, Expedition 13 Crew Return to Earth

Two astronauts and the world’s first female space tourist returned to Earth from the international space station (ISS) early Sept. 29. aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft.

ISS Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov, flight engineer Jeffry Williams and U.S. entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan near the small town of Arkalyk just before dawn.

“It was the ride of a lifetime,” Williams told a NASA spokesman after extraction from the spacecraft.

Ansari described her time aboard the station as “magnificent.”

“My work is not finished and I hope to have this experience once again in the near future,” she said. During here time at the ISS, Ansari conducted an experiment for the European Space Agency.

The landing marks the end of a six-month mission for Vinogradov and Williams that began April 1. During their mission, Vinogradov and Williams hosted two NASA shuttle crews, participated in spacewalks to help ISS construction and saw the delivery and addition of a new pair of trusses and solar wings to the orbital laboratory.

For Ansari, it is the conclusion of an 11-day space trip, nine of which were spent aboard the space station.

On Sept. 20, Ansari launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin. Ansari is the fourth person and the first female to pay an estimated $20 million to visit the space station under a deal arranged between the space tourism firm Space Adventures and the Russian Federal Space Agency. Left on the space station are Lopez-Alegria, Tyurin and German astronaut Thomas Reiter. Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin are slated for a six-month stay aboard the station, while Reiter will be relieved in December by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who will arrive with the shuttle Discovery as part of STS-116.

Arbitration Panel Rejects XM’s Insurance Claim

XM Satellite Radio’s two-year attempt to force its insurance underwriters to pay $35.6 million in claims for defects on XM’s first two satellites has been rejected by an arbitration panel, the company told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Sept. 26.

The development is the latest in the series of disputes related to defective solar arrays aboard the first six Boeing 702 model satellites.

Insurance underwriters have paid about $840 million in claims related to the six satellites. Some insurers have filed for reimbursement from Boeing before an international arbitration panel, alleging gross negligence on the part of the satellite manufacturer.

The six spacecraft were launched between Dec. 1999 and May 2001. XM’s were the last to be orbited, in March and May 2001. XM paid about $75 million in premiums to insure the two satellites for a total of $400 million.

Most XM underwriters agreed in July 2004 to pay the equivalent of 44.5 percent of the total claim. But insurers representing 20 percent of the coverage held out, saying that by the time XM launched its satellites, it knew there was a problem with the solar-array design. XM denied this, and asked an arbitration panel to force the remaining insurers to pay their pro rata share.

XM said the ruling means it will receive nothing from the holdout insurers. But the company said it will not need to reimburse its other insurers for the $142.4 million in claims they paid.

Malaysian Firm Explores New Broadband Satellite

Malaysia’s Smart Digital International Sdn Bhd is negotiating with partners to purchase a mixed C- and Ku-band telecommunications satellite from Loral as it seeks to develop its consumer and corporate broadband-delivery strategy.

Selangor-based Smart Digital has been in talks with Loral Skynet, a division of New York-based Loral, for a Smart Digital-1 satellite to be built by Space Systems/Loral, the company’s satellite manufacturing unit in Palo Alto, Calif. The satellite would be located at 130 degrees east longitude, according to Smart Digital Chief Executive Rey Anthony Chan.

In a Sept. 28 presentation to the Asia-Pacific Satellite Communications Council’s annual conference in Seoul, South Korea, Chan said Smart Digital forecasts a coming shortage in Ku-band capacity over its Malaysian and Indonesian markets for direct-broadcast television and triple-play broadband links, meaning services providing voice, video and Internet transmissions.

Smart Digital will continue to lease Ku-band capacity from SES New Skies and Malaysia’s Measat. But Measat, whose Measat 3 satellite is scheduled for launch late this year or early 2007, has much of its capacity reserved for Malaysia’s fast-growing Astro All Asia Networks pls satellite-television service.

Chan said Smart Digital currently leases the equivalent of more than two C-band transponders to provide broadband access to more than 2,000 government and corporate sites equipped with LinkStar terminals built by ViaSat Corp. of Carlsbad, Calif.

The company, which also leases capacity from Loral Skynet’s Telstar 18/Apstar 5 satellite, delivers Ku-band broadband service using ViaSat’s smaller SurfBeam terminals for small businesses and consumer broadband access. This end of the business is being propelled by the Malaysian government’s National Broadband Plan, which provides financial incentives for service providers to extend broadband links to remote schools and villages.

