Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 08 February 2007
10:54 am ET




ESA Approves Contracts For


Mission


to Mercury�

 

The financial-oversight body of the European Space Agency (ESA) approved Jan. 31 the agency’s first mission to Mercury, a two-satellite project to be launched in 2013 in cooperation with the Japanese space agency, JAXA.

 

ESA’s Industrial Policy Committee approved contracts totaling 329 million euros ($426.4 million) for
Europe
‘s BepiColombo Mercury Planetary Orbiter. The contracting team will be led by Astrium GmbH of Germany, with Astrium Ltd. of
Britain
and Alcatel Alenia Space
Italy
acting as co-prime contractors.

 

ESA’s total cost for the BepiColombo mission – including the satellite’s launch aboard a Soyuz rocket, the six-year voyage to Mercury and a year’s operations in Mercury orbit where the spacecraft will experience ambient temperatures as high as 350 degrees Celsius – is expected to be 665 million euros.

 

JAXA has agreed to provide BepiColombo’s second satellite, the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.

 

 

White House Wants NASA To Get $17.3 Billion in ’08

 

The White House will ask Congress to give NASA $17.3 billion for 2008, a 3.1 percent increase over the budget it had sought for the
U.S.
space agency for 2007, according to sources familiar with the agency’s forthcoming budget request.

 

NASA’s 2007 request, however, was set aside by Congress last month in favor of a stripped-down spending measure that would fund most
U.S.
government agencies this year at their 2006 levels. For NASA, that would mean making due with a budget of $16.2 billion budget in 2007. Relative to that figure, the White House request represents a $1 billion increase, or a better than 6 percent raise.

 

The $17.3 billion request, due to be sent to Congress on Feb. 5, matches what the White House expected to seek for NASA for 2008 this time last year.

 

 

USAF, Army Face Shortage Of SBIRS Ground Equipment

 

A shortfall in the budget for the ground equipment that will be needed for the Pentagon’s next generation of missile warning satellites threatens to limit the ability of troops on the battlefield to use those satellites to provide warnings of missile launches. As a result, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army officials are looking for temporary fixes to the problem.

 

The Army and the Air Force have ground systems today deployed around the world that receive information from the current Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites to help spot nearby missile launches. However, the budget for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High satellites, which are scheduled to start replacing the DSP satellites in 2008, does not include funding for similar ground systems, according to a written response to questions provided by Jo Adail Stephenson, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Space and
Missile
Systems
Center
in
Los Angeles
.

 

The current missile warning ground equipment is compatible with the DSP satellites, but would not work with the SBIRS constellation as it is currently designed, Stephenson said.

 

The Air Force and the Army are looking for solutions that could include modification of the current DSP ground equipment to receive SBIRS data until at least 2012, she said. Program officials were aware of the funding shortfall for the Multi-Mission Mobile Processors prior to the restructuring of the SBIRS High program in late 2005 due to cost growth and technical problems, and did not include money for the hardware in the new program plan, Stephenson said.

 

The Multi-Mission Mobile Processors are being designed to receive data directly from the SBIRS and DSP satellites in geostationary orbits, process that information and distribute it to troops in a theater of operations, Stephenson said.

 

Data from the satellites is used to spot missile launches and estimate the location of the launch and the impact point, as well as the likely flight time for the missile, she said.

 

Each Multi-Mission Mobile Processor would be operated by a crew of three people inside a shelter that would be equipped with antennas to receive satellite data, computers for processing data and communication systems, Stephenson said.

 

Without ground equipment that can receive information about a nearby missile launch directly from the SBIRS satellites, troops on the battlefield would need to wait until that information is received by systems back in the United States, and then processed and sent back to the battlefield, according to a Defense Department official. In an ideal situation, that might take only a few seconds, though those seconds can be meaningful when trying to intercept a missile or prepare for impact, the official said.

 

However, the process of sending to the United States and then back to the battlefield likely involves going through tens of different computer networks, each one possibly vulnerable to a kinetic or electronic attack, the official said. A disruption to any of those networks during a missile launch could further cut into the time needed to prepare to intercept the missile or prepare for impact, the official said.

 

Each Multi-Mission Mobile Processor would have likely cost $20 million to $30 million, the Defense Department official said.

