NASA Rules Out Fix for Shuttle Ice Frost Ramp

The Space Shuttle Discovery will launch no earlier than July 1 and without extra modifications to its already redesigned external fuel tank, NASA officials said April 28.

That means the space agency’s second test flight since the 2003 Columbia accident will not fly with modified, foam-covered ice frost ramps that cover the brackets between vital external tank plumbing lines and its orange exterior.

“It is not without risk to fly these ice frost ramps as they exist,” said NASA space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale during a April 28 press briefing. “[But] it is more appropriate to make one change at a time, to take care of the biggest problem that we have.”

JAXA To Fund First Quasi-Zenith Spacecraft

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will fund the first of three planned satellites intended to provide enhanced navigation and communications services throughout the country under an agreement between government and industry groups.

The Quasi Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), a government-commercial partnership venture, has been floundering amid a dispute over which Japanese ministry would provide initial funding for the project. The April 14 agreement between Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the government and an industry consortium that will help fund and operate the QZSS system, breaks the impasse, according to Japanese government officials.

The first QZSS satellite will be built by Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and launched during the first quarter of 2009 to demonstrate the enhanced positioning services, which would be sold commercially. The government and the industry consortium created to operate the QZSS system, Advanced Space Business Corp., have yet to agree on their respective funding shares for the second and third QZSS satellites.

China Long March Lofts Remote Sensing Satellite

China launched a remote sensing satellite April 27, and plans to launch several communications and scientific satellites later this year, according to Xinhua, the country’s official news agency.

The satellite, known as Remote Sensing Satellite No. 1, was launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the Shanxi Province in North China atop a Long March 4-B carrier rocket.

Chinese Appear Briefly At Exploration Workshop

Chinese space officials skipped out early on an invitation-only exploration workshop sponsored by NASA.

Approximately 180 people from industry, academia and government participated in the four-day event held April 25-28 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. Among them were 60 international participants representing 12 countries. But none of the half-dozen China National Space Administration officials that NASA invited stayed past the workshop’s opening day, according to participants. “Apparently they were not at the individual breakout sessions,” NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said. “I don’t know the reasons why. It was nothing on our part.”

Workshop participants were divided into seven breakout groups to spend the rest of the week brainstorming ideas for what to do on the surface of the Moon. Dale called the workshop “an incredibly productive week with exactly what we wanted ‑‑‑‑ free-flowing dialogue with the opportunity for creative and out-of-the-box thinking.”

Dale said the dialogue begun in Washington would continue at a space exploration workshop the European and Italian space agencies are holding in May, as well as additional venues throughout the year.

“As you know 2005 was the year in which we defined our exploration architecture,” Dale said, “and 2006 is the year we plan to develop a global exploration strategy for what we do on the surface of the Moon and also the preliminary planning for Mars and other destinations.”

DoD Says JTRS Changes Should Save $2 Billion

In a move that the Department of Defense says will save the government around $2 billion, the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program has been restructured.

The JTRS will provide troops with programmable radios designed to be upgraded over a wireless information network.

Changes to the program had been called for in the Feb. 6 Quadrennial Defense Review report, as well as in a June 2005 report from the Government Accountability Office. Both documents referenced schedule and cost overruns associated with the program.

Under the new structure, the clusters of radios, which were each treated as separate programs, will be shifted to four centrally managed domain program management offices, according to an April 17 release from the Joint Program Executive Office for the JTRS. The project’s scheduling also will be changed so that development moves forward in incremental phases.

Alcatel To Begin Deploying Hybrid Mobile-TV System

France’s Industrial Innovation Agency (AII) awarded an Alcatel-led consortium 38 million euros ($47 million) in grants and loans April 25 to begin deployment of a hybrid satellite-terrestrial mobile-television system using S-band spectrum.

The Alcatel-led project, called Unlimited Mobile TV, or TVMSL in is French acronym, will permit Alcatel and its partners to provide television service to cellular telephones and other mobile devices throughout France.

AII agreed to provide 17 million euros in grants and 21 million euros in reimbursable loans mainly because it believes the TVMSL project will spread throughout Europe and beyond.

