Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 12 June 2006
11:34 am ET


DoD Program Managers Decry Funding Instability

Pentagon program managers have told the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that the biggest obstacle to their success is funding instability.

Of the program managers polled, 36 percent cited funding instability as their top problem, with requirements changes coming in next at 13 percent, according to a June 1 letter sent by GAO to U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

The letter addressed questions that Sessions asked GAO to explore following an April 6 hearing on problems with space acquisition.

GAO noted that space programs have often struggled because of funding instability as tight budgets encouraged contractors to underbid programs. GAO also said in its letter that the Pentagon also starts more programs than it can afford, sometimes forcing it to take money from programs performing well to cover the cost of problems on others.

House Committee Schedules Another NPOESS Hearing

The House Science Committee is planning to hold its third full committee hearing in eight months on the status of the next generation of U.S. government polar-orbiting weather satellites.

The hearing is expected to take place soon after the June 5 release of a Pentagon report on the future of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), and could happen as early as June 8 or June 13, according to Joe Pouliot, communications director for the committee.

The committee held hearings Nov. 16 and May 11 on the NPOESS effort, which is jointly funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Air Force. The program has run into technical and other difficulties that have caused its estimated price tag to rise from an initial estimate of $6.8 billion to $13.8 billion.

The cost growth triggered a congressionally mandated review that requires the Pentagon to justify continuation of programs with cost growth of at least 25 percent or cancel the effort.

Campbell Nominated as Army SMDC Commander

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Kevin T. Campbell has been nominated to receive his third star and take command of Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC), according to a June 2 Pentagon news release. Campbell currently serves as chief of staff at United States Strategic Command.

Atlas 5 Picked To Launch Mars Science Laboratory

NASA will pay Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services $194.7 million to launch the 2009 Mars Science Laboratory rover on an Atlas 5 rocket, the U.S. space agency announced June 2. The six-wheeled rover, under development at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is due to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in autumn 2009.

FCC Raises $38.3 Million In Auction of Spectrum

Two companies now have permission to provide communications services to airlines using the 800 megahertz band after winning a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction that ended June 2.

The winners were AC BidCo LLC, an offshoot of airborne and satellite telecommunications equipment manufacturer AirCell of Louisville, Ky., and LiveTV LLC, which is owned by JetBlue Airways of Forest Hills, N.Y., and provides in-flight satellite television.

The auctioned spectrum formerly was owned by Verizon Airphone of New York, whose non-renewable license was set to expire in May 2010, according to a June 2 FCC press release.

Under the agreement, Verizon must surrender three megahertz of spectrum immediately, and can continue to operate its additional one megahertz of spectrum until 2010.

AC BidCo LLC paid $31.3 million for its three megahertz of spectrum, while LiveTV LLC won one megahertz of spectrum with a $7 million bid.

The spectrum can be used to provide a range of communications services to passengers on commercial and other aircraft including broadband Internet access, according to the release. The auction began May 10 and closed after 144 rounds of bidding.

MSV Awarded 2 Patents for Hybrid Mobile Technology

Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) has received two patents for technologies related to its development of hybrid satellite and terrestrial mobile services. Both patents are related to the development of an Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC), a key part of the company’s business plan. To date Reston, Va.-based MSV has received a total of 11 ATC-related patents, according to a May 30 press release from MSV.

Both patents, which were issued May 30 by the U.S. Patent Office, are related to mitigating potential interference between a ground-based ATC network and a satellite-based network, according to the release.

MSV has an additional 90 patent applications pending with the U.S. Patent Office related to the technology. Corresponding patents also have been filed in Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia and elsewhere, according to the release.

Spacehab Staves Off NASDAQ Banishment

Houston-based Spacehab announced June 1 that it has dodged being dropped from the NASDAQ stock exchange by getting its share price back above $1 and keeping it there for 10 consecutive trading days.

NASDAQ warned Spacehab in December that it had until May 30 to meet the $1 minimum for continued listing. In March, the company moved from the NASDAQ National Market to the NASDAQ Capital Market, an exchange created for companies with lower market values.

Spacehab kept its stock trading at the minimum bid price of $1 per share for a 10-day period ending May 24. The company announced two weeks earlier that it had been selected as a finalist in NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services competition. NASA intends to award one or more companies a contract or contracts worth a total of about $500 million to demonstrate crew and cargo delivery services for the international space station. NASA intends to make its final selection in August.

USAF Awards Contracts For GPS M-Code Chips

The U.S. Air Force awarded three companies contracts worth more than $100 million combined to continue designing circuit cards that will connect military users with new GPS navigation signals, according to a Pentagon contract announcement issued May 26.

