ProtoStar Buys Chinasat 8, Targets 2008 Launch


Startup Asian satellite-television operator ProtoStar Ltd. has purchased the Chinasat 8 satellite from its Chinese owners and signed a contract with the satellite’s manufacturer, Space Systems/Loral, to refurbish the spacecraft for a 2008 launch.


The contract, which Space Systems/Loral announced Jan. 5, will put an end to the satellite’s eight years of storage at Loral’s Palo Alto, Calif., manufacturing plant. The Chinese owners of the nearly completed satellite, now called ProtoStar-1, were never able to win U.S. government export approval for its planned launch aboard a Chinese Long March rocket. The satellite’s owners, China Telecommunications Broadcast Satellite Corp. and China National Postal and Telecommunications Appliances Corp., ultimately agreed to let Loral try to find another buyer rather than pay the additional costs associated with securing a U.S. or European launch.


Bermuda-headquartered, San Francisco-based Protostar plans to operate a fleet of three high-powered satellites for direct-broadcast television service in Asia and raised $250 million in 2006 to refurbish and launch the Chinasat 8. In addition to retesting the satellite after its long storage period, Loral will reshape the antennas to meet the requirements of ProtoStar’s initial customers.


ProtoStar has declined to disclose the identity of its customers and the geostationary orbital slot that ProtoStar-1 will use. It also has not announced a launch-services provider but has said it would place the satellite in orbit in early 2008.




Puts 20-Year Limit on Satellite Licenses


A new French law sets a 20-year limit on operating licenses for satellites, meaning that even established satellite operators whose orbital slots are registered in France will have no guarantee of continued access to the locations after 20 years.


The law — Article R.52-3-12 of a government decree approved Aug. 11 – went unnoticed until December, when the companies purchasing big stakes in satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris told investors of the new rule.


The law requires that operators seeking license renewal signal their intensions to France’s National Frequencies Agency, ANF, at least three years in advance. Renewal requests will be treated the same way as first-time applications.


“Renewal is thus not automatic,” ANF Director Francois Rancy said, adding: “A 20-year duration is not so bad.”



XM Satellite Radio Misses 2006 Subscription Target


XM Satellite Radio announced that it added more than 442,000 net subscribers during the fourth quarter of 2006, less than half of what its competitor Sirius Satellite Radio brought in. For the year XM also failed to reach its previously stated subscriber acquisition goal for 2006.


Washington-based XM ended 2006 with a total of 7.63 million subscribers — 1.70 million subscribers more than it had at the end of 2005. The company, though, had predicted it would finish the year with between 7.7 million and 7.9 million subscribers – a target range that already had been lowered twice during the year.


XM, however, said in a Jan. 5 press release that its preliminary estimates indicate that XM achieved positive cash flow during the fourth quarter of 2006, one of the company’s main objectives for the year.


Sirius brought its subscriber total from 5.11 million subscribers in the third quarter of 2006 to 6.02 million by the end of the year, the company announced Jan. 3.


XM and New York-based Sirius both will reveal their financial results for the year during conference calls with investors in February.



Avanti Decides To Take Satellite Business Public


The British media-distribution company building a broadband communications satellite over Europe plans to separate the satellite venture from its historic business and issue publicly traded shares in it.


Avanti Screenmedia of London plans to raise about 5 million pounds ($9.8 million) by issuing new shares of the satellite division, to be called Avanti Communications Group, on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market, pending approval by the company’s shareholders.


Seventy percent of the revenue will be used for Avanti’s existing business of placing video screens with advertising content in retail outlets. The remainder will be invested in developing the satellite venture, Avanti said.


The move, announced Dec. 13, will better reflect the differences between Avanti’s two businesses, Avanti said. The company’s Hylas satellite, partly financed by the British government, is under construction by a Euro-Indian joint venture and is scheduled for launch in late 2008. It will carry Ka- and Ku-band transponders and operate from the British-registered 33.5 degrees west orbital position.


Avanti said in its disclosure to London Stock Exchange authorities that it has already sold 7.5 percent of the Hylas satellite’s capacity, to an unnamed buyer, for 25 million pounds, “thereby demonstrating the revenue potential of the satellite.” Avanti Chief Executive David Williams will be leaving his Screenmedia post to become chief executive of the new satellite company.



