Kazakhstan Clears Way For TerraSAR-X Launch

The launch of Germany’s high-resolution TerraSAR-X radar Earth observation satellite has been rescheduled for Feb. 27 following the resolution of a dispute between Russian and Kazakh authorities over environmental damage from launches of the Dnepr rocket , the German Aerospace Center, DLR, announced Nov. 23.

The satellite, built by Astrium GmbH and carrying a radar sensor capable of detecting objects as small as 1 meter in diameter, will be launched aboard a Dnepr silo-launched vehicle from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Kazakh authorities ordered a suspension of Dnepr launches following a July failure that resulted in pollution of Kazakh territory by fuel and debris from the rocket. TerraSAR-X had been scheduled for launch Oct. 31.

Dnepr, a converted SS-18 ballistic missile, is marketed by the Russian-Ukrainian-Kazakh company ISC Kosmotras of Moscow.

TerraSAR-X is a joint government-private mission, with Astrium GmbH and its affiliate Infoterra GmbH investing alongside DLR in the satellite’s construction.

The satellite also carries a laser communications terminal built by Tesat Spacecom of Germany that will be used to test optical communications links from low Earth orbit.

Optus D-1 Satellite Has Antenna Pointing Issue

The Optus D-1 telecommunications satellite launched in October has an antenna-pointing defect but is in full operations, according to Australia’s Optus telecommunications operator. Optus D-1 is the first of a new generation of Star 2 platforms built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

Optus spokeswoman Simone Bergholics said the satellite has begun operating at its 160 degrees east orbital position, serving Australian and New Zealand television customers. “We did find a configuration issue with the satellite,” Bergholics said. She declined to specify to extent to which the satellite’s operations would be affected.

Koor Industries to Sell Stake in Elbit Systems

Koor Industries, an Israeli holding company, announced Nov. 22 that that it will sell the majority of its 5.5 percent stake in defense electronics provider Elbit Systems to Federmann Enterprises for about $70 million.

Elbit, based in Haifa, Israel, owns Elop Electro-Optics Industries, a builder of imaging cameras for satellites.

The transaction is expected to close on or before Dec. 26, Koors said in a press release. Federmann is a privately owned Israeli company with holdings in such industries as defense electronics, hospitality and real estate.

Three Bidders Apply for Canadian Orbital Slots

Canada’s request for bids to place telecommunications satellites in 29 Canadian-registered orbital slots featured two no-shows and one surprise entry.

Eutelsat of Paris and Bell ExpressVu of Canada, both of which had indicated interest in the slots to Industry Canada, did not file formal applications. Telesat Canada and Ciel Satellite, a Canadian-owned SES Global affiliate, as expected filed applications for 10 and nine of the slots, respectively.

The surprise player is Canadian Satellite Radio Investments Inc., the corporate parent of XM Satellite Radio’s Canadian partner that is deploying XM’s satellite-radio service throughout Canada and is targeting 1 million subscribers by 2010.

The parent company, seeing an opportunity to widen its business beyond satellite radio, filed bids for 10 of the open slots, which can be used for high-definition television broadcasts and broadband communications.

Of the 29 orbital locations , nine are being sought by at least two of the three competing companies. Eight others attracted the interest of only one of the bidders, and the 12 remaining slots drew bids by none of them.

A Canadian Satellite Radio official said the company has had informal discussions with potential investment partners and is using the Canadian government initiative as an entry into the fixed satellite services business.

Industry Canada has set a Dec. 15 deadline for public comments on the three companies’ plans. Decisions on who will develop which slot are expected next spring.

Canada’s satellite telecommunications landscape is in transition. The historic provider, Telesat, has been placed on the market by owner BCE Inc. Ciel Satellite plans to launch its first fully owned satellite in 2008.

Vacek Resigns as Chief of SpaceDev’s Starsys Division

SpaceDev announced Nov. 24 that Robert Vacek has resigned as president of the company’s Starsys division, which specializes in space robotics. Vacek is leaving to pursue a “non-competitive opportunity outside of the aerospace industry,” SpaceDev, which acquired Starsys in February, said.

