate, according to a March 14 press release from International Communications Group (ICG) of Newport News, Va., which built it.

The terminal can be connected to traditional telephony devices, and used for functions such as intercom calling, call transfer and conferencing.

Operators of aircraft requiring six or fewer telephony connections could potentially use the terminals to communicate with the ground, ICG’s president Armin Jabs said in the release.