Raytheon Gets $32.7 Million For Sea-Based Radar Work


Raytheon Co. has received a $32.7 million contract to sustain its work on the sensor for the Missile Defense Agency’s Sea Based X-Band Radar (SBX) system, according to a company news release dated Jan. 3.


Boeing Co. is the prime contractor for the SBX, which features a Raytheon-built sensor intended to track incoming ballistic missiles launched at the United States, and discriminate between incoming missiles and decoys.


Boeing Working with U.S., Australia on Hypersonics

Boeing Co. is working with the U.S. and Australian governments in a new $54 million hypersonic flight research program intended to aid the development of future spacecraft.


The project, known as the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) program, is being led by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation.


Boeing had previously signed an agreement with the Queensland state government in Australia to do similar research, and that work, for which Boeing is contributing approximately $2 million in research and development dollars, has been incorporated into the HiFIRE program at large, according to William Lyons, a technology fellow for Boeing’s Phantom Works operation, based in St. Louis who spoke to reporters during a Jan. 3 teleconference.


Boeing will handle the design and engineering for three of the 10 tests that will be conducted over a five-year period at Woomera Test Facility in South Australia, Kevin Bowcutt, a senior technology fellow for Phantom Works, said during the teleconference. Boeing’s flights are scheduled for 2009, 2010 and 2011. The other flight tests, in which Boeing hopes to participate, are expected to be competed by the participating governments, Bowcutt said.


During the experiments, Boeing will conduct in-flight tests of a supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, engine mounted atop a sounding rocket that will propel the scramjet through the atmosphere.


One of the goals of the tests is to gather data that will aid the development of technology that produces lighter, higher-thrust, engines, Bowcutt said. The engine is expected to reach speeds of Mach 8 during the testing, he said.


In one of the experiments, the engine will power a special type of hypersonic vehicle known as a waverider that gradually glides to the ground on descent at an angle, like a small aircraft, rather than dropping straight down, Lyons said.


The test site at Woomera will allow them to recover the payloads from the mission after they’ve launched, Lyons said.


Boeing is interested in hypersonic research to help the company design vehicles that could provide “affordable access to space in a routine manner, the way that you’d fly on a plane,” Bowcutt said. Boeing also is interested in hypersonic applications for unmanned aerial vehicles as well, he said.



Raytheon Unit Delivers Second STSS Payload


Raytheon Co. delivered the second payload to prime contractor Northrop Grumman Space Technology for a space-based missile tracking experiment expected to launch in late 2007, according to a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) news release dated Dec. 19.


Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif., delivered the first Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) payload in March. The two STSS infrared payloads originally were developed for an experiment under the Space Based Infrared System-Low program, but that demonstration was canceled in 1999 due to cost overruns.


The two STSS satellites are expected to launch together aboard a Delta 2 rocket. MDA plans to test their sensors’ performance against ground, airborne, and short- and long-range missile targets, according to the news release.



Harris Taps Globecomm for Help on FAA Upgrade Effort


Globecomm Systems Inc. of Hauppauge, N.Y., will provide communications support to Harris Corp., as Harris upgrades satellite communications systems used by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).


In a Dec. 21 press release, Globecomm said it received a $5.5 million contract from Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris, which is the prime contractor on the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure Program. Through the program, Harris is upgrading the communications equipment at 43 sites across the United States.


Under the five-year contract, Globecomm will be charged with providing 24-hour help-desk service and maintenance at the upgrade sites once the new equipment is installed.


The contract contains six additional one-year options for Globecomm to provide additional work. If those options are exercised, the contract would be worth a total of $12.7 million, the release said.



Sirius Canada Inks Deals With Both Ford and Audi


Sirius Canada signed deals with Audi and Ford that will make Sirius’ satellite radio service available as an option or a standard feature on vehicles sold by the automakers in that country.


Toronto-based Sirius Canada announced Dec. 18 that Ford’s Canada division will make Sirius standard in virtually all of its models by the end of 2007.


Sirius will become a factory option in most vehicles sold by Audi Canada, according to a Dec. 19 press release from Sirius. Financial details of the arrangements were not disclosed.



Thrane To Market Solar-Charged BGAN Terminals

Thrane & Thrane of Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark, now is offering solar-powered chargers for its Inmarsat satellite communications terminals.


Thrane & Thrane is selling two types of solar chargers, outfitted for different models, both built by SolStar Energy Devices of Albuquerque, N.M. The chargers can be purchased as accessories to Thrane’s Nera WorldPro terminals, according to a Dec. 19 press release from Thrane and SolStar.


