X-15 Test Pilot Scott Crossfield Dies in Plane Crash

Legendary test pilot Scott Crossfield, the first man to fly twice the speed of sound, died April 19 when the Cessna 210 single-engine airplane he was piloting crashed in the mountains of northeastern Georgia. The 84-year-old was en route home to Herndon, Va., from Montgomery, Ala., where he had given a talk at Maxwell Air Force Base. Severe thunderstorms were reported in the area where the crash occurred.

Crossfield secured his place in the record books in 1953 when he piloted a Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket to speeds of more than 2,112 kilometers per hour, or Mach 2. An aeronautical engineer by training, Crossfield flew most of the early experimental X-series research craft for NASA’s predecessor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

Although not an astronaut, Crossfield made important contributions to NASA’s spaceflight program as an X-15 test pilot in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Born in Berkeley, Calif., in 1921, Crossfield learned to fly at an early age, soloing by 15. He withdrew from the University of Washington in 1942 to join the U.S Navy, flying fighters and training aircraft, but never saw combat. Crossfield returned to the University of Washington and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1949 and a master’s degree the following year.

Following his career as a test pilot Crossfield went on to become an executive at Eastern Airlines and Hawker Siddley Aviation, but he never gave up flying. From 1977 to his retirement in 1993, he served as a technical consultant to the House Science Committee. Professional Staffer Richard Obermann, who worked with Crossfield on the committee in the early 1990s, said Crossfield had “an infectious enthusiasm for all things aeronautical.”

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said Crossfield is remembered “not only as one of the greatest pilots who ever flew, but as an expert aeronautical engineer, aerodynamicist and designer who made significant contributions to the design and development of the X-15 research aircraft and to systems test, reliability engineering, and quality assurance for the Apollo command and service modules and Saturn V second stage.”

Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats called Crossfield “a pioneer and a legend in the world of test flight and spaceflight.”

Crossfield is survived by his wife, Alice, six children and two grandchildren.

ILS Atlas 5 Launches Astra 1KR for SES Global

SES Global’s Astra 1KR direct-broadcast television satellite was successfully orbited April 20 aboard an International Launch Services (ILS) Atlas 5 vehicle in the 79th consecutive success for the Atlas rocket series, SES Global and ILS announced.

Astra 1KR, built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa., will be placed into Luxembourg-based SES Global’s orbital position at 19.2 degrees East longitude , the company’s prime European direct-to-home orbital slot. It will replace the Astra 1B and 1C satellites currently at that location and join seven other satellites operating there.

Astra 1KR weighed 4,331 kilograms at launch and is designed to provide 15 years of operations once commercial service starts the second week of June. It is equipped with 32 Ku-band transponders.

The launch continued the successful streak of the Atlas family of launch vehicles, which through several versions and upgrades has not failed since 1993. The launch was also the 100th performed by the U.S.-Russian International Launch Services, which is responsible for commercial sales of the Russian Proton launch vehicle as well as Atlas launches.

JAXA Declares March 30 Scramjet Test a Failure

A flight experiment designed to assess scramjet technology for possible use in space transportation systems failed March 30 when the scramjet’s nose cone failed to jettison, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced April 19.

That test, the latest in a series of flights under a program dubbed HyShot, featured a scramjet engine developed by JAXA that was launched atop a sounding rocket from Australia’s Woomera range. The HyShot scramjet test program is managed by the University of Queensland in Australia.

Scramjet — shorthand for supersonic combustion ramjet — engines operate at extremely high speeds and draw oxygen directly from the atmosphere. The technology is considered promising for future launch systems. Today’s rockets must carry an oxidizer whose weight cuts substantially into their payload-carrying capacity.

The University of Queensland will lead an investigation into the failure as part of its contract with JAXA, the Japanese agency said. JAXA also intends to form its own investigation team to “smoothly and timely acquire information from the [university] and study the measures for the future,” the news release said.

A March 25 HyShot flight test featuring a British-supplied scramjet engine was successful.

