Sea Launch, Arianespace Announce New Contracts

Sea Launch and Arianespace each announced the addition of two telecommunications satellites to their respective launch backlogs.

Eutelsat Communications of Paris has selected Sea Launch to loft two future telecommunications satellites — likely the W2A to be built by Alcatel Alenia Space and the Hot Bird 9 under construction at EADS Astrium. The launch contracts were signed in the spring and announced Sept. 5.

The launches will be Eutelsat’s first use of the Sea Launch 3SL vehicle, and are expected to occur in 2008 or 2009. Eutelsat has another large satellite, called W7, planned for around 2009, and a contractor is expected to be named in the coming weeks.

The Arianespace launch consortium of Evry, France, meanwhile, confirmed Sept. 6 that it will launch the German military’s two SatcomBw telecommunications satellites on separate Ariane 5 ECA vehicles in 2008.

The contracts were signed with Astrium GmbH of Germany, the spacecraft prime contractor that also is responsible for delivering the satellites into orbit. The SatcomBw satellites are expected to weigh 2,500 kilograms apiece at launch, making them small enough for the Russian Soyuz rocket that will operate from Europe’s Guiana Space Center starting in late 2008 or early 2009. But the launches are scheduled for the first and second quarters of 2008, meaning the Satcom-Bw satellites will ride into orbit with co-passengers aboard the heavy-lift Ariane 5 ECA vehicle.

NASA is Getting More From Civil Servants, Griffin Says

NASA has managed over the past year to dramatically reduce the number of civil servants on its payroll who are not assigned to specific projects, but still has about 300 full-timers that need to find funded work or leave the agency.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, in an Aug. 19 letter to House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), said the agency estimated last year that its unassigned work force approached 3,000 full-time-equivalent positions. That figure, Griffin’s letter said, has since been reduced by 90 percent through a combination of buyouts, job fairs, hiring freezes and keeping more NASA work in house rather than farming it out to industry.

Griffin noted that NASA has assigned each of its 10 field centers leading or supporting roles in Project Constellation, the multi-decade effort to field the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, Ares family of launchers, and other hardware needed for manned lunar missions.

While characterizing 300 as a “manageable” number of unassigned employees within an agency work force that totals 19,000, Griffin said he will be looking in the year ahead to offer additional voluntary buyouts and move employees to field centers where their skills may be needed.

The letter, obtained by Space News, also alerts Boehlert to changes in the way NASA will count its field center overhead costs starting in 2007 that may make it appear as though aeronautics spending is being shortchanged.

“Let me assure you that there is zero change in Aeronautics Research content as a result of this change in accounting,” Griffin wrote. “Under the previous accounting method, the Aeronautics Research program had a significant amount of overhead costs assigned to it since those Aeronautics Research programs are managed primarily at NASA’s research centers with a great deal of work being performed by NASA civil servants.”

Single Broker To Insure Intelsat-PanAmSat Fleet

With the merger of Intelsat and PanAmSat now closed, the combined company is expected to select a single space insurance broker following oral presentations by the major brokerages starting the week of Sept. 11. The winner will become the sole broker for the world’s biggest commercial satellite-fleet operator. Washington-based Intelsat now has 51 wholly owned satellites.

Marsh, International Space Brokers, Aon Space and Willis Aerospace plan to send teams to make their case to Intelsat. PanAmSat had been a Marsh customer, while Intelsat had used International Space Brokers.

Jean-Luc Froelige, Intelsat’s senior director for space systems acquisition, said the company hoped to make a selection by the end of September or shortly thereafter. He said Intelsat also is reviewing its overall insurance policy to determine how much in-orbit insurance, if any, it will purchase for its fleet.

Raytheon Co. to Develop Sensor for AIRSS Program

The U.S. Air Force has awarded a $54 million contract to Raytheon Co. to develop a missile-warning satellite sensor, according to an Air Force news release dated Sept. 5.

The contract calls for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif., to develop a sensor that will undergo qualification testing by March 14, 2008, as part of the Air Force’s Alternative Infrared Satellite System (AIRSS) program, according to the news release.

The service is considering awarding a similar contract to a second company, according to the news release.