 

The Army had hoped to field and operate a total of five Multi-Mission Mobile Processors, and the Air Force had hoped to field and operate four, Stephenson said. While the Marine Corps hopes to be a customer of theater missile warning information, it would not buy or operate the equipment, she said.

 

Victoria Samson, a research analyst with the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank, said that troops on the battlefield would have a difficult time defending against ballistic missiles without the satellite data. Ground-based radar sensors like those deployed with the Patriot interceptors or at sea aboard Aegis ships cannot spot missile launches nearly as quickly as overhead satellites, and every second counts with the short distance traveled by theater ballistic missiles, she said.

 

 

Scientists: ITAR Still Hinders Cooperation

 

Nobel laureate George F. Smoot said Feb. 1 he is optimistic that current
U.S.
regulations limiting space-science collaboration with other nations will be eased as
U.S.
policymakers are made aware of the effects of the restrictions.

 

Smoot said collaboration between
U.S.
and European scientists is harder now than it was before
U.S.
technology-transfer rules were tightened in 1999 as part of a wider and more-rigorous application of the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

 

He said
U.S.
government officials charged with reviewing bilateral or multilateral science projects have been so worried about being accused of letting sensitive technologies slip into the wrong hands that they have overcompensated.

 

“People have beaten up the bureaucrats, none of whom wants to be the one accused of having let something slip through,” Smoot said during a briefing here on the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite, to be launched in mid-2008 to study the age, contents and dynamics of the universe. The satellite is being built by Alcatel Alenia Space, whose principal production facility is in
Cannes
.

 

Several
U.S.
institutes are providing experiment hardware for the Planck mission. Smoot said that if Planck were designed today, such cooperation would still be possible, but would be much harder. He said he is convinced that ITAR-related restrictions sooner or later will give ground to the demands of world-class science.

 

“This will happen because it’s the right thing to do,” Smoot said of
U.S.
participation in missions like Planck.

 

Smoot, a physicist at the
University
of
California
‘s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, shared the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics with John C. Mather of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for their work on understanding the Big Bang.

 

Planck and another European satellite, called Herschel, will also be looking at the Big Bang, taking observations that Smoot said make it a showcase example of the current “golden age of cosmology. This is the kind of flagship that brings people into science and technology.”

 

Jacques Louet, head of science projects at the European Space Agency, said he hoped Smoot is right about the evolution of ITAR regulations but has seen no evidence of it.

 

Louet said ITAR-related barriers now make it much more complicated for European scientists to work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
California
. “Scientists are optimists, and that’s a good thing, but for now I see no reason to believe the technology-collaboration obstacles are being eased,” Louet said.

 

 

Successful THAAD Test is First of 3 Planned for 2007�

 

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully shot down a target missile over the
Pacific Ocean
Jan. 27 in the first of three planned intercept tests this year involving its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

 

The THAAD interceptor destroyed the target, which was intended to be representative of a Scud missile launched from a mobile platform, just inside the Earth’s atmosphere, according to an MDA news release.

 

The test was conducted at the Pacific Missile Range Facility off the coast of the
island
of
Kauai
in
Hawaii
. This was the first flight test of the THAAD system, built by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control of Dallas, conducted in
Hawaii
following the move of THAAD equipment from
White
Sands
Missile
Range
in
New Mexico
in October.

 

Testing at White Sands required the THAAD interceptor to perform a corkscrew maneuver in flight in order to burn off energy and ensure public safety by staying over the range. Program officials had looked forward to testing over the
Pacific Ocean
in order to have a more operationally representative flight path for the interceptor.

 

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, the MDA’s deputy director, said the test was the first of eight planned missile-intercept tests this year, three involving the THAAD system. The upcoming THAAD tests, to feature intercepts both within and outside the atmosphere, will take place in mid and late 2007 on the Pacific test range, he said.

 

Speaking Jan. 29 in Washington at an event sponsored by the George C. Marshall Institute, O’Reilly said 2007 also will see three intercept tests of the U.S. Navy’s Aegis sea-based missile defense system. Those tests will involve Standard Missile-3 intercepts of short- and medium-range targets and will take place in mid and late 2007, he said.