Chan said Smart Digital is unlikely to challenge Astro in providing satellite television in Malaysia. Similarly, analysis of Indonesia’s market suggests a pay-television offer would not be profitable there due to low per-subscriber revenues.

A Frost & Sullivan study comparing market potential for corporate and government satellite broadband, however, found that both Malaysia and Indonesia offer strong growth potential in the next several years.

Calif. Firm To Build Camera For U.S. Air Force’s SBSS

The contracting team on the U.S. Air Force’s Space Based Space Surveillance System (SBSS) selected a key payload-component supplier for what could be the first of several satellites to be launched starting in late 2008.

Boeing, the prime contractor on the program, announced Sept. 29 that Semiconductor Technology Associates (STA) Inc. has been selected to provide the charged coupled device for the SBSS imaging sensor, which is designed to keep tabs on objects in Earth orbit.

STA of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., was selected over an unidentified competitor to supply the device, which Boeing characterized in a press release as the highest-risk element of the SBSS program.

Boeing spokesman Joe Tedino referred all questions about the program to the Air Force.

“This is a major accomplishment for our team as we continue to progress towards the program’s critical design review in November of this year,” Howard Chambers, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Space and Intelligence Systems, said in a prepared statement.

The Air Force in March 2004 awarded Boeing a $189 million contract to build the first SBSS satellite. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. is supplying the spacecraft platform and other major hardware elements, with Boeing acting as system integrator.

Under the original SBSS acquisition plan, Boeing was to deliver a single pathfinder satellite, dubbed Block 10, for a mid- to late-2007 launch. That satellite was to be followed by a more capable Block 20 system possibly featuring multiple satellites with new design features.

But the Air Force ordered a program restructuring due to delays and concerns with the contracting team, according to Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. As part of the restructuring, the Air Force adopted a new acquisition strategy under which it will buy multiple versions of the initial satellite, funding permitting, Hamel said Sept. 19 during a press conference at the Space 2006 conference sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

The program is now on track for a first launch in December 2008, Hamel said. The Air Force did not respond by press time to questions concerning the cost of the restructured program.

Sounding Rocket Fails in 1st Launch from N.M. Spaceport

The inaugural launch at New Mexico’s Spaceport America ended up a disappointment for UP Aerospace when the start-up firm’s SpaceLoft XL sounding rocket failed shortly after liftoff, ending up in a remote area of White Sands Missile range.

Bill Heiden, UP Aerospace’s chief financial officer, said in a Sept. 24 telephone interview that the company used a radar-equipped aircraft to find the rocket and that officials now believe the crash site is an area about 10 kilometers from the nearest road that will have to be reached by horseback.

Heiden said that while there was some speculation about what went wrong with the rocket, which was carrying more than 50 experiments and payloads for private and educational customers, company officials will not know anything for certain until they retrieve flight data from the crash site.

Heiden said the company still hopes to conduct another launch Oct. 21, but will have wait and see whether the flight data shows the fix to be a simple one.

5 To Launch Helios 2B in 2009

The French Defense Ministry’s Helios 2B optical reconnaissance satellite will be launched as the primary payload aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in the first half of 2009 under a contract announced Sept. 25.

France’s arms procurement agency, DGA, decided against the use of the less-expensive Russian Soyuz rocket — to be operational from Europe’s French Guiana spaceport starting in late 2008 — for schedule and technical-compatibility reasons, a DGA official said.

Helios 2B, to weigh about 4,200 kilograms at launch, is nearly identical to the Helios 2A satellite that has been providing imagery with a ground resolution of around 50 centimeters since its launch in December 2004. Both satellites were built by an industrial team led by EADS Astrium.

The two Helios 2 satellites are part of a program valued at 1.8 billion euros ($2.3 billion) when it was approved in 1996. When the 10-year budget was approved, DGA had budgeted 285 million euros for the satellites’ launches aboard Ariane 5 rockets.

The Arianespace launch consortium of Evry, France, which markets the Ariane 5, plans to launch Soyuz vehicles from Europe’s equatorial Guiana Space Center in French Guiana beginning in late 2008. Soyuz vehicles are priced at about one-quarter the price of Ariane 5 and DGA officials in the past have said Soyuz would be a candidate for future reconnaissance satellites operating in low Earth orbit.

But a DGA official said Sept. 25 that an early-2009 launch of Helios 2B would not be compatible with Soyuz.

Harris To Help WorldSpace Enhance Uplink Stations

Satellite radio company WorldSpace Inc. of Silver Spring, Md., will use a data communications platform supplied by Harris Corp. to connect four of its uplink stations.