The companies have been working on designs for the GPS modernized user equipment (MUE) effort since 2003. The contract winners and values are as follows: Interstate Electronics Corp. of Anaheim, Calif., $32.2 million; Rockwell Collins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, $27.9 million; and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif., $37.8 billion.

The previous study contracts on the program were worth $37 million combined.

Phil Kelton, Raytheon’s MUE program manager , said Raytheon’s contract is slated to last 16 months, and is intended to yield a preliminary design . The contract has an option for an additional 39 months to build, test and integrate the cards into military vehicles.

Kelton said the option would be exercised based on performance , and that a competition is not expected.

Each company is working on two circuit cards — one for ground vehicles, the other for aircraft — that enable troops to use the GPS M-Code, which is intended to provide increased accuracy and security for military users, Kelton said. The cards are designed to work with the new as well as current-generation GPS military signals and likely will be installed on vehicles before the new signals are widely available , he said.

The first GPS satellite equipped with the M-Code signal — the first Lockheed Martin-built GPS 2RM spacecraft — was launched in September 2005. While it likely will take several years to launch enough similarly equipped satellites to make the signal widely available, there is the potential to use the M-Code on a limited basis before then, Kelton said.

FCS Terminal Deliveries May Hit 50 by Year’s End

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis delivered six Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) devices to the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) program in mid-May, according to a company news release issued May 30.

Boeing has now delivered 27 of the satellite-capable radios for the FCS effort, and expects that number to increase to 50 by the end of the year, according to the news release.

The JTRS radios will enable FCS ground vehicles to transmit and receive voice and text data, stream live audio and video, share maps and conduct networked meetings, according to the news release. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is the prime contractor the FCS effort as well.

Northrop Grumman Testing New Airborne Sensor Suite

A sensor suite designed by Northrop Grumman Defense Systems of Rolling Meadow, Ill., for British military aircraft is now in flight testing, according to a Northrop Grumman news release dated May 30.

The Electro-Optical Surveillance and Detection System, which includes both visible and infrared cameras , is intended for use on the British military’s Nimrod MRA-4 aircraft.

The flight testing is intended to examine the aerodynamic effect of the Electro-Optical Surveillance and Detection System on the Nimrod aircraft, according to the news release. The sensor has been deployed during the flight testing at altitudes of between 1,500 and 3,000 meters.

ScanEagle Featured in U.K. Maritime Exercise

The ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Boeing of Chicago and The Insitu Group of Bingen, Wash., demonstrated new maritime capabilities in a recent U.K. military trial off the coast of Scotland.

The goal of Trial Vigilant Viper was to evaluate how an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft can aid amphibious operations, Boeing said in a statement. With Thales of France and QinetiQ of Britain participating, ScanEagle completed autonomous launch and recovery operations from a Royal Navy frigate in rough seas. Missions included land and sea surveillance, beach reconnaissance and naval gunfire support.

As part of Trial Vigilant Viper, ScanEagle used its electro-optical and infrared sensors to identify potential threats as small as jet skis. The UAV transmitted high-resolution video images to ship, shore and a Sea King helicopter.

Cosmic Flop May Explain Enceladus Polar Hot Spot

Saturn’s moon Enceladus might have rolled over on its side sometime in the past, scientists say, a suggestion that would account for a strange finding made by the Cassini spacecraft.

The moon has a hot spot at its south pole, a low-density area where water vapor shoots into space, data from the probe indicate. Heat from within likely is created by the varying tugs of Saturn’s gravity as Enceladus’ distance from the gas giant changes during the course of its orbit.

But the fact that the hot spot is located in an area of the moon that should be among its coldest puzzled scientists.

“When we saw the Cassini results, we were surprised that this hot spot was located at the pole,” said Francis Nimmo of the University of California, Santa Cruz. “So we set out to explain how it could end up at the pole if it didn’t start there.”

In the June 1 issue of the journal Nature, Nimmo and colleagues explain that hot material from within Enceladus welled up in one location. Hot material expands and in doing so loses its density.

Like all rotating bodies, the moon would be more stable if low-density areas were at the poles and regions of high density were at the equator. So the moon reoriented itself in that manner, the thinking goes.

Wideband Gapfiller Craft Weathers Launch Testing

Boeing Co. completed testing on the U.S. Air Force’s first Wideband Gapfiller communications satellite confirming that the spacecraft can withstand the stress of ground transportation and launch into space, according to a company news release issued June 1.

The tests included subjecting the spacecraft to the vibration and acoustic stresses it is likely to experience during its planned mid-2007 launch, Boeing said.

The satellite also deployed systems including communications antennas during the testing, which was conducted at Boeing’s Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif.

Land Launch To Loft SES‘s AMC-21 Satellite

SES Global’s AMC-21 telecommunications satellite will be placed into orbit by Sea Launch’s new Land Launch rocket system in mid-2008 under a contract announced May 29 by Luxembourg-based SES Global.

