Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 20 June 2005
11:33 am ET


Aerojet Thrusters Could Find Role in Exploration

Aerojet delivered three new rocket engines to NASA’s White Sand Test Facility in New Mexico two months ahead of schedule. Each one contained a new non-toxic reaction control engine that could help the space agency meet its needs for on-orbit propulsion for future exploration missions, Aerojet announced June 7.

Each new engine can deliver 870 pounds of thrust with an updated injector design that improves specific-impulse performance. The engines also are oxygen-based, which will reduce hazardous environmental impacts compared to traditional hydrazine propulsion systems, according to Sacramento, Calif.-based Aerojet, a GenCorp company.

NASA will begin conducting toxicity tests on the engines in August 2005.

MITRE Makes Cut for DARPA 2005 Grand Challenge

A mostly MITRE-sponsored team has outfitted a 2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac with a variety of sensors and computers to create an autonomous ground vehicle worthy of consideration for the semifinals of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) 2005 Grand Challenge.

The qualification event, which will be held Sept. 27 to Oct. 5 this year in Fontana, Calif., aims to accelerate the development of autonomous ground vehicles, which are outfitted with a combination of artificial intelligence, global positioning systems and sensors that allow the vehicles to drive themselves, according to a June 8 MITRE news release.

Out of 195 entries this year, only 40 were selected to participate in the semifinal event, and then only 20 teams will compete in the grand challenge Oct. 8, which will take place over 175 miles of rugged terrain in the southwestern United States.

Tiny Honeywell MAV Gets First Untethered Flight

Honeywell’s Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) — a small, autonomous surveillance aircraft that could be used for military reconnaissance — has completed its first untethered flight test at the Mobility and Test Integration Center near Laguna, N.M., the company announced June 6.

The 33-centimeter (13-inch) vehicle is outfitted with video cameras that feed to a remote ground station video terminal. Sending this vehicle for reconnaissance near enemy lines instead of foot soldiers would reduce their risk of coming under fire during surveillance. The aircraft is small enough for a foot soldier to carry on his back and can be configured with electro-optical or infrared cameras for daylight and nighttime surveillance, respectively.

The MAV was developed under The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration Program and is a contender for the Future Combat Systems Class I family of vehicles.

Arianespace and ILS Land New Contracts

The world’s two principal commercial-launch competitors, Arianespace of Europe and the U.S.-Russian International Launch Services (ILS) joint venture, both announced new contracts with established satellite operators in Japan and Britain.

Arianespace will launch the Bsat-3a satellite for Broadcasting Satellite System Corp. of Tokyo in the second quarter of 2007 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. The satellite, carrying 38 Ku-band transponders, is an extremely lightweight version of Lockheed Martin’s A2100 satellite frame. Bsat-3a is expected to weigh 1,970 kilograms at launch. Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems booked the launch deal directly with Arianespace as part of its delivery-in-orbit contract with the Japanese satellite broadcaster.

Meanwhile, ILS announced that it had signed a contract with mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat plc of London for the launch of a future Inmarsat 4 satellite aboard a U.S. Atlas 5 rocket. An Atlas 5 launched the first Inmarsat 4 satellite, now stationed over the Indian Ocean, in March.

Industry officials said the contract will almost certainly be used for the third and last Inmarsat 4 satellite being built by EADS Astrium of Europe. But the launch contract could be exercised as soon as early 2006 if the second Inmarsat 4, currently being readied for launch later this year aboard a Sea Launch LLC vehicle, is delayed. Inmarsat officials say they want to get the second Inmarsat 4 into orbit as soon as possible to debut the company’s new mobile-broadband service in the United States.

Alcatel Mulls its Options After Boeing’s XM Radio Loss

Alcatel Space officials hope to salvage a role on XM Satellite Radio’s XM-5 satellite despite the fact that their partner in the previous XM satellites, Boeing Satellite Systems International, lost the prime contractor’s job to Space Systems/Loral.

Alcatel Space supplied the electronics payloads on the Boeing-built XM satellites and hopes to stimulate the creation of a similar satellite-radio business in Europe. Alcatel Space also is prime contractor for the WorldSpace satellite-radio system.

