Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 15 May 2006
01:35 pm ET


Harris To Provide Army With Encryption Service

Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., will provide an encryption service for one of the Army’s situational awareness programs as part of a deal the company signed with Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman, the lead system integrator on the program.

The contract is worth $5 million for the first year, with a potential value of $70 million over the five-year life of the contract, according to a May 10 press release from Harris. Under the contract, Harris will provide its Sierra II Type 1 encryption solution for the Army’s Force 21 Battle Command Brigade and Below-Blue Force Tracking Type 1 upgrade program. Northrop Grumman is the system integrator for the program, under a contract with the U.S. Army Communications-Electronic Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Harris’s solution will make sure that data transmissions made via satellite and used by the Army’s land forces remain secure. Blue Force Tracking is an automatic software system that shows a soldier’s whereabouts in relation to friendly forces, and where enemy troops and hazards are located.

TiVo Lawsuit Impacts EchoStar’s First Quarter

Losing an intellectual property lawsuit to Alviso, Calif.-based TiVo Inc. did nothing to help EchoStar Communications Corp. during the first quarter of 2006.

Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar took a $74 million charge related to the loss during the quarter, company officials said during a conference call with analysts May 11. Net income for the quarter totaled $147 million, down significantly from $318 million during the first quarter 2005.

A judge in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Calif., decided in April that EchoStar was infringing on TiVo’s patent for its Digital Video Recorder (DVR). EchoStar plans to appeal and is countersuing the company.

When asked during the conference call whether the company has a contingency plan should it ultimately lose in court, EchoStar Chief Executive Officer Charlie Ergen said EchoStar believes it lost because it was denied the right to present legal opinions in court which would have bolstered its case, and that it has engineers looking at alternatives in the event of a loss.

“We believe that we ultimately will prevail, that we do not in fact violate intellectual property. …” Ergen said. “Having said all that, obviously we’re a company that believes that if we do use somebody’s property we expect we have to pay for that.”

EchoStar’s revenue for the quarter was $2.29 million, up from $2.02 million in the first quarter of 2005. The company added approximately 225,000 new subscribers during the quarter, finishing with approximately 12.27 million subscribers total.

Metop-A Launch Plans Firm Despite Replacing Instrument

Managers of Europe’s Metop-A polar-orbiting weather satellite are sticking with their planned July 17 launch date despite defects in a U.S.-provided instrument that required a last-minute hardware replacement.

The Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit-A (AMSU-A) instrument was removed from Metop-A after the satellite’s mid-April arrival at the Baikonur Cosmodrome space port in Kazakhstan and returned to the United States. AMSU-A is being furnished by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of a cooperative U.S.-European program on polar meteorological satellites.

Satellite controllers at the launch site noticed during testing that AMSU-A’s ball bearings lacked sufficient lubrication to permit correct functioning in orbit.

Officials from Europe’s Eumetsat weather-satellite organization, which will operate Metop-A, expect a replacement AMSU-A unit to arrive in Europe May 18, after which it will be shipped to the launch site for re-integration into the satellite.

“Our U.S. partners have been extremely reactive on this issue,” Marc Cohen, Eumetsat’s Metop program manager, said here May 12. “All indications we have now are compatible with a July 17 launch.”

Vietnam Picks Lockheed To Build Telecom Satellite

The Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group has selected Lockheed Martin to build and launch a C- and Ku-band telecommunications satellite to operate from the 132 degrees east orbital slot, Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems announced May 12.

Lockheed Martin will select a launch-service provider at a later date under the in-orbit delivery contract, signed in Hanoi May 12, the company said. The satellite, called Vinasat-1, is scheduled to be in service by mid-2008 and to operate for 15 years, Lockheed Martin said.

Vietnam has been discussing a national telecommunications satellite project with U.S., European and Japanese manufacturers for several years. At one point, Europe’s two major satellite builders, EADS Satellites and Alcatel Alenia Space, had planned a joint bid for the contract.