World Space is the first customer for Harris’ Intraplex NetXpress platform, according to a Sept. 19 press release from Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris. It will use the platform at four of its locations, including in Silver Spring, London, Singapore and Bangalore, India, the release said.

Boeing To Develop Heat Shield for Orion Vehicle

Boeing Co. of Chicago will develop the thermal protection system for NASA’s planned Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle under a $14 million contract, according to a Sept. 20 Boeing press release .

Under the 16-month contract, Boeing will develop a shield to protect Orion from extreme temperatures during re-entry into the atmosphere, the release said.

Boeing will work with subcontractor Fiber Materials Inc. of Biddeford, Maine, to design the system.

The contract is for the first design phase of the shield, with possible follow-on awards to come according to Boeing spokesman Robert Villanueva.

French Firm To Build Amplifiers for India

Callisto of France, in its first contract outside Europe, will supply a cryogenically cooled low-noise amplifier system for an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) ground station, Callisto announced.

Under the contract with the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking & Command Network based in Bangalore, India, Callisto will provide amplifiers that will be used to receive signals from Indian science satellites including the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter set for launch in 2008. Callisto has provided similar gear for the European Space Agency’s satellite tracking network.


SES Astra To Provide Antennas for Vietnam

SES Astra’s engineering services subsidiary, SES Astra TechCom, will provide antenna systems and personnel training for the Vietnamese Posts and Telecommunications Group as part of a team that includes Hitec Luxembourg S.A., a satellite ground systems provider, SES Astra announced.

The equipment will be provided under contract to Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems as part of Vietnam’s Vinasat-1 telecommunications satellite program , for which Lockheed Martin is prime contractor. The satellite is scheduled for launch in mid-2008.

The personnel-training contract includes sessions that will last between six and 12 months and will occur in Hanoi and in Luxembourg. The work is co-financed by Luxembourg Development Cooperation, which organizes assistance to developing countries.

Benson Exits SpaceDev, Starts Space Tourism Firm

SpaceDev founder Jim Benson has stepped down as chairman and chief technology officer of the Poway, Calif.-based company to launch a commercial space tourism venture called Benson Space Co .

Benson, who said he intends to be “first-to-market” with a spaceship designed for suborbital and eventually orbital spaceflight, made his announcement Sept. 28, the same day Sir Richard Branson unveiled a mockup of interior of SpaceShipTwo, a suborbital vehicle Branson’s Virgin Galactic expects to have in service by late 2008.

Benson said in a statement that his new company had completed a first round of financing, raising an undisclosed sum, and has requested a proposal from SpaceDev for delivery of multiple Dreamchaser suborbital spaceships. Benson said he expects Benson Space Co. to be SpaceDev’s biggest customer for the Dreamchaser, a rocket-propelled spaceship still in development.

“My biggest challenges over the next few months will be evaluating SpaceDev’s response to our proposal request, negotiating the contract for the development of our first spaceships, and completing second-round financing for this new venture,” Benson said in the statement.

Virgin Galactic Unveils SpaceShipTwo Interior

Passengers aboard Virgin Galactic’s planned suborbital space vehicles can look forward to cushioned reclining seats and lots of windows, according to an interior concept unveiled Sept. 28 by British entrepreneur and Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson.

“It won’t be much different than this,” Branson told reporters in New York at Wired magazine’s NextFest forum. “It’s strange to think that in 12 months we’ll be unveiling the actual plane, and then test flights will commence right after that.”

Virgin Galactic’s spaceliners will be specially outfitted SpaceShipTwo vehicles built by Mojave, Calif. -based Scaled Composites and veteran aerospace designer Burt Rutan. The spacecraft, designed specifically for space tourism, will be three times the size of Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for privately developed piloted spacecraft capable of reaching suborbital space twice in two weeks.

The air-launched SpaceShipTwo is designed to seat eight people — six passengers and two pilots — and be hauled into launch position by WhiteKnightTwo, a large carrier aircraft currently under construction by Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn said.

Boeing Completes Tests on Wideband Gapfiller Satellite

Boeing announced Sept. 26 that it completed spacecraft thermal vacuum testing for the first of its Wideband Gapfiller Satellites (WGS). The tests, conducted at the Boeing Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif., evaluated the WGS operating systems’ ability to withstand the extreme temperatures of space.

Over two months, Boeing completed the demanding tests inside its largest thermal vacuum chamber, which models the space environment by removing all air and eliminating the ability to dissipate heat through convection.

