Commerce Subcommittee To Hold NPOESS Hearing

The U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation disaster prevention and prediction subcommittee will conduct a March 30 hearing to address issues concerning the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), a program that is undergoing a Pentagon review that could lead to a significant restructuring of the program or termination due to technical difficulty that is driving up the program’s cost.

Those expected to testify at the hearing include David Ryan, program manager for the NPOESS effort at Northrop Grumman Corp., which is building the satellites for the U.S. Air Force and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ; Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs; Greg Withee, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Services; and David Powner, director of technology management issues for the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

SpaceX‘s Falcon 1 Fails During Inaugural Launch

The Falcon 1 rocket developed by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) failed in its long-awaited inaugural launch March 24 from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

The rocket lifted off at 5:30 p.m. EST carrying FalconSat-2, a 19.5-kilogram experimental satellite built by students at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The rocket failed after clearing the launch pad.

“We did have a successful liftoff and a bit of time on first-stage powered flight; we do know the vehicle did not succeed after that,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX vice president of business development. “Clearly this is a setback but we are in this for a long haul.”

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of SpaceX , has said on numerous occasions that he was willing to make at least three launch attempts before giving up his bid to field a low-cost rocket .

The Falcon 1’s failure follows three false starts since the rocket was moved out to the launch pad late last year. A computer glitch and liquid-oxygen leak prompted flight controllers to scrub the original Nov. 26 attempt. A tanking mishap prompted a Dec. 19 scrub. Unsatisfactory system and vehicle tests caused SpaceX to postpone a Feb. 10 attempt.

SpaceX unveiled the nearly flight-ready Falcon 1 in December 2003, but the rocket’s debut was delayed two years by a variety of bureaucratic, technical and logistical setbacks. SpaceX has spent around $100 million of its own money developing the Falcon 1, which was designed to launch payloads weighing up to 570 kilograms into low Earth orbit for around $6.7 million.

Arabsat, Insurers Agree To Deorbit New Satellite

The Arabsat satellite organization of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has reached an agreement with its insurers to send the Arabsat 4A satellite into a destructive atmospheric re-entry to crash into the Pacific Ocean, according to industry officials. Arabsat officials declined to comment on the satellite’s status.

Arabsat 4A was placed into a useless orbit following the Feb. 28 failure of its Proton M rocket’s Breeze M upper stage. The satellite was separated from the Breeze M stage and since then has been in a relatively stable orbit with an apogee of 14,700 kilometers and a perigee of about 500 kilometers. Raising the orbit to the intended 36,000-kilometer circular geostationary position was not feasible given the amount of fuel on board, officials said.

The satellite carries 24 C-band and 16 Ku-band transponders. The Arabsat 4B spacecraft, built by the same EADS Astrium-Alcatel Alenia Space team that produced Arabsat 4A, carries an all-Ku-band payload and is scheduled for launch on a Proton M rocket late this year. Arabsat has opened discussions with manufacturers on a replacement satellite, Arabsat announced.

The Russian space agency, Roskosmos, has given the board of inquiry assigned to investigate the cause of the Proton M failure a March 30 deadline to produce its initial conclusions.

Board To Investigate Fatal Accident at KSC

NASA has appointed an investigation board to review the circumstances surrounding the March 17 death of a construction worker who fell off a building at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

Steven Owens, a 46-year-old employee of Oneida Construction, was performing roof repairs at a KSC warehouse when he fell about 5 meters . He was airlifted to a hospital in nearby Orlando, Fla., where he died the same day.

NASA’s five-member investigation board is chaired by John Casper, manager of the Space Shuttle Management Integration and Planning Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The board will examine the facts surrounding the incident and recommend corrective actions. A report is due in late April.

Owens death came one day after Kennedy Space Center Director James Kennedy ordered a two-hour safety stand-down to address center employees via closed-circuit television about a spate of recent mishaps at the center, including an accident that damaged the robotic arm on a shuttle.

USAF Investigating Predator Crash in Iraq

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has begun an investigation into the March 21 crash of a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle over Iraq, according to an Air Force news release.

That aircraft, which was built by General Atomics and cost about $5 million, was being operated by a pilot at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, according to the news release.

Germany’s OHB Records Strong Rise in Net Profit

Space-hardware and services supplier OHB Technology AG of Germany reported a slight increase in revenues and a sharp rise in net profit in 2005 compared to 2004. The Bremen-based company said revenues totaled 117 million euros ($142 million), up 3 percent. Net profit, at 6.1 million euros, increased 75 percent.

