Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 05 July 2005
11:36 am ET


Wandering Thaicom 5 Ends Up Back at Shin Satellite

Thailand’s Shin Satellite has signed a deal with Alcatel Space to buy a telecommunications spacecraft that was originally built in 1997 for Shin, then abandoned during Thailand’s economic crisis before being sold to another operator and abandoned again, Alcatel Space and industry officials said July 1.

The $100 million Thaicom 5 satellite, to be launched in 2006, is a slightly modified version of the Thaicom 4 spacecraft that was almost completely built when Shin decided in 1997 that it could no longer afford it.

The satellite sat in Paris-based Alcatel’s Cannes, France, production facility for several years before being modified for sale to Agrani Satellite of Mumbai, India. In 2004 Agrani, like Shin before it, decided its business plan could not justify the satellite and the deal was canceled. The spacecraft was returned to storage for a second stint as what is called in the aviation industry a “white tail” or “hangar queen.”

In the wake of a successful supplemental stock offering that raised $77 million and on the eve of the launch of its large Thaicom 4 broadband satellite, formerly called iPSTAR, Bangkok-based Shin has purchased what is now called Thaicom 5 to replace its Thaicom 1 and Thaicom 2 satellites, set to be taken out of service in 2008 and 2009.

Shin’s board of directors has approved an $100 million expenditure on the satellite. Any additional financing needed for the satellite will be raised via a loan.

Alcatel Space said July 1 that it would deliver Thaicom 5 — featuring 14 Ku-band and 24 C-band transponders, 5 kilowatts of end-of-life power and weighing 2,800 kilograms at launch — in the second quarter of 2006. Shin will contract separately for launch services.

Meanwhile, sales of two-way broadband user terminals for the Thaicom 4/iPSTAR satellite helped increase Shin Satellite plc’s first-quarter satellite-related revenues to 755 million Thai baht ($18.3 million), Bangkok-based Shin announced. Sales a year earlier were 739 million baht.

The Thaicom 4/iPSTAR satellite is being prepared for a mid-July launch aboard a European Ariane 5G rocket from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. The 6,500-kilogram satellite, built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., arrived at the South American spaceport aboard an Antonov cargo jet June 7.

Alcatel To Build 150,000 Rural Satellite Terminals

Alcatel S.A. of Paris will design, manufacture and install 150,000 rural telephone terminals across Africa under a contract signed with Mauritius-based RascomStar-QAF, whose satellite is under construction by Alcatel Space and scheduled for launch in 2006, Alcatel announced June 29.

Financial terms were not disclosed. The rural terminals, 25,000 of which will be able to operate simultaneously with the satellite, will extend telephone and other telecommunications services to villages in the RascomStar network. Rascom founders include Alcatel Space and the Libyan General Post and Telecommunications Co.

Lockheed Martin Must Pay $3 Million Bond By July 31

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that Lockheed Martin must pay U.S. regulators a $3 million bond by July 25 in return for a license to operate a navigation payload on a satellite that is already built, despite the mission’s public-service aspects.

In decisions announced June 23 and June 28, the FCC gave its long-expected approval for Lockheed Martin to operate an L-band payload aboard PanAmSat’s Galaxy 15 satellite, scheduled for launch as early as September into the orbital position at 133 degrees west longitude.

The satellite will be owned and operated by PanAmSat. But the L-band license for use with the U.S. Wide Area Augmentation System — a GPS timing and navigation enhancement that uses ground stations and satellites in geostationary orbit — will be Lockheed Martin’s responsibility.

The L-band payload is what’s left of a 1999 Lockheed Martin proposal for a 12-satellite system operating in geostationary orbit to provide global location, navigation and timing services.

The FCC’s bond requirement is designed to prevent a flood of license requests for satellites that stand little chance of being built. It is gradually refunded as the satellite owners pass various contract milestones toward launch. In this case, the FCC will have barely enough time to cash the check before having to start refunding the payment. Galaxy 15 is tentatively scheduled for launch in September aboard a European Ariane 5G rocket.