Alcatel Space President Pascale Sourisse said a decision by Alcatel, several European auto manufacturers and other prospective partners in a European version of XM could be made by the end of 2005.

Alcatel Space officials privately did not conceal their disappointment with Boeing’s loss of the XM-5 contract.

“It seems to us as if Boeing these days will not accept a contract unless it guarantees 15-percent margins,” one Alcatel official said. “Everyone can understand this, but XM was a recurring customer even if the XM-5 satellite is not an identical copy of the previous XM satellites. It just seemed to us as if they were willing to let this business go.”

Boeing Satellite Systems spokeswoman Marta E. Newhart said the loss of the XM-5 contract, despite the fact that XM and Boeing had signed a fixed-price option for the spacecraft when the XM-4 deal was sealed , was a simple matter of price. “We are not going to sign contracts in which we cannot make a profit,” Newhart said. “But we certainly hope to be able to work with XM in the future, in addition to completing work on the XM-4.”

Aon Looks to Become a Full-Service Consultant

Aon Explorer of Paris, whose business includes space-insurance brokerage and project consulting, is seeking to further broaden its portfolio of services by providing orbital-slot assessment and satellite feasibility studies for satellite operators and other customers.

The company, formed in January when brokerage Aon Space purchased Explorer Consulting, is seeking to position itself as a one-stop shop capable of providing market assessments, regulatory help and financial services as well as insurance.

Aon Explorer Vice President Christian Barnabe said the company’s contract with Rascom, the pan-African satellite project whose satellite is scheduled for launch in late 2006, has demonstrated the value of widening Aon’s business beyond insurance.

“This was the first concrete example of what we are trying to do,” Barnabe said. “There was a strong competition for the Rascom contract, and we won because we were able to offer a fuller service, whereas the competition was offering only insurance brokerage.”

Laurent Valignon, Aon Explorer vice president, said Rascom, despite years of false starts, now is conducting a second round of financing for the project after coordinating its orbital position and broadcast frequencies with France Telecom. Rascom plans to operate in geostationary orbit at 2.8 degrees west longitude.

Maritime Market Fuels High Hopes at Connexion

The expansion into the maritime sector of the Connexion by Boeing satellite broadband service to commercial aircraft is “a game changer for us,” Connexion President Laurette Koellner said.

A year after it began commercial service with several European and Asian airlines offering broadband data access to passengers’ laptop computers, Connexion and Bahamas-based Teekay Shipping Corp. announced that Connexion gear would be installed on 50 Teekay vessels, with an option to expand to an additional 40 ships. Teekay, mainly a transporter of oil and gas, has approximately 145 ships in its fleet.

Connexion officials declined to disclose details of the agreement beyond saying that they were not repeating the business model they have employed with airline customers. Up to now, Connexion has financed much of the work done to fit customers’ aircraft with the Connexion antenna and wiring.

Connecting a ship is much easier and less costly.

Koellner said Connexion views the addressable merchant-fleet market as about 40,000 ships worldwide. It is the next market Connexion hopes to tap, and additional regulatory approvals are not required for the company to begin seeking customers.

“These companies are carrying big assets on board and they are looking for a choice in their communications,” Koellner said. “It will be a different business model for us, in that sales will be on a subscription basis — say, per month per ship. We think we can offer them savings compared the communications they use now.”

For commercial airlines, Connexion charges a fixed cost per customer for a given amount of time online, or for an entire flight leg.

As is the case with commercial airlines, Connexion’s maritime business is entering territory dominated by Inmarsat plc of London, which is upgrading its fleet to include a mobile broadband data option. Connexion leases satellite capacity on several satellites in geostationary orbit.

EADS, Antrix Team Up On Small Telecom Satellites

EADS Astrium of Europe and the Indian Space Research Organisation’s commercial arm, Antrix Corp. Ltd., will jointly develop small telecommunications satellites using Antrix-provided satellite platforms and EADS Astrium-built communications payloads, the two organizations announced June 17.

India’s Insat series of telecommunications satellites, weighing 2,000 to 3,000 kilograms at launch, will be an early application of the agreement, the organizations said.

EADS Astrium’s current satellite product line does not include a small satellite platform, and the company has been evaluating how to enter a section of the global commercial satellite market that many industry officials thought would be eliminated as operators migrated toward ever-larger platforms. Instead, a small but steady market for smaller satellites has emerged , even among some of the larger satellite-fleet operators.