QuetzSat-EchoStar Plan Approved by the FCC

Mexico’s start-up satellite operator, QuetzSat, has secured final U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval to take title of the EchoStar 4 satellite and operate it at Mexico’s 77 degrees west longitude orbital slot. U.S. direct-broadcast television supplier EchoStar Communications Corp. will be QuetzSat’s principal customer and has received FCC permission to provide satellite television in the United States from the QuetzSat position.

The FCC’s decision, announced April 19, comes more than eight months after EchoStar 4 was moved from its previous position into the Mexican slot to meet a Mexican regulatory deadline. QuetzSat is 69-percent owned by affiliates of SES Global of Luxembourg. EchoStar 4 has suffered in-orbit component failures and is not fully operational.

With EchoStar as an anchor customer, SES and QuetzSat expect to order a new satellite in the coming months. QuetzSat’s license requires the company to reserve some capacity for the Mexican government for public safety and rural telecommunications services.

The FCC said EchoStar’s transfer-of-title proposal elicited no opposition. EchoStar competitor DirecTV Group said it would not object to the maneuver since the DirecTV satellite — located nearby at 72.5 degrees west longitude — also cannot operate at full capacity, meaning the two spacecraft are unable to interfere with each other. DirecTV said it generally opposes having two direct-broadcast satellites located so close to each other.

ATK Gets $28.6 Million CLV Contract Extension

NASA awarded ATK Launch Systems Group a $28.6 million contract extension to continue development work on the first stage of the agency’s planned Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV), the Brigham City, Utah-based company announced April 20.

The work started last year and will continue through September under the contract extension.

ATK Launch Systems builds the giant solid-rocket boosters used on the space shuttle, and the Crew Launch Vehicle will utilize a single but more powerful variant of this booster as its first stage. NASA plans to begin testing the Crew Launch Vehicle around the end of the decade in preparation for conducting the first manned launch of its new crew capsule, dubbed the Crew Exploration Vehicle, by no later than 2014.

A multiyear contract covering ATK Launch Systems’ role in helping NASA develop and test the Crew Launch Vehicle is expected once the U.S. space agency completes a system requirements review of the launcher in September.

GeoEye Partner Signs New Imagery Deal with the EC

Dulles, Va.-based GeoEye will provide $2.15 million worth of imagery to the European Commission through its partner European Space Imaging (EUSI) of Munich, Germany.

The imagery will be collected over the next four years by the company’s OrbView-3 satellite, according to an April 19 press release from GeoEye. EUSI already has a contract with the European Commission to supply imagery from GeoEye’s IKONOS satellite over the next three years, the release said.

GeoEye will collect imagery over 24 specific European sites to support the commission’s agricultural controls, verifying farmers’ claims for subsidies. The imagery will also be used in national security-related projects.

European Weather Satellite Arrives at Launch Site

Europe’s Metop-A polar-orbiting meteorological satellite arrived at the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan April 18 in preparation for a July 17 launch aboard a Soyuz ST-Fregat vehicle, the Eumetsat weather-satellite organization announced. The launch , originally set for June 30, was rescheduled to permit verifications of the Metop ground facilities, according to European government officials.

Metop-A was transported to the launch site from prime contractor EADS Astrium’s Toulouse, France, production facility aboard an Antonov An-124 cargo jet. It will be the first of three Metop satellites to be launched as part of a U.S.-European joint program to provide global weather data from polar low Earth orbit.

Citing Lack of Data, FCC Rebuffs DigitalGlobe Claim

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has rejected DigitalGlobe’s request for reimbursement of $3 million of the $5 million bond it posted as part of the licensing process for its WorldView 1 optical Earth observation satellite, saying the Longmont, Colo., company must provide more information before a refund will be considered.

In an April 14 decision, the FCC said DigitalGlobe must provide detailed information concerning its satellite construction contract, including milestone construction dates and financial payments.