The terminals are used to transmit communications over London-based Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network, the release said.



Cassini Data Points to Liquid Lakes on Titan



Using radar data collected by the Cassini spacecraft July 22, a team of scientists has concluded that Saturn’s moon Titan has lakes filled with liquid-methane, according to a Jan. 3 Jet Propulsion Laboratory press release. The finding was published in the Jan. 4 issue of the science journal Nature.


The data shows geographically isolated dark regions, which are thought to be lakes and not impact craters because of their low radar reflectivity (suggesting a smoother surface) and their visual similarity to lakes on Earth.

The liquid is believed to be methane because of the high concentration of methane and other hydrocarbons in Titan’s atmosphere.


More than 20 years ago scientists predicted liquid methane was likely contributing to the high concentration of atmospheric methane in Titan’s atmosphere, but the dense haze surrounding Titan hindered their ability to capture good, visible images.


Titan’s dense atmosphere coupled with winter weather also prevented Cassini’s radar from getting adequate data before the July 22 flyby.


Finding the source of the atmospheric hydrocarbons has been one of the Cassini-Huygens mission’s goals since its Jan. 14, 2005 launch. Cassini-Huygens is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.




Firm Using ISS To Test New Composite

Lightweight composite hinges for solar arrays, antennas and other deployable spacecraft systems are being tested aboard the international space station as part of a U.S. Air Force-sponsored experiment.


The Elastic Composite Material Hinge experiment, built by Lafayette, Colo.-based Composite Technology Development Inc. with funding from the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, was launched to the space station Dec. 16 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.


The suitcase-sized payload contains six small hinges that will be put through their paces over 18 months to demonstrate their robustness in a microgravity environment.


The hinges are made of proprietary composite material called Tembo that combines carbon fiber reinforcement and shape memory polymers. Researchers involved in the project hope that the experiment will help enable the replacement of complex mechanical deployment systems with simpler and lighter ones.



Newest GPS Satellite Passes Testing, Declared Operational


A GPS satellite launched in November completed in-orbit testing Dec. 12 and was declared operational by the U.S. Air Force, which operates the constellation of 30 satellite navigation spacecraft, according to a Dec. 19 company press release.


The GPS 2R-16M satellite is the third of eight GPS spacecraft Lockheed Martin is modernizing for the Air Force’s GPS Wing at the Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., according to the press release.

Each of those satellites has new features for enhanced performance including: increased signal power, two new military signals for improved accuracy, enhanced encryption and anti-jamming capabilities for the military, and a second civil signal.


A fourth GPS 2RM satellite was delivered to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Dec. 7 in anticipation of a planned 2007 launch, said Steve Tatum, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif.

Lockheed Martin and Chicago-based Boeing Co. competing for what is expected to be a multibillion-dollar contract to build the next-generation satellite navigation system, known as GPS 3.


Both companies announced in late December that they had been awarded Air Force contracts worth approximately $50 million apiece to continue developing their GPS 3 designs through a planned system design review in March.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing were awarded the Air Force contracts in November after successfully completing systems requirements reviews that same month.


The GPS 3 satellites, featuring improved security, accuracy, reliability and robustness, are expected to begin launching around 2013.



Swift Satellite Collects Unusual Gamma Ray Data

Using data collected by NASA’s Swift telescope, scientists have observed a gamma-ray explosion that seems to differ from the two types of such explosions that are known to cause black holes.


Gamma-ray explosions are classified as either long or short, Neil Gehrels, lead scientist for the Swift mission, said in a Jan. 3 telephone interview.


The short bursts last two seconds and are caused when two neutron stars collide, creating a black hole, said Gehrels, who also is head of the Gamma Ray, Cosmic Ray and Gravitational Wave Astrophysics Branch at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center. Long bursts last more than two seconds, and happen when massive stars explode, and part of the explosion collapses into itself, also causing a black hole, he said.


The burst scientists observed June 14 has traits of both types of explosions, Gehrels said. While it was relatively long-lasting — 102 seconds — scientists did not detect the flash of light that typically accompanies the long bursts, he said.

Scientists have different theories about the nature of the June 14 burst. It might be a long burst explosion where the entirety of the star collapsed into the black hole, leaving no visible evidence behind, Gehrels said. Or it could have been a collision between a neutron star and a black hole, rather than between two stars, he said.