“The completion of these tests moves WGS closer to its scheduled 2007 launch date,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. David Lee, WGS Block I program manager, in a Boeing statement.

WGS is part of a high-capacity communications system designed to quickly disseminate large amounts of data, and will provide more network-centric communications for troops in the field.

Boeing is under contract to build three WGS satellites. The Air Force also authorized Boeing to begin non recurring engineering and advanced procurement of parts for a fourth WGS satellite.

ESA Mars Probe Captures Distinctive Surface Feature

The camera aboard the European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft has captured images of the Cydonia region of Mars, whose geographical features have led it to become commonly known in some circles as the Face on Mars.

Scientists first attempted to take photos of the region in April 2004, but the camera’s view was obscured by haze and atmospheric dust , according to a Sept. 22 ESA press release .

In July, the spacecraft was able to take pictures from a lower altitude without haze or dust getting in the way of clear photos, the release said.

The pictures showed a naturally “skull shaped” structure that hadn’t been seen previously, as well as the pyramid-like formations on the planet which had been known for resembling a face.

The area is of interest to scientists because it can teach them about lava flow and the movement of rock and debris that occurred years ago on the planet, the release said.

GLAST Main Instrument Shipped for Integration

The primary instrument on NASA’s Gamma -ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) is ready to be mounted on the spacecraft .

The instrument, called the Large Area Telescope , was shipped to GLAST spacecraft contractor General Dynamics C4 Systems in Scottsdale, Ariz., Sept. 18, according to a Sept. 20 press release from NASA.

The telescope was built by scientists at NASA, the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., and a number of foreign institutions, the release said.

GLAST, which will study black holes and other space phenomena, is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in the fall of 2007. One of the mission’s other instruments, a burst monitor, is being integrated with the spacecraft, the release said .

To Provide Terminals to U.S. Agencies

Globecomm Systems will provide portable satellite terminals for two U.S. government agencies under contracts with a combined value of $2.6 million .

The company will ship a number of satellite terminals, designed for use on automobiles, by June of 2007, according to a Sept. 18 press release from Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Globecomm.

Globecomm spokesman Fred Dugourd said the company cannot disclose the customer agencies for these contracts, or how many terminals were ordered .

Blue Sky Offers Discount For Airborne Phone Service

Blue Sky Network of La Jolla, Calif., is offering discounted airborne telephone service to customers of Verizon’s Magnastar Airfone service, which is slated to be discontinued by the end of the year.

There are 4,000 customers for the MagnaStar Airfone service, which serves general aviation markets. Verizon Wireless of New York has decided to get out of the business.

Blue Sky’s service utilizes the Iridium mobile satellite network, the company said in a Sept. 19 press release. The discount will be offered to MagnaStar Airfone customers who make the switch before the end of the year, Blue Sky said.


Cruise Ship Passengers To Get Satcom Services

SeaMobile Enterprises of Seattle will provide satellite-based communications services for guests aboard cruise ships operated by Holland America Line, according to a Sept. 20 press release from SeaMobile.

SeaMobile’s system allows passengers to use their own cellular phones and personal data assistants while on board cruise ships. Under the new contract, SeaMobile will equip Holland’s 13-ship fleet with connectivity, and begin providing service later this year.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, according to Anne Williams of Summit Group Communications of Salt Lake City, which handles public relations for SeaMobile.

Air Products To Build
Langley Nitrogen Plant

Air Products and Chemicals Inc. of Allentown, Pa., will design and build a liquid nitrogen production plant for NASA under a $16 million contract.

The plant will be located at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and will support the National Transonic Facility, a cryogenic wind tunnel , according to a Sept. 21 NASA press release .

The liquid nitrogen is used for cooling purposes in the tunnel. The contract calls for Air Products to complete the plant in 24 months, the release said.

Comtech To Supply U.S. With Satellite Modems

Comtech will provide $1.9 million worth of satellite communications equipment to an undisclosed U.S. government agency under a new contract, the company announced Sept. 19.

Comtech EF Data Corp., a subsidiary of Melville, N.Y.-based Comtech, will provide satellite modems and other products that will be used to expand an existing satellite communications network, the release said.

JAXA’s Solar-B Probe Launched Successfully

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched its 22nd scientific satellite, known as Solar-B, Sept. 23.

The satellite was launched aboard an M-5 rocket, a relatively small vehicle developed by Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, according to a Sept. 12 JAXA press release . The institute is one of several agencies that were merged to create JAXA.