The AIRSS program is intended to yield a replacement for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning satellites after the second or third spacecraft The AIRSS effort began after persistent technical problems and runaway cost growth prompted the Air Force to scale back its planned purchase of Lockheed Martin-built SBIRS satellites.

NGA Signs Access Deal|For DigitalGlobe Archive

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) will use a privately built archive of satellite images of major cities for security purposes.

NGA will use DigitalGlobe’s CitySphere product to access color imagery of 200 of the world’s largest cities. The images will serve as base maps for a variety of geospatial applications.

The archived images will assist NGA with needs such as embassy security, route planning, and evacuation planning, according to a Sept. 5 press release from Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed, said DigitalGlobe spokesman Chuck Herring.

Six Companies Picked for U.S. Army Satcom Program

Six contractors have been qualified to provide satellite communications solutions to the U.S. Army under a program worth up to $5 billion.

The selected companies will provide services under the Army’s Worldwide Satellite Systems (WWSS) program, which is an indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contracting vehicle for satellite communications services.

The WWSS contractors are: Boeing Co. of Chicago; DataPath of Duluth, Ga.; DSCI of Eatontown, N.J.; General Dynamics of Falls Church, Va.; Globecomm Systems of Hauppauge, N.Y.; and TeleCommunications Systems Inc. of Annapolis, Md.

The contract is for five years and has a ceiling of $5 billion, according to a Sept. 7 press release from DataPath. Other federal agencies besides the Department of Defense can order services under the contracting vehicle, according to an Aug. 31 press release from DSCI.

SMART-1 Completes Mission By Smashing Into the Moon

Europe’s Small Mission for Advanced Research and Technology-1 (SMART-1) successfully crashed into the Moon Sept. 3 after 16 months in lunar orbit, the European Space Agency (ESA) reported.

SMART-1, ESA’s first lunar probe, crashed at a speed of 2 kilometers per second in a maneuver designed to generate data on the lunar surface, ESA said in a Sept. 3 press release. The impact was observed by scientists and engineers at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

During its time in orbit, SMART-1 focused its sensors on an area of the Moon known as the Lake of Excellence. The mission also demonstrated technologies in areas such as solar-electric propulsion and deep space communications, the press release said.

New Horizons Camera Captures
Star Cluster

An instrument aboard NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizon’s spacecraft has taken its first images in space.

The high-resolution Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons took a photo Aug. 27 of Messier 7, a star cluster in the Milky Way galaxy, according to a Sept. 1 NASA press release .

The camera is scheduled to take high-resolution images of Pluto and its moons during a summer 2015 flyby of the dwarf planet.

Group Closes Purchase of Thales Navigation Business

An investment group led by Shah Capital Partners has finalized its $170 million purchase of Thales Navigation, Shah Capital announced in an Aug. 31 press release.

The new company will be known as Magellan, and will be headquartered in San Dimas, Calif. Thales announced July 20 that it would sell off its navigation business, which it purchased in 2001 from Orbital Science Corp. of Dulles, Va., for about $70 million.

Loral Skynet To Connect British Island Territory

Loral Skynet and Global Crossing will bring satellite communications to a remote island community under an arrangement with the British government.

The companies will extend the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) communications network to the community of Tristan da Cunha, a British territory, according to an Aug. 30 press release from Loral. Services to Tristan are being provided through Global Crossing’s existing arrangement to manage the FCO’s communications infrastructure in 140 countries, according to the press release .

Bedminster, N.J.-based Loral Skynet, a division of Loral Space & Communications, operates the Telstar satellite fleet. Global Crossing is a fiber-optic cable operator and telecommunications services provider based in Bermuda.

Rugged Arizona Terrain Provides Mars Training

NASA is set to begin another series of tests in Arizona designed to simulate surface operations under the harsh conditions of Mars.

For the ninth consecutive year, a team of around 100 scientists will test new equipment and operational concepts in an area near Flagstaff, Ariz., beginning Sept. 12, according to a Sept. 1 NASA press release .

One test includes a robotic vehicle known as the All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer, which will move through rough terrain to simulate the establishment of a way station that crew members would use while exploring the red planet.