AMC-21 is being built by prime contractor Alcatel Alenia Space, with a satellite platform provided by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. Fully fueled, AMC-21 is expected to weigh about 2,500 kilograms at launch.

Sea Launch’s Land Launch system uses a slightly modified version of the company’s Zenit-3SL rocket operated from a mobile platform on the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Land Launch’s Zenit-3SLB vehicle will begin operations in 2007 from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The vehicle will be able to place satellites weighing up to around 3,500 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit — the destination of most telecommunications satellites — compared to Sea Launch’s ocean-launched version, which because of its equatorial location can place satellites weighing more than 6,000 kilograms into the same orbit.

Debt Offerings To Finance Intelsat-PanAmSat Combo

Satellite operators Intelsat of Bermuda and PanAmSat of Wilton, Conn., are both making debt offerings through subsidiaries to help finance their planned merger, Intelsat announced May 31.

Intelsat will offer approximately $1.9 billion in senior notes, a type of bond, due in 2013 and 2016 . PanAmSat will offer approximately $1.3 billion in senior notes due in 2016 .

The merger, which has been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice and is awaiting approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, will be financed by the proceeds from the offerings, and with cash on hand.

Boeing Team To Continue Circuit Development Work

A university-industry team including Boeing Co. of Chicago will continue to develop electronic circuits for future robotic and human space exploration missions under a NASA contract worth $2.75 million, Boeing announced May 31.

The team is developing silicon-germanium mixed-signal circuits that can withstand the radiation and extreme cold of space. The circuits will be able to process analog and digital signals for electronics used to operate and monitor space systems. The silicon-germanium circuits will have a high tolerance for radiation and could reduce the need to house electronics in warm boxes, thereby conserving energy and reducing launch weight, according to the news release.

The team first began developing the circuits in 2005. The first phase of the contract ends in April 2007, with the second phase anticipated to run until April 2009, according to the release.

The university-industry team also includes the Georgia Institute of Technology, Auburn University, the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University, the University of Maryland, the University of Arkansas, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, BAE Systems, IBM and Lynguent.

Assemble, Inmarsat Offer Emergency Satcom Kit

Assemble Communications of Davidson, N.C., and mobile satellite operator Inmarsat of London are offering U.S. Gulf Coast residents a personal satellite communications kit in preparation for the upcoming hurricane season. The package will enable users to make phone calls and tap into the Internet when terrestrial and cellular networks are unavailable.

Inmarsat announced June 1 that Assemble Communications will incorporate Inmarsat’s BGAN mobile broadband service into the lightweight kits that will include a satellite terminal, a basic phone, a watertight, crushproof case, and USB, Ethernet and phone cables .

“We have seen several examples of the vulnerability of terrestrial networks during recent hurricanes and have learned that only through satellite communications can you guarantee constant connectivity,” Jack Deasy, director of civil programs at Inmarsat, said in the news release.

The kits initially will be available in southern and Gulf Coast states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

The bundle kit, which includes the necessary equipment, 400 minutes of talk time and 150 megabits for Internet usage, costs $4,995, according to Vu Chung, a spokeswoman for Inmarsat. The kit containing only the necessary terminal equipment and cables to establish a satellite connection is about $3,700, Chung said.

According to the news release, the kits also come with an instruction card and a special toll-free number for first-time users — who would be well advised to take advantage of the tutorial before an emergency strikes.

EchoStar To Open S.C. Site For Dish Refurbishment

EchoStar Communications Corp. of Englewood, Colo., will open its fourth satellite equipment refurbishment center in Spartanburg, S.C., to support its expanding Dish Network satellite television service, the company announced May 31.

EchoStar plans to hire more than 1,300 full-time employees for the center, which will be located at the Fairforest Business Center near the intersections of Interstate 85 and Interstate 26.

“Expanding our repair operations to Spartanburg is important in keeping pace with the growth of Dish Network’s customer base, and shows our commitment to providing even better service to our customers on the East Coast,” Mark Jackson, president of EchoStar, said in the release.

ATK Webb Subcontract Surpasses $65 Million

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) of Edina, Minn., will provide more than $65 million worth of components and subsystems to James Webb Space Telescope prime contractor Northrop Grumman Space Technology under a revised contract, ATK announced May 30.

ATK’s backlog of work on the NASA project includes providing graphite fiber structures to support the telescope’s 6.3-meter primary mirror and other optical instruments. ATK also will conduct thermal testing for the telescope’s composite structures, according to the news release.

The telescope is scheduled to launch no earlier than June 2013, ATK said.

APL-built Instruments Study Eclipse’s Effects

The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., has acquired images in hundreds of wavelengths that will allow scientists to study in detail the effects of a solar eclipse on the Earth’s upper atmosphere, APL announced May 24.