 

O’Reilly said two shoot-down tests are planned this year of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, whose interceptors are now being installed at
Fort Greely
,
Alaska
, and Vandenberg Air Force Base,
Calif.
The first of those is scheduled to take place this spring, with the second to follow in early fall, he said.

 

Each of the upcoming tests will break new ground in terms of demonstrating system capabilities, O’Reilly said. For example, he said, in some instances, the upper stage of the target missile will release multiple objects.

 

MDA plans call for having 54 GMD interceptors deployed by the end of 2011: 40 at
Fort
Greely
, four at Vandenberg and 10 at a European site, most likely
Poland
. The MDA’s layered defense also will include three Aegis cruisers and 15 Aegis destroyers equipped with 83 Standard Missile-3 interceptors, he said.

 

The MDA has no plans at this point to deploy space-based missile defenses, he said.

 

 


NASA Taps Stern to Run Science


Mission


Directorate

 

NASA has picked planetary scientist Alan Stern to serve as the agency’s next associate administrator for science, according to numerous NASA and science community sources.

 

Stern will replace Mary Cleave, who announced her retirement last fall and is expected to depart the agency in early March.

 

NASA is expected to make the announcement of Stern’s selection once the paperwork clears the Office of Personnel Management, these sources said.

 

Stern, the executive director of the Southwest Research Institute’s Boulder, Colo.-based Space Science and Engineering Division, is the principal investigator on NASA’s New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission, which was launched in January 2006 and is due to reach its destination in 2015.

 

Stern also is the principal investigator on the Great Escape, an aeronomy mission NASA selected Jan. 8 as one of two finalists for a 2011 Mars Scout mission opportunity.

 

Telespazio to Maintain Kourou Tracking Radars Telespazio
France
has won three contracts with the French space agency, CNES, and with the Arianespace launch consortium to maintain tracking radars and other facilities at
Europe
‘s
Guiana
Space
Center
launch base in
French Guiana
, Telespazio announced.

 

The three contracts are valued at 103 million euros ($133 million) over five years. For CNES, Telespazio is leading a consortium including GTD of Spain and Vitrociset of Italy to maintain the agency’s information systems at the launch base, and also is maintaining the ground-based radars that track launches. For Arianespace, Telespazio’s contract includes maintaining the telecommunications system dedicated to Arianespace’s
Guiana
Space
Center
operations.

 

Telespazio is 67 percent owned by Finmeccanica of Italy and 33 percent owned by Alcatel of France.

 

 


Lockheed


Orion


Program


Takes


Over


KSC


Building

 

NASA handed over the historic Operations and Checkout building at Kennedy Space Center (KSC),
Fla.
, to Lockheed Martin Space Systems, which will use the facility to process the agency’s planned Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, according a company press release dated Jan. 30.

 

The building, once used to support the Apollo program, will be the site of final assembly, checkout and acceptance testing of the Orion crew and service modules.

 

The close proximity of the site to the launch facilities at Kennedy will ease testing and launch operations, according to the press release. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver is getting $45.5 million in incentives and financial assistance from the state of
Florida
related to its use of the building – $35 million to upgrade the facility and $10.5 million to train locals as potential employees.

 

The transition of the building from NASA to Lockheed Martin was announced at a ceremony marking the event there Jan. 30. Building modifications, including retrofitting the altitude chamber into a thermal vacuum chamber, will need to be completed before new work begins there. Modifications are planned to begin in April and finish November 2008.

 

 

Student Participants Being Sought for KySat-2

 

KentuckySat, a coalition of private companies, universities and other organizations, is accepting applications from
Kentucky
students who wish to be involved in the design and construction of the KySat-2 small satellite.

 

Ten to 12 students will be chosen to help with the mission, while other students will be selected for smaller supporting roles, such as pre-flight testing and payload design, according to a Jan. 31 press release from KentuckySat of Lexington, Ky.

 

The satellite is planned for launch in either late 2008 or early 2009, the release said. Interested students must apply online at KentuckySat’s Web site, www.kysat.com, by Feb. 23, the release said.

 

 

German Military Orders GD Satellite Equipment

 

General Dynamics (GD) C4 Systems will build satellite antennas and other equipment for the German military under a contract potentially worth $30 million through 2014.