The Alcatel project is similar to a system that has won substantial market success in South Korea.

Arianespace Planning 5 More Launches in 2006

The Arianespace launch-services consortium expects to conduct six Ariane 5 launches in 2006, meaning five more by the end of the year, Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Jean-Yves Le Gall said. The Evry, France-based company completed its first launch for the year in March.

Arianespace reported April 25 a net profit of 6.3 million euros ($7.9 million) on revenues of 1.068 billion euros in 2005. The company conducted five launches of its heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket in 2005 and subcontracted one launch to Starsem S.A., a French-Russian joint venture that markets Russia’s Soyuz rocket.

Maguire Picked To Lead Lockheed Space Systems

Joanne M. Maguire will take over as vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems July 1, succeeding G. Thomas Marsh, who is retiring, the company announced April 28. Maguire, 52, who has been Marsh’s deputy since 2003, will report directly to Robert J. Stevens, Lockheed Martin’s chairman, president and chief executive officer.

Eutelsat Raises Forecast For Revenue in 2006

Satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat said April 28 that broadcasts of the Turin Olympics in February and the use of Eutelsat spacecraft by government agencies helped boost revenues by 5 percent for the nine months ending March 31. The Paris-based company also raised its full-year revenue outlook for the year. Revenues for the nine-month period totaled 590 million euros ($735.5 million), with the company’s core video business rising by 2.2 percent, to 392.2 million euros. Satellite-lease revenues from government customers helped increase Eutelsat’s Multiusage business by 11.2 percent, to 51.3 million euros, for the nine-month period.

Eutelsat, which sells capacity on 23 satellites, successfully launched its Hot Bird 7A direct-broadcast television spacecraft in March, an event that Eutelsat said gives the company confidence that revenues for its fiscal year, which ends June 30, will rise by 3.5 percent from last year. That compares to earlier company forecasts of a 2.5-percent increase. Eutelsat reported fiscal year 2005 revenues of 750 million euros.

Chilton To Get 4th Star To Lead Space Command

The U.S. Defense Department has tapped Lt. Gen. Kevin “Chilly” Chilton to replace Gen. Lance W. Lord, who retired April 1, as commander of Air Force Space Command, according to a Pentagon document.

If confirmed by the Senate, Chilton will receive a promotion to general, getting a fourth star that comes with commanding the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based command, where Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz has been serving as acting commander since Lord retired.

Chilton currently serves as commander of the 8th Air Force under Air Combat Command. He also is commander of U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space and Global Strike.

Army Gets Upgraded Air Surveillance Radar

ThalesRaytheonSystems delivered the first in an upgraded generation of air surveillance radar sensors to the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery School at Fort Bliss, Texas, April 25, according to a Raytheon news release.

The improved Sentinel radar systems, which are mobile and ground-based, can detect targets at longer distances, find small targets more easily in cluttered environments and better classify targets, according to the news release. The military uses the Sentinel to detect and track targets including helicopters, high-speed aircraft and cruise missiles.

ThalesRaytheonSystems is a joint venture between the Thales Group of Massy, France, and Raytheon of Fullerton, Calif.

XTar’s 2nd Space Component Declared Operational

The second space component for Xtar LLC’s X-band satellite communications service has been declared operational, according to an April 24 company news release.

The Xtar-LANT payload was launched on the Spainsat spacecraft aboard an Ariane 5 rocket on March 11.

The company, which is marketing its services to the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security, declared its first spacecraft operational in April 2005.

Boeing Gets $19.3 Million JTRS Contract Extension

The U.S. Air Force has given Boeing a $19.3 million extension of its work on a contract for the pre-development phase of the air and maritime platforms for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS).

The Air Force is expected to award contracts for the design and development phase of the program by the end of 2006, according to an April 24 Boeing press release.

The goal of the Airborne and Maritime/Fixed Station Joint Tactical Radio System program is to provide the Defense Department with a communication system with “secure Internet-like capabilities and networking …” including real-time text, voice, audio and video.

Boeing’s team includes Rockwell Collins, Harris, L-3 Communications, BBN Technologies, Northrop Grumman and Milcom Systems Corp.