ESA To Help Develop Very-High-Power Satellite

Europe’s two principal satellite prime contractors will jointly design a platform for future large telecommunications satellites under a contract valued at 200 million euros ($242 million) with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency, CNES.

The contract for the long-planned AlphaBus platform was signed June 17 between ESA and CNES, and Alcatel Space and EADS Astrium. Giuseppe Viriglio, director for industrial programs and applications at ESA, said June 18 that France was contributing 50-55 percent of the total, with Germany taking a 15 percent share, Italy at 7-10 percent and Spain at 7 percent. Switzerland, Ireland, Austria and Belgium account for the remaining stake in the effort .

AlphaBus is intended to permit Alcatel Space and EADS to offer to the commercial market, starting in 2007, a satellite platform providing between 12 and 18 kilowatts of power to payloads weighing between 1,000 and 1,200 kilograms and carrying nearly 200 transponders. The total launch mass of a satellite carrying this type of payload would be up to 8,000 kilograms.

A satellite that size would be 30 percent bigger than even the largest of today’s commercial telecommunications spacecraft, but European government officials are convinced that the market is heading this way and they want Europe’s satellite sector to be ready.

Alcatel Space, EADS Astrium and their industrial partners are expected to finance between 60 million and 100 million euros of the work on the AlphaBus project, Viriglio said.

ESA will be proposing to its 17 member governments in December that they supplement the planned 200 million-euro investment with an additional sum of around 250 million euros to finance development of an AlphaBus payload and its launch in 2009.

The ESA-financed work will be conducted following innovative rules that ESA officials hope to apply to other programs. Instead of asking governments to sign up for AlphaBus shares and then seeking to assign contracts to companies located in the participating nations, ESA conducted a competition to determine who could best do the work.

The agency then approached those governments whose industry had been judged most qualified, seeking support equivalent to their industries’ expected contracts.

It remains unclear whether an AlphaBus mission will be decided this year. Viriglio said several possible missions are under consideration.

Eurockot Lands Deal To Launch Two ESA Spacecraft

Eurockot Launch Services GmbH will launch the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite for the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2007 under a contract announced June 13. ESA’s Proba-2 technology-demonstration spacecraft will be launched aboard the same rocket as a secondary payload.

Bremen, Germany-based Eurockot, a joint venture between EADS Space and the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, operates the Russian Rockot vehicle, a converted missile, from the northern Russian Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The Rockot is used mainly for low-orbiting science and Earth observation satellites.

The next payload on Eurockot’s manifest is ESA’s Cryosat ice-monitoring satellite, scheduled for launch in September. Russia’s Monitor optical Earth observation satellite is slated to launch on a Rockot in August, but this mission will be managed by Khrunichev because Russian government payloads are not part of Eurockot’s commercial mandate.

South Korea’s Kompsat-2 optical Earth observation satellite, owned by the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, is scheduled for launch in December. In 2006, ESA’s Goce gravity field and ocean circulation research satellite is to be launched.

Eurockot Commercial Director Peter Freeborn said 2005 “will be crucial for us” because it marks the company’s first business with ESA, which is expected to be a key customer. Freeborn said Eurockot, which has launched five times since 2000 but did not conduct a launch in 2004, is covering its costs and expects to be profitable in 2007.

Freeborn said the company is weighing the addition to its current Rockot vehicle of a Khrunichev-built Breeze KS upper stage to provide more lift capacity into low Earth orbit. The current upper stage is the Breeze KM , also built by Khrunichev.

Russian Space Chief Says ILS Partnership is Strong

The Russian government has no regrets about the formation 10 years ago of a joint-venture company to sell U.S. Atlas and Russian Proton launches on the commercial market, according to Anatoly N. Perminov, director-general of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos .

McLean, Va.-based International Launch Services (ILS), majority-owned by Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., with a minority stake held by the Khrunichev organization of Moscow, has signed more than 100 contracts valued at more than $8 billion since its mid-1995 debut, according to ILS President Mark Albrecht.

ILS has had more success selling Khrunichev-built Proton vehicles than Atlas rockets to commercial clients, and ILS competitors have speculated that Khrunichev and Lockheed Martin eventually would part company.

