Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 12 December 2006
02:23 pm ET


Soyuz Upper Stage Glitch Delays Corot Mission


The launch of the French Corot astronomy satellite aboard a newly designed Russian Soyuz rocket will be delayed by a week, to Dec. 27, following discovery of a leak in the rocket’s upper-stage hydrazine fuel tank, the French space agency, CNES, announced Dec. 7.

The 630-kilogram Corot, in which the European Space Agency (ESA) also has a financial stake, is designed to spend 30 months searching for undiscovered planets and determining the age, mass and composition of stars.

Thien Lam Trong, Corot project manager at CNES, said in a Dec. 7 statement that the fueling of the Soyuz’s Fregat upper stage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was halted and that the hydrazine tank is being replaced.

The launch preparations are expected to resume Dec. 13, Trong said.

Corot is being launched aboard the first flight model of the Soyuz 2-1b rocket, which features a more-powerful upper-stage motor to give the vehicle increased lift. While this Soyuz version is not necessary to place Corot into its 896-kilometer circular orbit, the Soyuz upgrade has been partially financed by European authorities to prepare for Soyuz operations from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport starting in late 2008.

Corot is budgeted at about 150 million euros ($200 million), including construction, launch, ground facilities and nearly three years of operations.


Chinese Weather Satellite Launched by Long March

China’s newest geostationary-orbiting meteorological satellite, FengYun 2D, was successfully launched Dec. 8 aboard a Chinese Long March 3A rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China, Chinese government officials announced.

The 1,400-kilogram satellite will operate at 86.5 degrees east longitude and will serve as a backup for the FengYun 2C satellite, which was launched in October 2004 and is located at 105 degrees east longitude.

China is an active member of the global World Weather Watch system, coordinated by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, which promotes free global sharing of weather data worldwide.

The Chinese Meteorological Administration in November announced it would extend the reach of its FengYun system as far west as Pakistan, and as far east as New Zealand, by leasing commercial telecommunications satellite capacity to relay the data to users equipped with small satellite-reception dish antennas.

Boeing Demonstrates T-Sat Laser Payload

A recent test conducted by Boeing Co. demonstrated the ability of its laser-optic payload design for the U.S. Air Force’s planned Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) system to communicate with airborne platforms, the company said in a Dec. 4 press release.

During the tests, which took place in a laboratory, Boeing’s prototype T-Sat laser payload successfully transmitted signals to an Airborne Lasercom Risk Reduction Terminal, or ALT, built by BAE Systems, at data rates of up to 10 gigabytes per second, the press release said. The Boeing hardware also was able to drop its link with ALT and acquire and communicate with a separate simulated T-Sat terminal, the press release said.

The T-Sat laser payloads are designed to allow the satellites to communicate with one another and with high-altitude aircraft.

“We showed that terminals made by Boeing along with our partner Ball Aerospace and terminals built by BAE Systems and Ball could work together to provide risk reduction for the government’s Lasercom mission needs,” John Peterson, Boeing’s T-Sat program director, said in a prepared statement.

While Boeing is working on its T-Sat design under a $514 million Air Force contract, this demonstration was conducted with the company’s own funding, according to Dave Garlick, a Boeing spokesman. Development of the ALT terminal is not a part of Boeing’s contract, he said.

Lockheed Martin is developing a competing T-Sat system design under a similar Air Force contract.

Aerojet
to Develop Booster for Air Force

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has chosen Aerojet to begin final negotiations on a contract potentially worth $109 million to develop a new hydrocarbon-fueled rocket engine , according to a company news release dated Dec. 4.

The demonstration engine could play a role in future Air Force missions involving launching small satellites on short notice, according to the news release.

“We look forward to collaborating with the AFRL to showcase how advancements we’ve made with new and innovative engine technologies will enable increased mission performance and flexibility while reducing the cost of the operations,” Aerojet President Scott Neish in a statement .

