Briefs

by












  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 11 July 2005
12:00 pm ET


Boeing Declares ScanEagle Ready for Sea Duty

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis recently completed a series of exercises with its ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that verified the drone’s ability to take off from and land on an aircraft carrier, according to a company new release dated July 6.

The demonstrations ran June 6-15 during the U.S. Navy’s 2005 Joint Task Force Exercise, which took place off the coast of San Diego . It was the first time the battle-tested UAV operated from a carrier deck, Boeing said.

The U.S. Marine Corps has relied heavily on the ScanEagle in Iraq due to the vehicle’s ability to dwell over areas for long periods of time and operate in harsh weather, according to the Boeing news release.

The Navy plans to begin using the ScanEagle UAVs later this month for missions including guarding oil platforms in the Persian Gulf.

Boeing, Lockheed Clear T-Sat Interim Design Reviews

Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. recently completed interim reviews of their competing designs for a new generation of communications satellites expected to help meet the U.S. military’s future bandwidth demands.

The interim review for the U.S. Air Force’s Transformational Satellite Communications, or T-Sat, system was added to the program plan after congressional budget cuts stretched out the design schedule by six months, said Rick Skinner, vice president for transformational communications at Lockheed Martin. Industry officials had expressed concern that an additional six months before the originally planned T-Sat space segment design review was too long to go without an Air Force assessment of the work, he said.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis are working on competing T-Sat designs under $514 million contracts awarded in January 2004.

The Air Force requested $775 million for the program in 2005, but Congress reduced that figure by $300 million . In response, the Air Force moved the planned launch date for the first T-Sat satellite from 2012 into 2013, and requested $836 million for 2006.

The program could be in for further delays, as the House Appropriations and Armed Services committees each reduced the 2006 T-Sat budget request by $400 million. The Senate Armed Services Committee trimmed the T-Sat request by $200 million, while the Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to mark up its version of the 2006 defense spending bill.

John Fuller, vice president of Boeing Air Force Space Systems, called completion of the interim review a “major step” toward the deployment of T-Sat. “We demonstrated technical and schedule confidence, and that our flight path is achievable,” Fuller said in a Boeing news release dated June 7.

Lockheed Martin used simulators during the review to demonstrate how its T-Sat design will help the Pentagon overcome communications shortfalls identified during battle in Iraq in early 2003, Skinner said in a July 6 interview. The company showed how the T-Sat system could be used by mobile forces who are moving so quickly that they get beyond the range of terrestrial-line-of-sight radios, he said.

Saab Delivers Parts for Herschel, Planck Satellites

Saab Ericsson Space of Gothenburg, Sweden, has delivered the first data-handling and attitude-control units for Europe’s Herschel and Planck science satellites, scheduled for launch in mid-2007. Saab Ericsson is scheduled to complete delivery of three data-handling units and three attitude-control computers by the end of the year to Alcatel Alenia Space’s Turin, Italy, facility for integration into the two satellites.

The hardware will be the first use of a new generation of Saab Ericsson data-handling systems, which feature higher performance and lower weight. Saab Ericsson said similar gear will be used for Europe’s Aeolus radar observation satellite, and for the French government’s Pleiades high-resolution optical imaging spacecraft, now under construction.

Investment Firms Form Satellite Partnership

Thomas Weisel Partners LLC, a large technology investment firm, and Near Earth LLC, a satellite-focused company, will join forces to provide investment banking services for the satellite industry.

Hoyt Davidson, chief executive officer and managing member of Near Earth, said the partnership will benefit his company because Near Earth will now be able to provide new services, such as public financing. Before the partnership with Thomas Weisel , the company focused on private-equity investments and small-scale mergers.

“They’re a much larger firm than we are, with a lot more resources and execution capabilities,” Davidson said in an interview . Near Earth will still conduct business independently of Thomas Weisel for some of its smaller transactions, Davidson said.

Meanwhile, the partnership will let Thomas Weisel , a financial service provider for industries such as technology, telecommunications and defense, provide more specialized services for its satellite-industry customers, according to company spokeswoman Ann Akichika.

“[Near Earth] brings to us expertise in the satellite industry we don’t currently have,” Akichika said, noting the satellite industry is connected to many of the sectors her firm already represents. “It brings us a lot of value in terms of knowledge and relations. I think this is an interesting strategic alliance for us.”

