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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 12 June 2006
01:17 pm ET


House Subcommittee Cuts $224 Million from EELV

The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program request of $955 million for fiscal 2007 was sharply reduced by $244.2 million in the House Appropriations defense subcommittee’s markup of the annual defense spending bill.

In a June 8 press release, the subcommittee cited delays in plans to launch Global Positioning System satellites and overly large infrastructure costs as justification for the cuts to the launch vehicle program.

Cuts were made to the two other top space programs as well. The Transformational Communications Satellite program request of $867 million was cut by $100 million. Another $66.4 million was cut from the Pentagon’s $266.4 million request for the Space Radar program. Finally, the subcommittee added $25 million to the Operationally Responsive Space program request of $35.6 million.

In missile defense, the subcommittee approved $9 billion for ballistic missile defense, $355 million below President George W. Bush’s request. The Kinetic Energy Interceptor program was fully funded at the requested level of $405.5 million. The Airborne Laser program was also fully funded to the tune of $631.6 million. The press release did not contain details about the cuts.

Kirari Achieves Laser Link With DLR Ground Station

The Japanese and German space agencies have successfully established an optical laser communications link between Japan’s Kirari low-orbiting satellite and a mobile optical ground station in Germany, the Japanese space agency, JAXA, announced June 9.

The link was retained for 3 minutes June 7 between Kirari, which orbits at 600 kilometers in altitude, and a 40-centimeter-diameter reflecting telescope operated by the German Aerospace Center, DLR, located in Wessling, Germany. Kirari also is known as the Optical Inter-orbit Communication Engineering Test Satellite, or OICETS.

The satellite previously has established laser-optical communications with a Japanese ground station and a European facility in Spain’s Canary Islands. JAXA and the European Space Agency also plan links between Kirari and Europe’s Artemis satellite, in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator. Artemis previously has been used to test optical links with the French Spot 4 Earth observation satellite.

Swales Wins Contract for TacSat-3 Satellite Platform

Swales Aerospace of Beltsville, Md., will design, build and test a modular satellite platform for the U.S. Air Force’s TacSat-3 mission under a new task order that is part of an existing indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate.

The TacSat-3 mission, slated to launch in 2007, will demonstrate the abilities of a satellite to collect data and deliver it directly and immediately to deployed forces . Swales will design and integrate the satellite platform, or bus, as well as provide support to the Air Force for integration, launch and on-orbit operations, according to the release.

TacSat-3 is funded in part by the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation and the Air Force Research Laboratory under Phase 2 of a four-phased plan to develop modular spacecraft platforms that can be launched on short notice to perform a variety of tasks in response to emerging tactical needs.

NASA Cuts Prompt RIF At Space Dynamics Lab

Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) in Logan, could layoff as much as 18 percent of its work force, or about 63 employees, over the next 12 months due to a downturn in NASA spending on space science missions and delays in funding for Pentagon-sponsored work.

The reduction in force is being driven in part by NASA’s decision to cut the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer’s (WISE) 2006 budget by 40 percent. SDL is building the instrument for the small space telescope.

To make matters worse for the lab, WISE could go away altogether depending on what happens with SOFIA, a U.S.-German airborne infrared telescope NASA put on the chopping block earlier this year. NASA officials have made it known that if SOFIA lives, WISE will probably pay the price.

Mike Pavich, director of the Space Dynamics Lab, said he plans to let 20-30 employees go this summer, with the rest of the reductions to follow by around this time next year. Pavich described the 18-percent reduction as “the worst-case scenario” if nothing changes in the lab’s coming fiscal year. However, he acknowledged that outright cancellation of the WISE program “would result in larger reductions in force for SDL,” which currently has a work force of approximately 350 people.

Raytheon Gets $424 Million To Upgrade SM-3 Missiles

Raytheon Co. recently received a contract worth up to $424 million to complete planned upgrades on an interceptor rocket for the Pentagon’s sea-based missile defense effort, according to a June 7 company news release.

The upgrades include greater reliability as well as improvements to the seeker and control system for the Standard Missile(SM)-3’s warhead, according to the news release.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon recently notified Congress that it planned to sell nine SM-3 rockets and related launch system equipment to Japan in a deal that could be worth as much as $458 million, according to a June 6 news release from the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

DataPath To Equip Army With Mobile Satcom Gear

DataPath Inc. of Duluth, Ga., will provide mobile terminals and satellite communications support services for the U.S. Army’s Joint Network Node (JNN) program under a contract worth $72.9 million, the company announced June 6.

The JNN program provides high-bandwidth, portable communications for U.S. forces in Iraq operating in the most extreme environments. DataPath has provided ground-based satellite communications networks for JNN since its implementation in 2004, the release said. The company will add 29 people to the 50 employees it already has deployed in Iraq to support the program.