Orbital Restates Earnings For the Last Five Years

Orbital Sciences Corp. has restated its earnings for the last five years to account for incorrect reporting of stock options, according to documents the company filed Dec. 7 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital said in the filing that the company brought in $27.8 million rather than $28.2 million in 2005; $201.1 million rather than $200 million in 2004; $19.8 million rather than $20.2 million in 2003; $601,000 instead of $765,000 in 2002; and $18.4 million rather than $19 million in 2001.

In the filing, the company explained that retroactive dating of the stock options was discovered during a voluntary independent review by a special committee commissioned by Orbital. The committee found no fraud or intentional misconduct, the filing said. Orbital said in October that the errors were not significant enough to call for amended figures, but said in the filing that the errors could have an impact on a financial transaction.

Orbital also announced Dec. 8 that it would be revising upward its estimates for cash flow and earnings for 2007 as a result of a $143.75 million debt offering made Dec. 7. The new guidance is $0.77 per share rather than $0.72 per share, and $50 million-$55 million in free cash flow rather than the old forecast of $45 million-$50 million.

XCOR Spacesuit Contract Goes to Orbital Outfitters

XCOR Aerospace, the Mojave, Calif. company developing a two-person suborbital spacecraft dubbed Xerus, has awarded a contract to newcomer Orbital Outfitters to design a pressure suit for its pilots and passengers. Neither XCOR President Jeff Greason nor Orbital Outfitters President Rick Tumlinson would disclose the contract’s value, but the companies said in a press release that the first suits would be delivered in 2007. Greason said in an interview that he chose Orbital Outfitters over established providers because the start-up was the first firm to meet XCOR’s technical and cost requirements. XCOR has not said when it expects to conduct its first Xerus flights.

Sky Broadband, Google Enter Into Partnership

Satellite broadband provider Sky Broadband and Internet search giant Google will join forces to bring customized online content to Sky Broadband’s customers .

The financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed, according to a Dec. 6 press release from British Sky Broadcasting Co. of London, which owns Sky.

Through the partnership, Sky Broadband will launch a portal for user-made videos produced by Google, and host a Google-powered customized email and communications platform. The companies also will look to collaborate on advertising and search ventures, the release said.

Technical Snag Foils Missile Defense Test

The Pentagon scrubbed a planned test of its sea-based missile defense system Dec. 7 due to an “incorrect system setting” aboard a U.S. Navy Aegis ship that was to fire interceptors at two separate targets, according to a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) news release.

The problem prevented the ship from launching the first of the two interceptor missiles, according to the news release. Since MDA had wanted to demonstrate the ability to hit multiple targets nearly simultaneously, officials chose to abort the test rather than attempt to engage the second target. The MDA will work with the Navy to determine a new test date.

The two target missiles had already been fired, and fell into the ocean , according to the news release.

ESA Prepares Rosetta for Gravity-Assist Mars Flyby




Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing the Rosetta spacecraft for a gravity-assist maneuver in February. The comet-chasing spacecraft will use the gravity of Mars to propel it toward a subsequent Earth swing-by eight months later. In all Rosetta is making three swing-bys of Earth and the one swing-by of Mars enroute to its rendezvous with the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko .

Rosetta performed trajectory adjustments Sept. 29 and Nov. 13 in preparation for the Mars swing-by, ESA said in a Nov. 29 press release. Two additional course adjustments are scheduled prior to the probe’s closest approach to the red planet Feb. 25 when it will come within 250 kilometers of the planet’s surface.

ESA scientists also plan to use the Mars fly-by opportunity to make close observations of the red planet while calibrating Rosetta’s instruments for its main mission. Rosetta is slated to reach Churyumov-Gerasimenko , its final destination, in 2014.


 

Arianespace Wins Contract To Launch Korean Satellite

South Korea’s multipurpose COMS-1 s atellite will be launched in the first half of 2009 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket, the Arianespace commercial launch consortium announced Dec. 4.

Owned by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), the Communications, Oceanography and Meteorology Satellite (COMS-1) already is under construction by Astrium Satellites of Europe. It is expected to weigh 2,600 kilograms at launch.

