Briefs

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Madrid DSN Antenna Out Of Action Until January

NASA project managers are meeting daily to figure out how to avoid losing data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Cassini spacecraft as a result of a longer-than-planned shutdown of one of the three main antennas that comprise the Deep Space Network (DSN), agency officials said.

Two giant bearings that allow the DSN’s antenna in Madrid, Spain, to rotate have failed, forcing NASA to take it offline for three months longer than originally planned. The antenna was going to be down from the end of June until the beginning of October for routine maintenance. Replacing and testing new bearings will put the antenna out of commission until early January, Michael Rodrigues, program manager for the Deep Space Mission System at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Aug. 2.

“It’s not clear to me that any data will be lost,” Rodrigues said.

At press time, NASA was planning to inspect three of the four bearings on the DSN antenna in Goldstone, Calif., Aug. 6. One of the bearings already has been inspected and cleared. The bearings on the DSN antenna in Canberra, Australia, were inspected and cleared in July.

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned that the 40-year-old DSN was growing increasingly fragile and could suffer a breakdown resulting in the loss of irreplaceable scientific data.

TacSat-2 Satellite Will Launch From Wallops

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia has been chosen as the launch site for the Pentagon’s TacSat-2 experimental satellite, according to a NASA news release dated Aug. 4.

TacSat-2, one of a series of small satellites intended to demonstrate direct tasking by deployed commanders, is slated for launch in November aboard a Minotaur rocket assembled by Orbital Sciences Corp. in part from excess ICBM motors.

That rocket originally was supposed to loft the Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) spacecraft for the Missile Defense Agency, but that launch was delayed. NFIRE is now slated to launch in April 2007, also aboard a Minotaur rocket operating from Wallops Island.

Lockheed To Continue Angels Development

The U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin an $8 million contract to continue development of an experimental spacecraft that can accompany other satellites in orbit to look out for signs of trouble, according to a company news release dated Aug. 2.

The deal extends Lockheed Martin’s current contract on the Autonomous Nanosatellite Guardian Evaluating Local Space (ANGELS) effort through August 2007, according to the news release. The ANGELS system is expected to be demonstrated in space in late 2008 or early 2009, the release said.

The ANGELS satellite will be launched into geostationary orbit along with a host satellite, and then trail that spacecraft to demonstrate autonomous inspection capabilities. The host spacecraft and launch vehicle for the demonstration have not yet been determined, according to Stan Kennedy, ANGELS program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Lockheed Martin has completed an ANGELS design and begun work on prototype hardware, Kennedy said in an Aug. 3 interview. The company will continue that work through next summer, addressing issues including spacecraft size and cost, he said.

As of November 2005, the Air Force Research Laboratory was hoping to keep the total cost of the demonstration to no more than $20 million. Kennedy said the spacecraft would weigh anywhere between 10 and 50 kilograms, but added that designing something at the low end of that range could be more expensive.

Connie Rankin, a spokeswoman for the laboratory, said program officials were not available to comment by press time.

NOAA Satellite Chief Retiring in November

Greg Withee, who has overseen the satellite division at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) since May 2000, plans to retire in November. Withee is the longest-serving assistant administrator for satellites and information services in NOAA’s 37-year history.

Withee said in an Aug. 4 interview that he had wanted to seek other opportunities earlier, but chose to stay on in order to help put the troubled National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System on a solid footing. That program was restructured in June due to cost growth.

In an Aug. 3 e-mail sent to agency employees, NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher said Withee helped the satellite division demonstrate “continuous improvement in efficiency and service to the public, and our satellite and data programs have become the backbone of NOAA value to the nation.”

U.S. Air Force Modifies GPS 3 Design Contracts

The U.S. Air Force awarded contract modifications worth $10 million apiece to Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. Aug. 2 for additional design work on a new generation of GPS navigation satellites.

The contracts will allow the companies to revise their competing GPS 3 plans to fit with the Air Force’s new acquisition strategy, which calls for fielding capabilities in incremental blocks rather than all at once, according to the Pentagon contract announcement.

GeoEye Announces Deals; Senior Executive Departs

Imaging satellite operator GeoEye landed $19.6 million in U.S. government contracts during the second quarter of 2006, the company said Aug. 2, one day after it announced the departure of one of its senior executives.

The contracts were with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Park Service and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). GeoEye spokesman Mark Brender declined to provide additional details, but did say the NGA business was not a part of the company’s ClearView imagery contract with that agency.