Near Earth LLC, headquartered in New Canaan, Conn., was founded in 2002, at a time when many investment firms were cutting back coverage of the satellite industry. Thomas Weisel , based in San Francisco, is an underwriter of technology initial public offerings .

Satellite Signal Pirates Strike Again in China

Suspected activists from China’s banned Falun Gong organization pirated television signals on eight C-band transponders on the Apstar 6 satellite July 3, interrupting prime-time broadcasts from 25 television channels, according to APT Satellite Holdings Ltd. of Hong Kong, the owner of Apstar 6.

Moving from transponder to transponder in a hit-and-run style that has been used against APT’s competitor AsiaSat, the pirates inserted their own programming for a total of about 14 and one-half minutes before disappearing, APT said.

Brian Lo, APT manager for investor relations, said July 5 that the company was unable to pinpoint the exact location of the C-band antenna that overrode APT’s programming before the pirates ceased their activity and disappeared. He declined to say what measures APT has at its disposal to prevent future signal pirating.

Apstar 6, built by Alcatel Space of Paris, was placed into orbit at 134 degrees east longitude in April and has only just begun commercial operations. The satellite is equipped with a special anti-jamming feature intended to prevent just the sort of event that overrode APT’s programming, but it has not yet been activated.

“We have not fully implemented the Apstar 6 features,” Lo said. “The anti-jamming function, once it is activated, should enable us to prevent this from happening again.”

APT said the renegade signals moved from transponder to transponder over a 56-minute period starting at 8:44 p.m. July 3 Hong Kong time. Thirteen Chinese national CCTV channels and 12 regional channels were interrupted.

APT President Chen Zhaobin, in a July 4 statement, said the transponder pirating “is a challenge to the international community. We reserve all our rights to take appropriate legal actions.”

AsiaSat, also of Hong Kong, has contended with similar attacks on several occasions and has agreed with its customers on a strategy of increasing and decreasing the satellite signal. Satellite ground receivers then must adjust their systems accordingly to match the changed signal strength. But AsiaSat has said the pirates have demonstrated an ability to follow the signal-strength change to continue their broadcasts for several minutes at a time.

TeachSpace Program Opens New Classrooms

NASA and the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are expanding the TeachSpace program for teachers by hosting workshops on the university’s residential campus in Prescott, Ariz., and on the school’s extended campus center in Seattle, according to a July 6 Embry-Riddle news release.

The program gives selected high school teachers tools and techniques for making math and science more interesting to students by using human spaceflight and exploration materials in the classroom. TeachSpace, a five-year initiative, was launched in 2004 on the university’s Daytona Beach, Fla., campus.

Teachers are nominated for the program by their principals for developing innovative curricula and demonstrating great peer leadership. It is projected the program will train nearly 10,000 teachers and reach more than 1 million students by 2008.

Supernova Remnants Found in Atmosphere

NASA and University of Arizona, Tuscon, researchers have discovered silicate grains believed to have formed in an ancient supernova explosion among extraterrestrial dust particles collected in Earth’s upper atmosphere, the university announced June 30.

The grains, thought to have arrived aboard a comet or primitive asteroid that burned up in Earth’s atmosphere, were collected by a high-altitude NASA research aircraft. The grains contain the mineral olivine, which is present in comets and in the Earth’s mantle. But the samples also contain oxygen isotopic ratios predicted to form in supernova explosions.

The data could shed light on how much material from supernovae contribute to forming stars and planets and also assist astrophysicists in verifying complex numerical models of supernovae explosions.

Applied Signal Technology Closes Acquisition of DTI

Applied Signal Technology announced July 5 that it has completed its acquisition of advanced sensor provider Dynamics Technology Inc. (DTI) and will maintain that company’s headquarters in Torrance, Calif., as well as its facilities in Arlington, Va., and Anaheim, Calif.

Applied Signal Technology of Sunnyvale, Calif., announced May 24 the agreement to buy DTI for $30 million in cash, which was subject to adjustment based on DTI’s closing balance sheet. Applied Signal Technology, which develops and markets digital signal processing equipment, will gain about 110 employees from the acquisition.

Soho Craft on Verge of Finding 1,000th Comet

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (Soho) spacecraft is on the verge of discovering its 1,000th comet this summer, adding to the long list of comet findings it has accumulated over its past nine years of operation.