Russia Agrees To Launch Brazilian Astronaut to ISS

Brazil and Russia have reached a preliminary agreement to send the Brazilian astronaut, Air Force Lt. Col. Marcos Pontes, to the international space station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft sometime in 2006, according to Sergio Gaudenzi, president of the Brazilian Space Agency.

In 2000, Pontes completed astronaut training in Houston to fly aboard the U.S. space shuttle, but his flight was delayed after the Columbia accident. He has been on a waiting list for a possible flight in 2008 or 2009, according to Gaudenzi.

The agreement between Brazil and Russia was concluded at the recent Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, France, between Gaudenzi and Anatoli Perminov, head of the Russian Space Agency, according to the news release . Pontes will be required to go through 13 months of Soyuz training in Star City, outside Moscow.

Alcatel, Finmeccanica Finish Merger of Space Divisions

The merger of the space divisions of Alcatel of France and Italy’s Finmeccanica was completed July 1 with the formation of an Alcatel-led satellite manufacturer and a Finmeccanica-managed satellite services company.

Alcatel Alenia Space, to include the satellite and orbital-infrastructure divisions of Alenia Spazio and Alcatel Space, will be owned 67 percent by Alcatel and 33 percent by Finmeccanica. Pascale Sourisse, who has been president of Alcatel Space, will be president of this company, whose 2004 sales were 1.8 billion euros ($2.17 billion). Georgio Zappa, chief operating officer of Finmeccanica, will be chairman of the board.

Telespazio Holding, owned 67 percent by Finmeccanica and 33 percent by Alcatel, includes Italy’s Telespazio services business. Giuseppe Veredice of Finmeccanica will be chief executive officer, with Olivier Houssin of Alcatel serving as board chairman. The new company’s 2004 sales totaled 350 million euros.

Boeing Satellite Chief Heads to Northrop Grumman

Dave Ryan, who oversaw Boeing’s troubled satellite manufacturing operations in El Segundo, Calif., has moved to Northrop Grumman Space Technology, where he will be a vice president responsible for sensors and payloads for all of the company’s satellite products and also will oversee relevant subcontractors.

Ryan is being replaced at Boeing by Charles Toups, who will serve as vice president of the Boeing Satellite Development Center, Space and Intelligence Systems; and Stephen T. O’Neill, who will be responsible for civil and commercial satellites.

Longtime Satellite Chief Will Retire from the FCC

Tom Tycz is retiring from his post as head of the satellite division at the Federal Communications Commission, where for more than two decades he was responsible for the regulation and licensing of all commercial U.S. satellite and Earth station facilities and their international coordination. He joined the FCC in 1975.

Ikonos To Map Alaska for U.S. Department of Agriculture

Space Imaging announced June 27 that it has received a contract from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide high-resolution satellite images of Alaska to track land use, loss of farmland and changes in landscape due to soil erosion.

Thornton, Colo.-based Space Imaging will use its Ikonos satellite to capture the images for the department’s Natural Resources Industry program, which tracks the condition of soil, water and other resources in the United States.

The program’s inventory process for Alaska traditionally has taken longer than for other states due to the difficulty acquiring data in the Alaska’s remote regions, according to a Space Imaging news release. Gary Napier, a Space Imaging spokesman, could not provide the contract amount.

RSCC’s Express-AM 3 Launched by Proton

Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) expects to begin operations of its Express- AM 3 satellite at 140 degrees east longitude in August following the satellite’s successful June 25 launch aboard a Proton-K rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Moscow-based RSCC announced.

The Express-AM 3 is the fifth of a new-generation satellite design that features a platform built by NPO-PM of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, and European and Japanese electronics payloads. The AM 3, weighing 2,500 kilograms at launch, has one L-band, 16 C-band and 12 Ku-band transponders provided by Alcatel Space of France. It will be used to provide television, telemedicine and other telecommunications services in Russia’s Far East, and also will be able to serve markets in Northeast Asia and as far south as Australia.