DigitalGlobe posted its $5 million bond in October 2005. Under the FCC bond procedures, the company is entitled to a refund of 20 percent of the bond payment as it passes each of five satellite-delivery milestones, starting with the signing of a binding construction contract and ending with the satellite being placed into service.

On Feb. 21, DigitalGlobe said it had passed the first three milestones, including a firm construction contract with Ball Aerospace, completion of a system critical design review and the actual start of satellite manufacturing. But the company said in its refund request that “the entire contract is considered … to be confidential,” and did not provide details on key construction dates and financial commitments.

“Without this information, we cannot determine whether DigitalGlobe’s contract is binding and non-contingent, and therefore we cannot find that DigitalGlobe” has met even the first bond-reimbursement milestone, the FCC said in its response. The commission said DigitalGlobe is free to refile its request with the required information.

Alcatel Alenia To Supply More Delta 2 Hardware

Alcatel Alenia Space has received a follow-on contract from Boeing to build assemblies for the second stage of Boeing’s Delta 2 rocket, Alcatel Alenia Space announced April 18.

Under the contract, valued at $11 million, Alcatel Alenia Space’s Turin, Italy, plant will build 12 Delta 2 second-stage assemblies for delivery to Boeing between 2007 and 2009. As Alenia Spazio, the company had won an initial contract for 21 second-stage assemblies in 2001. Alenia Spazio was merged with Alcatel Space to form Alcatel Alenia Space in July 2005.

Satellite Imaging Firm To Use Orbit Logic Planning Software

Orbit Logic of Greenbelt, Md., will upgrade the satellite imagery-collection planning system for Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe under a new contract.

The contract is Orbit Logic’s first with DigitalGlobe, though it has provided a similar system to DigitalGlobe competitor GeoEye of Dulles, Va., according to Orbit Logic spokesman Alex Herz.

The planning system, Herz said, is a software program that prioritizes DigitalGlobe’s imagery orders while taking into account variables such as cloud cover and other limitations.

“The planning system comes up with a schedule to collect the images that is going to give you the most possible value within the spacecraft’s constraints,” Herz said.

The upgrade will help DigitalGlobe when its new WorldView 1 and WorldView 2 satellites come on line, which will increase the company’s collection capacity for imagery tenfold, according to an April 17 Orbit Logic press release.

Orbit Logic is not disclosing the dollar amount of the contract, Herz said.

Ontario Government Orders QuickBird Imagery From MDA

MDA’s Geospatial Services division is providing 1.9 million Canadian dollars ($1.65 million) worth of high-resolution QuickBird satellite data to the government of Ontario.

The imagery will be used to support various applications, including source-water protection, land classification, change detection and emergency planning, according to an April 14 press release from MDA.

The data will be collected over a two- to three-year period over 120,000 square kilometers of land in Ontario, the release said.

The QuickBird satellite is owned and operated by DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo. MDA of Richmond, British Columbia, is a licensed reseller of QuickBird imagery.

ATK Unit Nabs Contract For Methane-Fueled Engine

ATK GASL won a NASA contract worth up to $10.3 million to design, develop, manufacture and test a pressure-fed bipropellant rocket engine that burns liquid-oxygen and liquid-methane propellants and generates 7,500 pounds of constant thrust, NASA said in an April 18 press release.

ISRO Production Capacity Expands With New Facility

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has opened a new satellite integration and test facility in Bangalore that will dramatically expand its annual production capacity in response to growing domestic and international demand.

The 3 billion rupee ($66 million) Satellite Integration and Testing Establishment is collocated with ISRO’s Satellite Centre and officially opened for business April 17, according to S. Krishnamurthy, a spokesman for the agency. It includes an antenna test facility, a thermal vacuum test chamber and an assembly facility, according to Krishnamurthy. Work on administrative buildings and instrument development and test facilities is continuing, he said.

In a press release dated April 18 , ISRO said “it has become imperative to increase the size, sophistication and launch frequency” of satellites for both domestic use and international customers.