NASA Takes Delivery of Mars Lander Robotic Arm

Alliance Spacesystems Inc. of Pasadena, Calif., has completed and delivered a robotic arm that will be used by NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander to dig beneath the red planet’s polar crust in search of frozen water, the company announced April 21.

The 2.3-meter-long arm “works like a mini-backhoe and is designed to dig a two-foot (60-centimeter) deep trench in Mars’ north-polar region,” Rene Fradet, president and chief executive of Alliance Spacesystems, said in the news release. NASA hopes the arm will help uncover a layer of water ice near the surface for analysis.

The arm, made of titanium and aluminum, will deliver soil samples to a suite of scientific instruments aboard the lander for study.

The instrument was delivered to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena one month earlier than scheduled for integration.

NASA’s Mars Phoenix lander is scheduled to launch in August 2007 and make a soft, parachute-aided landing on Mars’ northern plains some time in 2008.

Alc atel Alenia, Orbital Join Forces on AMC-21

Alcatel Alenia Space and Orbital Sciences Corp. will build the AMC-21 telecommunications satellite for SES Americom under a contract announced April 24.

The contract is the first in which the two competitors will be joining forces, with Alcatel Alenia Space acting as prime contractor and payload supplier, and Orbital providing its Star-2 satellite platform. Orbital also will be responsible for the satellite’s integration and test.

Scheduled for launch in mid-2008, AMC-21 will weigh about 2,500 kilograms at launch. It will provide television broadcasts for the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service from geostationary orbit at 125 degrees west longitude using 24 Ku-band transponders. The satellite is designed to operate for 16 years.

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences has established a solid position in the commercial satellite market with its Star-2 platform for those who want smaller, less-expensive spacecraft. Alcatel Alenia, based in Cannes, France, has no equivalent platform of its own, and its partnership with NPO PM, in which the Russian company provides the platform, is limited to satellites to be launched on Russia’s large Proton rocket .

Blaise Jaeger, vice president for the telecommunications business unit of Alcatel Alenia Space, said April 25 that Alcatel approached Orbital once it became clear that SES Americom wanted a satellite that was smaller than Alcatel Alenia’s lowest-power model. Jaeger said Alcatel has often teamed with other satellite builders and that the partnership with Orbital Sciences “is a win-win situation for all three companies — Orbital, SES Americom and ourselves.”

Ali Atia, head of Orbital Sciences’ communications satellite division, said in an April 25 statement that the company “looks forward to deepening our relationships [with Alcatel Alenia and SES Americom] in the coming months and years.”

Shin Signs Deal To Bring IPSTAR Service to China

Shin Satellite of Thailand has concluded a cooperation agreement with China Satellite Communications Corp., known as China Satcom, to introduce Shin’s IPSTAR/Thaicom 4 broadband satellite services to corporate customers in China, Shin announced April 24.

China Satcom is a Chinese government-owned enterprise whose affiliates include China Telecommunications Broadband Satellite Corp., China Space Mobile Satellite Communication Co. and China Telecom (Hong Kong) Chinasat Corp.

IPSTAR/Thaicom 4 was launched in mid-2005 and is designed to provide broadband links to rural areas across Asia.

Meanwhile, Shin’s Thaicom 5 telecommunications satellite, built by Alcatel Alenia Space, arrived at the Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana April 22 to prepare for a late-May launch aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket. Thaicom 4 will be launched with the larger Satmex 6 telecommunications satellite owned by Satmex of Mexico. Thaicom 5 will replace the Thaicom 1 and Thaicom 2 satellites, which are nearing the end of their service lives.

Italy Fire Brigade Orders Telespazio Mobile Network

Telespazio S.p.A. of Rome will manufacture and operate a mobile satellite communications network for Italy’s Fire Brigade in an expansion of an earlier contract that was signed to provide similar services during the Turin Winter Olympics, Telespazio announced April 21.

Financial terms were not disclosed. Under the contract, Telespazio will outfit a fleet of emergency vehicles with gear to permit broadband links with an operations center owned by the Italian Interior Ministry. The system will use the SkyplexNet technology on board Eutelsat’s Hot Bird 6 direct-broadcast satellite.