Sales from MT Aerospace, an Ariane rocket-component builder OHB purchased in mid-2005, offset a decline in the company’s satellite division. OHB’s satellite sales declined in part because the large SAR-Lupe contract for German radar reconnaissance satellites is nearing completion. The first of the five SAR-Lupe satellites is scheduled for launch on a Russian Cosmos rocket in late 2006.

OHB said new orders for Ariane 5 ECA rocket segments at MT Aerospace, plus a likely increase in German government space spending, should result in further increases in revenues in 2006. The company is an 11-percent shareholder in the Orbcomm global data-messaging satellite constellation, and is prime contractor for a new-generation Orbcomm satellite prototype to be launched this year.

Spacehab Could Face Delisting of its Stock

Houston-based Spacehab’s stock is no longer trading on the Nasdaq National Market.

The space services company asked to be moved to the Nasdaq Capita l Market after being notified by Nasdaq that it no longer met the National Market listing requirement for stockholder equity.

Spacehab’s stock has been trading since March 22 on the Nasdaq Capita l Market, which is designed for companies with small market capitalization. Spacehab must still get its stock trading above $1 a share and keep it there for 10 consecutive days if it wants to remain listed on the Nasdaq Capital market. If the company does not get its share price up by May 30, it could be delisted.

New Light Detector Could Improve Space Broadband

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of for Technology (MIT) have developed a tiny light detector that might one day make boost interplanetary broadband communication possible.

If the technology works as planned, it will make it possible to have color video transmissions between scientists on Earth and astronauts or robotic spacecraft working at interplanetary distances, something that is not practical with current technologies.

The new light detector improves detection efficiency to 57 percent at a wavelength of 1,550 nanometers — the same wavelength used by optical fibers on Earth to carry broadband signals to homes and offices. Currently, light detectors only absorb about 20 percent of the light they receive.

“It can take hours with the existing wireless radio frequency technology to get useful scientific information back from Mars to Earth,” said study team member Karl Berggren of MIT. “But an optical link can do that thousands of times faster.”

Currently, many spacecrafts still use radio signals to send data back to Earth. Two-way laser communication in space would enable data transmission rates that are 10- to 1,000-times faster, scientists predict.

The Mars Telecommunications Orbiter spacecraft, set to launch in 2010, but cancel ed last summer due to budget problems, would have used lasers to transmit data between Earth and Mars at a rate of between 1 to 30 million bits per second, depending on how close the two planets are to each other.

While lasers and radio transmissions both travel at light speed, lasers can pack more data into a transmission. Currently, the maximum data rate between Earth and Mars is about 128,000 bits per second.

Because of the large distances involved, current optical systems require large lasers and a lot of power to beam data at high rates between planets. This is usually not possible on power-starved satellites and spacecraft . The new detector would get around these requirements because it can receive weaker signals from smaller lasers that do not use much power, Berggren explained.

The new detector is so sensitive it can detect single photons from light or laser signals in the infrared part of the optical spectrum. Photons are the smallest and most basic unit of light.

To boost the sensitivity of the new detector, the researchers added an anti-reflective coating that helps prevent light from bouncing off the device surface and escaping.

They also added a “photon trap” to the detector. The trap is made from tightly coiled nanowires that are super-cooled to a temperature just above absolute zero. This increases the ability of the detector to absorb photons; the more photons that are absorbed, the greater the efficiency of the detector.

If the photon is not absorbed the first time it touches the wire, it bounces back and forth between the wire and a mirror that is also included in the photon trap, thus increasing the chance that it will eventually be captured.

Other researchers have developed single-photon detectors before, but they were not both speedy and efficient at detecting light. Aside from interplanetary communication, Berggren thinks the detector could also find uses in quantum cryptography and biomedical imaging.

The work is detailed in the Jan. 23 issue of the journal Optics Express.

Handrail Solution Allows Lifting of ISS Spacewalk Ban

Astronauts aboard the international space station (ISS) are once more able to stage spacewalks from their orbital laboratory after U.S. flight controllers cleared a problematic handrail issue March 23 , NASA officials said.

NASA spokeswoman Kylie Clem said space station managers lifted a monthlong spacewalk ban aboard the station — with a few conditions — after a pair of ISS flight and management meetings.