The Swift mission was designed so that scientists can learn more about black holes. As scientists see more of these same types of new explosions, they will become closer to figuring out what is occurring, Gehrels said. Since the explosion took place in June, scientists have been studying data from more than a dozen telescopes to get more information on the burst.



Telenor Expands Satcom Service to Pacific Region

Telenor Satellite Services has expanded the reach of its maritime satellite communications system to include service to the Pacific Ocean region.


The extension means that Telenor now offers services globally, according to a Dec. 19 press release from the company. The company uses London-based Inmarsat’s network of satellites to provide its service, which is transmitted via Telenor’s teleport in Santa Paula, Calif.


Large ships such as merchant vessels and cruise liners are the main clients for the maritime service, the release said.


Telenor also announced that it is now a reseller of asset tracking equipment built by TransCore of Harrisburg, Pa., under a new agreement, according to a Jan. 3 press release from Telenor.


TransCore builds small data modems, that weigh less than half a kilogram and are capable of being installed on mobile platforms such as trains and trucks, according to Telenor spokesman Tom Surface.


Telenor plans to market the equipment to customers in Europe, because there is high demand there and less competition than there is in the United States, Surface said Jan. 3.


USAF Buys ITT Software To Aid Imagery Distribution

ITT Corp., White Plains , N.Y., has signed a contract to provide the U.S. Air Force with software designed to help customers more easily transfer imagery data.


The software, which was customized from an existing ITT commercial product called Image Access Solutions, meets the imagery standards that have been established by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, according to a Jan. 2 press release from ITT.


Ed Yarish, director of business development for ITT, declined to disclose the amount of the contract or the name of the U.S. Air Force program for which it was designed. The U.S. Air Force’s public affairs office did not respond to inquiries by deadline.


The software allows even users with a low-bandwidth Internet connection to access imagery without having to fully download the entire file to their computers, Yarish said.


ITT will work with the U.S. Air Force further to integrate the technology into the agency’s Distributed Common Ground System Integrated Backbone communications program, and its Global Command and Control System architecture, according to a Jan. 2press release from ITT.



Ball Aerospace To Build DigitalGlobe‘s WorldView 2


Ball Aerospace will build WorldView 2, the second of DigitalGlobe’s next-generation imagery satellites, the companies announced in a joint press release Jan. 2.


WorldView 2 is the fourth satellite that Boulder, Colo.-based Ball will construct for DigitalGlobe, which is based in Longmont, Colo. Unlike WorldView 1, which was funded under the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s NextView program, WorldView 2 is being financed by private investors. DigitalGlobe spokesman Chuck Herring declined to provide any details about the financing or the amount of Ball’s contract to build the satellite.


WorldView 2 is scheduled to launch in mid-2007. A new feature of the new satellite will be its ability to produce eight-band, multi-spectral imagery. When WorldView 2 is operational in late 2008, DigitalGlobe will have three high-resolution satellites in orbit, including their QuickBird spacecraft and Worldview 1.



Lockheed Ships Structure For Third AEHF Satellite

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., has delivered the flight structure for the U.S. Air Force’s third Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite ahead of schedule to the company’s Mississippi facility, Lockheed Martin said in a Dec. 22 press release.


Over the next few months, the structure will be integrated with the spacecraft’s main propulsion system at Lockheed Martin’s Mississippi Space & Technology Center, which is located at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, the company said. The structure was built in 10 months, which the company said was ahead of schedule.


Lockheed Martin is under contract to build three AEHF spacecraft, which will provide secure, jam-proof links to the U.S. military under all conditions. The AEHF system will have 10 times the capacity and deliver data at six times the speed of the Air Force’s Milstar 2 satellites.


The flight structure and propulsion system for the first AEHF satellite have been integrated and the package is scheduled to be shipped to Sunnyvale early this year. The communications payload, being built by Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., also will be shipped to Sunnyvale early this year, Lockheed Martin said.


The first AEHF satellite is scheduled for launch in April 2008, to be followed by the second one year later, Lockheed Martin said.




Network Renews Contract With Intelsat


The Australia Network has broadened its reach in the Asia-Pacific region with the renewal of its multiyear contract with satellite operator Intelsat of Bermuda, Intelsat said in a Dec. 19 press release.