Krishnamurthy said ISRO’s goal is to be able to have six satellites under construction simultaneously: two for communications, two for remote sensing and two for foreign clients. ISRO’s previous production capacity was two satellites.

Antrix Corp. of Bangalore, the commercial arm of ISRO, entered into a co-production arrangement last year with EADS Astrium of Europe for small- to medium-sized telecommunications satellites. The joint venture is under contract to build a satellite for Eutelsat of Paris.

Krishnamurthy said additional orders are in the pipeline, but declined to be specific.

“Even without the foreign orders our hands are full,” Krishnamurthy said.

ISRO’s Insat-4B telecommunications satellite, slated to launch in 2007 aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket, is now undergoing assembly and integration at the facility, Krishnamurthy said. Construction on the facility began three years ago, he said.

Spacehab Joins Bid for NASA Management Job

Houston-based Spacehab, at risk of being de-listed from the NASDAQ stock exchange, announced April 20 that it has signed on as a subcontractor to Re/De Critique in its bid to land a NASA resource management contract worth up to $17 million over the next five years.

NASA’s Engineering Directorate released a request for proposals, due in May, for an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity resource management contract it expects to award in September.

Re/De is a Houston-based small, disadvantaged business that provides organizational support services to U.S. government agencies.

Computer Model Simulates Merger of Black Holes

NASA scientists have created a computer model that simulates the effects when two black holes merge — marking the first time this highly complicated phenomenon has been successfully modeled on a supercomputer, according to an April 18 NASA news release.

According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the merging of two black holes sends ripples through space as gravitational waves emerge from the collision at light speed. These waves are ripples in space and time — a four-dimensional concept Einstein coined spacetime — and cause space and time to shift, density to become infinite and time to even come to a standstill.

The combination of these variables has caused past computer simulations to crash, but scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., have translated Einstein’s math into code that computers can comprehend. Simulations based on the model were performed on the Columbia supercomputer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Gravitational waves have never been directly observed since they hardly interact with matter, but scientists hope to detect these subtle waves using the National Science Foundation’s ground-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and the proposed Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, a joint NASA-European Space Agency venture.

Scientists detailed their research on the new simulations in the March 26 issue of Physical Review Letters.

SAIC, IBM Join Lockheed Bid For Weather Satellites

Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) and IBM Business Consulting Services have joined Lockheed Martin’s project team competing for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) weather satellite program, Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Md., announced April 17.

SAIC will help develop calibration algorithms for the suite of sensors on the satellites, which will track storms and other weather conditions from orbital perches overlooking both U.S. coasts. The San Diego-based company also will assist in environmental data analysis .

IBM of White Plains, N.Y., will support Lockheed Martin in upgrading GOES data infrastructure into a more open architecture design for increased flexibility and responsiveness.

Space Frontier Foundation Promotes Teachers in Space

The Space Frontier Foundation has launched a new program that could provide educators with regular flight opportunities aboard vehicles being designed to take paying customers to the edge of space, the foundation announced April 11.

With companies such as XCOR Aerospace, Rocketplane Ltd. and Scaled Composites planning commercial suborbital passenger vehicles , the foundation hopes the program will encourage businesses to finance rides for teachers as the prices level off in the next few years, according to the release.

“[I]n less than five years, tickets to fly to the edge of space should be available in the $100,000 to $200,000 range,” Rick Tumlinson, president of the Space Frontier Foundation, said in the news release. “By soliciting businesses to pay for a number of tickets for teachers, we are ensuring that flights for teachers become a priority.”

The Space Frontier Foundation of Nyack, N.Y., hopes the experience teachers share in the classroom from the flight will attract younger generations to careers in engineering, science and technology.

AIA Adds New Wrinkle to Team America Competition

The top 100 teams in the Team America Rocketry Challenge will face off May 20 to launch their model rockets to an altitude of 244 meters for an exact flight time of 45 seconds — the first time the challenge has had both elevation and duration criteria.