Moving Astra 1C To
Undisclosed Location

SES Global is moving its Astra 1C direct-broadcast TV satellite westward along the geostationary arc to an unannounced location. The satellite, launched in May 1993 into subsidiary SES Astra’s 19.2 degrees east slot, transferred much of its traffic to the Astra 1KR satellite that arrived there in April.

In late August, Astra 1C began slowly moving west. As of Nov. 15 it had reached 2.5 degrees east, meaning it had moved past the 5 degrees east position used by SES Global’s SES Sirius AB of Sweden.

“We are currently proceeding with one of the usual fleet redeployments and will disclose details once this is completed,” SES Astra spokesman Markus Payer said.

Wins Contract To Build Astra 3B Satellite

Astrium Satellites will build the Astra 3B direct-broadcast television and two-way broadband telecommunications satellite for SES Global’s Astra subsidiary under a contract the companies announced Nov. 21.

Astra 3B will carry 52 transponders and will add capacity to SES Astra’s 23.5 degrees east orbital slot covering Europe. The satellite, an Astrium Eurostar 3000 platform, is scheduled for launch in late 2009. Astrium Satellites has major satellite-manufacturing facilities in France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands.

Luxembourg-based SES Global currently has two satellites — Astra 1D and Astra 3A — located at the 23.5-degree slot. Astra 1D, launched in 1994, is scheduled to be retired at the end of the decade.

China To Participate in Russian Mission to Phobos

China will contribute a micro-satellite to Russia’s planned sample-return mission to the martian moon Phobos, according to a senior official with Roskosmos, the Russian space agency.

“The Russian spacecraft, to depart for Mars’ moon Phobos, will carry a Chinese micro-satellite for exploration of the environment around Mars,” Yuri Nosenko, Roskosmos deputy director, told reporters in Beijing Nov. 9. Roskosmos spokesman Yuri Panarin confirmed Nosenko’s statement Nov. 16.

The Chinese micro-satellite will be released once the Russian-built Fobos-Grunt spacecraft enters the vicinity of Mars. Fobos-Grunt was first approved in the 1990s, but has been deferred repeatedly due to a lack of funds. It is now scheduled for launch in 2009 as part of Russia’s long-term plan for realigning its space industry and programs.

Nosenko also said China and Russia will cooperate on China’s planned lunar missions. He estimated that the contracts signed by Russian space companies with China are worth tens of millions of dollars

SES New Skies Selects Orbital To Build NSS-9

SES New Skies has selected Orbital Sciences Corp. to build the NSS-9 telecommunications satellite to be launched in late 2008, marking Orbital’s first sale to that company , SES New Skies of The Hague, Netherlands, announced Nov. 20.

NSS-9 will carry 28 C-band transponders and expected to operate for 15 years at SES New Skies’ 183 degrees east longitude (177 degrees west) Pacific Ocean orbital slot, providing telecommunications links between East Asia, Australia and North America. The company’s NSS-5 satellite, launched in 1997, is currently located at that slot and carries 55 C-band and 12 Ku-band transponders.

NSS-9 — an Orbital Sciences Star-2 platform — is expected to weigh 2,230 kilograms at launch and generate 2.3 kilowatts of power for the on-board payload. The satellite will be the first procured by SES New Skies since its March acquisition by satellite-fleet operator SES Global of Luxembourg.

Officials from Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp. told investors Oct. 27 that they expected to book two new commercial satellite orders by the end of the year. NSS-9 is the first one. SES New Skies said it would select a launch vehicle for the satellite at a later date.

ATK Conducts Nighttime Firing of Shuttle Motor

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) conducted a nighttime static firing of a space shuttle solid rocket motor Nov. 16 to help prepare for an upcoming shuttle mission and to collect data for NASA’s next-generation crew launcher, the company said.

The Reusable Solid Rocket Motor test in Promontory, Utah, was monitored by 31 cameras in preparation for the first nighttime launch of a space shuttle since the 2003 Columbia accident. New safety rules adopted since the mishap require extensive monitoring to detect orbiter damage that might be sustained during liftoff. Taking such images at after dark poses a special challenge because the motor’s bright exhaust plume can overwhelm sensitive camera optics.

