USAF To Launch, Land Reusable X37B in 2008

The U.S. Air Force is planning to launch an experimental long-duration, reusable space vehicle in 2008 aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket, according to a Nov. 17 Air Force news release.

The unmanned Orbital Test Vehicle is based on NASA’s X-37 flight demonstrator, which is not capable of space flight in its current configuration, according to the news release. Boeing Co. is the prime contractor for both the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) and X-37.

The 2008 flight experiment will involve autonomous flight, re-entry and landing, according to an Air Force fact sheet, which refers to the vehicle as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. The demonstration is intended to address critical aspects of reusable flight including landing gear, navigation, thermal protection systems and avionics, according to the fact sheet.

The launch into low Earth orbit is expected to take place from Cape Canaveral in Florida, with recovery in California at either Vandenberg Air Force Base or Edwards Air Force Base, according to the fact sheet.

The new OTV effort dovetails off of industry and government investments by Air Force, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency .

The OTV effort will be led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and includes partnerships with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Boeing is the prime contractor for the OTV program — the same firm that was lead on the old NASA X-37 technology demonstrator.

Funding for the Orbital Test Vehicle is classified, according to Air Force officials. The first, and possible a second flight with the vehicle will focus on demonstrating technology for reusable flight, while flights may carry other Air Force experiments, the officials said.


First SBIRS High Sensor Now Operating in Orbit

The U.S. Air Force acknowledged Nov. 17 — for the first time — that the first sensor for its next-generation missile-warning satellite constellation has been launched and successfully checked out in space. The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High payload was launched into space in a highly elliptical orbit (HEO), according to an Air Force news release. The launch date and status of the spacecraft were kept under wraps due to the classified nature of the host satellite.

Another SBIRS HEO sensor for the system is scheduled for inclusion on a classified spacecraft in highly elliptical orbit. In addition, the system also will include at least two dedicated satellites in geostationary orbit, the first of which is expected to launch in 2008.

Delta 2 Launches USAF’s Third GPS 2RM Satellite

The U.S. Air Force launched the latest in a line of upgraded GPS satellites aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket Nov. 17.

The Lockheed Martin GPS 2RM satellites feature upgrades including strong signal power as well as new military and civilian signals.

Lockheed Martin is under contract with the Air Force to upgrade eight GPS 2R satellites to the 2RM configuration; this is the third of those satellites to launch.

Firm Raises $250 MillionTo Buy Loral’s Chinasat 8

Start-up satellite operator Protostar Ltd. said it has raised the necessary capital and signed “definitive agreements” with a Chinese broadcaster to purchase a completed satellite that has long been in storage at manufacturer Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif. Protostar plans to provide direct-broadcast television services in Asia.

In a Nov. 15 announcement, Bermuda-headquartered Protostar said it has raised an additional $210 million in debt and equity, bringing its cumulative financing to $250 million. The company said it has signed agreements with China Telecommunications Broadcast Satellite Corp. to purchase the Chinasat 8 satellite, which has been in storage at Space Systems/Loral for several years following the U.S. government’s refusal to permit its launch aboard a Chinese rocket.

Protostar said it expects modifications and refurbishment of the satellite to be completed in time for a launch in early 2008. The company did not say whether it had secured a launch reservation.

Loral spokesman John McCarthy said Nov. 17 that Loral has been working with Protostar to modify the Chinasat 8 antennas to fit Protostar’s proposed Asian coverage area but has not begun work on the satellite itself, pending authorization from the Chinese owners.

Staffer Says New Congress Unlikely To Cut Intel Budget

Democratic control of the next U.S. Congress is not likely to negatively affect funding for intelligence programs, according to John Stopher, a senior Republican staffer on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI).

Differences between congressional Republicans and Democrats have been largely over the White House’s Iraq policy, not on the need for robust collection capabilities, Stopher said at the Geoint 2006 conference in Orlando, Fla. “Support for intelligence will be as strong for Democrats as it was for Republicans,” he said.

But Stopher, the HPSCI’s budget director and staff director of the subcommittee on tactical and technical intelligence, said there will be new pressures brought to bear on intelligence budgets in the near future. For example, the new Congress is expected to push for a reduction in the practice of funding done via supplemental appropriations bills, which do not fall under the annual federal spending caps.

In addition, Stopher said, there are a number of programs that have not been adequately funded up to now but which will require more money in the future. “There’s a number of classified programs — and they range from communications systems, imagery systems; they’re across the board — that do not have appropriate budget lines, and I believe they will have to be fixed,” said Stopher.