Defects found in the station’s aluminum handrails on the ground prompted ISS flight controllers to put a hold on any further spacewalks that involved astronauts wearing NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) suits, Kirk Shireman, NASA’s deputy ISS program manager, said March 22 .

“The handrails can be used with a slight variation,” Clem told Space News, adding that should a spacewalk be needed, astronauts would use a metal hook to latch onto the stanchions that connect the rails to the station hull, rather than the bar itself. “The analysis will continue to return to normal procedures through mid-April.”

No spacewalks are currently scheduled for the space station’s present crew, Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev, but NASA flight controllers wanted to resolve the issue should one be required in the event of an emergency, NASA officials said.

Corrosion on the aluminum handrail bars, which engineers traced back to improper heating during their manufacture, led ISS officials to question the health of handrails already installed on the space station’s hull. Astronauts use the rails to secure science experiments and themselves to the outpost’s exterior, as well as pull themselves between work stations.

“Our suspicion is that it’s very limited,” Shireman said of the problem. “It was difficult to say which of the handrails that are currently on orbit had this material problem and which didn’t.”

Additional tests to verify the long-term use of the U.S.-built handrails to hold material exposure experiments also are scheduled for the future, he added.

Meanwhile, four misplaced air scrubbers for the station crew’s Russian-built Orlan spacesuits also have impaired the astronaut’s spacewalk capabilities, NASA said.

Additional Orlan scrubbers — lithium hydroxide canisters that scrub carbon dioxide from the spacesuit’s atmosphere — have since been added to an unmanned Russian Progress supply ship to launch spaceward in April. McArthur and Tokarev, who are nearing the end of their six-month mission, will continue to search for the missing Orlan canisters.

“We are continuing to look for them and we believe we will locate them,” Shireman said.

The two astronauts have been packing their Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft for their April 8 return to Earth and will hand space station control over to their replacements, Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov and flight engineer Jeffrey Williams.

The Expedition 13 crew and Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes, an eight-day ISS visitor, will launch toward the station atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 29 at 9:30 p.m. EST.

The next scheduled spacewalks outside the ISS are set during NASA’s STS-121 shuttle mission, which is slated to launch no earlier than July 1. The first dedicated Expedition 13 spacecraft is expected sometime after that spaceflight, NASA officials said.

GeoEye Gets $13 Million Imagery Order from NGA

Satellite imaging company GeoEye of Dulles, Va. has received an order for $13 million worth of imagery from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

The award is part of the government’s ClearView program, which allows it to buy imagery from commercial providers for intelligence purposes. GeoEye received a $36 million award in January under the same program.

The company’s competitor, DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Calif., announced an order from NGA for $12 million in imagery March 16.

Lockheed Completes Seeker For Multiple Kill Vehicle

Lockheed Martin has completed the first pathfinder seeker vehicle for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Multiple Kill Vehicle system, which is designed to be launched aboard a single interceptor and destroy an enemy missile and any countermeasures it deploys, Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed announced March 20. The pathfinder seeker and kill vehicle payload have so far performed well under optical and electrical testing, Lockheed said in the release.

Singleton Wins NASA Health Services Award

Singleton Health Services of Towson, Md., will provide comprehensive health services to personnel at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland under a contract valued up to $7.4 million, NASA announced March 22.

The contract has a three-year base period as well as a two-year extension option. Singleton will provide services in occupational and medical health as well as physical fitness.

GD To Market Tesat’s Laser Satcom System

General Dynamics (GD) C4 Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz., has signed an agreement with Tesat-Spacecom of Backnang, Germany, to provide laser communications terminals to U.S. customers.

General Dynamics will manage the assembly, sale and engineering support for the terminals from its Arizona facilities, the release said.

The terminals are onboard laser communication systems designed to provide either satellite-to-satellite links or links from a satellite to a ground station. The companies believe the potential applications would provide communication links for any type of future satellite including research, communication or navigation satellites as well as spacecraft on lunar or deep space missions, said Ken Crawford, director of space communications solutions for General Dynamics C4 Systems, who responded to questions via email March 17.

Tesat’s terminals have been demonstrated in the lab and will be delivered to customers for testing and evaluation by the end of 2006, according to Crawford.

A demonstration by Tesat of its laser communications terminal on the Near Field Infrared Experiment, set to communicate with the TerraSAR-X German radar satellite later this year, will help validate that laser communications terminals can communicate successfully, Crawford said.