But Perminov, speaking through an interpreter, told a press briefing June 14 that Roskosmos, which oversees Khrunichev and several dozen other Russian space-hardware companies, has no regrets about the way ILS was structured.

“We met with Lockheed Martin this week to discuss the current state of our relations and to talk about further development,” Perminov said. “We made the correct decisions 10 years ago, and we have managed to survive difficult times and to establish a market presence. There are good perspectives [for the business] and for new developments in the same direction.”

ILS and Khrunichev are now discussing adding the Khrunichev-designed Angara 3 rocket to the joint venture’s stable of offerings. Angara 3 is scheduled to make its first launch, from northern Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, in 2007.

Lockheed and EADS Space Sign Commercial ATV Deal

Lockheed Martin of the United States and EADS Space Transportation of Europe have signed what they describe as an exclusive agreement for the commercial sale of Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) space station supply tug.

The companies aim to take advantage of a gap in station-supply capacity expected because of the limited number of U.S. space shuttle flights to service the orbiting facility between now and 2010, when the shuttle is scheduled to be retired, and after the shuttle’s retirement.

The agreement was announced June 14 by John Karas, Lockheed Martin vice president for space exploration, in the presence of Herve Guillou, chief executive of EADS Space Transportation, the French-German subsidiary of EADS Space.

EADS Space Transportation is prime contractor to the European Space Agency for development of the ATV, whose first launch to the international space station is scheduled for early 2006. The vehicle, equipped with its own solar arrays and capable of autonomous operations in orbit for several months, is viewed as the basis for future space-exploration vehicles in Europe.

The European Space Agency has ordered six ATVs as part of a barter arrangement with NASA under which Europe’s contribution to the station’s maintenance and operation is paid through ATV missions instead of cash.

These flights are not part of the commercial accord.

In addition to carrying water, food and supplies to the station, the ATV is able to raise the station’s orbit, a function needed on a regular basis.

NASA currently plans to seek commercial space station cargo-supply services, with an initial bid solicitation for such services expected to be issued to industry late this year, Karas said.

EADS Space Transportation officials said they had the right to market the ATV outside Europe.

The current ATV mission profile calls for it to be carried into orbit atop a European Ariane 5 rocket. Officials said it is possible that alternative rockets could be used in the future to launch the vehicle.

Lockheed Martin and EADS Space Transportation also are part of a team bidding to build NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle. Alenia Spazio of Italy is part of a competing team led by Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

Karas said Lockheed Martin has already applied for the U.S. government authorizations, called technical assistance agreements, needed to permit Lockheed Martin to work with EADS on the Crew Exploration Vehicle design.

Doug Young, Northrop Grumman’s Crew Exploration Vehicle program manager, said his company believes the NASA program will have to incorporate non-U.S. companies, although the form and extent of such international participation remains unknown.

NASA Chief, Industry Exec Warn of ITAR’s Impacts

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and Lockheed Martin Chairman Robert J. Stevens said U.S. technology-export regulations are a threat to trans-Atlantic cooperation in space and defense programs.

Griffin’s remarks, during a June 13 press briefing, were perhaps the strongest public statements on the subject from a NASA administrator since communications satellites and other space technologies were brought under U.S. arms-export regulations in 1999. These International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) make it more difficult to share technical information on satellites and other space systems between U.S. and non-U.S. companies and agencies.

“I have personally participated” in programs that were hampered by ITAR, Griffin said. “ITAR is an impediment to international cooperation. It is an issue. As we say in the United States, [a resolution] is above my pay grade. But we need to look carefully at whether or not ITAR is seeking the greater good.”

Stevens’ remarks June 12 included warnings to European governments that the U.S. Congress could have a severe reaction to a European lifting of the arms embargo on China, and that this reaction could “take the form of restricting the flow of technology from the United States to Europe.”

On the U.S. side, Stevens said, technology-transfer restrictions and occasional “Buy American” initiatives in the Congress can act as an impediment to trans-Atlantic business that benefits defense forces and taxpayers. “We believe that reasonable safeguards of sensitive technology can be achieved to enable international arrangements at no risk to the security of our forces,” Stevens said.