Lockheed Ready To Begin Designing GPS 3 Prototype

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., recently completed a system requirements review for the next generation of GPS satellites, according to a company news release dated Nov. 16.

The review was conducted as part of a $10 million contract awarded in 2004, according to the news release. Lockheed Martin is competing with Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis for the contract to build the GPS 3 satellites, which the Air Force plans to award early next summer.

This milestone involved an Air Force review intended to ensure that Lockheed Martin’s concept for GPS 3 would meet the military’s needs, according to Steve Tatum, a company spokesman. Passing the system requirements review clears Lockheed Martin to begin intensive prototype design work, he said.

ESA, China Extend Double Star Mission

Europe’s Science Program Committee has agreed to extend the joint Euro-Chinese Double Star mission studying the Earth’s magnetic field and its interaction with the sun for nine months, to September 2007.

The decision, announced Nov. 16 by the European Space Agency (ESA), will permit the two Chinese-built Double Star satellites to continue operating alongside Europe’s four Cluster spacecraft, and to coordinate observations with NASA’s current Stereo and upcoming Themis solar-terrestrial missions.

Europe provided eight of the 16 instruments for Double Star. The nine-month mission extension, budgeted at 534,000 euros ($675,000), will include continued operation of the European instruments and four hours per day of Double Star data acquisition from ESA’s receiving station in Villafranca, Spain.

DLR Signs Design Contract For Hyperspectral Satellite

The German Aerospace Center, DLR, has signed a design contract with Kayser-Threde GmbH of Munich for the EnMap hyperspectral Earth observation satellite, with a planned launch in 2011. The Phase-B contract does not include formal construction of the satellite, but DLR officials say there is little doubt that it will sign the full-scale contract with Kayser-Threde in late 2007. DLR estimates that EnMap will cost about 90 million euros ($114 million) including launch.

Juergen Breitkopf, Kayser-Threde’s chief executive, said Nov. 15 that OHB Technology of Bremen, Germany, will be providing the satellite’s skeletal structure, or bus, with Kayser-Threde responsible for overall mission management and the payload instruments.

Kayer-Threde hopes to use the EnMap work to expand its current business base as a component supplier to include prime contracts for small satellites.

Northrop Grumman Ships Nuclear Blast Sensors

Northrop Grumman has delivered 18 satellite antenna units capable of detecting nuclear blasts from space to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M.

The V-Sensor deployable antennas will be installed aboard the U.S. Air Force’s GPS 2F navigation satellites now under construction by Boeing, according to a Nov. 6 press release from Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. The antennas are about the size of a pack of cigarettes when stored , but reach a length of about 2.1 meters once deployed, the release said.

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis is building 12 GPS 2F satellites, which are slated to begin launching in 2008. The V-Sensors were built under a $2.6 million contract, according to Northrop Grumman spokesman Bob Bishop.

Panels Approved For HNS Terminals

Hughes Network Systems (HNS) of Germantown, Md., has approved the use of SolStar Energy Devices’ solar panels to provide mobile and remote power for HNS’ satellite ground terminals.

The T-55HMDK foldable solar charger, was officially recognized by the broadband satellite network provider, adding it to the Hughes HNS9201 satellite terminal’s list of compatible accessories, SolStar announced in a press release Nov. 8.

Made specifically for the Hughes product, the solar battery will enable it to function where there is little or no access to other power sources.

Teams with NRTC On Rural Broadband Service

Satellite broadband provider WildBlue Enterprise Solutions has teamed with the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) to expand its reach in the rural U.S. market, WildBlue announced in a Nov. 13 press release.

WildBlue Enterprise Solutions, a subsidiary of Englewood, Colo.-based Wildblue Communications Inc., provides very small aperture terminal service to small- and medium-sized businesses. NRTC will resell the WildBlue broadband service to its rural affiliates across 47 states, according to the press release.

NRTC, Herndon, Va., was created in 1986 by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association to bring advanced communication services to rural areas of the United States.

The cooperative represents 1,300 electric and telecommunications utilities, offering services to more than 30 million U.S. households, according to the press release.

Integral Wins Satellite Control Deal for AsiaSat 5

AsiaSat of Hong Kong has picked Lanham, Md.-based Integral Systems Inc. to operate the satellite control system for AsiaSat 5, AsiaSat’s newest satellite, Integral announced Nov. 13.

The new contract adds AsiaSat 5 to an existing control system, called Epoch IPS, which currently operates three other AsiaSat spacecraft as part of the original contract awarded in 2004. AsiaSat provides satellite broadcast and telecommunications services to the Asia Pacific region.