Giuseppe Veredice, Telespazio’s chief executive officer, said the contract “confirms our commitment to leveraging new technologies for developing services and applications that meet the needs of public institutions.”

Fuel Obstruction Cited in Proton M Rocket Failure

The Feb. 28 failure of an International Launch Services Proton M rocket carrying the Arabsat 4A telecommunications satellite likely was caused by an unidentified “foreign article” that blocked the flow of oxidizer fuel to the vehicle’s hydraulic pump, causing a premature shutdown of its Breeze M upper stage, according to a Russian government board of inquiry.

Neither the Russian government investigation nor a parallel investigation being carried out by McLean, Va.-based International Launch Services (ILS) has been able to identify exactly what blocked the fuel line. But the investigations have concluded that corrective action to prevent a recurrence will be implemented by late May, and that Proton M launches could resume by July, according to ILS.

The Russian space agency, Roskosmos, said in an April 25 statement that additional quality-control measures will be applied to prevent a repeat of what it called a one-time manufacturing defect.

ILS spokeswoman Michelle Lyle said April 25 that the problem with the Breeze M upper stage appears unrelated to previous failures of the Block DM upper stage, which has since been replaced on Proton rockets operated for ILS. ILS competitor Sea Launch LLC continues to use the Block DM stage, as does the Russian government for its own launches.

Eutelsat S.A. of Paris had been scheduled to launch its Hot Bird 8 direct-broadcast satellite on the next Proton M vehicle.

In a statement issued April 25, Eutelsat said the conclusions of the Russian government review “are encouraging as they appear to imply a return to flight earlier rather than later. However, Eutelsat will wait for the formal outcome of the ILS failure review board and the opportunity to see the data backing up the conclusions by the Russian commission.”

The principal providers of commercial launches of telecommunications satellites are all reporting nearly full manifests. Securing a launch slot on the Atlas or Proton vehicles operated by ILS, the Zenit 3SL vehicle operated by Sea Launch LLC or the European Arianespace consortium’s Ariane 5 ECA vehicle in 2006 or 2007 will be difficult, according to industry officials.

Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Jean-Yves Le Gall said in an April 25 interview that the company had “perhaps one or two” slots in 2007 available, depending on when satellites currently booked actually arrive at the launch site.

Contestants Line Up for Lunar Excavation Prizes

The California Space Education and Workforce Institute has received over 120 notices of interest in participating in a competition to build a prototype lunar-surface digging device, according to the California Space Authority, which is co-hosting the event.

Teams competing in the Regolith Excavation Challenge must design lightweight, fast and energy-efficient devices to collect as much simulated regolith — the term used for lunar soil — as they can in 30 minutes, the California Space Authority said in an April 18 press release.

NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, which sponsors competitions to stimulate technical innovations for space exploration from outside the traditional contractor community, is providing cash prizes for the first, second and third place contestants of $125,000, $75,000 and $50,000, respectively.

The contest, to be held May 12, 2007, at the Santa Maria Fairpark, limits the regolith excavation systems to 30 watts of power . By comparison, the average household vacuum cleaner uses between 1,000 and 1,440 watts of power, according to the news release.

“The level of enthusiasm coming from students, scientists, engineers, technicians and technology enthusiasts regarding the [challenge] to date has been all but overwhelming,” Andrea Seastrand, executive director of the California Space Authority, said in the release.

Comsat Taps Telstar 14 For Brazil VSAT Network

Comsat International of McLean, Va., will lease Ku-band capacity aboard Loral Skynet do Brasil’s Estrela do Sul 1 (Telstar 14) satellite to provide very small aperture terminal (VSAT) network services for more than 6,000 lottery and banking outlets across Brazil, Loral Skynet of Bedminster, N.J., announced April 20.

Comsat subsidiary Vicom will operate the network for Caixa Economica Federal, Brazil’s state-owned financial institution. The network will offer broadband services to thousands of Caixa locations in Brazil in support of lottery transactions and other banking services.

No financial details about the leasing agreement were disclosed.