A second test objective was to collect data on vibration, acoustic loads and roll torque experienced by the motor during firing. This data will aid in the design of the Ares-1 crew launch vehicle, whose core stage will be based closely on the Reusable Solid Rocket Motor, ATK said in a press releases dated Nov. 16.

The release said all major test objectives had been achieved.

During the two-minute test — the standard motor burn time during shuttle launches — the motor generated 2.6 million pounds of thrust. It was the first nighttime static firing of a space shuttle solid rocket motor since 1992, ATK said.

Design Contest Matches Students with Engineers

University students will have the opportunity to work with NASA engineers to design and test a radio-controlled aircraft under a new competition.

The new NASA Systems Engineering Award is part of the Aero Design competition, which is sponsored by NASA and the Society of Automotive Engineers International, based in Warrendale, Pa. During the design process, students will be able to communicate with NASA engineers , who also will review their work twice during development, according to a Nov. 16 press release from NASA.

The students are competing for $750 cash prizes and commemora tive awards.

Orders SGI Data-Storage Systems

EarthData International has purchased SGI data storage products to support a pair of aerial radar mapping projects for separate government customers, SGI of Mountain View, Calif., announced Nov. 16.

SGI’s InfiniteStorage system will help EarthData, of Frederick, Md., cope with the vast amounts of data generated by its GeoSAR mapping system, SGI said in a press release. GeoSAR is a radar-equipped jet aircraft that produces 3-D models of forest canopies as well as the terrain that lies beneath.

The data storage products will enhance an existing SGI-supplied data system, the press release said. They will support two contracts recently won by EarthData: a $16 million award from the government of Australia to map Papua, New Guinea; and a $4.3 deal with the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to map portions of South America.

NASA Completes Review of
Constellation Requirements

NASA has completed an initial review of all system requirements for the Orion crew exploration vehicle, the Ares 1 crew launch vehicle and the Ares 5 heavy-lift cargo rocket , the agency said in a Nov. 16 press release.

During the review, NASA determined that the design, development, construction and operation plans for the components of its Constellation Program are sound, the release said. The review is the first NASA has completed for a human spaceflight system since 1972, the release said.

Nabs DHS Mapping Contract

ManTech will create an interface to incorporate satellite and aerial mapping data for disaster management planning under a contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) .

The interface will help workers keep tabs on data relevant to disaster monitoring, such as tracking hurricanes and determining potential infrastructure damage, according to a Nov. 10 press release from ManTech of Fairfax, Va. ManTech spokesman Mark Root declined to divulge the value of the contract.

British Company To Market Low-Cost Imaging Camera

Orbital Optics Ltd. (OOL) of Chilton, U.K., has begun building an engineering model of a low-cost imaging camera it intends to market for small satellite missions.

The RALCam 4 camera will be capable of distinguishing ground objects as small as .8 meters across from an orbital altitude of 550 kilometers, according to OOL, which was established this year at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory to market the laboratory’s space products. The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory built the camera for the British government’s TopSat satellite, which was launched in October 2005 and collects images with 2.5-meter resolution.

OOL hopes to complete construction of the prototype RALCam 4 camera in 2007, the company said in a press release.

Sales Jump During Third Quarter

Viaspace Inc., which commercializes NASA and U.S. Department of Defense technologies, brought in higher revenue during the 2006 third quarter compared to the same period last year. But the company’s losses widened during the period ending Sept. 30.

Pasadena, Calif.-based Viaspace reported revenues of $383,000 for the 2006 third quarter compared to $93,000 during the same time last year , according to a Nov. 16 company press release . Viaspace’s net loss was $1.53 million, compared to $580,000 during the third quarter of 2005, the release said.

The company attributed the revenue increase to work on sensor data fusion software and inference engine technology . But that increase was more than offset by increased sales and marketing costs as well as investments in research and development, the press release said.