The images were acquired by two APL-built ionospheric-thermospheric sensors during a solar eclipse March 29, the lab said in a press release. The sensors were the Global Ultraviolet Imager aboard NASA’s Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) spacecraft, along with the Special Sensor Ultraviolet Imager on a U.S. Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellites Program (DMSP) spacecraft.

The spacecraft ” were in just the right spot at the right time to image the upper atmosphere as the sun was eclipsed,” Larry Paxton, a project scientist for the two instruments, said in the news release. “These instruments provided the first and only look at the altitude and spectral distribution of the effects of an eclipse on the upper atmosphere.”

Space-Insurance Venture Enlists Industry Veteran

Veteran space-insurance underwriter Simon D. Clapham has joined Sciemus Ltd. of Farnborough, England, a company that has teamed with Liberty Syndicates to offer up to $225 million to cover in-orbit satellite risks, according to industry officials.

Sciemus’ business model represents a sharp break from conventional underwriting practices. The company proposes to cover a satellite’s entire in-orbit policy on its own instead of distributing the risk among numerous underwriters. Liberty, part of the Lloyd’s of London syndicate, is providing Sciemus with financing.

Sciemus uses an analytical tool called Space Risk Assessment Tool, or SpaceRAT, developed by QinetiQ of Farnborough to evaluate potential satellite failures.

Clapham is a former underwriter with Brit Insurance and Marham Space Consortium, affiliated with Lloyd’s. In his previous posts, he developed a reputation for spending the entire amount of his annual space-insurance underwriting capacity.

Space insurance underwriters and brokers have been skeptical of Sciemus, in part because the company’s business model could be a threat to conventional insurers.

One insurance official said Clapham’s arrival at Sciemus only added to these concerns. “With Clapham there, the likelihood of this $200 million actually landing on the market is much greater — it’s got people’s attention,” this official said.

Chile, Astrium Satellites Discussing Imaging Craft

Chilean Defense Minister Vivianne Blanlot on May 27 confirmed Chile’s interest in an Earth observation satellite to be built by Astrium Satellites of France, but said a final decision on the purchase would not be made before July.

In a press briefing in Santiago de Chile during a state visit by French President Jacques Chirac and Defense Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie, Blanlot said the satellite would have numerous civil applications in addition to its prime military surveillance purpose for the Chilean Air Force, according to Chile’s government information office.

Industry officials said the satellite likely would be a Myriade platform similar to the two spacecraft sold to the Algerian government earlier this year. Chilean press reports, which have not been confirmed by the government, estimate the satellite’s cost at about $40 million.

If the contract is signed it would continue a trend among former customers of small-satellite specialist Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of Britain, who have purchased research satellites from Surrey and then followed up with more-expensive Earth observation spacecraft from Astrium. The Chilean Air Force is a former SSTL customer.

Sigma Space To Support Procurement at Goddard

Sigma Space Partners of Lanham, Md., will provide procurement support to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., under a five-year contract worth up to $14.4 million, NASA announced May 31.

Sigma Space will provide support for scientific programming and analysis, computer facilities, library and publication services, global climate modeling, and logistical and utility management, as well as other activities.

AGI Receives Patent for Orbit-Position Software

Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI) of Exton, Penn., has secured a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a technology that tracks the position and velocity of satellites with GPS receivers, AGI announced May 30.

The software under patent No. 7,050,002, titled “GPS Carrier Phase Measurement Representation and Method of Use,” includes a desktop application that allows companies to track satellites with a GPS receiver to determine accurate position and velocity, according to the news release. This is AGI’s 13th software patent since January 1999.

NASA Seeks Partners for A eronautical Research

NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate is soliciting foundational research proposals in hopes of attracting nonprofit organizations, educational institutions and industry to support the directorate’s four programs, the agency announced May 24.

The Airspace Systems Program is seeking to address research needs for a Next Generation Air Transportation System in partnership with NASA’s Joint Planning and Development Office.

The Aviation Safety Program also is pursuing long-term research into technologies and methods to enhance the safety of current and future air transportation systems in the United States.

The Fundamental Aeronautics Program is looking for a partner to develop flight regimes, data capabilities and design tools for a broad range of air vehicles. And the Aeronautics Test Program looks to protect and preserve key test facilities.

To view the solicitations online, visit http://nspires.nasaprs.com.

Spacehab Unit To Process Unnamed Boeing Payload

Spacehab Inc.’s Astrotech Space Operations subsidiary will provide payload-processing services for Boeing Co. of Chicago under a contract for an undisclosed project, Spacehab of Houston announced May 24.

Astrotech will perform the work at its facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. No financial details were released.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com