The expanded reach in South Asia comes courtesy of Intelsat’s PAS-10 satellite, transponder capacity aboard which was included under the renewed contract, Intelsat said. The deal also positions the international network, owned by Australian Broadcasting Corp. of Sydney, to reach additional markets in India and the Middle East, the release said.


Financial terms and the time period of the arrangement were not disclosed, according to Intelsat spokesman Nick Mitsis.



ViaSat Wins Large Order for High-Speed Satellite Modems

ViaSat will deliver 747 high speed satellite modems to the U.S. Department of Defense under a $4.6 million contract, the company announced in a Dec. 18 press release.


The modems, which Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat is building for the Defense Communication and Army Transmission Systems program, can be used on Navy ships and at fixed sites and are compatible with the U.S. Air Force’s planned Wideband Global System communications satellites, the release said. The modems are scheduled to be delivered by October 2008.


When the order is complete, ViaSat will have built a total of 2,000 of the MD-1366 Enhanced Bandwidth Efficient Modems for the customer, the release said.



Spacenet Launches New Satellite Broadband Service


Spacenet of McLean, Va., has launched a new satellite broadband service for small business owners and residential customers.


The new service, called StarBand Nova Pro, costs $49.99 per month and delivers data at speeds up to 512 kilobits per second when downloading, and 128 kilobits per second when uploading, according to a Dec. 21 Spacenet press release.


Spacenet’s services rely on Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) technology to deliver content, the release said.




to Continue Work on Space Welding Techniques


Delphi Corp., a Troy, Mich., technology firm, has been given an additional $950,000 from NASA and the Michigan Research Institute to improve existing welding technology and to develop new welding techniques that can be used on space components.


The company will examine welding techniques that allow welds to withstand the stress associated with long-life space missions, according to a Dec. 27 Delphi press release. The company previously received $2.17 million in grants to work on similar welding technology efforts. The project is expected to be completed during 2007.



Alcatel Alenia Space To Build Eutelsat’s W7 Satellite


Alcatel Alenia Space will build Eutelsat’s all-Ku-band W7 video telecommunications satellite, to be launched in mid-2009 aboard a Sea Launch vehicle, Alcatel Alenia Space and Paris-based Eutelsat Communications announced Dec. 21.


The W7 will be based on Alcatel Alenia Space’s Spacebus 4000 platform. Carrying up to 70 Ku-band transponders, the satellite will double Eutelsat’s capacity at the 36 degrees east longitude orbital slot. Eutelsat’s Sesat satellite, currently operating there, will be moved to another orbital position once W7 begins operations. The satellite will broadcast via six beams into Russia, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, with one of the beams trained on South Africa. Another beam, to target Central Asia, will be reconfigurable in orbit.


The satellite is expected to weigh 5,600 kilograms at launch and will be placed into geostationary transfer orbit by a Sea Launch LLC rocket, operated from a floating platform on the equator in the Pacific Ocean.



Soyuz 2-1b Rocket Lofts France’s Corot Satellite


‘s Corot scientific satellite was launched Dec. 27 on a 30-month mission to study the composition of stars and search for Earth-like planets orbiting them. It was the maiden flight of the Russian Soyuz 2-1b launch vehicle. French program managers confirmed the successful separation of the satellite into its low Earth orbit position.


The 605-kilogram spacecraft, built by Alcatel Alenia Space for the French space agency, CNES, will operate in an 827-kilometer orbit, examining the minor reductions in stars’ brightness caused when planets cross in front of them. Its telescope is expected to take a prolonged look at some 120,000 stars. Corot is the first satellite designed for this purpose, and it is expected to provide 100 times the power of the ground-based telescopes that have been the sole means of detecting new star-orbiting planets up to now.


NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, to be launched in late 2008, will perform a similar mission but will focus for longer periods on a smaller area of the universe.


The launch from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was the first use of the Soyuz 2-1b variant, which includes a new, more-powerful upper-stage engine. This Soyuz model also features a larger payload fairing and a digital flight-control system, both of which were successfully flown in October in the launch of Europe’s Metop meteorological satellite.


It is this version of Soyuz that will be operated from Europe’s equatorial Guiana Space Center spaceport for commercial and government missions. A Soyuz launch pad is under construction at that site, and the first flight is scheduled for late 2008.


The Corot mission is budgeted at 150 million euros ($198 million), including construction and launch, and nearly three years of operations. Ground stations are located in Sweden, France, South Africa, French Guiana and Brazil. CNES is financing about 60 percent of the program with France’s national research institute, CNRS, paying 20 percent.