Though General Dynamics would mainly target military and NASA customers, the new terminals would still transfer data at rates too low to accommodate the U.S. Air Force’s planned Transformational Communications Satellite, Crawford said.

NASA, Exploratorium To Broadcast Eclipse

NASA and San Francisco’s Exploratorium will team up to provide a Webcast, podcast and television broadcast for public viewing of a total solar eclipse, NASA announced March 23.

The Webcast will take place 5 a.m. to 6:15 a.m. EST March 29, and will carry a live feed of the eclipse from Turkey. It can be viewed at

NASA TV’s public service channel and education channel also will air the Webcast, with the media channel providing a live feed. Podcasts of the eclipse will be available at

Chandra Data Offers Clues About Quasars

Researchers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory are studying two distant quasars and the hot, X-ray-producing regions around them to better understand the conditions that exist when quasars are “turned on,” according to a March 23 release from the Chandra X-Ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

The quasars and surrounding regions are located tens of thousands of light years away from super massive black holes thought to power quasars. Researchers believe the hot regions form during the quasars’ activation, according to the release.

“The X-ray features are likely shock waves that could be a direct result of the turning-on of the quasar about 4 billion years ago,” Alan Stockton, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and lead author of a report on the finding in the Feb. 20 issue of The Astrophysical Journal, said in the release.

Data shows the X-ray producing regions are not the result of cooling intergalactic gas or the heating by high-energy jets from the quasars.

“The best explanation for our observations is that a burst of star formation, or the activation of the quasar itself, is driving an enormous amount of gas away from the quasar’s host galaxy at extremely high speeds,” Hai Fu, a co-author of the report and a researcher at the University of Hawaii, said in the release.

Com Dev To Conduct Radarsat Study

Com Dev International will complete a technical study intended to aid in the development of the central electronics payload for the Canadian Space Agency’s planned Radarsat constellation. The contract has a potential value of up to $1.7 million over the next nine months, Com Dev announced March 22.

The contract was issued from MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, the prime contractor on the future Radarsat constellation. Radarsat will consist of three Earth observation satellites that will compliment the existing Radarsat program in tracking ice in Canada’s navigational waters and assisting in disaster-relief efforts.

TerreStar Banking on Hybrid Network

The future of TerreStar Networks will be providing a hybrid terrestrial and satellite communications option for first responders, the company’s chief executive officer said in a March 22 speech to the Washington Space Business Roundtable.

sees its future in providing a hybrid terrestrial and satellite communications option for first responders, its chief executive officer said.

Robert Brumley, chief executive officer of TerreStar Networks of Reston, Va., addressed the Washington Space Business Roundtable March 22.

Robert Brumley, chief executive officer of Reston, Va.-based TerreStar Networks, said the company’s first satellite, which is being constructed by Loral Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., is scheduled to launch in November . 2007. , and Service is planned to launch by October 2008. , he. TerreStar expects to place an order for a second satellite within the next three weeks, Brumley said. Each will The satellites feature an 18-meter antenna and 500 spot beams. , he said.

Those elaunch of the satellites will make give TerreStar its foothold in the the first players to enter the ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) market, which enhances satellite service with a ground-based network of transmitters. The company TerreStar already has a license from the Federal Communications Commission to provide the service, as does competitor Globalstar of Milpitas, Calif.

Competing Other companies interested in entering that the market include Mobile Satellite Ventures of Ontario, Canada, which like TerreStar is partially owned by the Motient Corp. oration, ; Inmarsat of London; , Iridium Satellite LLC of Bethesda, Md.; and ICO North America, also of Reston.

Brumley said that he wants the business focus for the company’s ATC venture to be on homeland security and public safety applications, saying he ‘d would be “ecstatic” if 50 percent of the business came from that arena.

But Brumley also predicted that an ATC system could have a potential market of 28 million individuals who could benefit from the service. The company TerreStar intends plans to raise all the money necessary to fund its ATC business on its own, he said.

The company plans to approach its ATC service by using a single chip in various devices which receive its signal, rather than manufacturing a handset that makes ATC network calls, he said. That way, the same chip can be used inside everything from a cellular-style phone to a terminal on top of a vehicle, he said. Users then can be “wedded to a technology, not a phone,” he said.

“Satellite coupled with ATC will ensure that mobile satellite communications are here to stay,” Brumley said.