Space Shuttle Discovery Returns to Launch Pad

NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery rolled back out to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., June 15 after being outfitted with a new external tank modified to minimize the buildup of potentially dangerous ice.

This was the second trip to the pad for the orbiter, now slated to launch in July in the first shuttle mission since the February 2003 Columbia disaster. The vehicle previously was on the pad undergoing preparations for the mission but had to be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy May 26 after NASA officials opted to swap out the fuel tank as a precautionary measure.

NASA officials plan to launch Discovery on the STS-114 mission no earlier than July 13. Shuttle officials hope that design changes to the external tank and other modifications to shuttle systems ordered in the wake of the fatal Columbia accident will increase safety.

The upcoming mission will test out the new safety measures and deliver supplies and hardware to the international space station, including the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, dubbed Raffaello.

According to an independent safety panel, there remains work to do before the mission. NASA has not yet met three of the 15 recommendations that Columbia investigators believed should be fulfilled before the space agency launches its next orbiter, the panel said recently.

That panel, the Return to Flight Task Force chaired by former astronauts Thomas Stafford and Richard Covey, said more analysis is needed on NASA’s efforts to eliminate harmful launch debris that could cause shuttle damage much like that seen during Columbia’s launch. Additional analysis into NASA’s orbiter hardening activities, as well as the orbiter inspection and tile repair abilities, also are needed, the task force said.

A flight readiness review for the upcoming mission is scheduled for June.

NASA Goddard to Use ISM Software Prediction Tool

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has purchased rights to use a predictive tool developed by Integrated Software Metrics (ISM) Inc. that detects errors in software code during mission development, enabling early and lower-cost repair, ISM announced June 13.

Goddard, located in Greenbelt, Md., will use the five-project license for the ISM Predictive tool suite in its Software Assurance Technology Center, which analyzes multiple software projects for Earth-orbiting spacecraft programs.

The ISM tool analyzes source code and uses metrics to predict where errors might emerge. ISM is based in Fairmont, W.V.

Swedish Firm to Develop Eco-Friendly Thrusters

The Swedish National Space Board has selected ECAPS to develop a satellite propulsion system to demonstrate the effectiveness of environmentally sensitive technology, Volvo Aero, co-founder of ECAPS, along with the Swedish Space Corp., said in a June 13 news release.

Under the new contract, ECAPS will build, test and operate the propulsion system for a Swedish satellite, which is scheduled for a 2008 launch.

This contract is a continuation of ECAPS’s development of environmentally benign propulsion systems and propellants under previous contracts with the Swedish National Space Board and the European Space Agency.

PanAmSat Craft to Provide Internet in New Caledonia

PanAmSat has entered into a long-term agreement with the telecommunications provider of New Caledonia to provide satellite-based Internet service across PanAmSat’s PAS-2 satellite-operating area in the Pacific.

The company, headquartered in Wilton, Conn., announced June 14 that the Office des Postes et Telecommunications New Caledonia will receive a direct connection to the U.S. Internet backbone via teleport uplink and downlink services as part of PanAmSat’s SPOTbytes package.

KDDI Network to Market Iridium Services in Japan

I ridium Satellite LLC, Bethesda, Md., announced June 13 that it will provide mobile phone and data services in Japan through its service provider KDDI Network and Solutions Inc., Tokyo.

The Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications approved the coverage through Iridium’s global satellite network, which provides mobile phone and data services to ships, aircraft and remote locations not covered by landline and wireless systems.

NASA Extends Boeing’s Space Station Contract

Boeing Co.’s international space station prime contract is worth $12.6 billion now that NASA has exercised two options extending the Chicago-based company’s work an additional year to late 2007. The two options are worth a combined $316 million and include delivery and continued engineering support of space station hardware.

NASA picked Boeing as the prime contractor for the U.S. segment of the international space station in 1993. The first U.S. element of the space station was launched in 1998.

Space station assembly has been on hold since the U.S. space shuttle fleet was grounded in the wake of the February 2003 Columbia accident. NASA expects to resume space shuttle assembly by the end of this year and complete the orbital outpost by 2010.

Citing Potential Conflict, FCC Nominee Declines Job

Christine Kurth, the Senate Commerce Committee’s deputy staff director, gave up the chance for a seat on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because either her husband would have had to stop working with telecommunications clients or she would have had to recuse herself from related issues. Kurth’s husband is a telecommunications consultant.