The European Space Agency and the national space agencies of Germany, Austria, Brazil, Spain and Belgium also are contributing funds or expertise. Corot’s skeletal structure is based on the CNES-designed Proteus platform, which also is being used for other French and European science and Earth observation satellites.


Remnants of that Russian Soyuz 2-1b rocket apparently re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere early Jan. 4, startling residents of Colorado and Wyoming as the pieces broke up high above the countryside.


Video captured by the Fox Television affiliate in Denver showed large pieces of the rocket breaking apart and streaking from North to South across the early morning sky.


NORAD spokesman Sean Kelly told the Associated Press that the agency was trying to confirm reports that a piece of the rocket might have hit the ground near Riverton, Wyo., at about 6 a.m. MST.



Belgian Military Orders Services from Hisdesat


In its first big competitive win, Spain’s Hisdesat was selected by the Belgian Ministry of Defense to provide X-band satellite transmission capacity under a one-year contract that is expected to be renewed annually for several years, Hisdesat announced. Industry officials said Hisdesat bested competitor EADS Space Services for the contract.


Madrid-based Hisdesat Servicios Estrategicos S.A. owns capacity on the Xtar-Eur and Spainsat satellites and is a 44 percent owner of Xtar LLC. Loral Space and Communications of New York owns 56 percent of Xtar.


The Xtar partnership markets X-band capacity on both satellites to NATO nations and other allied countries. The Spanish Defense Ministry is the company’s biggest current customer, but Xtar has struggled to gain footing in a market that it is among the first to enter — that of selling X-band services to defense customers that, in some cases, have access to less-powerful but free X-band capacity aboard existing government-owned satellites.


Miguel A. Garcia Primo, Hisdesat’s chief operating officer, said Jan. 3 that the Belgian Defense Ministry contract includes a fixed amount of capacity plus additional “on-call” capacity that will be made available at a preset price. He declined to specify the minimum and maximum capacity available under the deal.


Hisdesat said it has signed other capacity-lease contracts with Denmark, Germany and an undisclosed nation.



Snecma, ESA Ink Deal For New Vinci Engine Work


Snecma will continue work on a restartable upper-stage engine for the Ariane 5 rocket under a contract the Paris-based propulsion firm signed Dec. 22 with the European Space Agency (ESA).


The ESA contract covers a new phase in the Vinci engine’s design, production and testing, especially the initial long-duration and re-ignition tests, according to a Dec. 22 press release from Snecma’s parent company Safran Group of Paris.


Designed to eventually replace the Ariane 5’s current upper stage, the Vinci is being funded under ESA’s Future Launcher Preparatory Program. Vinci would permit the current Ariane 5 ECA rocket to boost its payload capacity to 12,000 kilograms, an increase of about 2,000 kilograms. The new upper stage also would be capable of multiple ignitions, permitting Ariane 5 to place satellites in different orbits during a single mission.


cut back its Vinci investment in 2003 in order to concentrate on an expensive redesign of the Ariane 5 rocket following a December 2002 launch failure. ESA ministers, however, decided in December 2005 to resume work on the Vinci engine.


The Vinci cryogenic engine uses an expander cycle, instead of a gas generator cycle, enabling a mid-flight engine restart. The Vinci will be the first European engine to use the expander cycle, according to the press release.



Cosmos Rocket Launches SAR-Lupe 1 for Germany


Germany’s first military satellite, the SAR-Lupe-1 high-resolution radar spacecraft, was launched successfully Dec. 19 aboard a Russian Cosmos-3M rocket from northern Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, prime contractor OHB-System said. It is the first of five identical SAR-Lupe satellites to be launched into three orbits over the next two years.


Bremen, Germany-based OHB-System said the satellite was placed into the correct polar orbit at 500 kilometers in altitude, and that the satellite’s initial signals confirm it is in good health. The first radar image is expected in mid-January.

The launch occurred five years after OHB-System bested its larger rival, Astrium Satellites, to win the prime contract on Germany’s first space-based military surveillance program. The German Federal Office of Defense Technology and Procurement is the contracting authority.


OHB-System also is building ground facilities that will give French defense forces access to SAR-Lupe data in exchange for German military access to France’s high-resolution Helios 2 optical satellites.