Astronauts Take a Dive For Lunar Training Exercise

NASA astronauts are preparing for a seven-day undersea exercise during which they will simulate activities on the Moon.

Four astronauts will enter the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aquarius underwater laboratory Sept. 16, according to a Sept. 1 press release from NASA. Aquarius lies underneath 18 meters of water some 6 kilometers offshore in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Once under water, the astronauts will perform simulated moonwalks, and test spacesuit mobility using weights. They also will test the communications capabilities of robots designed to operate on the Moon .

SES Americom To Develop Pipeline Monitoring System

SES Americom will develop a satellite-based pipeline monitoring system for a gas company in Ghana under a multiyear contract, the satellite operator announced Aug. 29 .

The contract calls for SES Americom, the Princeton, N.J.-based U.S. subsidiary of SES Global, to create a solution for the West African Gas Pipeline Co. Ltd. of Accra, Ghana, to monitor gas flow rates and volume. The data will be transmitted via SES Americom’s AMC-12 satellite using a teleport in Leuk, Switzerland. The dollar amount of the contract was not disclosed.

Stern’s Greatest Hits Airing on Sirius Radio

Unedited versions of selected early broadcasts by pioneering radio shock jock Howard Stern are being made available to Sirius Satellite Radio subscribers, the company announced Aug. 31.

The material was chosen from 23,000 hours of tapes from Stern’s 20 years in radio. New York-based Sirius, Stern’s current employer, was to begin airing the old broadcasts Sept. 1, the company said.

Cibola Flight Experiment Shipped for Final Testing

Engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M., have shipped a technology-demonstration satellite to Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., for a last round of testing before its scheduled December launch.

The Cibola Flight Experiment is a joint project between the National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Research and Development, also known as NA-22. The satellite will validate eight technologies in space, including a launch-vehicle separation system and inflatable antennas, according to an Aug. 31 press release from Los Alamos. It also will monitor lightning and other sources of radio frequency noise in the ionosphere.

Cibola is equipped with a supercomputer that has the ability to process data in orbit, enabling the spacecraft to transmit refined information as opposed to raw data to the ground. The satellite platform, or bus, was supplied by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Guildford, England.

The satellite will be launched along with several other small payloads in December on the STP-1 mission, which marks the first flight of the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Secondary Payload Adapter ring. That launch, aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, also will deploy the Pentagon’s Orbital Express on-orbit servicing experiment.

NASA Algae Study Shows Looks Can Be Deceiving

In a discovery that is likely to affect climate-science models, a new NASA study has demonstrated that a lack of iron can give algae a vibrant-looking green color even when it is stressed and unhealthy.

The NASA study examined phytoplankton, a microscopic plant that is important in regulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere , according to an Aug. 31 press release from NASA.

Scientists assumed that healthy-looking algae were photosynthesizing at normal levels. They determined, however, that some of the healthy-looking phytoplankton was actually suffering from a lack of iron that impedes the process of photosynthesis.

Scientists took data from NASA’s Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor, which measures color variations in the ocean, aboard the commercially operated OrbView-2 satellite, and compared it with algae samples collected from ships. The comparison showed that the more florescent-looking phytoplankton was actually lacking in iron.

Taking into account the unhealthy plants dramatically changes scientists’ atmospheric carbon models. In the Pacific Ocean alone, for example, estimates of the amount of carbon consumed annually by phytoplankton is reduced by around 2 billion tons, NASA said.

DirecTV and Partners Test Internet Telephony

DirecTV and investment firm Hicks Holdings LLC of Dallas are jointly conducting a pilot program to test the delivery of Internet-based telephone services to customers of the satellite television service.

The six-month pilot program will be followed by the release of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services to a large portion of DirecTV’s customer base, according to an Aug. 30 press release from Vistula Communications. New York-based Vistula is a VoIP provider working with the partnership, known as DirecPath LLC, on the pilot program.

The partnership was formed to allow El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV to include telephony in its bundled service packages, the release said.

Rejected 2001 Offer To Take Equity in Sea Launch

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) turned down an offer to take an equity stake in the Sea Launch Co. in 2001, SpaceX President Jim Maser said.