Kurth made her decision “after extensive discussions with the [Bush] administration,” according to a June 9 committee press release. She will remain with the committee, where she handles telecommunications policy issues.

“It’s unfortunate that she had to withdraw because she would have made an excellent commissioner but these type of issues arise from time to time in Washington and they are unavoidable,” said Scott Blake Harris, an attorney and former head of the FCC’s International Bureau.

SSC Invests in Maker of Nanosat Components

Swedish Space Corp. (SSC) purchased a 75-percent stake in a Swedish company that designs thrusters and electric-propulsion components for very small satellites.

SSC spokesman Tor-Arne Groenland said June 9 that the investment, for an undisclosed sum, in NanoSpace AB is part of SSC’s broader policy of extending its satellite-building experience into future microsatellite designs.

NanoSpace, a spinoff of Uppsala University’s Angstroem Laboratory, was founded by Lars Stenmark, who has been its sole shareholder and will retain a 25 percent interest in the company following the SSC purchase. Under technology-research contracts with the European Space Agency, NanoSpace has been designing micro-thrusters for satellites and a xenon feeder system for microsatellite-capable xenon-electric satellite propulsion systems.

SSC is prime contractor for Europe’s Smart-1 satellite, now orbiting the Moon, which carries a standard-size xenon propulsion unit built by Snecma of France using a Russian-provided design.

Groenland said the xenon feeder system for Smart-1, whose total launch mass was 367 kilograms, weighs about 10 kilograms. NanoSpace’s system, he said, will weigh about 100 grams. The applications include formation-flying telescopes that form a single instrument in orbit.

SSC forecasts that the NanoSpace technologies could generate revenues of about 6 million euros ($7.26 million) annually in a few years.

Raytheon Unit to Build Quick-Reaction Sensor

Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif., will build a satellite-based hyperspectral imaging sensor for military applications under a $14 million contract with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the company announced June 7.

The Advanced Responsive Tactically Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer, or ARTEMIS, will be built in a 15-month period to demonstrate rapid development processes, Raytheon said. The company said it will make extensive use of commercially available components on the program.

The U.S. military is interested in hyperspectral sensors because of their ability to break up reflected light into hundreds of spectral bands, potentially revealing objects and other information that might escape detection by traditional optical sensors.

“The intent of the program is to help demonstrate the feasibility of the responsive-space concept,” said Dave Shingledecker, vice president for strategic systems at Raytheon. “Satellites would be launched on demand when needed versus the current practice of maintaining an expensive fleet of long-life satellites in orbit.”

Raytheon spokesman Ron Colman said the ARTEMIS sensor is flight hardware that is slated for delivery Oct. 30, 2006, and will launch on an experimental spacecraft sometime thereafter.

France, Italy Consider Dual-Use Civil, Military Comsat

France and Italy have opened negotiations on potential development of a dual-use telecommunications satellite that would carry a mixed Ka- and X-band payload to provide low-security communications to armed forces and civil broadband access to rural populations in the two nations, according to European government officials.

The satellite, tentatively named Athena, would be launched in 2009 and would replace a civilian technology satellite project called Agora and a similar Italian program.

Athena could permit the French and Italian defense ministries to dispense with building two planned all-military spacecraft as part of their current programs to assure adequate capacity for their own needs and for the NATO alliance. France, Italy and Britain have won a NATO contract to provide military telecommunications using their own national satellites — the Syracuse 3A and 3B satellites in France, the Sicral 1 and 1b spacecraft in Italy and the Skynet 4 and 5 satellite systems in Britain.

Athena would replace the Syracuse 3C satellite and perhaps the Sicral 2 spacecraft. A single satellite project will be made easier by the planned July 1 merger of the space divisions of Alcatel of France and Finmeccanica of Italy, respectively the prime contractors for Syracuse 3 and Sicral.

The Athena project would allow the two nations to remove from their encrypted, all-military satellites traffic that carries little or no security classification. At the same time, it would permit the governments to purchase two-way broadband communications terminals using near-commercial specifications.