The amount of the contracts were not disclosed.

AsiaSat 5, a Loral FS1300 class satellite designed to replace AsiaSat 2 at 100.5 degrees east, is slated for launch in mid to late 2008. Three AsiaSat satellites, each made by three different manufacturers, currently operate under Integral’s single-platform Epoch IPS control system.

3Q Revenue Grows, But Net Drops

EchoStar posted $2.5 billion in revenue for the quarter ending Sept. 30, a 16 percent increase above the $2.1 billion the direct-to-home satellite television company garnered in the same period a year ago.

Net income for the third quarter dropped, however, from $209 million to $140 million. The company added 295,000 net new subscribers during the quarter.

Network To Serve Europe, Middle East, Africa

EMS Satcom, Vitrociset Belgium and Creaction Int. signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to offer airtime and equipment to rural areas of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, according to an EMS Satcom press release Nov. 9.

The satellite network will enable rural communities incapable of supporting public transportation to schedule buses on-demand, according to the Ottawa-based satellite communications equipment supplier. A pilot program already providing the on-demand bus service is currently being tested in rural Belgium before the full service is implemented. Would be passengers send text messages to a dispatch center via the satellite network when they want to be transported.

The agreement was signed as part of a Belgian trade mission in Montreal.

Vandenberg Processing Facility Contract

Astrotech Space Operations, a subsidiary of Houston-based Spacehab, received a $20 million firm, fixed-price contract from the National Reconnaissance Office’s Office of Space Launch to design and build a payload processing plant at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Astrotech announced Nov. 15.

The facility will be located on Astrotech’s existing 60-acre facility at Vandenberg. Design is to begin immediately with construction of the new facility set to begin in March and completed by September 2009, according to a Nov. 15 Spacehab press release.

The new facility will be an 8,000 square foot addition to the company’s existing Vandenberg operation, which processes satellites and upper stages for Atlas, Delta, Pegasus and Taurus launchers.

“This contract not only gives us the means to support the needs of this latest customer,” said Jim Royston, senior vice president and general manager of Astrotech, “but helps us grow our operations and service offerings to all customers on the West Coast.”

Arrowhead Selected for DISA Network Upgrade

Satellite communications solutions provider Arrowhead Global Solutions Inc. was one of three companies selected to upgrade the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) communications network.

Arrowhead of Falls Church, Va., will join Qwest Government Services Inc. of Washington and AT&T Corp. of New York in sharing a potential $3 billion in business over 10 years. The contract has a guaranteed total minimum value to all three contractors combined of $5 million over three years , DISA announced Nov. 1 . DISA received seven bids for the contract , the announcement said.

Microsoft Virtual Earth Displays Harris 3-D Maps

Three-dimensional maps of selected U.S. cities created by Harris Corp. are now featured on Live Search Maps, a newly available search function of Microsoft Virtual Earth, according to a Nov. 6 press release from Microsoft.

Live Search Maps now offers detailed 3-D images of 15 major U.S. cities. The models were created using Harris’ proprietary RealSite Pictometry technology, which combines airborne imagery with digital elevation information, according to a Nov. 7 press release from Harris of Melbourne, Fla.

Microsoft expects to have models of 100 cities created by June of 2007, according to Virtual Earth General Manager John Curlander.

Starsem Cleared To Bid On Cosmo-Skymed Launch

The Franco-Russian Starsem launch-services company, which commercializes Russia’s Soyuz launch vehicle, will be able to bid for the launch of Italy’s civil-military Cosmo-Skymed high-resolution radar reconnaissance satellite in early 2007 following an agreement with Russian government authorities, Starsem Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said.

Cosmo-Skymed program managers identified the satellite as a military spacecraft and began talks with Russia’s Rosoboronexport company on a Soyuz launch that would bypassed Starsem. In the past, Starsem’s Soyuz mandate has not included military satellites.

But in August, the U.S. State Department applied sanctions on Rosoboronexport for two years, alleging it has played a role in exporting missile technology to Iran. Cosmo-Skymed includes U.S.-made components, meaning any launch involving Rosoboronexport faced a veto from U.S. export-control authorities.

Le Gall said a recent agreement with the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, cleared the way for Starsem to bid for the Cosmo-Skymed launch without the involvement of Rosoboronexport.

Access Restrictions on Best Glonass Signal To End

All security restrictions that limit public access to the most accurate signal from Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System (Glonass) will be removed Jan. 1, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the federal cabinet Nov. 13 in Moscow.