NASA Astronomy Balloon Lands After Atlantic Crossing

A 140-meter-diameter NASA balloon designed to study cosmic rays was successfully launched June 2 from Sweden’s Esrange launch site and landed June 7 on Victoria Island in Canada’s Northwest Territories north of the Arctic Circle, NASA and the Swedish Space Corp. said.

The Aesop — Anti-Electron Suborbital Payload — instrument traveled at an altitude of 41.5 kilometers along the Norwegian coast, then across Greenland to Canada in its five-day flight. The launch is one of several planned for this year’s balloon-launch season at Esrange, located in northern Sweden.

When fully expanded at cruising altitude, the Aesop balloon had a volume of 1.2 million cubic meters and measured 140 meters in diameter. Including its flight train, it was 300 meters in length.

Japanese Space Tourist Confirmed for Soyuz Flight

Japanese entrepreneur Daisuke Enomoto has been confirmed as a crew member aboard the Soyuz TMA-9 slated to launch to the international space station this September, Space Adventures of Vienna, Va., which brokered the arrangement, announced June 7.

After launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Enomoto will join the 14th Expedition Crew aboard the station, which includes NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, for eight days. He then will return home aboard a Soyuz vehicle already docked at the station.

NASA Chief Open to Wider Cooperation With Russia

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said he is open to wider cooperation with Russia in lunar and planetary exploration should the key space station partner be ready to invest more to revitalize its activities in this area.

“Frankly, we welcome coordination with any of the international partners who want to work with us,” Griffin said during a June 5 press conference in Washington to announce the distribution of Crew Exploration Vehicle work among the U.S. space agency’s regional field centers.

Responding to a question about the state of U.S.-Russian space cooperation, Griffin praised the Russians as “great partners” in the international space station program who “really stepped up to the plate after our loss of Columbia.” He said both nations have learned to work together and “forge a very effective station partnership,” and that he sees “no reason why, in the robotic, lunar and Mars programs, we cannot do the same — and I am very willing to do that.”

Griffin also said that while it is a “rare NASA science mission that doesn’t have a substantial international component to it,” it has been a long time “since the Russians have expressed any interest in planetary exploration , so with the energy dollars that are flowing into Russia, if they are interested in revitalizing their very proud history of planetary exploration, I’d say I’m all for it and we would absolutely look forward to working with them.”

France Telecom Unit To Market Thuraya in Algeria

France Telecom Mobile Satellite Communications (FTMSC) will distribute Thuraya mobile satellite telephone equipment and services in Algeria under an agreement announced June 5. FTMSC acquired a license to distribute voice and data communications gear in Algeria in June 2004.

FTMSC expects to sell Thuraya DSL — a service that employs small terminals to permit data throughput at speeds of up to 144 kilobits per second — as well as Thuraya services for maritime and public-telephone businesses.

FTMSC also is a distributor of mobile satellite communications services provided by Connexion by Boeing, Inmarsat, Iridium and Globalstar. The company, based in Paris, reported sales of 165 million euros ($213 million) in 2005 and said it has a 24-percent market share in its coverage areas for Inmarsat, Thuraya and Iridium services for civil, commercial and military customers.

Separately, FTMSC said June 5 it is offering two pricing packages to commercial shipping companies interested in using Connexion by Boeing’s maritime Internet service .

One offering is a trial program in which shipping companies receive four months of Connexion’s high-speed Internet service, including 2,000 minutes of data access, 100 minutes of voice services and live television . According to Connexion’s Web site, this service costs about $2,800 per month per ship, including equipment.

The second promotional package is a standard service agreement, with customers receiving a 30-percent discount off the regular monthly service fee through 2008.

Connexion by Boeing’s satellite-based maritime Internet service provides uplink speeds of up to 256 kilobits per second and downlink speeds of 5 megabits per second , according to the news release. France Telecom became the first sales associate of the Connexion maritime service this past April.

Microcosm Successfully Tests Composite Tanks

Microcosm Inc. of El Segundo, Calif., has successfully tested two composite tanks, one for Scorpius Space Launch Co. and the other for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Microcosm announced June 2.

For Scorpius, Microcosm successfully tested a 63.5-centimeter-diameter composite liquid-oxygen tank at nearly four times its operating pressure. The tank supports the ScorpiusR family of responsive launch vehicles under development by Scorpius Space Launch Co., a division of Microcosm. The testing was conducted in a cryogenic chamber using liquid nitrogen, according to the release.

Microcosm also tested a high-pressure composite helium tank at 14,500 pounds per square inch for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

BAE Systems Debuts Image-Analysis Software

BAE Systems’ National Security Solutions unit of San Diego has developed a new software program to ease the delivery of image and geospatial analysis data for homeland defense and military intelligence applications , the company announced June 5.