The satellite is part of a Russian government-financed program to renew the fleet of mainly NPO-PM-built satellites providing telecommunications to Russia and neighboring territories. The new-generation satellites are designed to function in orbit for 12 years, compared to seven years for the previous generation.

Financing for the AM 3 was provided by Russia’s Sberbank, with launch and in-orbit insurance arranged by Moscow’s Ingosstrakh insurance company.

ESA To Supply 3 Sensors For Indian Lunar Probe

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has approved three European instruments to fly aboard its Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, which is slated to launch in 2007 or 2008, ISRO announced June 27.

An agreement on Europe’s role in India’s first planetary probe was signed June 27 in Bangalore by G Madhavan Nair, chairman of ISRO, and Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency (ESA). Indian and European scientists will share the data from the European instruments under the agreement, ISRO said in a statement.

The European payloads are: an X-ray spectrometer from Britain’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory that will measure the distribution of elements on the lunar surface using an X-ray fluorescence technique; a near infra red spectrometer from the Max Planck Institute of Germany, to detect and measure the abundance of lunar mineral; and an atom-reflecting analyzer from the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, developed in collaboration with India, to measure gases generated by solar wind hitting lunar surface and measure surface magnetic field anomalies.

ISRO said the European instruments would complement Indian experiments aboard Chandrayaan-1, which include a terrain-mapping camera; a hyperspectral imager operating in the 400-900 nanometer band; a laser-ranging instrument; and a high-energy X-ray spectrometer. An impact probe also has been included in the mission for demonstrating technology required for future landing missions, ISRO said.

Chandrayaan-1 is planned for launch aboard India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The 525-kilogram satellite will be placed in a lunar polar orbit with an altitude of about 100 kilometers and will operate for two years, ISRO said.

BAE Systems Unit To Design Semiconductors for NASA

BAE Systems will develop semiconductors capable of operating in extreme temperatures without protective cover under a contract with NASA, Farnborough, England-based BAE announced.

The $12.5 million contract calls for BAE’s Manassas, Va., facility to modify existing semiconductor designs and operating parameters to permit the devices to operate at temperatures as low as minus 230 degrees Celsius. The work is intended to pave the way for systems operating on the surface of the Moon or Mars without the need for thermal shields.

BAE Systems provides radiation-hardened equipment for several U.S. space programs. The company’s computers are being used on NASA’s two Mars rovers, and an upgraded version is operating on board NASA’s Deep Impact comet-rendezvous mission.

Spot, Singapore Center Sign Joint Venture Pact

Singapore’s Center for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP) and Spot Image of France have signed a joint-venture agreement under which CRISP will become a partner in Spot Image’s Spot Asia subsidiary, also based in Singapore, Spot Image announced.

CRISP has operated a satellite image-reception facility since 1995 that receives imagery from numerous optical and radar Earth-observation satellites including Spot spacecraft. Spot Asia, created in 1991, distributes Spot and other imagery to 10 nations in the region.

In a statement, CRISP Director Leong Keong Kwoh said teaming up with Spot Asia will blend CRISP’s technical expertise with Spot Asia’s commercial strength.

“This new [joint venture] represents a marriage of technology and commercial operations,” Jean-Marc Nasr, chairman of Spot Image S.A. of Toulouse, France, said in a statement.

Hyatt Hotel Customers To Get Free XM Satellite Radio

Hyatt Hotels Corp. and XM Satellite Radio have entered a multiyear promotional agreement to provide free XM radio service in Hyatt hotel rooms across the United States, the companies announced June 28.

Starting this autumn, Washington-based XM and Hyatt of Chicago will begin installing the service in over 50,000 guestrooms in the continental United States. The agreement also calls for members of Hyatt’s frequent guest program, Gold Passport, to receive special offers on XM hardware.