Meanwhile, GeoEye announced Aug. 1 that Timothy Puckorius, senior vice president of international sales and marketing, will leave the company to pursue other opportunities. Puckorius will stay on as a consultant and adviser on international programs, the release said. He has been replaced by Paolo E. Columbi, who has been with the company since March.

Puckorius did not return calls seeking comment. “My decision to pursue other challenges was not an easy one,” he said in the release. “But I feel strongly that GeoEye is well-positioned in this marketplace.”

In another development, Martin Faga will join GeoEye’s board of directors. Faga, a former director of the National Reconnaissance Office, served as president and chief executive officer of the Mitre Corp. of Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va., from May 2000 until June 2006.

Change at Ball Reflects Growth in Classified Work

Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp.’s decision to divide its defense business into two units was motivated in part by the company’s growing workload on classified programs, according to Roz Brown, a company spokeswoman.

Ball decided to reorganize following the departure of Mike Cerneck, who ran the defense business until leaving in May to become chief executive of Swales Aerospace .

Fred Doyle will be vice president and general manager for Ball’s new National Defense Solutions group, which will handle most of the company’s classified business, Brown said.

Drew Crouch was named vice president and general manager of the Advanced Technologies and Projects unit, which will handle other defense work as well as civil programs.

USAF Takes Step To Set Up Near Space Comm System

The U.S. Air Force has issued an official notice that signals the likely beginning of a competition for communications systems that can operate near the edge of space, according to a July 31 notice on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site.

The Near Space Communications System is expected to be a remote-controlled balloon-carried VHF and UHF communications relay that would operate at an altitude of about 20 kilometers.

The July 31 notice is intended to identify potential sources for the system.

Air Force Space Command has been working with Space Data Corp. of Chandler, Ariz., on a near space system called Combat SkySat, and has conducted more than a dozen test flights with the communications system since 2004. However, the notice that the command is seeking sources to supply the Near Space Communications System is intended to lead to an open competition, according to Sgt. Jennifer Thibault, a Space Command spokeswoman.

USAF Renames Space Acquisition Offices

The U.S. Air Force’s space acquisition center renamed its program offices July 31 to reflect a more traditional Air Force organizational structure.

Organizations at the Los Angeles-based Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) that had previously been referred to as “systems program offices” are now designated as “wings,” according to an SMC news release dated July 31. The heads of those offices, previously referred to as program managers or program directors, will now be called commanders.

The missions and number of people assigned to the wings will not change, but the top officials overseeing the development and acquisition of new satellites and rockets will now have stronger “authority, accountability and responsibility,” according to the news release.

Designating program offices as wings and their top officials as commanders will help the top officials deal with certain issues like disciplinary problems themselves that previously required them to seek intervention from outside officials, according to Robert Dickman, a retired Air Force major general and former deputy for military space in the office of the undersecretary of the Air Force.

It will also help clarify the responsibilities of space acquisition officials, which will help those serving on promotion boards who do not have an acquisition background better understand their roles, Dickman said.

OnAir To Launch Aviation Broadband Service in 2007

OnAir, a Geneva -based communications provider, will be the first partner to distribute London-based Inmarsat‘s SwiftBroadband Internet service, according to an Aug. 3 press release from OnAir.

Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband allows airline passengers to access the Internet with a laptop computer . Airlines also can combine the service with Mobile OnAir to deliver services such as connecting flight information or baggage claim information to passengers’ mobile devices, the release said.

The first plane equipped with Mobile OnAir is scheduled for launch by Air France in early 2007, according to the release.

S.C. Firm To Sell Inmarsat Service To Yacht Owners

Station 53 of Hollywood, S.C., will use Bermuda-based Intelsat‘s GlobalConnex satellite network to provide communications services for luxury yachts, under a new agreement.

Station 53, which is a service provider exclusively devoted to the yacht market, will use the network to provide data, Internet and voice services to yachts sailing in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, according to an Aug. 3 press release from Intelsat. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed, according to Intelsat spokeswoman Jodi Katz.

Intelsat will use its IS-905 satellite to provide service for both regions, the release said.

Eagle-Picher Completes Bankruptcy Reorganization

EaglePicher Inc. (EPI), a battery and electronic components manufacturer for satellites and rockets, has completed its restructuring process under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code.

The assets of EPI and its subsidiaries will be transferred to the newly formed EaglePicher Corp. under the restructuring. The company’s defense and space commercial battery assets, formerly owned by EaglePicher Technologies, will be transferred to the new entity, EaglePicher. The companies will have entirely U.S.-based ownership.