The spacecraft has a three-year mission to observe the sun.

GMV Software Ordered for Thor 2R Satellite Project

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., will use flight dynamics software provided by GMV Space Systems Inc. for a commercial communications satellite it has under construction.

Orbital will use GMV’s focusSuite, for the Thor 2R satellite, which is being built for Telenor Satellite Broadcasting of Oslo, Norway, according to a Sept. 21 GMV press release .

The software performs a variety of functions for the spacecraft, including determining its orbit and automating its operations, the release said.

The contract is GMV’s first with Orbital; GMV said it has now done business with all of the world’s major commercial satellite manufacturers.


Firm Selected To Replace Facility at NASA Kennedy

Rush Construction will build a replacement for NASA’s Life Support Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., under a new $5.4 million contract.

The Titusville, Fla.-based construction company has 500 calendar days to complete the project and will be responsible for management, labor, transportation, materials and equipment , according to a Sept. 21 press release from NASA.

Appropriations Bill Zeroes U.S. Air Force Hybrid Rocket Effort

An effort to develop a partially reusable small launcher was among the casualties as members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives sorted out differences in their respective versions of the 2007 Defense Appropriations Act.

The U.S. Air Force had hoped to conduct a small-scale demonstration of the Affordable Responsive Spacelift (ARES) launcher in 2010. But the House-Senate appropriations conference bill denied the service’s $19.5 million request for the program, leaving its future in doubt. The Air Force had envisioned a so-called hybrid system with a reusable first stage that would fly near the edge of space, release a payload-carrying expendable rocket to complete the deployment, and then use jet engines to return to Earth.

The conference measure , which the House approved Sept. 26 and the Senate approved Sept. 29, directs the Air Force to use $12 million of the funds requested for the hybrid launcher to buy small expendable rockets. The conferees directed that the remaining $7.5 million be spent on a classified effort .

The conference report also directs the Air Force to find ways to open competition for most of its satellite launches to companies other than Lockheed Martin and Boeing , the incumbent contractors on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, who are planning to create a joint venture in government launch services.

The Air Force should contract with other companies for demonstration launches that could lead to worthy competitors, said the report, which trimmed $80 million from the $936 million request for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The House had recommended cutting the program by $244 million, and the Senate had fully funded the effort.

The conferees also sustained a House recommendation to reduce the Air Force’s $103 million request for the Alternative Infrared Satellite System to $68 million, citing “program moderation.” The effort is intended to yield an alternative to the troubled Space Based Infrared System missile warning program, which has repeatedly run into cost growth and technical difficulty. The Senate had fully funded the alternative satellite effort.

The final spending bill also trims funding for several Missile Defense Agency programs .

The conferees sustained the House recommendation to cut the agency’s $390 million request for the Space Tracking and Surveillance System to $323 million, effectively precluding advance work on an operational constellation of missile tracking satellites that would follow a two-spacecraft demonstration slated for next year. The Senate had recommended $316 million for the program.

The conferees also reduced the agency’s $41 million request for the High Altitude Airship, a prototype sensor intended to operate around 20 kilometers above the Earth, by $22.5 million. The House had recommended cutting $20 million from the program, slated to produce a flight demonstration by around 2008, while the Senate had proposed cutting $25 million.

The conferees also reduced the agency’s $164 million request for the Multiple Kill Vehicle effort by $20 million. The House bill provided $99 million for the effort, while the Senate recommended full funding . The program is intended to develop a shot gun approach to destroying ballistic missiles as they coast through space.

Raytheon Completes Fence Upgrade Study

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., has completed the risk reduction phase of an effort to upgrade the U.S. Air Force’s ground-based space surveillance system known as the Fence, the company said in a news release issued Sept. 26.

Consisting of VHF radar stations deployed across the southern United States , the Fence has operated for more than 40 years, tracking objects as small as 30 centimeters across as they pass overhead. The Pentagon believes that switching to S-band radar will enable the system to track much smaller objects.

The risk reduction work was intended to identify requirements and tradeoffs that might affect the cost and schedule of the proposed upgrade , according to Jim McCoy, Raytheon’s space situational awareness director . Raytheon conducted the study under a $1.1 million contract that began in early 2006, he said Sept. 27 .

The Air Force Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts plans to hold an open competition for the Fence S-band upgrade, with a contract award slated for 2008, according to the center’s Web site. The S-band system is expected to be available beginning around 2013.