Satcom Direct Enhances In-Flight Internet Service

Satcom Direct Inc. announced June 30 the launch of a new in-flight Internet service called Aero X, which provides data speeds up to 1 megabit per second over the Inmarsat satellite system.

Satcom Direct of Satellite Beach, Fla., has expanded the data-transfer capability of its Swift 64 network using Ottawa-based EMS Satcom’s Cabin Network Accelerator (CNX), a device that expands cabin communication abilities to aircraft passengers.

Kate Murchison, an EMS Satcom spokeswoman, said the service initially will be offered aboard corporate jets and can be expanded to those aircraft that have CNX hardware installed.

Google Visualization Tool Utilizes Satellite Imagery

Internet search company Google Inc. has launched a new 3-D visualization tool that combines the company’s search engine with satellite-imagery-based map products to allow users to see locations around the world from space to street-level perspectives , Google of Mountain View, Calif., announced June 28.

The product, Google Earth, is a free service that utilizes 3-D images of buildings in major U.S. cities and other physical terrain so users are able to tilt and rotate a location for different views . The integrated search engine also allows users to find local information on schools, parks, transportation, hotels, restaurants and business listings.

The product is based on Google’s Keyhole technology, using broadband streaming and 3-D graphics for interactivity, much like a video game, according to the Google news release. The satellite images are furnished by third party providers, but Google spokeswoman Eileen Rodriguez declined to name them.

European Embassies Being Wired for Telenor

Telenor Satellite Services signed an agreement June 24 with British Telecommunications plc (BT) to connect 83 European Commission embassies with Telenor’s global satellite communications network.

BT of Glasgow, Scotland, recently became the primary provider of the commission’s embassy communications . The company will continue to provide terrestrial connectivity while Telenor delivers satellite links, either integrated with BT offerings or as stand-alone services.

Telenor of Oslo, Norway, announced June 29 that the network should be operational July 1 after site installations have been completed. The four-year agreement is valued at 50 million euros ($60.3 million).

NASA Selects Projects for Space Radiation Research

NASA announced June 29 that it will fund 21 proposals for radiation research in order to develop adequate radiation protection for astronauts on future exploration missions to the Moon or Mars.

NASA’s Space Radiation Program will provide a total of $19 million for the research projects . Radiation exposure in space can have serious health consequences for astronauts such as tissue damage, cancer and cataracts.

The 21 proposals were chosen out of 115 responses NASA received after issuing a request for proposals Aug. 24, 2004.

NASA Finds Possible Lake On Saturn’s Moon Titan

Images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft reveal a possible lake (right) on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, which scientists said may contain liquid methane from rainfall, the space agency announced June 28.

The images show a dark marking measuring 234 kilometers long by 73 kilometers wide in one of the moon’s most clouded regions. NASA scientists said the possible lake has smooth, shore-like boundaries unlike anything seen on Titan before.

Scientists say that another possibility — instead of liquid methane — is that the lake is dried up and contains dark, solid hydrocarbons that have fallen from the atmosphere.

With Cassini scheduled for 39 more flybys of the moon, scientists hope to further observe the lake-like feature and look for mirror-like reflections indicating the presence of liquids.

TopSat Satellite Clears Launch Vibration Tests

QinetiQ, a U.K.-based defense laboratory, announced June 13 that its TopSat Earth-mapping satellite has completed launch vibration tests and is ready for its scheduled Aug. 25 launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

TopSat is a small satellite designed to provide high-resolution imagery using an advanced optical camera capable of covering ground areas of 15 by 15 kilometers.

The satellite will be part of a five-satellite payload for the Russian Cosmos launcher.

QinetiQ is leading a consortium of U.K. companies in the project’s development and is responsible for strategic design and coordination efforts.

BtNAccess Helps Extend Loral Skynet’s Reach

Loral Skynet extended its Internet Protocol (IP) communications services to Asia July 1, granting area users such applications as Internet access, streamed media, file transfers, local area network connectivity and Wi-Fi services, the company announced June 26.