Griffin Defends NASA’s 2006 Operating Plan

Responding to concerns expressed by a key House subcommittee chairman that NASA’s 2006 spending plan ignores a congressional directive to begin planning a mission to Europa, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said completing the international space station, retiring the shuttle and bringing the Crew Exploration Vehicle on line by 2014 were higher priorities.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Appropriations science, state, justice and commerce subcommittee, wrote Griffin in early April saying he generally approved of how NASA plans to spend its 2006 budget, but was concerned that the agency’s initial operating plan for the year includes no money for a Europa mission and allocates less for aeronautics research and Mars exploration than Congress provided for those two efforts. Wolf also said he was concerned that NASA’s operating plan, which must be sent to Congress for review and approval, includes no funding for the Terrestrial Planet Finder, a major space telescope program.

In an April 11 letter obtained by Space News, Griffin said recent findings suggesting the presence of liquid water on two of Saturn’s moons, Titan and Enceladus, raise the possibility that planetary scientists may no longer consider sending a non-nuclear probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa at a cost of $2.5 billion to $4 billion to be their top priority.

Griffin also told Wolf that the $30 million NASA took out of its Mars exploration program was needed to meet a congressional directive to spend $271 million planning and preparing for a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.

Turning to Terrestrial Planet Finder, Griffin wrote that he feels NASA is “fully meeting congressional intent” by continuing work on the James Webb Space Telescope and the Space Interferometry Mission, which he described as important technical precursor missions to the $4.5 billion-to-$6.5 billion planet-finding project.

Griffin attributed the apparent $45.3 million reduction in aeronautics spending to changes in the way NASA budgets institutional support, not reductions in aeronautics research, assuring Wolf that aeronautics is not being short-changed.

NASA is expected to submit an updated 2006 operating plan to Congress in the weeks ahead. That plan is expected to reflect any changes to the agency’s science budget it might make in response to advice from the NASA Advisory Council, which is due to meet May 18. NASA is under considerable pressure from scientists to restore some of the cuts it has made this year and proposes to make next year to research grant programs that fund, for example, the analysis of data streaming back from the many scientific spacecraft the agency has in orbit.

AT&T To Sell WildBlue’s Broadband Service

AT&T will sell WildBlue Communications Inc.’s broadband internet services under a new agreement, according to a May 8 press release from WildBlue.

The San Antonio-based AT&T will sell the WildBlue service beginning in late May under the brand name “AT&T High Speed Internet Access, powered by WildBlue.”

Denver-based WildBlue will provide equipment management, installation and distribution services to AT&T for its satellite customers under the new agreement.

WildBlue service will still be available through its original brand name through other channels, the release said.

Saab Awarded 10 Million Euro Contract for Ariane 5 Work

Saab Ericsson Space of Gothenburg, Sweden, will provide on board guidance computers and telemetry antennas to equip 25 European Ariane 5 rockets under a contract announced May 10.

Under the contract, valued at about 10 million euros ($12.7 million), Saab Ericsson will provide two guidance computers for each Ariane 5, with one serving as a backup for the other. Each Ariane 5 rocket also carries between two and four telemetry antennas to transmit the launcher’s position and attitude to ground controllers. Ariane 5 rockets are launched from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Japanese Astronaut Takao Doi To Launch with Kibo to Space Station

Japanese astronaut Takao Doi has been named to the space shuttle crew that will deliver the first module of Japan’s Kibo laboratory to the international space station, NASA and the Japanese government announced in a press release May 5.

Doi is the first crew member assigned to the eighth upcoming space shuttle mission to the ISS . He will assist in the attachment and setup of the Kibo Experiment Logistics Module. His crewmates will be named at a later date, according to the news release.

This mission, whose launch date has yet to be determined, will be Doi’s second spaceflight. His first was aboard the shuttle’s STS-87 mission in 1997, when he performed two spacewalks.

Six Contenders Named as Finalists for COTS Contract

NASA notified six companies May 9 that they were finalists in the competition for one or more contracts to demonstrate vehicles capable of delivering cargo and possibly astronauts to the international space station on a commercial basis.