The company, which is headquartered in Joplin, Mo., filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 during April of 2005.

Boeing Conducts Ground Tests of T-Sat Laser Link

Boeing Co. demonstrated the ability to transmit data between satellites through laser beams during recent ground testing conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratories, according to a company news release dated Aug. 1.

The testing was conducted as part of Boeing’s effort to design its entry in the competition to build the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) Communications System for the U.S. Air Force. The T-Sats are expected to use laser-cross links to help meet the Pentagon’s growing desire for bandwidth when they begin launching around the middle of the next decade.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is leading the other team competing for the T-Sat contract, and conducted similar testing late last year. The Air Force will choose one team to build the new satellites in December 2007, according to the Boeing news release.

Lockheed Delivers 2nd Spacecraft Bus for AEHF

Lockheed Martin Corp. recently delivered the second spacecraft structure for a new generation of secure communications satellites to the U.S. Air Force, according to a company news release dated Aug. 2.

Delivery of the second Advanced Extremely High Frequency (EHF) satellite allows Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., the payload subcontractor on the effort, to begin component installation and payload integration, according to the news release.

The first Advanced EHF satellite is scheduled to launch in April 2008, with the second to follow a year later.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman completed ground tests that confirmed performance predictions for the Advanced EHF satellite’s downlink phased array antenna, according to a company news release dated July 31.

The testing found that power and coverage performance for the antenna, which will transmit signals to ground terminals, exceeded specifications for the satellites, according to the Northrop Grumman news release.

DoD Wants To Sell Eight Shadow UAVs to Poland

The Pentagon notified Congress July 27 that it plans to facilitate the sale of eight Shadow unmanned aerial vehicles to Poland in a deal worth $73 million, according to a U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency news release.

The Shadow, which the U.S. Army has used in Iraq to search for improvised explosive devices, is built by AAI Corp. of Hunt Valley, Md. Poland plans to use the aircraft in support of European Union and NATO operations including combating terrorism, according to the news release.

The proposed sale to Poland also includes two spare aircraft and ground support equipment, according to the news release.

Cassini Finds Lakes on Saturn’s Moon Titan

NASA scientists believe the Cassini spacecraft has located several dozen liquid-hydrocarbon lakes on Saturn’s moon Titan, thought to be the source of the high concentration of methane and other hydrocarbons in Titan’s atmosphere, NASA announced July 27.

During a July 22 flyby of Titan, Cassini took images of numerous dark patches in the moon’s northern latitudes. Such dark regions in radar images generally indicate a very smooth terrain. Some areas appear completely black in the images, suggesting the surface is extremely smooth and very likely liquid. The images show channels leading in or out of the dark areas, indicating they were formed by liquid, according to the news release.

“This is a big deal,” Steve Wall, deputy radar team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in the release. “We’ve now seen a place other than Earth where lakes are present.”

Cassini spotted lake areas ranging from 1-kilometer wide to 32-kilometers wide. With Titan’s average temperature around minus 180 degrees Celsius, these liquid lakes are most likely a combination of methane and ethane, according to the release.

N. Korea Criticizes Kompsat-2 Launch

North Korea criticized South Korea’s launch of a high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite, saying the move would heighten regional tensions.

In an Aug. 1 statement published by the Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang said South Korea’s Arirang-2 satellite, also known as Kompsat-2, is “aimed at spying on the north at a time when the situation is getting extremely tense on the Korean Peninsula.”

The statement referred to the launch, which occurred July 28 aboard a Russian Rockot vehicle, as “a grave provocative act.”

The statement said the lack of U.S. criticism of the Arirang-2 program contrasts with U.S. protests of North Korean launches.

“South Korea’s recent launch of the satellite brought to light the aggressive nature, dual character and shamelessness” of the U.S. criticism of North Korea. “The United States is conniving at, and defending, the launches of missiles and spy satellites by its allies … while unreasonably taking issue with” similar moves by North Korea, the statement said.

Planetary Society Seeks Help in Finding Star Dust

The Planetary Society and the University of California at Berkeley are seeking volunteers to help search for interstellar dust particles collected during NASA’s Stardust comet-sample return mission, the Pasadena, Calif., group announced July 31.

The Stardust spacecraft used a lightweight collecting material called aerogel to gather samples of the comet Wild 2. As the probe made its way to the comet, it accumulated perhaps a few-dozen interstellar particles on the back side of the aerogel collector.