Maser, who at the time was president of Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch, said he approached SpaceX founder Elon Musk with an offer to become a part-owner.

Maser said in a Sept. 7 address at Euroconsult’s annual World Summit for Satellite Financing that Musk viewed Sea Launch, which is backed by Boeing and uses Russian, Ukrainian and Norwegian hardware to launch heavy satellites from a floating Pacific Ocean platform, as “too bureaucratic and established — and this was when Sea Launch was still considered the start-up in the launch business,” Maser said.

El Segundo, Calif.-based SpaceX hired Maser away from Sea Launch to oversee technical development of SpaceX’s Falcon rocket family. The maiden flight of the company’s first vehicle, Falcon 1, failed in March, and Maser said a second attempt would be made before the end of this year.

HNS To Continue Leasing Capacity Even After Spaceway Reaches Orbit

Hughes Network Systems (HNS) will continue to lease substantial Ku-band capacity aboard more than a dozen satellites to maintain its current HughesNet customer base even after the early 2007 launch of its own Ka-band Spaceway broadband satellite, Hughes Senior Vice President Mike Cook said.

Germantown, Md.-based HNS currently leases 85 transponders – the equivalent of three full satellites — on spacecraft that provide coverage of North America to serve HughesNet’s current subscriber base of 300,000 customers.

Once Spaceway is in orbit, Hughes will load new customers onto the more-powerful Ka-band satellite but will keep existing customers on their current Ku-band spacecraft, Cook said.

“We continue to sign up a new Ku-band transponder every three weeks to meet demand,” Cook said. “These subscribers will not be migrated to Spaceway, but new subscribers will be placed on Spaceway.”

Continuing to lease satellite capacity is a major cost item for Hughes, but moving customers from the current fleet of satellites would also be costly. A Ku-band satellite customer will require new receiving equipment to be able to use the Spaceway satellite, which is currently scheduled for launch in the first half of 2007 aboard a Sea Launch rocket.

Hughes and its consumer-broadband competitor, WildBlue Communications Inc. of Denver, continue to add about 10,000 new consumer and small-business customers per month to their subscription services, Cook and WildBlue founder David M. Drucker said Sept. 6.

WildBlue, which debuted commercial service in June 2005, now has about 86,000 customers, Drucker said. WildBlue continues to be constrained in some areas of the United States because demand in these areas outstrips the capacity allocated to them from the Anik F2 spacecraft that WildBlue uses.

The capacity ceiling will be raised late this year when WildBlue launches its first dedicated satellite, WildBlue-1, in November or December aboard an Ariane 5 ECA rocket.

WildBlue-1 will be co-located with Anik F2, owned by Telesat Canada, at Telesat’s 111.1 degrees west longitude orbital slot. WildBlue recently was required to abandon its reservation of a second orbital slot because its rights had expired and its second fully owned satellite is not under construction.

Imagesat Offering Customers Access to 2,000-Acre Swaths

Israel’s ImageSat International is offering its customers exclusive access to a 2,000-kilometer-radius swaths of territory and the promise that ImageSat will not deny them any imagery taken in contracted coverage regions, a policy known as shutter control.

ImageSat, based in Tel Aviv with corporate registration in the Dutch Antilles and offices in Cyprus, operates two high-resolution Eros optical Earth observation satellites. Eros-A, launched in 2000, provides 1.9-meter ground resolution imagery. Eros-B, launched in April, provides 70-centimeter imagery.

ImageSat Chief Executive Shimon Eckhaus said the company’s Satellite Operating Partner program gives customers exclusive rights to 2,000-kilometer-wide areas of territory and the ability to task the spacecraft on their own 30 minutes before the satellite appears over the contracted area.

“It is practically like having your own satellite, and we have no shutter control mechanism,” Eckhaus said Sept. 7. ImageSat is also commercializing an offer in which regional partners may contract for exclusive use of the first of two daily passes of the satellite over their territories, with the second overflight being made available to someone else.

ImageSat is also offering to train partners in satellite image analysis, especially in how to discern changes in weapons placement or other deployments from one image to another. ImageSat has 35 customers, Eckhaus said, and currently has an order backlog valued at $260 million.