Originally developed as a counterpart to the U.S. GPS, access to Glonass was restricted for national security purposes. The restrictions are being lifted to foster wider use of Glonass and the resulting economic development for Russia at a time when the development of other satellite navigation systems is either already under way or is the subject of serious planning in Europe, China, Japan and India.

Designed during the Soviet-era but implemented in 1993, the Glonass system has not been properly funded since then. With only 14 satellites it falls short of the 18 needed to cover all of Russia. By the end of 2007, coverage will be complete according to Ivanov, Itar-Tass reported Nov. 13.

Ivanov also said three new Glonass satellites will be launched Dec. 25., an officials said they were considering a Cosmo-Skymed launch aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket, but that this would cost close to $90 million, compared to less than $60 million for a Soyuz .

HNS 2006 Sales, Profits Higher Despite Slow 3Q

Broadband satellite hardware and services supplier Hughes Network Systems LLC (HNS) reported lower sales and profit for the three months ending Sept. 30 compared to the same period a year ago, but HNS said its results for 2006 as a whole so far are superior to the company’s performance in the corresponding nine-month period of 2005.

As of Sept. 30, HNS said it had 313,000 broadband subscribers paying an average $60 per month in service charges. A year earlier, HNS said it had 262,500 subscribers paying $58 per month.

Germantown, Md-based HNS said its revenue for the nine months ending Sept. 30 was $614.9 million, up 6 percent from the first nine months of 2005. Net profit for that same nine-month period, at $7.9 million, was more than triple the figure for a year ago, the company said in a Nov. 14 filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Hardware sales accounted for 47 percent of HNS revenues, with services making up the balance.

HNS reported increased mobile satellite services revenue , highlighted by a recent $43 million contract with Mobile Satellite Ventures for ground terminals to operate with that company’s hybrid satellite-terrestrial two-way communications service.

HNS has similar contracts with ICO Global and Terrestar Networks, both of which are planning satellite-terrestrial hybrid networks in the United States. HNS also supplies user terminals for Thuraya Satellite Communications of Abu Dhabi, which has an operational satellite-telephone business.

HNS expects its Spaceway 3 Ka-band satellite to be launched in the first half of 2007 and to enter commercial operations six months later. The satellite will provide high-speed broadband access to users in North America and gradually will permit HNS to reduce the amount it spends leasing capacity aboard conventional Ku-band satellites covering the region.

HNS said that as of Sept. 30, it expected to spend an additional $98.4 million to prepare Spaceway 3, a Boeing 702 model spacecraft, for launch, and to insure the satellite and test it in orbit before commercial service begins.

Following a 2004 U.S. State Department order to cease certain operations in China and South Korea, HNS subsidiaries in those regions were forced to cancel contracts with local customers, some of whom threatened to take legal action. The company settled a claim with a Chinese customer for $500,000 earlier this year, HNS said.

Space Revenue Estimated To Be $180 Million a Year

A new report on the state of the space industry says annual revenue from space-related activity is at least $180 million a year.

The Space Report, which was published by the Space Foundation with the Tauri Group, an Alexandria, Va.-based research firm as the technical lead on the project, contains statistics from a variety of published reports, government and other studies.

Carissa Christianson, managing partner of the Tauri group, said much of the data that is public is conflicting and that she hopes compiling it in one place will “establish a level of debate.”

Space Foundation President Elliot Pulham said in a Nov. 9 interview he hopes the annual report, which is available on the organization’s Web site for $35, will provide a common language and data points for the industry.

He noted that the annual revenue figure is probably much higher and acknowledged that the report, while comprehensive it its scope, is incomplete because it does not address such things as the number of GPS devices in automobiles, phones and a growing number of other mobile devices because those statistics are hard to come by. He said the data will be improved year to year.

ITT, General Dynamics Win Contracts for GPS Receivers

ITT Corp. and General Dynamics C4 Systems have received contracts from the U.S. Air Force to develop a modernized receiver for low Earth orbiting satellites to receive signals from the GPS constellation, according to company officials.

Bernice Borrelli, a spokeswoman for ITT, said that the receivers are intended to enable U.S. satellites to receive timing signals from the GPS constellation, as well as to use the GPS navigation signal to determine their own positions in orbit.

The two companies will submit detailed proposals for the receiver design in mid 2007 to the Air Force, according to an ITT news release. The service will choose a single contractor for the work at some point afterwards, according to the news release.