New York Schools To Design Imaging Detector for NASA

The Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester, both of Rochester, N.Y. , have received an $847,000 contract from NASA to develop a next-generation imaging detector.

The detector will create sharper images and consume less power than existing technology, according to a Nov. 10 press release from Rochester Institute of Technology.

The new detector is significantly smaller than its previous incarnations, the release said. The detector has the potential to be used for space missions, and has applications in other fields as well, such as in biomedical imaging and homeland security surveillance, the release said.

Hubble Data Reveals Dark Energy’s History

NASA scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have determined that a mysterious force known as dark energy has been present for most of the universe’s history.

Dark energy causes the universe to expand at an increasing rate, according to a Nov. 16 NASA press release. Scientists previously were unsure whether dark energy was a relatively new phenomenon , but since have tracked its existence to as long as 9 billion years ago, the release said.

The scientists’ conclusions are based on studies of 24 distant supernovae, the size of which gives clues about the universe’s expansion rate, the release said.

Global, SeaMobile Sign Partnership Agreement

Inmarsat reseller Stratos Global Corp. of Bethesda, Md., and SeaMobile Enterprises of Seattle have signed a partnership agreement to deliver wireless voice and data services to U.S. government and military markets.

U nder the deal , the companies will collaborate on proposals and contracts for very small aperture terminal (VSAT) and cellular services, the release said.

The arrangement takes advantage of Stratos’ experience providing mobile satellite communications services and SeaMobile’s expertise in technology that allows cellular phones to work in maritime environments, according to a Nov. 16 press release from Stratos.

Intelsat Craft To Carry Discovery HD Channel

Discovery Communications Inc. will use an Intelsat satellite to broadcast its new high-definition television network.

Silver Spring, Md.-based Discovery will use Intelsat’s PAS-12 satellite in order to launch Discovery HD in Europe. GlobeCast Europe of Paris will uplink Discovery’s programming content at its Brookman’s Park teleport in London, the release said.

Financial details of the arrangement were not disclosed, according to Bermuda-based Intelsat’s spokesman Nick Mitsis.

Sunoco Adds 5 Years to VSAT Deal with Spacenet

Gilat’s Spacenet subsidiary will continue to upgrade a very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite communications network for energy giant Sunoco Inc. under a five-year contract extension, according to a Nov. 15 press release from Spacenet.

The network connects 900 Sunoco retail outfits, Spacenet of McLean, Va., said.

Under the upgrade program, stores owned by Philadelphia-based Sunoco will be equipped with Gilat Satellite Networks’ SkyEdge VSAT platform. Spacenet also will provide hybrid networking services, which combine terrestrial and satellite services, the release said.

The financial value of the contract was not disclosed, according to Stan Schneider of Schneider Communications in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., which does public relations work for Spacenet.

La. State Wireless Network Will Have Satellite Backup

ERF Wireless will deploy a $5 million wireless network for the Louisiana State Police, which includes a satellite backup capability for use in emergency situations.

The network will be known as Louisiana BankNet. ERF of League City, Texas, will own and operate the network, while the Louisiana State Police will provide the tower infrastructure, according to a Nov. 16 company press release.

Satellite backup will be available at certain key nodes within the network, the release said. During a declared state emergency, ERF will provide extra services, including expanded bandwidth, high-resolution video surveillance at towers, and free use of wireless hotspots across the network, the release said.

Sirius Canada Joins With Automobile Association

Sirius Canada, an arm of Sirius Satellite Radio of New York, signed an agreement making the 4.9 million members of the Canadian Automobile Association eligible for hardware and subscription discounts as well as longer trial periods, the company announced Nov. 14.

Agrees To Buy BT Satellite Broadcast

Broadcasting service provider Arqiva has acquired BT’s Satellite Broadcast Services business for 25 million euros ($32 million), Arqiva of Winchester, U.K., said in a Nov. 17 press release.

The transaction, subject to U.K. regulatory approval, includes BT’s customer contracts and operations in France, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

BT of London provides satellite services from six teleports located in the United Kingdom, United States and France, the release said. The deal will help Arqiva expand its satellite reach, the release said.