The SOCET GXP software version 2.2 provides greater situational awareness for surveillance , battle-damage assessment and disaster recovery — allowing users to process, analyze and deliver high-resolution imagery from satellite and airborne sensors to other decision-makers or first-responders.

The software can process data from a variety of imagery sources, create image products such as 3-D simulations, then immediately e-mail data or reports to personnel via laptop computers, relay stations and ground control centers.

Australian Firm To Sell TerraSar-X Radar Data

Apogee Imaging International of Adelaide, Australia, will distribute imagery from Infoterra GmbH’s TerraSAR-X radar satellite in Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and the Solomon and Vanuatu islands under a contract announced June 6 by Friedrichshafen, Germany-based Infoterra.

The contract was signed by Infoterra Managing Director Joerg Herrmann and John Douglas, managing director of Apogee. Infoterra said the contract likely will lead to Apogee operating its own TerraSAR-X ground station in Australia as an exclusive direct-access partner.

The TerraSAR-X satellite, which will be able to detect objects as small as 1 meter in diameter, is scheduled for launch Oct. 31. The satellite is being financed by Infoterra parent Astrium and the German government.

Jason-2 Craft To Host Japanese Space Sensor

Japan’s space agency said June 5 that it has concluded an agreement with the French space agency, CNES, to provide a space environmental monitoring instrument for the Jason-2 ocean-observation satellite scheduled for launch by NASA in 2008.

Jason-2, to succeed the Jason satellite currently in orbit, is being financed by the French and U.S. space agencies, and the U.S. and European meterological agencies. Alcatel Alenia Space is building the satellite under a contract with CNES. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said its instrument, dubbed the Light Particle Telescope, would be delivered to CNES by late November.

Qinetiq To Develop Tools To Evaluate Galileo Equipment

Qinetiq of Britain will develop tools to evaluate the performance of user equipment for Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system under a contract between the European Space Agency and the Galileo InReach consortium, led by Septentrio Satellite Navigation of Belgium. Qinetiq is a member of the consortium.

Qinetiq’s work as part of the four-year contract is valued at 7.3 million euros ($9.43 million). It follows an earlier award to the consortium for design work on the system. Qinetiq’s specific role includes designing tools to assess the propagation of Galileo’s satellite signal as it passes through the ionosphere. Qinetiq also is developing tools to provide independent evaluation of the early Galileo receivers.

Planetary Society Helps NASA Investigate Pioneer Anomaly

NASA’s Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft, which were launched more than 30 years ago to Jupiter and Saturn, respectively, are approaching the edge of the solar system at a much slower rate than predicted — for reasons currently unknown to scientists.

While several hypotheses exist as to why the spacecraft are nearly 386,000 kilometers closer to the Sun than expected, NASA has analyzed little of the two Pioneers’ navigational data due to the lack of funding to retrieve nearly 19 years’ worth of information stored on 7- and 9-track magnetic tapes.

But the Planetary Society announced June 5 it has raised the necessary funds to help NASA solve what is known as the ” Pioneer Anomaly. “

Before the Planetary Society’s support, NASA only had analyzed about 11 years of Pioneer Doppler data, which measures spacecraft velocity . The society now reports that scientists “have recovered large parts of the 30-year histories of the two spacecraft. The data are now being collected, arranged, validated, and written to modern media. They will then be provided to teams of scientists for analyses,” according to the Planetary Society’s Web site.

With some additional in-house funding, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., also were able to recover spacecraft and science data, including information from their encounters at Jupiter and Saturn, according to the news release.

Scientists hope the data will help them unravel the mysterious anomaly. Speculation about the possible causes of the anomaly includes such theories as: interplanetary plasma or solar wind; thermal recoil force from the spacecrafts’ nuclear power sources; dark matter at the edge of the solar system; or perhaps even evidence of a new physics, according to the release.

Scientists Devise Formula To Predict Pulsar ‘Quakes’

Scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have generated a formula to predict earthquake-like occurrences in pulsars. During such quakes, the star remnant’s spin rate momentarily increases so that cracks form in its crust, the laboratory announced June 5.

By studying pulsar PSR J0537-6910, a supernova remnant nearly 170,000 light years from Earth, scientists have discovered the time until the next ‘quake’ occurs is proportional to the size of the last quake: The spin-rate that increase during each event translates directly into the number of days until the next quake, according to the release.

This formula tells scientists when to aim NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer at the pulsar in enough time to observe a quake. “By monitoring the pulsar spin rate and changes in the spin, we can pin down a starquake event to within a couple of days,” said John Middleditch, the project’s leader at Los Alamos.