 

The contract was awarded as part of the German Armed Forces SatcomBw Step 2 program, according to a Jan. 31 press release from GD C4 Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz. Germany plans to launch two SatcomBw military communications satellites in 2008.

 

Under the term of the contract, the company will provide 2.4-meter and 4.6-meter antennas, as well as fixed antenna installations and radio support equipment, the release said.

 

 

TCS To Provide Support to Wideband Gapfiller Effort

 

TeleCommunications Systems Inc. (TCS) has been awarded a 12-month, $700,000 contract to manage spectrum at two
U.S.
military communications centers in support of the Wideband Gapfiller Satellite program.

 

The award was made under the World-Wide Satellite Systems contracting vehicle, for which TCS is one of six participating companies. Up to $5 billion worth of work could be awarded over the next five years under the program.

 

The TCS contract, awarded by the Program Management Defense Communications and Army Transmission System authority, based at
Fort Monmouth
,
N.J.
, requires the company to perform spectrum management at two Wideband Gapfiller operations centers, according to a Jan. 31 press release from TCS.

 

TCS of Annapolis, Md., also will perform post-launch support and testing for the first Wideband Gapfiller Satellite, which is slated to launch later this year. The post-launch test period is expected to last four to six months, the press release said.

 

 

Micro Technology Applied to Webb Optics�

 

NASA scientists are using a new microtechnology to help control the passage of light through the James Webb Space Telescope currently in development.

 

The technology is known as microshutters – small doorways that allow a tiny amount of light to reach the telescope without other light interfering, according to a Jan. 24 press release from NASA. The Webb telescope is planned for launch sometime in the next decade.

 

The shutters passed environmental testing in December, according to the release. Each shutter measures 100 microns by 200 microns; or between the width of three and six human hairs, the release said.

 

The micro shutters are arranged in four grids on the telescope in front of a detector that records light that passes through them, the release said.

 

 

Satellite Companies Help Soldiers Call Home

 

Telenor Satellite Services and Iridium Satellite LLC donated a satellite phone and air time for a U.S. Army battalion to use for soldiers to call home to their families.

 

Telenor of Rockville, Md. supplied the air time, while Iridium of Bethesda, Md., supplied the hardware to the Charlie Company of the First Battalion of the 36th Infantry Brigade, a Jan. 25 press release from Telenor said.

 

 

IPass Inc. to Distribute Inmarsat BGAN Service

 

IPass Inc. of
Redwood Shores
,
Calif.
, has signed on as a distribution partner for London-based Inmarsat Inc.’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) mobile satellite broadband service.

 

With the agreement, BGAN becomes the first satellite broadband offering of IPass, which provides mobile and remote communications, according to a Jan. 29 press release from IPass. The company will target rural areas and remote locations with the service, the release said.

 

 


XM Radio Extends Deals With Honda and


Toyota

 

XM Satellite Radio signed agreements extending its relationships with the
U.S.
arms of automakers Honda and
Toyota
into the next decade.

 

XM extended its relationship with Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. of
Torrance
,
Calif.
, through 2017, XM announced in a Jan. 31 press release. Factory-installed XM radios are available on both
Toyota
and Lexus vehicles; the number of
Toyota
vehicles equipped with XM is expected to exceed 1 million by 2010, the release said.

 

In a Jan. 30 press release, XM announced it had signed an agreement with American Honda Motor Co. under which the companies will continue to work together through 2016.

 

XM is the exclusive satellite radio provider for Honda and has worked with the company since 2003, according to the release from XM of Washington. XM is projecting that 650,000 Honda vehicles will be factory-installed with XM radio units during 2007, the release said. Financial details of the arrangement were not disclosed.

 

Meanwhile, XM also announced that its programming will be available through Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft’s new
Vista
operating system.

 

Users of the system can try XM for free for three days, and then pay $7.99 a month for unlimited listening, a Jan. 29 press release from XM said. Windows Vista was released Jan. 30.

 

Current XM subscribers can listen to the programming online for free.

 

 


U.S.


Military Activates Iridium Data Terminals

 

Around 200 data communications terminals supplied by Iridium Satellite LLC have been activated by the
U.S.
military for use in the field, according to a Jan. 30 press release from Iridium of Bethesda, Md.