He noted that the company has no plans to get into the business of becoming a retail mobile communications provider, because it requires too much capital. He said that mobile communications providers who are angry about satellite companies receiving spectrum for free from the Federal Communications Commission should look back to the 1980s, when wireless companies got spectrum for free.

“At a certain point, the incumbents have to realize that history is history,” Brumley said.

Brumley also noted said that TerreStar’s subsidiary, TerreStar Bermuda Ltd., has “unofficially” offered the position of vice chairman to Kathleen Abernathy, a former chair of the FCC commissioner. Abernathy is “considering the position,” according to Julie Cram, director of public affairs for Burson-Marsteller, which does public relations for TerreStar.

Loral Skynet Gets Back Into U.S. FSS Market

Loral Skynet, the Bedminster, N.J.-based subsidiary of Loral Space & Communications, resumed offering fixed satellite services in North America March 18. The company was prevented from offering the service in the United States for two years after agreeing an agreement in March 2004 to sell some of its North American satellite assets to Intelsat of Bermuda.

The company Loral now operates two satellites that which cover North America, offering Ku-band capacity to users, Telstar 12 and Telstar 14.

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Dubai Firm Signs Multi-Year Deal with PanAmSat

PanAmSat of Wilton, Conn., has signed a multi year agreement with Strong Technologies LLC of Dubai to distribute programming on its PAS-10 Indian Ocean R region satellite, the company announced in a March 22 press release.

Strong Technologies will use the capacity to distribute My TV, which is a direct-to-home television service to serve sub-Sahara Africa. The PanAmSat network operates more than 20 direct-to-home platforms, the release said.

NASA Picks Board To Review Mishap with Shuttle Robot Arm

NASA has formed an investigative board at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to review an incident in which the Space Shuttle Discovery’s robotic arm was damaged by technicians working near the device, NASA announced March 17.

The five-member board will be led by Hugo Delgado, deputy director for the Office of the Chief Engineer at Kennedy. The Board’s mandate is to review the incident, determine a probable cause and suggest corrective actions in a final report due out this summer.

Shuttle technicians accidentally bumped into the robotic arm March 4. The arm is used to grapple payloads and remove them from the shuttle’s payload bay and to move spacewalking astronauts to different working platforms. Inspectors found two indentations on the outer layer of the arm, as well as small cracks in the carbon-fiber composite underneath the outer layer. The arm was removed from the vehicle March 14 to undergo repair.

Orbital’s Pegasus Launches NASA’s ST5 Spacecraft

Orbital Sciences Corp. launched three small scientific satellites for NASA aboard its Pegasus launch vehicle March 22 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to a news release from the Dulles, Va.-based company.

The satellites, known collectively as Space Technology 5 (ST5) satellites, were placed in elliptical orbits, and appeared to be operating as expected, according to the news release.

A project of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the ST5 satellites are part of NASA’s New Millennium Program, and are intended to demonstrate the ability of small satellites to perform research-quality science by taking measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Each of the micro-satellites weighs about 25 kilograms when fully fueled and is about the size of a 13-inch television.

Art Azarbarzin, ST5 project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., said in the release that during the first few days of the mission NASA technicians would deploy and test each spacecraft’s magnetometer boom, prepare the satellites for the science demonstration and make any necessary orientation adjustments.

The mission plan called for the satellites to start out in orbit only a few meters apart. Then over the next 20 days, they will be placed into a formation 40 to 200 kilometers apart from each other to perform coordinated multi-point measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field. NASA expects that type of measurement will be useful for future missions studying the effect of solar activity on the Earth’s magnetosphere; the magnetic bubble that surrounds Earth and helps to protect it from harmful space radiation.

SCC Begins Broadband Service with Passenger Ship

Space Communications Corp. (SCC) of Tokyo launched its maritime satellite broadband service March 17, offering PC-based broadband Internet and e-mail services for ships. The service, which utilizes the company’s Superbird B-2 satellite and connectivity from Inmarsat satellites, operates at a speed of 1 megabit per second.

The system employs an Inmarsat uplink from the vessel and a Ku-band downlink to the ship from Superbird B2. The Japanese cruise ship company NYK Cruises Co. Ltd. has signed up for the service, which will be available for passengers on the company’s latest cruise ship, the Asuka 2 , which started its maiden voyage March 17, according to Kazuhiko Aoki, general manager of SCC’s International Business Dept., in a March 17 interview.