Loral has expanded its services via an agreement with BtNAccess of Reston, Va., a satellite communications provider whose Hong Kong iDirect IP hub carries Loral’s SkyReach services to Asia.

Loral will combine capacity on its Telstar 10 and Telstar 18 satellites with BtNAccess’ teleport and terrestrial communications services to provide the IP network.

Loral Skynet, headquartered in Bedminster, N.J., already offers SkyReach services in North and South America.

Michigan Aerospace Corp. Wins NASA Sensor Work

The Michigan Aerospace Corp. announced June 22 that it has won a contract from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., to build a receiver for a wind-measurement instrument that will fly aboard manned or unmanned research aircraft.

Michigan Aerospace of Ann Arbor said in a news release that its receiver, based on the company’s Light Detection and Ranging technology, will enable the NASA instrument to take high-accuracy wind measurements. The contract is valued at $80,000, according to company spokesman Pete Tchoryk.

NASA Unveils Revamped Technology Transfer Program

After a yearlong review of its technology transfer program by the National Academy for Public Administration, NASA announced the release of a request for proposals June 24 seeking new partnerships that support the agency’s space exploration goals.

The solicitation incorporates or addresses several of the recommendations that resulted from the academy’s study, according to NASA. The technology transfer program is aimed at creating partnerships with industry, academia and others to bring NASA-developed technology to bear in pursuit of the new Vision for Space Exploration.

Developed by the NASA Exploration Mission Systems Directorate’s Innovative Partnerships Program office, the solicitation calls for projects lasting two years, with three option years.

Successful bidders will support both NASA Headquarters and agency field centers.

Science Applications Unit To Support Ames Simulators

NASA has awarded Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) a contract to support aerospace systems modeling and simulation facilities at the agency’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

The space agency announced June 24 that the SAIC’s applied sciences operation located in Albuquerque, N.M., will be responsible for the operation, maintenance and modification of Ames’ SimLabs, which provide high-fidelity, simulated flight environments and are used for air traffic control research.

Work under the five-year contract is valued at $62.1 million and begins this August.

NASA Designing Force Field To Repel Space Radiation

A NASA-industry team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., is developing a shield to protect astronauts from harmful space radiation using the simple laws of electromagnetism: like charges repel and opposite ones attract.

With support from NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts, the scientists with ASRC Aerospace Corp., headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska, are working to create a force field that generates the same electric charge as the dangerous radiation in space, thus repelling it away from astronauts traveling to the Moon or Mars, NASA said in a June 24 news release.

The force field model is designed for a lunar base that would have six inflatable, conductive spheres that could hold a high static-electrical potential up to 100 megavolts.

The spheres would then be arranged carefully to repel either the positively or negatively charged radiation. In models, the design alleviated radiation risks to astronauts successfully.

Com Dev Wins Contract From European Customer

Com Dev International announced June 27 that it has received an 8.7 million Canadian dollars ($7.1 million) contract from an undisclosed European customer to provide both standard and space electronics products that operate at military frequencies.

The company, which manufactures space hardware subsystems, said in a news release that work under the contract will be carried out at its headquarters in Cambridge, Ontario, and it’s Aylesbury, U.K., facility over the next 12 months. Further details regarding the contract are expected to be available at the end of the year, Com Dev said.

Florida Teachers To Fly on Zero-G Microgravity Plane

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Zero Gravity Corp. and the Endeavour Academy of Titusville, Fla., are launching a new program that will allow 15 state educators to experience simulated weightlessness in a modified Boeing 727 aircraft that flies in a parabolic pattern ranging from 7,315 meters to over 10,000 meters in altitude .

Florida’s Zero-G Experience for Teachers program will allow the educators to experience weightlessness while also participating in videotaped experiments to enhance the math and science curriculum in the state.

The teachers will be weightless for about 10 minutes of the 90- to 100-minute flight and will undergo mission training before the inaugural launch July 16.

The teachers were selected based on essays they wrote on how they would use their experiences to benefit students and colleagues.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com