The 720-kilogram SAR-Lupe satellites are equipped with transponders to send and receive radio communications among themselves and to speed the transmission of commands from the main satellite control center in Gelsdorf, near Bonn.

Each satellite is designed to produce imagery with a ground resolution of less than 1 meter, meaning objects of that diameter can be detected. The swath width of each image is 5 kilometers.


Germany has offered its allies the possibility of purchasing their own SAR-Lupe spacecraft, which could be added to the five-satellite constellation to further reduce the time from when an image is ordered to when it is sent to the relevant ground station. Up to now, no nation has taken Germany up on this offer.


Alcatel Alenia Space of France and Italy is the prime contractor for the SAR-Lupe radar sensors, with Tesat-Spacecom of Backnang, Germany, Thales Group of France and Saab Space of Sweden responsible for different payload subsystems. Astrium Satellites, which is still rankled over OHB-System’s contract to build the SAR-Lupe satellites, is prime contractor for the system’s ground segment.



South Korea

To Launch Infrared Satellite in 2012


South Korea
plans to launch a civil-military satellite carrying high-resolution optical and infrared sensors in 2012, adding a new spacecraft to the nation’s already ambitious satellite- and launch-vehicle development program, Korean government officials announced Dec. 19.


The Arirang-3A satellite, expected to weigh about 1,000 kilograms at launch, will be Korea’s first satellite with the publicly acknowledged mission of monitoring North Korea’s military activity.


Meeting Dec. 19 in Seoul, South Korea’s National Space Committee, chaired by Korean Deputy Prime Minister Kim Woo-sik, announced that the government will spend 212 billion Korean won ($231 million) to develop and launch Arirang-3A, including 19.3 billion won to develop the infrared sensor.


“The infrared camera will have multiple applications, like keeping tabs on forest fires,” Hwang Pan-sik, a director at the Ministry of Science and Technology, said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “It can also be used to monitor the North’s military activities.”


Infrared sensors can detect the heat plume of missiles as they lift off as well as forest fires.


South Korea
‘s Arirang-2 satellite, launched in July, has an optical imager capable of detecting objects as small as 1 meter in diameter. Korea has purchased a high-resolution radar sensor from Italy for a satellite to be launched around 2009 and also is developing its own space-launch capability.



EchoStar Added 1 Million New Subscribers in 2006

EchoStar Communications Corp. announced Dec. 22 that its Dish Network satellite TV service has added 1 million net subscribers since the same time in 2005, surpassing 13 million customers for the first time in the company’s 10-year history.


The Englewood, Colo.-based company said in a statement that it has added 7.74 million customers since 2000.


DirecTV, Echostar’s El Segundo, Calif.-based rival, has 15 million subscribers for its satellite television service.




Gets 3rd Star, Takes Command of SMDC


U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Kevin T. Campbell was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and assumed command of Army Space and Missile Defense Command during a Dec. 18 ceremony at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va.


‘s new responsibilities also include serving as commander of U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command (JFCC) for Integrated Missile Defense, according to an Army news release.


previously served as chief of staff at U.S. Strategic Command. He replaces Lt. Gen. Larry J. Dodgen, who is slated to retire shortly from active duty service.



Tesat Spacecom Delivers NFIRE Lasercom Payload


Tesat-Spacecom GmbH of Germany delivered laser communications hardware for the Pentagon’s Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) spacecraft to prime contractor prime contractor General Dynamics C4 Systems’ Spectrum Astro division of Gilbert, Ariz., the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) news release dated Dec. 18.


The NFIRE’s primary mission is test sensor technology that will enable missile interceptors to distinguish between the body and exhaust plume of an incoming missile target. The Tesat payload is intended for a laser-optical communications experiment that was added to the mission in 2005.


The NFIRE satellite is expected to launch in spring 2007 from Wallops Island in Virginia aboard a Minotaur launch vehicle built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.



MDA Tests Will Help Make Interceptor Handling Safer

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully completed a hazard classification test with a booster motor for the U.S. national missile defense shield.


Data from the test will be used to finalize requirements for handling, storage and transportation of the Orion 50 XLG rocket motor, which serves as the first stage for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System interceptors, according to a Dec. 18 MDA news release. The test, conducted at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, involved ignition of the Orion 50 XLG with an open flame, simulating what could happen if a fire occurred during transportation of the Alliant Techsystems-built motor, according to the news release.