NASA, which jointly runs Soho with the European Space Agency, announced July 6 that the spacecraft has discovered nearly half of all cataloged comets with computed orbits in the history of astronomy. Approximately 85 percent of these comets belong to the Kreutz group of Sun-grazing comets, which pass within 805,000 kilometers of the Sun.

Soho uses its Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph instrument to discover comets by detecting small blockings of light in the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona. The spacecraft has the fuel to operate for decades longer depending if its instruments continue to function.

Satellite Awakened To Study Probe’s Collision With Comet

A satellite that was in hibernation mode for 11 months was awakened in early June to study the July 4 collision between NASA’s Deep Impact projectile and the comet Tempel 1 , measuring the abundance of water molecules around the comet’s vaporizing debris.

NASA’s Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite still had life left in it when it was powered-down in July 2004 after a five-and-a-half year mission studying star formation, according to a news release issued June 28 by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., which managed the satellite’s science operations.

The satellite was powered back up and tested in early June and will observe Tempel 1 through the end of August, when it will be shut down once again.

Nortel Updates Data Network For Return-to-Flight Mission

Nortel PEC Solutions announced June 28 that it has updated NASA’s Mission Command and Telemetry Network for the space shuttle’s return-to-flight mission July 13, allowing critical information and data sharing between the Space Shuttle Discovery, the international space station and NASA operations centers.

Dana Mellecker, a Nortel spokesman, declined to release any further information about the NASA upgrade.

The Brampton, Ontario-based company also has deployed its wireless mesh network at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., to provide the 2,500 journalists expected to cover the launch with Internet and e-mail access.

Egnos Navigation Overlay To Undergo ESA-Led Review

A European Space Agency (ESA) commission accepted for review Alcatel Space’s European Geostation Navigation Overlay Service (Egnos) system, a satellite navigation system that will become part of Europe’s future Galileo constellation, Alcatel Space announced June 21.

The European Commission and Eurocontrol, an air-navigation safety group created by ESA , will conduct an operational readiness review of the Egnos system, which initially will complement the U.S. GPS and Russian Glonass satellite navigation systems .

The Egnos service is expected to be operational in 2007. It relies on three geostationary satellites and 43 ground equipment sites in 22 countries.

Weather Satellite System Clears Preliminary Review

A team led by Northrop Grumman Space Technology has completed a preliminary design review for a U.S. government satellite system that will collect meteorological data on Earth’s oceans, land surfaces, atmosphere and space environment, the company announced June 29.

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System will provide both military and civilian users with meteorological information using sensors that can measure the distribution of ozone in the atmosphere and collect visible and infrared radiometric data.

The delta preliminary design review tested the system’s performance and interface operations. It was held June 13-17 at Northrop Grumman Space Technology in Redondo Beach, Calif., with over 300 participants attending.

BAE Signs Middle East Broker For Imagery Software

BAE Systems, McLean, Va., announced June 23 it has signed an agreement with International Computer Systems Ltd. (ICS) of London to distribute BAE’s Geospatial Exploitation Products in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

ICS will distribute the software for geospatial and image analysis through its sister companies in Amman, Jordan, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Orbimage Satellite Data To Enhance MSN Search Tool

Orbimage will provide satellite imagery for Microsoft Corp.’s new Virtual Earth program, a component of Microsoft’s MSN Web portal search tool that will provide maps, imagery, photos and business directories for area-specific search inquiries.

Orbimage Holdings, a subsidiary of Orbimage Inc. of Dulles, Va., announced June 29 that it has entered a five-year agreement with Microsoft to provide satellite imagery for Virtual Earth, which is slated for debut sometime this summer.

Microsoft of Redmond, Wash., will have access to updated imagery from Orbimage’s OrbView-2 and OrbView-3 satellites, with the OrbView-3 craft providing up to 210,000 square kilometers of black-and-white imagery per day.

L-3 To Supply Components For PanAmSat’s Galaxy 15

L-3 Communications Electron Technologies Inc. (L3-ETI) announced June 28 it has won a contract from Orbital Sciences Corp. to provide C- and Ku-band payload components for the PAS-11 communications satellite being built for PanAmSat Corp. of Wilton, Conn.