“On long journeys you’re bound to end up with a few bugs — or dust particles — smashed against the windshield, but in the case of Stardust, the research team wanted to collect them intact without smashing or vaporizing them,” Bruce Betts, director of projects at the Planetary Society, said in the news release.

NASA is digitally scanning the aerogel material, with 11 of 130 aerogel tiles scanned and an additional four completed each week, according to the news release.

Researchers at Berkeley are taking 700,000 so-called “focus movies” of the collector and posting them at http://stardustathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/. Each of these focus movies covers only a tiny portion of the aerogel — about the size of a grain of salt. Internet users can look for interstellar particles through these focus movies , which are fed to the “virtual microscope” at random.

Four Universities To Support NASA Radiation Belt Mission

NASA has selected four universities to develop experiments and associated hardware for the agency’s planned Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission, which will study near-Earth space radiation, NASA announced July 31.

The winning teams are led by Boston University; the University of Iowa, Iowa City; the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; and the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. Under the initial phase of the effort, worth a total of $4.2 million, each team will perform a one-year study evaluating cost, management and technology for its payload . Full-scale development of the four payloads is expected to cost a combined $96 million, according to the news release.

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission, slated to launch in 2012, will consist of two spacecraft that will study how space radiation accumulates and changes during space storms. Space storms produce intense magnetic and electrical energy that can knock out communications and disrupt global navigation systems.

Boston University will build a payload for directly measuring near-Earth radiation particles to learn more about their physical properties. Iowa’s payload will study plasma waves and how they distort Earth’s magnetic field. Minnesota will build hardware to study electric fields in space, while New Jersey’s component will study how space weather creates “storm time ring current” — which helps fuel the creation of radiation particles.

NASA also selected three teams to share $2.3 million to study smaller missions that will augment the storm probes. Those teams are led by the University of Colorado at Boulder; the University of Central Florida, Orlando; and Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Parliament Initiates U.K. Space Priorities Study

The British Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee is conducting what it calls “a major and wide-ranging inquiry” into U.K. space policy and has given interested parties an Oct. 13 deadline to submit written comments on whether the nation’s space spending delivers value for money.

The investigation comes as the British government prepares its next spending review, one that will include an assessment of the space budget.

Britain’s largest space-hardware company, EADS Space U.K., announced Aug. 2 that it welcomed the investigation by Parliament. “This inquiry is great news for the little-known U.K. satellite industry,” EADS Space U.K. Managing Director Colin Paynter said in a statement. The company employs 2,100 people at three British satellite manufacturing plants.

The Science and Technology Committee, in announcing its inquiry, said one focus will be “the benefits and value for money obtained from participation in the European Space Agency.”

Prototype Scramjet Engine Passes Hypersonic Tests

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., has wrapped up testing under hypersonic conditions of its Ground Demonstrator Engine No. 2 (GDE-2), a prototype hydrocarbon-fueled supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet , according to a July 27 Pratt & Whitney news release.

The GDE-2, which uses standard JP-7 fuel in a closed-loop configuration to both cool engine hardware and fuel the engine’s combustor, underwent testing at the High Temperature Tunnel facility at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. The Air Force Research Laboratory and NASA supported the testing .

The GDE-2 technology will be used as a starting point for the upcoming X-51A flight demonstration program, which is intended to develop scramjet engines capable of powering aircraft at speeds greater than Mach 5 , according to the news release. Pratt & Whitney, NASA, the Air Force Research Lab, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Boeing Co. of Chicago are partners on the X-51A program, set to begin in 2008.

Boeing Tests Demonstrate WGS Satellite-Ground Link

Boeing Co. has completed space-to-ground compatibility tests for the Wideband Gapfiller Satellite (WGS) program, demonstrating that two key ground control systems can interface with the WGS military communications satellites once on orbit , Boeing announced July 27.

Boeing and its partners on the U.S. Air Force WGS program — Universal Space Network and ITT Industries — were able to control a WGS satellite using a Universal Space Network ground station simulator at Boeing’s mission control center in El Segundo, Calif. Universal Space Network ground stations in Hawaii and Alaska will play key roles in WGS orbit-transfer operations and on-orbit testing, according to the news release.

Boeing also tested the Gapfiller Satellite Configuration and Control Element, which will serve as the primary telemetry and command interface for the system. This ground element, designed by Boeing and ITT Industries of White Plains, N.Y., will be able to configure the X-band phased array antennas, which are part of the WGS communications payload, according to the release.