“The idea here is to permit us to keep the Syracuse and Sicral capacity for the highly classified, secure communications needs,” a French Defense Ministry official said. “With Athena, we could benefit from commercial specifications that would bring down [satellite communications] terminal costs to a few thousand euros apiece, if not less.”

India Approves Follow-on To Oceansat-1 Spacecraft

The Indian government has approved the construction and launch of one more ocean-monitoring satellite. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in Bangalore had sought approval for Oceansat-2, which would provide continuity of the data now being supplied by Oceansat-1, which was launched in May 1999 and has a payload that is not functioning.

The cabinet approved the project June 16 and sanctioned the budget of 1,291.5 million rupees ($30 million) for Oceansat-2, according to an ISRO press release.

It is to be built by the Bangalore-based ISRO Satellite Centre. Of the total amount sanctioned, ISRO can utilize $20 million for importing satellite components, the release said.

The satellite will have an ocean color monitor and a Ku-band scatterometer as main payloads. The ocean color monitor is an 8-band multi-spectral camera operating in the visible-near infrared spectral range. The scatterometer is microwave radar for measuring the ocean surface wind velocity.

Oceansat-2 is slated for launch in a near polar sun synchronous orbit of 720 kilometers by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle in the 2006-2007 time frame, ISRO spokesman S. Krishnamurthi told Space News in a June 17 telephone interview. “With the realization of the Oceansat-2 mission, India will have the wherewithal to cover many applications pertaining to ocean and meteorology,” he said.

The applications will include fisheries, coastal zone mapping, ocean process studies, inputs for operational numerical weather prediction and ocean state forecasting, he said. Along with Oceansat-1, it will help in tropical cyclone monitoring and prediction, he said.

At present Oceansat-1 is used to collect data from its ocean color monitor as its other payload, the multifrequency scanning microwave radiometer, is not functional.

Pluto Probe at Goddard for Pre-Launch Testing

The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., completed a week of structural testing on NASA’s New Horizons Pluto probe and shipped it June 13 to the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in nearby Greenbelt for pre-flight testing.

The piano-sized probe, scheduled for launch in January 2006 aboard a Lockheed Martin-built Atlas 5 rocket, will be subjected to a variety of simulated space conditions as well as undergo balance and alignment testing for three months at Goddard . It will then be shipped to its launching site at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

New Horizons, which was designed and built at APL, will be the fastest spacecraft to ever leave the solar system using the boost of the Atlas 5 rocket and an ATK Thiokol -built STAR-48B kick motor. It is slated to reach Pluto in the summer of 2015 .

Cassini Spacecraft Finds Possible Volcano on Titan

Images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft reveal a possible volcano on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, which may account for the trace amounts of methane in the moon’s atmosphere, NASA said in a June 8 news release.

Scientists using Cassini’s infrared camera peered through Titan’s hazy atmosphere to discover a circular feature measuring roughly 30 kilometers in diameter. Two elongated wings extending westward from the site with overlapping layers of materials indicate a series of flows similar to those seen with volcanoes on Earth and Venus.

Scientists speculate the structure is an ice volcano, a dome formed from upwelling icy plumes that release methane, which makes up about 2 to 3 percent of Titan’s mostly nitrogen atmosphere.

Scientists say material erupting from the structure could be a methane-water ice mixture that vaporizes before reaching the surface due to the structure’s internal heat.

Glowlink Wins U.S. Army Satellite Monitoring Award

Glowlink Communications Technology Inc. won a contract to assist U.S. efforts in Iraq by providing satellite monitoring and interference detection for U.S. Army Space Command’s 1st Battle Battalion , Glowlink announced June 6.

The services will utilize the Glowlink Model 1000 spectrum monitoring system to provide fast and accurate assessments of satellite traffic. The company would not disclose the value of the contract.

Glowlink, based in Los Altos, Calif., also provides monitoring for the U.S. Air Force’s Defense Satellite Communications System and planned Wideband Gapfiller system, the company said.

China TV Reaches Africa Using PAS-1R Satellite

Global satellite operator PanAmSat will expand delivery of China Central Television (CCTV) programming to Western Africa via the company’s PAS-1R satellite with Ku-band capacity, PanAmSat announced June 8.