Operating from geostationary orbit, COMS-1 will carry an experimental Ka-band broadband communications payload, to be built by KARI, as well as meteorological and ocean-observation sensors. It has a contracted service life of seven years.

Aerojet Signs Deal To Market
Russian-Built Ion Thrusters

Aerojet has secured the rights to market Russian-built spacecraft thrusters in the United States, Japan and South America, GenCorp Inc., Aerojet’s parent company, announced Dec. 6.

The so-called Hall-effect ion thrusters will be added to Aerojet’s product portfolio under an agreement with the Fakel Design Bureau of Kaliningrad, Russia, GenCorp said in a press release.

The thrusters are suitable for both commercial and scientific spacecraft, the release said. Ion thrusters use beams of electrically charged molecules or atoms to generate propulsion and are more fuel-efficient than chemical thrusters.

“This teaming agreement takes advantage of proven technologies allowing for reduced costs and reduced time-to-market for Aerojet’s customers,” Aerojet vice president of space programs Julie Van Kleeck said in a statement.

Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., expects initial deliveries of the Fakel-built Hall-effect thrusters to occur in early 2007.

Arabsat-Nilesat
Deal Paves Way for New Ground Station

Arabsat and Nilesat have concluded a strategic partnership that will permit Arabsat to build a ground station located in Nilesat’s tax-free zone in Cairo, a deal that ultimately could lead to closer relations between the two competing Middle East satellite-fleet operators, Arabsat and Nilesat announced Dec. 2.

The agreement, signed by Arabsat Chief Executive Khalid Balkheyour and Nilesat Chairman Amin Basyouni, will permit Arabsat to build a satellite gateway facility on Nilesat’s premises in Cairo to provide easier satellite access to Arabsat’s Egypt-based television broadcast customers. The two companies said in a statement that the agreement is “a critical first step towards a further constructive and mutually beneficial cooperation.”

Nilesat recently agreed to lease capacity aboard a Eutelsat satellite, which was moved into position over the Middle East to provide Nilesat with badly needed additional capacity. That move presents a competitive threat to Arabsat, which is leasing another Eutelsat satellite to meet the demand for regional television broadcasts that cannot be met by Arabsat’s current fleet.

Arabsat lost a satellite in a launch failure earlier this year, but its Arabsat 4B spacecraft, now named Badr-4, became operational in orbit Dec. 4 and was transferred to Arabsat by manufacturer Astrium Satellites of Europe. Badr-4, launched Nov. 9 aboard an International Launch Services Proton-M rocket, carries 32 Ku-band transponders and operates from Arabsat’s 26 degrees east orbital slot.

Honeywell To Bid on Ares 1 Avionics Work

Honeywell Aerospace, the Glendale, Ariz., firm designing and building the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle’s avionics system, wants to do the same for the Ares 1 Crew Launch Vehicle.

But Randy Bryson, Honeywell’s vice president of business development for space, said the company has not decided whether to go after the business as a prime or subcontractor to another firm. “We are actively pursuing the Ares 1 now,” he said. “We are trying to decide whether to prime it or work under someone else as a sub … we are talking to everyone.”

NASA intends to release a request for proposals for the so-called Ares 1 Instrument Unit in spring 2007. A contract award is expected around November.

Va. High School To Design, Build and Launch Satellite

With some assistance and funding from Orbital Sciences Corp. students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Annandale, Va., will get the opportunity to build and launch their own satellite.

Thomas Jefferson students, specifically members of the Excelsior Aerospace Club, will design, build and operate the satellite, dubbed TJ-SAT 1.

Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., will donate a small satellite kit, known as Cubesat, measuring 10-centimeters across. Orbital also will provide testing facilities and make about 20 technical experts available to serve as advisors on the project, but the intent is to challenge the students to come up with their own solutions as they go through the same kind of work flow as professional satellite builders.