The WGS system is a high-capacity satellit e communications system for the U.S. military. Boeing Satellite Development Center in El Segundo is under contract to build three WGS satellites and order long-lead components for a fourth. The first WGS satellite is slated to launch in 2007 , according to the news release.

Wyle Creates Unit for Space Tourism Business

Wyle Laboratories Inc. of El Segundo, Calif., has created a new business unit that will provide life-sciences and medical support to the emerging space tourism industry, the company announced July 28.

The Commercial Human Spaceflight Services unit will provide consulting services, medical screenings, and qualification, training, data and risk management as well as mission and ground operations support. The unit will seek opportunities with the commercial human spaceflight industry, transportation providers and planned spaceports, according to the news release.

Wyle has provided support services to NASA since the early 1960s.

“Our successful medical operations, training and ground and flight support experience with NASA is unparalleled, and these new services are a natural extension of our ongoing business development efforts,” Vernon McDonald, who has worked on Wyle human spaceflight health projects for 13 years and will head the new unit, said in the news release.

SRS Wins Space Command Support Subcontract

SRS Technologies of Newport Beach, Calif., will serve as a subcontractor to SI International of Reston, Va., to provide U.S. Air Force Space Command with life-cycle planning, management and engineering assistance for the next-generation command and control capabilities for space-, airborne- and ground-based systems, SRS announced July 31.

SI International announced in late June it had been awarded a $14 million contract to lead the project. The award has a one-year base period, a one-year extension option and an additional six-month option period, according to the news release.

ABSL Tests Battery for Planned S. Korean Rocket

A new large lithium-ion battery capable of generating 270 volts of power for space vehicles has passed qualification tests, performing successfully under simulated launch conditions, ABSL Space Products, the U.K. firm which developed the battery, announced July 31.

ABSL built the battery to power the Thrust Vector Control system for the South Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s planned KSLV-1 launch vehicle, which is set to debut in October 2007.

The project builds on work ABSL performed under a $50 million NASA contract to design large lithium-ion batteries to upgrade the space shuttle power system. But that award was terminated after the first design review following the decision to retire the fleet in 2010, according to the news release.

ABSL also was awarded in late June a $1.7 million contract to develop lithium-ion batteries for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Static Sensor Installed Aboard Space Station

The crew aboard the international space station has installed a sensor built by Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) that will monitor the buildup of static electrical charges during extravehicular activities, or spacewalks, SDL announced July 31.

Electrons collect on the space station’s solar panels faster than they can be emitted, causing the station to be at a negative potential relative to the surrounding space environment, according to the news release.

“A similar situation is created when a person walks across a carpet, building up a static electrical charge,” Charles Swenson, a professor at Utah State in Logan and the sensor’s principal investigator, said in the news release. “When the person touches an object that is at a different charge, such as a doorknob, there will be a discharge — producing a shock.”

If the voltage discrepancy is too great between a spacewalking astronaut and the station, it could cause a discharge that may disrupt station electronics, damage surface coatings and even burn holes in thermal blanketing, according to the release. The Floating Potential Measurement Unit will allow NASA to detect any electrical charge buildups .

NASA awarded SDL a $2.5 million contract to develop the technology in 2001. The sensor’s installation had been delayed after the Columbia disaster, but it flew with the STS-121 mission on Space Shuttle Discovery July 4.

New Research May Solve Decades-Old Mars Mystery

Two scientists have come up with a theory to explain chemical discrepancies in martian soil samples collected 30 years ago by NASA’s Viking landers in an effort to find life on the red planet. New research indicates that martian dust storms generate electricity that in turn produce reactive chemicals that build up in the soil, NASA said in a press release July 31.

Gregory Delory, a senior fellow at the University of California at Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, and Sushil Atreya, a planetary science professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, say static electricity created during martian dust storms produces electric fields strong enough to break apart water and carbon dioxide molecules. The electricity also frees up electrons from molecules in Mars’ atmosphere. When these free electrons collide with the broken water and carbon dioxide molecules, they form reactive chemical products like hydrogen peroxide and ozone, Delory and Atreya say in separate reports published in the June 2006 issue of Astrobiology.

In 1976, the twin Viking landers scooped up martian soil and added nutrients mixed with water to test for signs of microscopic life. If life were present, the nutrients would be absorbed and waste would be produced, and evidence of this would show up in sample analyses.

Results of the Labeled Release and the Gas Exchange tests indicated there was something active in the soil since nutrients had been broken down. However, in the Mass Spectrometer test, no organic matter was found in the soil. The researchers now credit the reactive chemicals with breaking down those nutrients, according to the news release.