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a sponsor of the event, announced April 14 that the 100 teams will compete at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va., to launch their model rockets with a payload of one raw egg that must return safely to Earth. Nearly 678 teams from 47 states and Washington, took part in the qualifying round of the competition, now in its third year.

The winning teams share a prize pool of more than $60,000 in savings bonds and cash. Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., another sponsor of the event, will provide the winning members a trip to the Farnborough International Air Show near London in July.

Raytheon Breaks Ground on New Facility in Huntsville

Construction has begun on Raytheon Co.’s new 13,000-square-meter facility in Huntsville, Ala., that will house the company’s engineering, management and business-development services in the area, Raytheon announced April 13.

The three-story building will be located in Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park. Fuqua and Partners of Huntsville is the building’s design architect, and Turner Universal, also of Huntsville, will handle construction.

The new facility will house 500 Raytheon employees and be managed by Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems unit. It is planned to open in early 2007.

UAV Weapon Controlled From Apache Helicopter

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis has demonstrated for the first time the ability to control the weapon payload of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from the cockpit of an AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter, the company announced April 12.

During the February test, the Apache helicopter was able to control the sensors and weapons of an A/MH-6 unmanned aircraft while it was several kilometers away, according to a company press release. The control was exercised through an existing Apache co-pilot station without any hardware modifications, according to the release.

EMS Satcom To Supply EADS W ith High-Speed Terminals

EMS Satcom, an Ottawa-based division of EMS Technologies Inc., has been selected to provide high-speed satellite terminals to the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. as part of a military helicopter upgrade program.

The terminals will provide tactical video transmission, videoconferencing and high-speed Internet connectivity to German Army CH53 helicopters, according to an April 10 EMS Technologies press release.

Northrop Grumman Delivers Sixth RQ-4 UAV to Air Force

Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles delivered April 5 the sixth RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to the U.S. Air Force, with a seventh scheduled to arrive sometime this summer, the company announced April 12.

The Global Hawk UAV can fly at an altitude of 18,300 meters for more than 35 hours and provide image-based intelligence on nearly 104,000 square kilometers of terrain.

Global Hawks have flown over 5,500 combat hours in 250 missions in the U.S. war on terrorism, according to the news release.

Asgard, Hamilton Sundstrand Developing Lunar EVA Gear

Asgard Holdings Inc.’s SuperCritical Thermal Systems subsidiary is teaming up with Hamilton Sundstrand Space Systems of Windsor Locks, Conn., to develop hardware for NASA’s Advanced Space Oxygen System (ASOS), which is intended for extravehicular activity (EVA) on the Moon and Mars, Asgard of Escondido, Calif., announced April 17.

A prototype version of the team’s compact, lightweight liquid-oxygen container , called a Dewar, is scheduled to be delivered sometime in May to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the ASOS project is being managed.

Advanced EHF Hardware Passes Key Structural Test

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., has completed a critical test of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (EHF) satellite structure to ensure that vibrations experienced during launch and other maneuvers will not affect the military communications payload, the company announced April 19.

The structural test, known as a modal survey, was conducted at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale facilities. The Advanced EHF spacecraft will provide secure military communications at higher data rates than the current Milstar communications satellites, facilitating the transmission of video, battlefield maps and targeting data.

The first Advanced EHF spacecraft soon will be shipped to Alliant Techsystems Inc. in Corona, Calif., for final painting before being sent to Lockheed’s Mississippi Space and Technology Center for propulsion-subsystem integration.

Lockheed Martin is under contract to provide three Advanced EHF spacecraft to the U.S. Defense Department, with the first spacecraft on track for an April 2008 launch.

Honeywell Unit To Provide Support Services to NASA

Honeywell Technology Solutions, Columbia, Md., will provide safety and mission-assurance services to various NASA programs and projects under a five-year contract worth $50 million, NASA announced April 19.

In addition to safety and mission-assurance oversight, Honeywell also will support risk-mitigation plans, technical analyses and other related services. The contract will be managed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com