The finalists for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contracts are: Seattle-based Andrews Space; Oklahoma City-based Rocketplane Kistler; SpaceDev of Poway, Calif; Space Exploration Technologies of El Segundo, Calif.; Houston-based SpaceHab; and Reston, Va.-based Transformational Space Corp. All were informed by COTS contracting Officer James Bailey that they had been selected for discussions that could lead to an award in the months ahead, according to industry sources.

NASA intends to spend $500 million on the COTS demonstration effort over the next five years in hopes of fostering one or more commercial services capable of delivering supplies and perhaps even astronauts to the space station.

Goddard Building Probes To Study Magnetosphere

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will design and develop four satellites for the agency’s Magnetospheric Multistage mission, which will make high-resolution observations of plasma phenomena in Earth’s magnetosphere — the area of space closest to the planet.

NASA announced May 8 that the decision to develop the satellites at Goddard was intended to better integrate project management, science and engineering. The mission is the fourth in the Solar Terrestrial Probes program, which is managed by Goddard for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

The satellite instruments are being developed by the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The satellites are slated to be launched in 2013.

New Sea Launch Orders Include Baikonur Mission

Assist’s AsiaSat-5 satellite will be launched in late 2008 by a Land Launch rocket, operated by Sea Launch LLC, the Hong Kong-based satellite Services Company announced May 9. AsiaSat-5 is being built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif.

The contract is the third reported by Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch since the beginning of May.

Sea Launch’s ocean-launched vehicle has been selected to launch Intelsat‘s IA-9 telecommunications satellite in late 2007, and EchoStar Communications Corp.’s EchoStar 11, also in 2007.

AsiaSat-5, IA-9 and EchoStar 11 are all Loral-built LS 1300 satellite platforms.

The Land Launch rocket is a Zenit-3SLB vehicle operated from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It is nearly identical to the Zenit-3SL rocket that Sea Launch operates from an oceangoing platform in the Pacific Ocean.

Launched from equatorial latitude in the Pacific , the Sea Launch rocket can place a 6,000-kilogram satellite into geostationary transfer orbit. Operated from Baikonur , located at 56 degrees north latitude, the same vehicle can place payloads weighing up to 3,600 kilograms into that orbit, which is the destination of most telecommunications satellites.

Land Launch is scheduled to begin commercial operations in 2007 with the launch of PanAmSat’s PAS-11 telecommunications satellite.

AsiaSat 5 will carry 26 C-band and 14 Ku-band transponders and will replace the AsiaSat 2 satellite at 100.5 degrees east longitude.

Space Agency Taps APL for Radiation Belt Storm Probe

The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) of Laurel, Md., will develop and manage two NASA satellites to gather data on the interactions of Earth’s radiation belts and magnetic fields with solar storms, NASA announced May 8.

The Radiation Belt Storm Probe mission spacecraft, scheduled to launch in 2012, will collect data to help enhance space weather predictions. Solar storms can cause disruptions in communications and the operation of certain electronics in Earth orbit and on the surface.

The project is the second mission under NASA’s Living with a Star program. The first mission is the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which will launch in 2008 to study solar variability.

NASA, India Sign Agreement For Chandrayaan-1 Mission

NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have officially signed two Memoranda of Understanding under which NASA will provide two science instruments on India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission, a lunar orbiter expected to launch in late 2007 or early 2008, NASA announced May 9.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and ISRO Chairman G. Madhavan Nair signed the agreements May 9 in Bangalore, India . NASA’s Chandrayaan contributions include a Mineralogy Mapper, which will assess mineral resources on the Moon, and an instrument called Mini-SAR that will search for ice deposits in the Moon’s Polar Regions.

Chandrayaan-1 is India’s first mission to the Moon. The spacecraft will include European as well as U.S. and Indian instruments.

LogicaCMG To Supply Galileo Encryption Gear

LogicaCMG of Britain will develop the cryptographic systems for three facilities to be part of Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system under contracts with a total value of more than 20 million euros ($25 million), LogicaCMG announced May 8.

Under the contracts, LogicaCMG will provide security and encryption systems to three so-called Key-Management facilities — Galileo’s secure Public Regulated Service Key Management Facility, the Galileo Mission Key Management Facility and the Galileo Ground Control Segment Key Management facility.