The components are called linearized traveling wave tube amplifiers. Traveling wave tube amplifiers enhance and transmit radio frequency signals to Earth. Linearizers help cancel distortion on satellites that carry a large number of signals.

L-3 ETI of Torrance, Calif., is a subsidiary of L-3 Communications in New York. This is the seventh order Dulles, Va.-based Orbital has placed with the company. Ray Robinson, a spokesman for L-3 ETI, would not disclose the contract value.

Lehigh University Opens Laboratory Doors to NASA

Under a new agreement, Lehigh University will open the doors of its nanotechnology and microscopy facilities to NASA researchers developing technology for the James Webb Space Telescope, Mars rovers and other spacecraft, the space agency announced June 28.

NASA’s agreement with the Bethlehem, Pa., school will give agency researchers access to the university’s Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology as well as its nano and micro-mechanical behavior laboratory. These facilities have unique tools to develop technology for sensors such as the Near Infrared Spectrograph, which will be used to study galaxy and star formation aboard the James Webb telescope.

The agreement will save NASA the expense of building or acquiring facilities necessary to develop the technology, according to the agency’s news release.

Com Dev To Supply Parts For Commercial Satellite

Com Dev International has won a contract worth 5 million Canadian dollars ($4 million) to provide electronic components for a commercial satellite that will deliver broadcast services to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Com Dev, a manufacturer of space hardware subsystems, announced July 4 that it will carry out this work at its headquarters in Cambridge, Ontario. The satellite is expected to be delivered to Com Dev in April 2006.

The names of the customer and satellite program were not released. On June 27, Com Dev announced a contract valued at 8.7 million Canadian dollars to provide electronic components that operate at military frequencies for another undisclosed customer.

Planet With Large Solid Core Supports Formation Theory

NASA researchers announced June 30 the discovery of a planet with the largest solid core yet found outside the solar system, providing evidence for a prominent planet formation theory.

Astronomers at the Okayama Astrophysical Observatory in Japan originally thought the planet would be similar to the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. But detailed observations indicate that the planet has a mass comparable to that of Saturn and a significantly smaller diameter, and researchers now believe the planet’s solid core is 70 times that of Earth’s mass, according to a NASA news release.

This observation builds support for the so-called core accretion theory, which holds that planets start as rock-ice cores and grow as they acquire more mass via gravity. Because the planet’s core is so large, scientists said it is unlikely that it formed from the collapse of a dense cloud, which is what another leading planetary-formation theory holds.

Supercomputers Support U.S. Army Missile Shield Work

The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Simulation Center is scheduled to receive a Cray X1E system upgrade as well as a Cray XD1 supercomputer system to run computational fluid dynamics code that generates models for missile configurations, combustion and propulsion flow, Cray Inc. of Seattle announced June 30.

The simulation center in Huntsville, Ala., will receive the Cray X1E system upgrade later this month and the XD1 will be installed later this summer. Madison Research Corp. of Huntsville, the contractor that operates the simulation center, placed the orders.

U.S. Army General Nominated for Top NSA Post

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the service’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, has been nominated to serve as director of the National Security Agency (NSA), according to a Pentagon news release dated July 5.

If confirmed by the Senate, Alexander would replace U.S. Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who now serves as principal deputy to the director of national intelligence. William Black, the agency’s deputy director, has served as acting director since Hayden’s departure earlier this year. The last Army officer to lead the NSA was Lt. Gen. William Odom, who served from 1985 to 1988.

Proposed INA Change To Permit Payments

The White House has sent Congress a proposed revision to the Iran Nonproliferation Act (INA) that would make it possible for NASA to pay Russia for hardware and services related to the international space station program, including cash payments for the use of Soyuz and Progress spacecraft to get crew members and cargo to and from the orbiting laboratory.

The INA, which Congress approved in 2000, currently prohibits the U.S. government from making any payments to Russia — in cash or in kind — for any station-related work. The proposed change the White House submitted to several Senate and House committees last week would eliminate the prohibitive language.

The only space station-related payments that would still be banned would be payments for services Russia agreed to provide for free as part of its contribution under the space station partnership agreement.

Russia currently is obligated to provide limited Soyuz and Progress spacecraft for the effort, but that obligation ends next year, which is one of the big reasons the White House wants to amend the INA.