The formula also supports the leading theory on the causes of these quakes. Pulsars have a solid crust permeated with a liquid ” neutron superfluid, ” according to the release. This superfluid does not slow when the spin rate of the pulsar itself slows overtime. It is thus believed that once the discrepancy in spin rates reaches a certain threshold, these episodes occur when the crust fractures to drain excess superfluid — causing the pulsar to spin faster.

NASA To Hold Launch Dress Rehearsal for STS-121 Crew

The astronauts and ground crews in NASA’s upcoming STS-121 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery will participate in a full launch dress rehearsal June 12-15 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the space agency announced June 2.

During the demonstration, Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Mark Kelly, and mission specialists Mike Fossum, Lisa Nowak, Stephanie Wilson, Piers Sellers and Thomas Reiter will participate in various simulated countdown activities, including equipment familiarization and emergency egress training.

Discovery is slated to launch for the international space station in a window starting July 1 and ending July 19, according to the release.

BGAN Distributors To Offer Emergency Backup Service

Vocati Enterprises of Pompano Beach, Fla. is teaming with two Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) distributors to provide a new emergency back-up communications, according to a June 1 press release.

Vocati is teaming with GMPCS Personal Communications, a subsidiary of Telenor Satellite Services, and its in-house dealer Merlin SatCom, to provide communications backup for businesses or individuals in case of a hurricane or similar disaster.

“There’s not necessarily so much a new technology, as a new application,” Dane Maralason, a spokesman for Vocati, said in a phone interview June 1.

Using Vocati’s technology, telephone calls normally routed through the public switched networks, can be rerouted through the company’s Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) gateway and accessed using the BGAN satellite service.

For example, Maralason said, a call placed to the individual or business’s telephone number during an emergency could be call forwarded to another phone number provided by Vocati, where a voicemail could be stored. Users can hook up their BGAN satellite equipment to retrieve those messages, and to make and receive additional calls forwarded to the number, he said.

Customers would be required to purchase BGAN satellite equipment in order to use Vocati’s service. They also would pay for satellite time to cover their operations, usually at a fee of around $700, Maralason said. Additionally, Vocati expects to charge around $100 a month for its call-forwarding system, while customers would pay additional fees for such charges as long-distance outbound calls.

XM Halts Shipments of Two Devices for Home Use

XM Satellite Radio has halted the shipment of at least two of its radio devices after receiving word from regulatory authorities that the devices were not compliant with emission standards.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has specifically targeted the Delphi XM SKYFi2 and the Audiovox Express radios. Both of those devices allow users to receive XM programming in their homes and play it back through traditional home receivers or other high-fidelity equipment.

Washington-based XM said in a May 30 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it has suspended shipments of the two products, and is reviewing other devices that use a wireless FM modulator, which has been deemed the source of the problem.

XM said in the SEC filing that it is implementing a “series of actions involving various radios,” which would bring them into compliance, such as adding attachments to the devices that reduce emissions.

The company said in the filing that no health or safety issues are associated with the radios. It also said that it cannot assure that its efforts will be deemed sufficient by the FCC, or that the shipment delays will have no financial impact on the company.

XM had informed investors of the FCC’s concerns during an April 27 conference call, which occurred two days after the regulatory agency informed them in a letter of the problems with the devices.

Gen. Chilton To Take Over Space Command June 26

Gen. Kevin “Chilly” Chilton will take command of U.S. Air Force Space Command June 26, according to a command news release.

Chilton replaces Gen. Lance W. Lord, who retired in March. Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, the vice commander at Air Force Space Command, has filled the commander’s role on an interim basis since Lord’s retirement.

Chilton is a former astronaut who once served on a space shuttle crew with Ronald Sega, the current undersecretary of the Air Force. Chilton currently serves as commander of both the 8th Air Force and U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space and Global Strike.

Astrium Satellites To Build Badr-6 for Arabsat

Astrium Satellites will build the Badr-6 telecommunications satellite for the Arabsat organization of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under a contract announced by the two companies June 6.

The 3,400-kilogram satellite, based on the Astrium Eurostar 2000-Plus platform, will carry 24 C-band and 20 Ku-band transponders and is expected to be launched in 2008 into Arabsat’s 26 degrees east longitude orbital slot.

The spacecraft will replace the Arabsat 4A satellite, which was lost Feb. 28 in a failure of the Russian Proton-M rocket. The launch was insured for about $180 million. The nearly identical Arabsat 4B is tentatively scheduled for launch later this year once the Proton-M returns to flight.

Like Arabsat 4A and 4B, Badr-6 will be built by lead contractor Astrium and will feature an electronics payload provided by Alcatel Alenia Space.

Arabsat Chief Executive Officer Khalid Balkheyour said in a June 6 statement that the 2008 in-service date of Badr-6 “will guarantee to our broadcasters, for the long term, full technical stability… to deliver their programming to our growing audience of 130 million viewers.”

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com