The 30-satellite Galileo network will have a free, open-access service similar to that of the U.S. GPS system. But the European system also will include a commercial service for paying customers, and the more highly encrypted Public Regulated Service for Europe’s policy, emergency-services and, possibly, defense authorities.

“These three contracts will be critical to the success of Galileo,” said Stuart Martin, LogicaCMG satellite communications director. “LogicaCMG provides secure data systems for most of the world’s major banks as well as for U.K. and Dutch defense forces, experience that will ensure all technical challenges are met.”

Lockheed, Orbital T o Design Partially Reusable Rockets for U.S. Air Force

Lockheed Martin Corp. and Orbital Sciences Corp. nabbed U.S. Air Force contracts to develop conceptual designs for a partially reusable rocket that would launch tactical satellites within 48 hours’ notice , the companies announced last week.

The Hybrid Launch Vehicle (HLV) features a reusable first stage that would return to Earth after separating from an expendable upper stage . Air Force studies have shown that such a combination offers higher cost-savings and better responsiveness than fully reusable or expendable rockets. As envisioned, the HLV would have a 24- to 48-hour turnaround time and be capable of placing 4,500 to 6,800 kilograms of payload into low Earth orbit, according to the May 8 news release from Lockheed.

Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Md., and Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., are two of four companies working on HLV designs. The others are Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles, which announced its HLV contract in April, and Andrews Space of Seattle. Andrews has yet to finalize its contract.

The Lockheed contract has a base value of $1.2 million over a 14-month period, with a six-month extension option worth another $1.3 million . Orbital did not disclose the value of its contract in a May 10 press release, and spokesman Barron Beneski was unavailable for comment.

The companies will design an operational HLV system architecture, a subscale demonstrator and associated hardware and infrastructure .

The Air Force plans to select two of the four HLV competitors to design a subscale demonstrator some time in 2007. After a design review, a final contractor will be selected to introduce a full-scale HLV by 2018, according to the news release.

WorldSpace Targets Italy For Hybrid Radio Network

WorldSpace Inc. plans to introduce a 50-channel radio service in Italy using a hybrid satellite/terrestrial network in 2007 and will need no outside financing to start the venture , WorldSpace Chairman Noah A. Samara said.

In a May 9 conference call with investors, Samara said the Italian license, which the Silver Spring, Md.-based company announced May 9, gives WorldSpace a long-sought regulatory foothold in Europe.

The company plans to use its existing AfriStar satellite to provide subscription radio service in Italy using the 12.5 megahertz of radio spectrum authorized by Italy’s Ministry of Communications.

Developing the Italian market will require the installation of ground-based signal boosters, but Samara said the initial investment will be financed internally by WorldSpace. “We have the cash we need,” Samara said during the conference call.

WorldSpace earlier this year received U.S. regulatory approval to launch an AfriStar-2 satellite to succeed AfriStar-1. The new satellite, whose launch date has not been decided, will permit WorldSpace to expand its coverage of Europe. The company has a spare satellite virtually completed and in storage at prime contractor Alcatel Alenia Space in France, but has not announced plans to undertake the needed refurbishment in preparation for launch, nor has it announced a launch contract.

Samara said Italy is an attractive initial market for WorldSpace in Europe and ultimately could account for 4 million to 5 million satellite-radio subscribers. Currently there is no satellite radio available in Europe except the limited coverage offered by AfriStar-1.

WorldSpace is rolling out service first in India, where it has begun a broad marketing effort but does not yet have a permanent license to build the terrestrial repeaters needed to prevent the satellite signal from being blocked by buildings and other obstacles.

WorldSpace on May 9 reported that subscription revenues for the first three months of 2006 totaled $1.6 million, double the total for the first three months of 2005. The company also reported an increase in operating losses, to $45.6 million from $27.3 million a year ago.

As of March 31, WorldSpace had 153,437 subscribers, of which nearly 112,000 were in India, WorldSpace Chief Financial Officer Sridhar Ganesan said during the conference call. The Indian subscriber base increased by 50 percent during the period as WorldSpace added sales outlets in India, most recently in Calcutta.