CCTV, the national broadcaster of the People’s Republic of China, has been a PanAmSat customer since the company began operating in Asia with its PAS-2 satellite, launched in 1994. In 1995, the Mandarin-language Chinese station went international with PanAmSat’s PAS-3 satellite.

CCTV today is broadcast worldwide on a total of five PanAmSat satellites over the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. PanAmSat is headquartered in Wilton, Conn.

CALIPSO Observing Craft Arrives at Vandenberg

NASA’s CALIPSO environmental-monitoring satellite has arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., where it will be launched later this year aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket, the space agency announced June 9.

CALIPSO , which stands for Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations, will be launched together with the CloudSat spacecraft. Both are part of NASA’s so-called A-Train satellite constellation, providing scientists with information for climate research .

The CALIPSO satellite, a joint effort of NASA and the French space agency, CNES, was sent to Vandenberg May 19 from the Alcatel Space manufacturing facility in Cannes, France.

XM’s NavTraffic Service Hits two Florida Cities

XM Satellite Radio of Washingon announced June 13 that its NavTraffic service, which provides traffic information to drivers equipped with GPS-based car navigation systems, is available now in Orlando and Tampa, Fla.

The addition of the Florida cities brings to 20 the number of major U.S. metropolitan areas served by XM NavTraffic. The service, which debuted in 2004 , provides users with continuous traffic data on their GPS display units.

The service provides a color-coded flow map indicating how fast traffic is moving on the path from a driver’s starting point to the final destination.

Balloon-Based Telescope Launched From Sweden

Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Mexico together launched a balloon measuring 140 meters in diameter and 120 meters high from the Swedish Space Corp.’s Esrange, Sweden, facility June 11 to study star formation with an onboard sub-millimeter telescope.

During the mission, the balloon was to carry the 2,000-kilogram Balloon-borne Large Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope, or BLAST, for five to seven days at an altitude of 38 to 40 kilometers. The balloon and its payload were slated to be recovered at a preselected spot near the Alaska-Canada border.

The Swedish Space Corp. said in a news release that no balloon this size has been launched from Europe with such a heavy payload.

NASA sponsored the project with partners including the Canadian Space Agency, the Instituto Nacional de Astrofisica of Mexico and the U.K.’s Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

New DMSP Spacecraft Shipped to Launch Site

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver has delivered the U.S. Air Force’s next Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) weather satellite to Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in preparation for a December 2005 launch, the company announced June 13.

The DMSP F-17 Block 5D-3 spacecraft is able to accommodate larger sensor payloads than earlier generations of DMSP spacecraft.

The spacecraft also features a more capable power subsystem, an upgraded computer with more memory and increased battery capacity, according to a Lockheed Martin news release.

DMSP craft are used by the U.S. military to forecast weather conditions for future operations. The DMSP constellation currently consists of two spacecraft in near-polar orbits, the newest of which also is a Block 5D-3-series satellite that was launched in October 2003.

Earth-Like Planet Found In Distant Solar System

An astronomy team working at Keck Observatory in Hawaii has discovered the smallest planet outside the solar system yet detected with a low mass about 7.5 times that of Earth, indicating a rocky planet instead of a gas giant.

The astronomers announced June 13 that this marks the first discovery of a rocky planet orbiting a star not much different from the Sun: Gliese 876, an M dwarf star about 15 light years away in the direction of the constellation Aquarius. All other rocky planet findings have been around a pulsar — the remnants of an exploded star.

The newly discovered planet whips around its star in about two days and has surface temperatures ranging from 200 to 400 degrees Celsius. There also are two Jupiter-sized planets in the system.

Finding the planet by detecting the tiny wobble it induces in the star has given astronomers hope they will be able to discover even more Earth-like planets that may support life.

DataPath Buys Assets of Satellite Telecom Firm

DataPath Inc. announced June 13 that it has acquired the assets of M&C Systems Inc., a satellite communications provider based in Plano, Texas.

Separately, DataPath has obtained a $17.5 million contract with the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command in Fort Monmouth, N.J., to provide a total of 52 satellite communications trailers to enhance battlefield communications in remote areas.

These trailers will be based on the DataPath ET Model 3000 Portable system that is operable in C-, Ku-, Ka- and X-band frequencies .

The company also announced June 13 the opening of its new corporate headquarters in Duluth, Ga.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com