“The students now have to carry through full-scale development, assembly, integration tests and launch preparation, ” David Thompson, Orbital chairman and chief executive, said at a Dec. 6 press conference at the school announcing the project.

“This is a tremendous partnership,” Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said at the school ceremony announcing the project. “I think it speaks well to the school.”

Excelsior club members will determine the purpose for their low Earth-orbit satellite when they meet with Orbital representatives Dec. 15. So far, ideas range from installing a sensor to detect cosmic radiation to an iPod to broadcast satellite radio.

The TJ-SAT program “resulted from ideas and interactions between former Thomas Jefferson students and engineers,” Thompson said.

The project will not only test the students’ engineering and science skills, but their administrative ones as well. The students will be seeking funds from aerospace companies to keep the project moving forward, according to the Excelsior club’s executive coordinator Anastasia Rumiantsev. The senior, however, will be long gone when TJ-SAT 1 will be launched, likely in 2009.

A launch vehicle for the satellite has yet to be selected.

Enhanced Pointing Sensor Will Be Installed on Hubble




Goodrich Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., is refurbishing a fine guidance sensor to be installed aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope during the servicing mission scheduled for fall 2008, the company said in a press release Nov. 27.

Hubble is outfitted with three such sensors installed at 90 degree intervals on the observatory’s cylindrical surface. Two are needed to keep the telescope pointed at its target for long periods of time, while the third can be used to make its own observations, according to information posted on the Web site of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

The sensor to be installed in the upcoming mission was removed from Hubble during a servicing mission back in 1999, NASA said. The refurbished unit will have an improved alignment capability, NASA said.

Hubble’s fine guidance sensors were built by Goodrich’s Electro-Optical Systems division in Danbury, Conn. Two have been refurbished and installed on previous servicing missions, the company said.

Goodrich’s is refurbishing the third sensor under a contract option valued at $3 million, according to Edward Ruitberg, deputy program manager for the Hubble mission.

The upcoming servicing mission, to be Hubble’s last, will extend the life of the orbiting observatory to 2013 or beyond.


Telenor, Inmarsat Take BGAN Show on the Road

Telenor Satellite Services and Inmarsat Ltd. held a three-stop campaign to persuade international customers to integrate London-based Inmarsat’s newest mobile broadband satellite service into their operations.

The companies began their tour Nov. 27, with a workshop in Bangkok for service partners and other communications companies, according to a Dec. 4 press release from Rockville, Md.-based Telenor, a distributor of Inmarsat services . They also held similar events in Manila Nov. 29 and in Kumsan, South Korea, Dec. 1.

SGT Goddard Contract Could Yield $400 Million

Greenbelt, Md.-based aerospace firm SGT Inc. will provide engineering support to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center under a contract potentially worth $400 million.

Under the five-year contract, which began Dec. 1, SGT will design ground-system hardware and software for space missions operated at the Greenbelt-based center, according to a Dec. 1 NASA press release .

SGT said in a Dec. 1 press release that its subcontractors for the effort include Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo.; Northrop Grumman Automation and Information Services of Elkridge Md.; Edge Space Systems of Glenelg, Md.; and Sigma Space of Lanham, Md.

SAIC To Support Alliance Missile Defense Project

Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) will take part in a project to help protect NATO members from the threat of ballistic missiles.

San Diego-based SAIC signed a six-year contract with the alliance at the 2006 NATO Summit in Riga, Latvia, according to a Nov. 28 SAIC press release . The contract is worth up to $95 million.

NATO’s project, known as the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense capability, is an effort to tie together both existing and planned weapon systems, sensors and command and control systems into one integrated system, according to SAIC spokeswoman Melissa Koskovich.

SAIC’s responsibility will be to build an integration test bed for the effort.

SAIC’s team includes members from six NATO nations: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States .

Planetary Society, JAXA To Launch Wishes Into Space

The Planetary Society is offering dreamers the opportunity to truly wish upon a star.

The Pasadena, Calif., exploration advocacy group has arranged for people to be able to send their wishes into space aboard the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Selenological and Engineering Explorer Mission (Selene ), which is bound for the Moon in 2007.