FCC Revokes License for Loral’s Telstar 9 Satellite

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on July 7 revoked Loral Space and Communications’ license to build the Telstar 9 telecommunications satellite intended for the 69 degrees west longitude orbital slot, saying the company has missed too many project milestones and still has not made serious headway.

The C- and Ku-band frequencies that accompanied the Telstar 9 licenses will be returned to the FCC pool and become available for other proposed satellites.

The Telstar 9 application originally was submitted by AT&T Corp. in 1996 before being transferred to Loral, which sought and received several extensions to the FCC-imposed deadline for building and launching the satellite. With no progress after nine years, the FCC said, “Loral has effectively abdicated its license.”

MSV Will Seek Bids for Three New Satellites

Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) will solicit bids from satellite manufacturers for three satellites to cover North and South America by September and expects to select a prime contractor for the system by December, the Reston, Va., company announced.

MSV also said it had paid a required $3 million deposit to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for one of the satellites, called MSV-1, in keeping with a regulatory deadline. The L-band MSV-1 will be placed at 101 degrees west longitude. A similar satellite, called MSV-2, is expected to be ordered by MSV’s Canadian arm. The two spacecraft will replace existing satellites owned by the companies.

The third satellite, called MSV-SA, is expected to provide mobile communications in South America.

The satellites will feature spot beams and ground-based signal enhancers, called ancillary terrestrial components, to provide voice and data communications to telephone handsets.

Three ISRO Centers Are Under New Management

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has undergone a management reshuffling, with leadership changes at three of its major facilities.

K.N. Shankara has been appointed director of the ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC), the agency’s flagship establishment in Bangalore. ISAC is responsible for designing and fabricating all of ISRO’s communications, remote-sensing and research satellites.

ISRO spokesman S. Krishnamurthy said July 3 that Shankara replaces Prem Shankar Goel, who has been moved to New Delhi as secretary of the Department of Ocean Development. Shankara previously headed the Space Application Centre in Ahmedabad, which designs and builds satellite payloads. R.R. Navalgund, director of the National Remote Sensing Agency in Hyderabad, will take charge of the Ahmedabad facility while retaining his current duties, Krishnamurthy said.

The Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, ISRO’s satellite-launching facility, also has a new chief. M. Annamalai, who previously was with the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre in Thiruvanathapuram, has been made director of the launch facility following the retirement of K. Narayana.

All changes became effective July 1.

Vietnamese To Receive Spot, Envisat Imagery

EADS Defense and Communications Systems will provide ground-reception systems for the Spot optical and Envisat radar satellites to the Vietnamese government under a contract to equip and train Vietnamese agencies to use Earth observation satellite data, EADS Defense and Communications announced.

Under the three-year contract, valued at 19.3 million euros ($23 million), EADS will install a Spot- and Envisat-compatible satellite ground station, an image processing and distribution center and 15 application systems designed for use by different government agencies.

The contract includes training Vietnamese personnel in the use of satellite data for civil-defense, environmental, agricultural, land-management and other purposes.

The French and Vietnamese governments in 1990 signed a cooperation agreement on satellite Earth observation.

Space Agency Wants UAV For Surveillance, Tests

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is looking to obtain an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for testing and surveillance purposes .

One project would use the UAV to conduct surveillance of a launch area immediately following an unmanned launch, according to NASA contracting officer Steve Boyd. To do this, the UAV would need to be equipped with a high-resolution video camera and a medium-sensitivity thermal camera.

The vehicle also could be used to test avionics hardware at a lower cost than using a manned aircraft, Boyd said.

The fixed-wing or vertical take-off and landing vehicle must be able to relay measurements to the ground using on-board instruments, according to a July 5 announcement posted on the U.S. government’s Federal Business Opportunities Web site.

The vehicle should have a protected engine and must fly for at least 60 minutes and up to 90 minutes, to altitudes of at least 1,500 meters . It needs to be remotely controlled from the ground, and must come with a display that gives its location when it is out of sight. The UAV must accommodate external antenna mountings and possess a variety of safety and security measures, such as a flight termination system.

Croom Takes Over as DISA’s New Director

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles E. Croom took command of the Pentagon’s Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) July 8, according to a DISA news release.

Croom previously served as the director of information, services and integration in the Air Force’s warfighting integration office. He replaces Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege, who is retiring.

Among other duties, DISA is responsible for procuring commercial satellite communications services on behalf of Defense Department users.