NASA and Google Sign Collaboration Agreement


NASA’s vast database of imagery and information about extraterrestrial bodies will soon be readily available to anyone with an Internet connection under an agreement with search engine giant Google.


NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, Calif., and Google of Mountain View, Calif., announced the signing of a Space Act Agreement in a Dec. 18 press release and in a teleconference with reporters the same day. The first products to be made available on Google’s Web site under the agreement include weather information and high-resolution 3-D maps of the Moon and Mars.


The arrangement is similar to Global Connections, which joins Google’s mapping technology with National Geographic stories and photography. But instead of learning about other cultures, people will be able to “feel the crunch of martian soil on their feet,” Ames Director Simon “Pete” Worden said.


The initial products are expected to be released within the next six to eight months, according to Worden. “This is going to go pretty rapidly,” he said during the press conference.


NASA and Google characterized the arrangement not so much as a business relationship, but as a partnership in which both sides compensate their respective employees who work on the project. Worden said that Ames currently has more than 50 such agreements.


Though the agreement is between Ames and Google, the project is NASA-wide.


NASA and Google are finalizing details for additional collaborations, which may include joint research, products, facilities, education and missions, according to an Ames press release. “These discussions are ongoing,” Worden said during the press conference.



MDA Finishes Test on Missile Defense Rocket Motor


The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully completed a hazard classification test with the booster for its U.S. national missile defense shield, the agency announced Dec. 18.


Data from the test will be used to finalize hazard requirements for handling, storage and transportation of the Orion 50 XLG rocket motor, which serves as the first stage for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System interceptors, according to a Dec. 18 MDA news release.


The test, which was conducted at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, involved ignition of the Orion 50 XLG with an open flame, replicating what could happen if a fire occurred during transportation of the Orbital Sciences-built motor, according to the news release.



Raytheon Gets $130 Million Increase on JLENS Contract


The value of Raytheon Co.’s contract to build a new cruise missile warning sensor for the U.S. Army increased $130 million as the company completed negotiating the terms of a contract it initially was awarded in November 2005, according to Guy Shields, a spokesman for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Tewksbury, Mass.


The additional $130 million will cover the cost of extending the work on the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS) system, which was previously targeted for completion in 2011. Raytheon now expects to complete its work on the program in 2012. Raytheon’s contract to build is now worth $1.4 billion, Shields said.


The JLENS system is being designed to detect and track incoming cruise missiles, and pass that information on to interceptor systems.



Northrop Brings in Two Senior NPOESS Managers


Northrop Grumman Corp. is adding two senior officials to its team overseeing the development of the U.S. government’s next generation of polar orbiting weather satellites, the company announced Dec. 20.


The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) is expected to replace separate constellations operated today by the U.S. Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The program has suffered technical difficulty and funding instability, factors that drove up its cost and delayed the launch of the first satellites from 2008 to 2013.


Art Stephenson will oversee day-to-day program operations on the NPOESS program, according to a company news release. Stephenson, a former director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, previously headed Northrop Grumman’s unsuccessful bid to build NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle.


David Rosener will focus on overseeing work on the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which has received much of the blame for the technical difficulty plaguing the NPOESS program.


Both men will be assisting David Ryan, Northrop Grumman’s vice president and NPOESS program manager, according to a Dec. 20 Northrop Grumman press release.


The VIIRS instrument, which is being designed to monitor clouds, Earth radiation, sea color and surface temperature, is intended to fly for the first time on the NPOESS Preparatory Project spacecraft in 2009.


Raytheon Co., which is building the VIIRS instrument as a subcontractor to Northrop Grumman, delivered the engineering development prototype unit of the sensor to Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. Dec. 11, according to Brian Arnold, vice president for strategic systems at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif.


The engineering development unit performed well in a variety of tests intended to replicate the space environment and the rigors of launch, said Arnold, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who headed the Space and Missile Systems Center before retiring from the service in 2005.



Swales Finishes TacSat 3 Critical Design Review


Swales Aerospace of Beltsville, Md., has completed the critical design review for a spacecraft platform to be used on the Pentagon’s third TacSat satellite, according to a Dec. 20 company news release.


The review, which was overseen by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, examined the platform’s design, subsystem configuration and performance, overall quality and integration issues, according to the news release.


Swales plans to deliver the platform to AFRL by the middle of 2006. A planned launch aboard an Orbital Sciences Minotaur rocket is scheduled for October.