People can visit the Planetary Society’s Web site at http://planetary.org/selene and submit their names and a brief wish to be recorded on spacecraft computers. Each message must be 60 characters or less and submissions must be made by Jan. 31, according to a Dec. 1 press release from the Planetary Society.

Selene is a three-satellite mission that will gather information on the Moon’s magnetic field and gravity, and map elemental and mineral distribution, the release said.

ETC Building Simulator for Unnamed Japanese Client

Environmental Tectonics Lab (ETC) is completing assembly of a laboratory that simulates the microgravity environment of space for an unnamed customer in Japan.

The customer has ordered one of ETC’s Gyrolabs, which recreate the conditions of space for astronauts or space tourists, according to a Nov. 28 press release from Southampton, Penn.-based ETC. The device, known as the GL-4000, is the second to be delivered to Japan, the release said.

MRO Captures Images of Landers on Mars Surface

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), having already snapped a picture of the agency’s Opportunity rover on the martian surface, has now captured images of the two Viking landers as well as Opportunity’s twin rover, Spirit.

The MRO images are being compared with surface-level images of the same areas that were taken by the landing craft. This will enable scientists to glean additional information from MRO images of areas for which there is no ground data available, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a Dec. 4 press release.

The MRO images also are giving scientists an idea of the environmental conditions the landers have endured over the years. F or example, scientists were surprised to see a parachute remaining on one of the twin Viking landers, which set down on the martian surface in 1976.

EMC To Provide Bandwidth For South African
Service

Emerging Markets Communications (EMC) will provide satellite-based Internet capacity to a South African service provider under a new contract.

EMC of Miami will provide the capacity to Internet Solutions, a Cape Town-based Internet service provider with a customer base of about 4,500, according to a Dec. 5 press release from EMC . The financial details of the contract were not disclosed, according to Cynthia Leibman, a marketing communications analyst for EMC.

EMC will use its teleport in Raisting, Germany, to link to Internet Solutions’ Earth stations in South Africa, the release said. The company works with multiple satellite operators in order to provide capacity, according to the release.

Gilat
Wins More Work To Link Mexican Classrooms

Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. will provide a satellite network serving Mexican public school classrooms under a contract with two communications companies based in that country.

Gilat, of Petah Tikva, Israel, will provide a Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) network with 4,400 sites to Alef Soluciones Integrales and Corporative Lanix under a contract with the Mexican Ministry of Education’s Enciclomedia program, according to a Dec. 4 press release from Gilat.

The network will serve more than 7,700 Mexican middle school classrooms in public institutions, the release said.

When the network is connected, a total of 41,000 classrooms in Mexico will be connected using Gilat’s SkyEdge network, the release said.

The dollar amount of the contract was not disclosed, according to Stan Schneider of Schneider Communications, which does public relations for Gilat. Deployment of the network has already begun, the release said.

EchoStar Leases Capacity To Sprint Nextel and NPS

Satellite television provider EchoStar Communications Corp. of Englewood, Colo., announced it has inked separate deals to lease satellite capacity to other companies.

In one arrangement, announced Nov. 27, EchoStar subsidiary EchoStar Fixed Satellite Services Corp. will provide Ku-band services to cellular provider Sprint Nextel for emergency applications.

The contract will support Sprint Nextel’s Emergency Response Team and Engineering Sales Support programs with dedicated satellite capacity, allowing Sprint Nextel to purchase bandwidth as needed. EchoStar 9, at 121 degrees west longitude, and AMC 2, at 85 degrees west longitude, will provide the bandwidth. AMC 2 is owned by SES Americom but EchoStar has leased capacity on that satellite.

EchoStar also will provide engineering support for the two Sprint Nextel programs.

In a separate contract, announced Nov. 29, EchoStar will lease capacity to National Programming Service LLC (NPS) for domestic use. NPS provides C-band satellite programming.

Both contracts are multiyear deals whose length and financial terms were not disclosed.