The current service extends to a range of about 200 kilometers around coastal Japan on the Suberbird B-2 satellite, which is in a 162 degrees east orbit. Four dedicated PCs have been set up on the Asuka 2 for passengers, who pay a fixed flat rate.

Aoki declined comment on both the cost to the cruise company and passengers. SCC is hoping to extend the service to other cruise companies, including non-Japanese, and to switch the service to a wider footprint on a different satellite, Aoki said.

Aging Mars Rovers Get New Project Manager

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover program has a new project manager: John Callas, who has worked as science manager and deputy project manger for the rovers Spirit and Opportunity since 2000, will work to guide the aging rovers through some challenging technical issues.

NASA announced March 17 that Callas will succeed Jim Erickson, who has taken a leadership position on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which recently entered orbit around the red planet.

Callas, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., will face the task of getting the Spirit rover to a Martian slope where it can catch and store enough solar energy to last through the winter with only five of its six wheels working. A motor that runs Spirit’s right-front wheel ceased operation last week. Engineers are working to resolve the issue .

The Opportunity rover has been experiencing some difficulty with a motor in the shoulder of its robotic arm. Opportunity finished studying layered outcrops at the Erebus Crater, and now is on a 2-kilometer journey to the Victoria Crater.

Raytheon Wins Follow-On For Army’s Patriot Program

Raytheon Co. will continue to provide engineering support services to the U.S. Army’s Patriot Air and Missile Defense program under the second of four one-year extension options to a 2004 base award. The add-on is worth approximately $80 million, Raytheon announced March 21.

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., will provide support in such areas as system and software engineering, hardware engineering, system testing and program management. The contract also requires Raytheon to provide support for Germany, Israel, Japan Kuwait, Spain, Taiwan and several others.

Raytheon of Waltham, Mass., is the prime contractor for the Patriot system.

InDyne To Support IT Work At NASA’s Headquarters

InDyne Inc. of McLean, Va., will provide information technology (IT) support services to NASA headquarters under a five-year contract worth $200 million, NASA announced March 17.

Under the contract InDyne will help develop, implement, integrate and evaluate NASA IT activities. The company also will maintain and update IT resources at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

Northrop To Sponsor NASA Moonbuggy Race

Northrop Grumman has entered a three-year agreement with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to sponsor NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race, an annual competition for high school and college students to design, build and race a vehicle on a simulated lunar surface, Northrop announced March 20. The agreement is worth $270,000.

Northrop will begin sponsoring the competition this year when t he event takes place April 7-8 at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. This will be the 13th year for the race.

Nearly 60 student teams from around the United States and Puerto Rico entered the competition. Teams are required to design, build and race a vehicle that addresses the engineering problems similar to those faced by builders of NASA’s original lunar rover. There are no material or cost limitations, but the vehicle must fit into a space measuring 1.2 meters by 1.2 meters by 1.2 meters.

Teams will carry the unassembled moonbuggy to the start line, assemble it, then race it on a simulated lunar terrain course roughly 0.8 kilometers. It must carry at least two passengers, one male and one female.

Microcosm Nabs MDA Smallsat Navigation Contract

Microcosm Inc. will develop a prototype navigation and attitude system that will offer a wider range of capabilities for smaller satellites under a Phase 2 Small Business Innovative Research contract from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Microcosm of El Segundo, Calif., announced March 17.

Microcosm will work with NavSys of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Michigan Aerospace Corp. of Ann Arbor, to develop a system consisting of an inertial measurement instrument, a GPS receiver and a star camera.

“[The system] is intended to bring to small satellites a range of capabilities previously available only on much larger and more expensive satellites,” Paul Graven, director of technology development at Microcosm, said in the news release. “These include precise station-keeping, precision orbit transfer and rendezvous with other satellites.”

Graven said a more-capable navigation system is necessary for smaller spacecraft because they are more sensitive to environmental disturbances that may alter a craft’s attitude. No financial details about the contract were disclosed.

Sirius Satellite Radio Hits 4 Million-Subscriber Mark

Sirius Satellite Radio of New York has surpassed the 4 million-subscriber mark, the company announced March 20. Sirius expects to land more than 6 million subscribers by year’s end.

XM Satellite Radio of Washington passed 6 million subscribers in January 2006 , and expects to have 9 million-subscribers by the end of 2006.

Comments: Warren Ferster,