Supply Problems Force Eurockot To Transfer Launch

The company that markets commercial launches of Russia’s Rockot vehicle has transferred the planned 2007 launch of a Thai Earth observation satellite to a competing rocket vehicle because of hardware shortages at a Rockot motor manufacturer, industry officials said.

In the latest example of a supply-chain problem washing through Russia’s space sector, the German-Russian Eurockot Launch Services GmbH company has subcontracted the launch of the Theos satellite to the Russian-Ukrainian ISC Kosmotras company, which operates the Dnepr silo-launched rocket, officials said.

Bremen, Germany-based Eurockot now expects to conduct only one launch in 2007, not the two or three previously foreseen, and is not certain to be able to return to its planned launch rhythm until 2009, Eurockot Chief Executive Matthias Oehm said.

“What they are telling us now is that production of this motor is being stepped up and that the problem should be resolved by 2009,” Oehm said in an Oct. 25 interview from Moscow, where he was visiting Rockot prime contractor Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center.

Oehm said Eurockot expects to launch the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Goce Earth observation satellite as planned in 2007. But he said Khrunichev informed Eurockot that no more than one flight could be assured that year because of a shortage of the Breeze KM motors that power Rockot’s third stage.

The Rockot’s two lower stages are based on the SS-19 ballistic missile. The Breeze KM upper stage resembles the upper stage used by the Proton-M heavy-lift vehicle and also has similarities to the Fregat upper stage used on Russia’s Soyuz satellite launcher. “We are the smallest of the customers and the supply problem fell on us,” Oehm said. “We had to decide between the ESA launch and Theos and for technical reasons it was easier to transfer Theos.”

Oehm declined to comment in detail on the Theos shift, but industry officials said the launch remains in Eurockot’s backlog but will be transferred to Kosmotras pending export approval in France. Kosmotras is trying to resolve its own launch-manifest issues: It has been grounded pending resolution of a Russian-Kazakh dispute over compensation for environmental damage following a July launch failure. The Dnepr is launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Theos satellite is under construction at Astrium’s Toulouse, France, plant. Astrium is the satellite’s prime contractor and will need a new French export license for the Dnepr launch. The satellite is being built for Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency.

Russian rocket builders in recent months have reported sharp increases in prices for raw materials and components throughout their supply chains, with one consequence being possible shortages in 2007 and 2008.

RFI Coming for Replacing Canceled NPOESS Sensor

The U.S. government is set to request information from industry soon concerning a replacement needed for a canceled sensor on the nation’s next generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites, a program official said.

The request for information on the microwave imaging sounder for the civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) could be released as early as the first week in November. The sensor replaces the Conical Microwave Imager Sounder, which was canceled earlier this year as part of an NPOESS restructuring.

David Ryan, senior vice president and program director for NPOESS at Northrop Grumman Space Technology, the prime contractor on the program, said the sensor will fly aboard the second NPOESS satellite, which is tentatively slated to launch in 2016. Ryan told reporters Oct. 25 that the new sensor, which will take vertical profiles of atmospheric temperature and humidity, will be smaller and less complex than the canceled instrument, which had been slated to fly on the first NPOESS satellite.

Meanwhile, Ryan said, Northrop Grumman is preparing to submit a proposal to modify its NPOESS contract to reflect the new launch schedule and the shuffling of payloads that resulted from the program restructuring. He said the modified contract should be finalized by July 4.

Orbital Sciences Posts 3Q Increase in Revenue, Profit

Orbital Sciences Corp. expects to win two additional commercial telecommunications satellite orders by the end of the year and is forecasting that its work on the Orion crew exploration vehicle for NASA will generate $10 million in revenues in 2006, $60 million in 2007 and $80 million in 2008, officials from Dulles, Va.-based OSC said Oct. 27.

Reporting double-digit increases in quarterly revenues, operating earnings and net profit, OSC nonetheless saw its stock drop by more than 10 percent on the New York Stock Exchange Oct. 27 as investors appeared to focus on less-favorable news.

OSC officials said free cash flow in the fourth quarter would drop but that 2007 was set to be another record year for the company’s businesses, which include satellite and other orbital systems, launch vehicles and missile-defense hardware.

In an Oct. 27 conference call with investors, the company said it missed its per-share earnings target for the third quarter by about $1 million because of legal expenses associated with an investigation into stock-based compensation of company employees.

Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski said Oct. 27 that the investigation, a review of OSC stock compensation since the company’s original stock-market listing in 1990, was begun by OSC on its own and was not prompted by any outside inquiry. OSC Chief Executive David W. Thompson said in an Oct. 27 conference call that the inquiry is about completed and has turned up “no fraud or other misconduct.”

Nonetheless, Orbital said in its Oct. 27 earnings statement that “incorrect accounting measurement dates were used for a number of grants” and that the company will revise past financial statements as a result. The amounts involved are not significant, OSC said.

OSC continues to pay nearly $2 million per year in legal costs associated with a U.S. government investigation of its launch-vehicle division’s contracting practices. The investigation started in May 2005 with a raid on OSC offices by federal agents and has continued without anyone being charged. Thompson said he is optimistic that the cost of this investigation to OSC will decline in 2007, but he said he could not be certain.

OSC is competing it s Star satellite platform for four commercial telecommunications satellite programs — two in the United States, one in Europe and one in Asia. Thompson said the company expects to win at least two of these.

Measat Global in Malaysia, a current OSC customer, is weighing the purchase of a Measat 4 satellite, and SES New Skies is reviewing bids for an NSS-9 satellite. OSC officials declined to name the contracts they expected to win.

Alcatel-Alenia To Provide Lisa Mission Transponder

Alcatel Alenia Space will provide an X-band transponder and simulators to test satellite onboard power for the European Space Agency’s Lisa Pathfinder mission scheduled to launch in 2009, the French-Italian company announced Oct. 25.

Financial terms were not disclosed. Lisa Pathfinder is being built by prime contractor Astrium UK of Stevenage and Portsmouth, England. Budgeted at 180 million euros ($225 million), it is designed to search for gravity waves and test technologies for formation flying to be used in a larger Lisa, or Laser Interferometry Space Antenna, mission that ESA is considering.

The follow-on Lisa mission features three satellites flying 5 million kilometers apart.

NASA’s STEREO Solar Observation Mission Begins

A pair of solar observation satellites was successfully launched into orbit Oct. 26 by a Boeing-built Delta 2 rocket. The nearly identical Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) will generate the first near real-time, 3-D images of the Sun.

STEREO’s main mission is to image coronal mass ejections, immense eruptions from the Sun that spew high-energy particles that can pose a radiation hazard for astronauts and satellites, as well as interfere with power and communications systems on Earth.

Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory built the STEREO spacecraft for NASA, and will oversee the $550 million mission.

Students Team With NASA To Study Bacteria in Orbit

University students are helping NASA scientists study how spaceflight affects microscopic life forms.

The California-based Santa Clara University students are working in preparation for the launch of NASA’s GeneSat-1 satellite, which is scheduled for Dec. 11. The microsatellite will carry bacteria that will be analyzed by scientists and the students, according to an Oct. 19 NASA press release .

The satellite will be a secondary payload on the U.S. Air Force Minotaur rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Integral Eyes Alternatives To Sale of the Company

Integral Systems will examine strategic alternatives to sale of the company as discussions with potential investors have not yet been successful.

In p revious conference calls with investors, Lanham, Md.-based Integral System’s Chief Executive Officer Pete Gaffney had said that news of a sale or another strategic move would come during fall 2006. In an Oct. 24 press release, Gaffney said a sale is still on the table, but that the company now will look at other options as well.

Gaffney said in the release that 2006 will still be a record-breaking year financially for the company . Integral had taken some hits earlier in the year following former Chief Executive Steven Chamberlain’s resignation after being charged in Maryland with a sex offense involving a minor, and shareholders repeatedly expressing discontent over governance issues.

Connects 100,000th Subscriber

Satellite-based communication-monitoring company Satamatics of Glouchestershire, U.K., has connected its 100,000th subscriber, the company announced in an Oct. 23 press release.

The company’s Inmarsat-based network has seen a 43-percent increase this year in new activations, and a 47-percent increase in network traffic, the release said. The newest customer was obtained through the company’s distribution company, Track 24 of London.

Satamatics has seen growing business from the transport, logistics, military and security business sectors, primarily in South America, the Middle East and the Far East, the release said.

Boeing Radio Hardware Passes Preliminary Review

Boeing-built hardware designed for satellite-compatible radios has undergone a preliminary design review.

The Family of Advanced Beyond-line-of-site Terminals (FAB-T) group includes radios, antennas and other hardware in order to help operate radios that will be used by warfighters who are out of reach of traditional communications methods, according to an Oct. 17 press release from Boeing of Chicago.