Small Business League Files Suit Against NASA

The president of the American Small Business League is suing NASA for the names of firms that have received small business contracts from the space agency.

The lawsuit, filed May 4 in U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the group’s president, Lloyd Chapman, claims that NASA ignored provisions of the Freedom of Information Act when Chapman attempted to retrieve his information through proper channels.

Chapman alleged in a May 4 statement that the space agency is falsifying its small business reports and allowing companies to misrepresent themselves as “small businesses” to obtain contract awards.

NASA spokesman Dean Acosta confirmed that the agency had received Freedom of Information Act requests from Chapman but declined comment on the lawsuit.

Telesat Canada’s Quarterly Revenues, Earnings Rise

Satellite-fleet operator Telesat Canada reported May 3 increases in sales and net profit for the three months ending March 31. Net earnings were 21.6 million Canadian dollars ($19.5 million), up 11 percent over results posted during the same period a year ago. Revenues were 117.9 million Canadian dollars, a 9-percent increase over a year earlier.

During the quarter, Telesat reported a contract with the Canadian Coast Guard to design, install and operate a satellite-based Internet data, voice and video service, called Vessel Satellite Communications System, for a part of the Coast Guard fleet.

NASA To Test 60-Watt Drill For Future Planetary Digs

NASA is preparing to test a futuristic drill that runs on just 60 watts of power that could be used to bore into the surfaces of other celestial bodies such as the Moon or Mars, the space agency announced in a news release May 5.

A NASA research team over the next few weeks will use the prototype device to dig nearly 2 meters into the tundra of the Canadian Arctic at the Eureka Weather Station on Ellesmere Island — a barren landscape with frigid conditions that in some ways resembles the martian surface.

The drill, measuring approximately 2 meters in length and weighing about 14 kilograms, resembles a cross between an oil rig and a portable household drill, according to the news release. The team will use the device to take dozens of core samples that Canadian geologists will later study.

Engineers who developed the drill at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc., both of Houston, hope the device can be used to bore into the polar caps of Mars in search of water.

ATK To Develop Prototype Methane Engine for NASA

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) will develop a prototype nontoxic liquid-oxygen -methane rocket engine that could lower the fueling and servicing costs for NASA’s future Crew Exploration Vehicle , ATK announced May 8.

Under the $10.4 million contract , ATK will design, develop, test and evaluate a pressure-fed, methane-fueled rocket engine that generates 7,500 pounds of thrust. The contract includes options to design a larger prototype that more closely resembles a flight-capable, bipropellant engine, ATK of Edina, Minn., said in a news release.

NASA’s Exploration System Architecture Studies have found that liquid-oxygen-methane engines could eliminate the need for special ground handling equipment and procedures that are needed with traditional in-space propulsion systems fueled by nitrogen tetroxide or monomethyl hydrazine .

XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif., will provide engineering support to ATK under a separate $3.3 million contract from NASA, XCOR announced May 9. XCOR has been developing a nonflammable composite material for liquid-oxygen tanks to replace the metal-lined composites used today on NASA’s space shuttle.

XCOR’s new thermoplastic flouropolymer resists stretching and breaking like a traditional composite, but does not require a metal liner to prevent any chance of ignition during firing. XCOR’s material features a nonflammable Teflon-based fiber and can be used to produce tanks that weigh less than metal-lined tanks.

The ATK contract was issued by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., under the Cryogenic Advanced Development Project.

CSI, Space Adventures Sign Cargo-Delivery Agreement

Constellation Services International (CSI), a commercial orbital services firm, has struck an agreement with the space tourism company Space Adventures Ltd. to deliver additional cargo to the international space station for Space Adventures clients who want the extra storage, CSI announced in a May 4 news release.

The additional materials would be delivered by CSI’s planned LEO Express system, a cargo-to-orbit transport capsule that would launch atop existing U.S. rockets starting in 2008 .

“The LEO Express system is a viable near-term option for the pre-delivery of significant research experiment materials, multimedia hardware and other supplies that tour clients would like to utilize during their stay aboard the space station,” Eric Anderson, president and chief executive of Vienna, Va.-based Space Adventures, said in the news release.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com