USAF Awards $7.6 Million JTRS Contract to Thales

Thales Corp. won a $7.6 million contract in September to deliver more than 1,200 handheld radios to the U.S. Air Force under the service’s Joint Tactical Radio System program, the company announced Nov. 16.

Sheila Gindes, a Thales spokeswoman, said that the company will deliver the AN/PRC-148 JEM radios to the Air Force by the end of 2006. The radios, which can be used by dismounted troops, are intended for security forces, civil engineers, and tactical air control personnel, according to a Thales news release dated Nov. 16.

GeoEye Purchases SGI’s Image Processing Software

GeoEye has purchased imagery processing software from SGI to use for its GeoEye-1 satellite, scheduled for launch in spring of 2007. GeoEye will incorporate four of SGI’s Altix 350 Systems into the ground system for GeoEye-1, according to a Nov. 13 press release from Mountain View, Calif.-based SGI. The GeoEye-1 satellite is expected to collect more than 700,000 square kilometers of data daily, which SGI’s equipment will process.

Intelligence Community To Fund Its Share of Space Radar

Significant intelligence community funding for the Space Radar surveillance program likely will be forthcoming in 2008, according to two senior U.S. national security officials.

Space Radar has long been billed as a joint effort of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The system would provide data that could be readily used by military commanders in the field as well as policymakers and intelligence officials in Washington.

However, the military and intelligence communities have had difficulty agreeing on the requirements for the system, and Space Radar advocates have complained that the NRO has not provided funding for the program in its budget, which is classified.

That is going to change, according to both Mary Margaret Graham, U.S. deputy director of national intelligence for collection, and Donald Kerr, director of the NRO.

The intelligence community has committed to the program, and “you’ll see a reflection of that as the president delivers his budget next year,” Graham said Nov. 15 at the Geoint 206 Conference.

Speaking the following day at the conference, Kerr practically repeated Graham’s comments. While saying he was not at liberty to discuss the 2008 budget request, he added that the commitment the intelligence community made some years ago to Space Radar “will be kept and the budget will reflect that.”

Katrina Response Vet Urges Prepositioning

Proactive measures such as pre-positioning interoperable equipment in the field and arranging support contracts for communication services ahead of time would be helpful if the U.S. experiences a disaster similar to Hurricane Katrina in the future, according to a general who aided in the hurricane’s aftermath.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore talked about lessons learned during Katrina at the GeoInt 2006 symposium Nov. 14.

Honore said that it would also be helpful if state emergency operation centers pre-allocated spots for federal or external agencies, as there were issues with having enough room during the disaster. He also suggested training government employees to fill emergency positions to avoid shortfalls.

Panel Urges Geospatial Community To Do More

The geospatial community needs to take stock and ask whether it is truly changing in order to evolve with the times, experts said at a panel on challenges facing the community during the GeoInt 2006 symposium Nov. 14.

“Are we really doing all that we can do?” asked Robert Zitz, deputy undersecretary for preparedness for the Department of Homeland Security. “I don’t believe it’s a technology or a resource issue.”

Zitz instead cited the community’s culture as the problem, saying it is resistant to change. He said the community has been slow to adopt some new solutions such as investing more in airborne technology, moving towards advancements such as automatic target recognition, and not being as quick as other government organizations such as U.S. Strategic Command in embracing developments like Google Earth.

NGA Director Robert Murrett said the agency is cooperating with companies like Google Earth and its competitors to learn from their technology platforms. He said an interface like Google Earth could be useful for NGA, but needs extremely timely information within it in order for it to be effective.

Zitz said that some reforms, such as awarding secret security clearance to all individuals who are educated as fire officers, would have tangible benefits, but have not happened because of a broad resistance to sharing information with other agencies.

Leo Hazlewood, senior vice president and general manager for San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.’s mission integration business unit, said that while the geospatial community is able to collect “great amounts of data in breathtaking timelines,” it isn’t ready to make the relevant data quickly available and accessible in a web-based platform for everyone who needs it.

“We simply are not structured to be effective in that environment,” Hazlewood said.

Panelists said that the geospatial intelligence community also is crippled by a workforce that does not have the necessary skill set.

There is a gap between seasoned employees on the verge of retirement and young, bright workers who have the talent but need the proper training, according to Keith Masback, director of advanced systems and technology for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Masback said he’d like to see a moratorium on developing new collection systems and instead have officials concentrate on better using existing resources.

“There is a ripe opportunity to use that which we already have to get a tremendous bang for our buck,” he said.

Experts on the panel said that more innovation would take place if the geospatial intelligence community was more tolerant of failure and willing to take more risks.