The initial system will be compatible with operations that use the Wideband Gapfiller System, such as the Global Hawk and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles, the release said

GRACE Shows Greenland Ice Sheet is Shrinking

The Greenland ice sheet is shrinking, according to an analysis by NASA engineers using data from the agency’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite.

Scientists discovered that Greenland’s coastal regions lost 155 gigatons of ice per year between 2004 and 2005. They attributed the loss to excessive melting and icebergs, according to an Oct. 19 NASA press release .

The amount of ice gained from snowfall only measured 54 gigatons, resulting in a net loss, the scientists found.

The finding represents a shift from the 1990s, when the amount of ice loss was about the same as the ice gain, the release said. The study appeared Oct. 19 in Science express, an advanced edition of Science magazine .

Aura Data Shows Antarctic Ozone Hole at Record Size

Data collected from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA’s Aura satellite shows that the ozone hole in the polar region of the Southern Hemisphere has reached a record size in 2006.

The hole, which measured 27.5 million square kilometers in late September, is the largest it has been, according to an Oct. 19 NASA press release .

“The numbers mean the ozone is virtually gone in this layer of the atmosphere,” David Hofmann, director of the Global Monitoring Division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory, said in the release.

Raytheon Gets U.S. Army Contract for More Radios

Raytheon will provide the U.S. Army with 746 satellite-compatible radios under a new $36 million contract.

The radio provides voice and data capabilities for long-distance communications, according to an Oct. 19 press release from Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon.

The radios can either be carried by soldiers or mounted in a vehicle, the release said.

Boeing, SAIC Open FCS Field Test Center

Boeing Co. and Science Applications International Corp., partners on the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) contract, opened a field test center in New Mexico Oct. 24.

The Test Operation Complex at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., will support experimentation, testing and integration for the team that will evaluate Future Combat System technologies as they come online, beginning in 2008, according to an Oct. 24 press release from Chicago-based Boeing.

Initially, 947 soldiers will be charged with evaluating the systems, with more than 3,000 by 2014, the release said.

Satcom Provider DataPath Acquires Software Firm ILC

Satellite communications provider DataPath has acquired software company ILC for $21 million in cash.

ILC of Atlanta provides network management software that monitors and controls hybrid communications networks, according to an Oct. 18 press release from Duluth, Ga.-based DataPath.

ILC generated revenues of $12 million in 2005, according to the release. The transaction is expected to close within 45 days, the release said.

DataPath plans to grow ILC’s customer base of 400, which includes satellite firms, broadcast networks and military organizations. ILC will be a wholly owned subsidy of DataPath under the agreement, and its 70 Atlanta-based employees will integrate with DataPath’s software business unit in Duluth, the release said.

Norway’s TerraNor To Sell Geospatial Information

The Norwegian company TerraNor will resell geospatial software developed by eSpatial under a new agreement between the two. TerraNor will market iSmart5, e Spatial’s platform, which allows users to run various geospatial applications , according to an Oct. 24 press release from Dublin’s eSpatial. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Globecomm To Offer Roaming to Cellular Firm Globecomm will use satellite technology to provide roaming service for digital customers of Wilkes Cellular Inc., under a new agreement.

Under the agreement, Globecomm will provide call processing and management, as well as billing data processing, for Wilkes Cellular, a local telecommunications provider in rural Wilkes County, Ga., according to an Oct. 23 press release from Globecomm of Hauppauge, N.Y.

The agreement will help Wilkes Cellular extend the reach of its network, the release said.

SAIC Gets USAF Contract Worth Up To $25 Million

The U.S. Air Force has awarded Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) a contract to build a payload for its research laboratory and space vehicles directorate. The contract has a ceiling of approximately $25 million for 29 months of work, according to an Oct. 24 press release from SAIC of San Diego.

Under the contract, SAIC will build and test an infrared sensor for space applications, and process data for the Air Force’s missile warning and missile defense missions , the release said. Work on the project will be performed in San Diego, Seal Beach, Calif., and Albuquerque, N.M.

EchoStar Launches High-Speed Internet Service

Echo Star Communications Corp. has launched its high-speed Internet service, powered by rural satellite broadband provider WildBlue.

The service, called DISH Network High-Speed Internet powered by WildBlue, offers speeds of up to 1.5 megabits per second , according to an Oct. 19 press release from Englewood, Colo.-based Echostar.

Packages with the service start at $49.95 per month, and include email addresses, Web hosting and technical support, the release said.