Satellite Radio Debut in Italy Set for 2007

WorldSpace Europe has enough cash to deploy an initial network of satellite signal amplifiers in Italy and begin a satellite-radio service there in 2007 using WorldSpace’s orbiting AfriStar-1 satellite, WorldSpace Europe Chief Executive Benoit Chereau said.

Chereau conceded Sept. 7 that the company, a subsidiary of struggling WorldSpace Inc. of the United States, does not have sufficient resources to refurbish and launch the fully built WorldSpace satellite that has been in storage at prime contractor Alcatel Alenia Space for several years.

WorldSpace tentatively plans to launch that satellite in late 2008, Chereau said.

WorldSpace estimates it will need 100-200 terrestrial signal repeaters in each nation it plans to offer commercial satellite radio service in Europe. The company currently has a license only for Italy. “Beyond that it is clear we will need refinancing,” Chereau said.

The parent company, WorldSpace Inc., is having difficulty in its attempts to roll out a satellite-radio service in India, which is its first priority.

German Banker Has No Regrets About ‘Risky’ RapidEye Loan

Germany’s KfW IPEX-Bank went out on a limb to provide 79 million euros ($101 million) in financing for the commercial RapidEye AG Earth observation satellite constellation but up to now has no regrets, according to Wolfgang Kassel, the Frankfurt-based bank’s head of telecommunications and media.

Kassel said Sept. 7 that RapidEye, which secured its financing with KfW IPEX-Bank as lead arranger in 2004, is not a typical bank-loan candidate.

“When we started with them there were only the three [RapidEye] founders,” Kassel said. “They had a great business idea but no balance sheet, no project history, no track record and no strong equity sponsors — not what bankers usually want to see. But they secured support from the German government and from the Canadian export-credit authority, and we backed them.”

RapidEye is building five satellites. MacDonald Dettwiler of Canada is acting as system prime contractor on the project. Small-satellite specialist Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Guildford, England, is building the spacecraft.

Its principal markets are insurance companies and government agencies.

The RapidEye satellites are scheduled for launch in 2007.

Weather Satellite Launch Delay Proves Costly for Boeing Co.

Boeing spent between $3 million and $4 million to remove the U.S. GOES-13 meteorological satellite from its Delta 4 rocket to verify that the satellite’s long stay aboard the vehicle due to launch delays did not affect the satellite’s systems, according to Howard E. Chambers, chief executive officer of Boeing Satellite Systems International Inc.

It turned out there was nothing wrong with the satellite despite the fact that it had spent eight and one-half months under the Delta 4 fairing as multiple difficulties with the rocket, and later a Boeing strike, delayed the launch.

“You never want to be in space wishing you were on the ground,” Chambers said, explaining in a Sept. 5 interview with Space News the company’s decision to incur the cost of removing, retesting and replacing the GOES-13 satellite. It is better, Chambers said, “to be on the ground, wishing you were in space.”

Chambers said Boeing engineers had no reason to suspect a satellite problem other than that no satellite of this type had ever spent so much time in launch position .

“To our amazement, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the satellite,” Chambers said. “This was our investment in mission assurance.”

The satellite was launched in May and was transferred to NASA in June. Boeing also is prime contractor for the next two GOES satellites, one of which is completed and in storage, Chambers said.

NASA Associate Administrator To Retire

NASA confirmed Sept. 5 that Mary Cleave, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, has disclosed that she will retire in the spring.

Cleave, 59, was a senior manager in NASA’s Earth science division before being promoted last year to manage all of the agency’s science activities .

Since taking that job , Cleave has been criticized by a science community upset over NASA’s plans to hold science spending flat through the end of the decade to free up money for human space flight.

A sanitation engineer by training, Cleave joined the NASA astronaut corps in 1980 and flew on the space shuttle as a mission specialist in 1985 and 1989.

Before joining the NASA headquarters staff, Cleave worked at the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., where she served as the project manager for the Sea-viewing, Wide-Field-of-view-Sensor , an ocean color monitoring instrument carried aboard the privately owned OrbView-2 satellite.