 

The Iridium 9601 Short Burst Data devices were acquired under a contract with the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency, which procures commercial communications systems and services on behalf of the Department of Defense, the release said.

 

The devices allow users to perform such functions as asset tracking and remote sensing, the release said. The 9601 has been available for government purchase since October 2006, the release said.

 

Iridium cannot disclose the specifics of the program or its contract at this time, but plans to do so in the future, according to Iridium spokeswoman Liz DeCastro.

 

 


NASA Names Crew for December Shuttle


Mission

 

NASA has chosen the crew that will fly the space shuttle mission STS-123, which will deliver Japanese and Canadian hardware to the international space station near the end of the year.

 

U.S. Navy Capt. Dominic L. Gorie will lead the crew, according to a Jan. 29 press release from NASA. Air Force Col. Gregory Johnson will serve as the pilot, and mission specialists will include NASA astronauts Richard M. Linnehan, Air Force Maj. Robert Behnken and Navy Capt. Michael Foreman. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takao Doi also will be a mission specialist for the flight.

 

The mission will deliver the first component of the Japanese Experiment Module, Kibo, as well as the Canadian Dextre robotics system to the station, the release said.

 

The launch is scheduled for December 2007.

 

 

DirecTV Takes Full Control Of Latin American Affiliate

 

DirecTV now has full ownership of DirecTV Latin America LLC following its acquisition of the 14.1 percent stake that was owned by Darlene Investments LLC, the satellite television provider said in a Jan. 30 press release.

 

DirecTV of El Segundo, Calif., paid $325 million in cash to become the sole shareholder in its Latin American affiliate, DirecTV said in a Jan. 30 press release. Darlene Investments is an affiliate of Cisneros Group of Companies, based in
Caracas
,
Venezuela
.

 

The transaction, which is effective immediately, ends all pending litigation against DirecTV, the release said.

 

Darlene and DirecTV had been embroiled in a dispute since DirecTV Latin America’s emergence from bankruptcy in February 2004. Darlene had been seeking more than $1 billion in damages against DirecTV, claiming fraud, according to a September 2006 press release from DirecTV.

 

After a judge dismissed the fraud charge, the parties planned to enter into arbitration in January of this year, which now is canceled, DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said Jan. 30.

 

 

Intelsat To Take Bids on Washington-Area Teleport

 

Intelsat Ltd. of
Bermuda
will solicit offers for the sale of its teleport in
Silver Spring
,
Md.
, just outside
Washington
, the company announced in a Jan. 29 press release.

 

Intelsat is selling the teleport as a result of consolidation after its acquisition of satellite operator PanAmSat of Wilton, Conn., last year, the release said.

 

The company will be selling the land, adjacent warehouse office leases, and all of the teleport assets, which include six antennas ranging from 3.8 meters to 10 meters in diameter, the release said. The company expects to start taking offers in February and close on a sale during the second quarter of 2007.

 

 

Blue Sky Tracking Device Now Available for Vehicles

 

A satellite network-based asset tracking device built by Blue Sky Network of La Jolla, Calif., has been adapted for use in land and marine vehicles, the company announced in a Jan. 30 press release.

 

The device relies on the satellite network of Iridium Satellite LLC of Bethesda, Md. It allows for two-way messaging, GPS mapping, and integration with Google Earth software, the release said.

 

The device is about the size of a car stereo and fits easily into a vehicle, the release said.

 

 

Globecomm Systems Lands Contract for Earth Station

 

Globecomm Systems Inc. of
Hauppauge
,
N.Y.
, will build an earth station for an unnamed commercial customer under a new $1.2 million contract.

 

Under the contract, Globecomm will be responsible for the design, engineering and installation of the earth station and related subsystems.

 

The client is a repeat customer for Globecomm, and the company expects to complete the project within the next five months, according to a Jan. 26 press release from Globecomm.

 

 


Northrop Grumman Corp. Closes


Essex


Acquisition

 

Northrop Grumman Corp. announced Jan. 25 that it completed its acquisition of Essex Corp., which provides signal- and imagery-processing services and products to
U.S.
military and intelligence customers.

 

Essex
will operate as a business unit within Northrop Grumman’s mission systems sector, according to a Northrop Grumman news release .

 

Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman completed the transaction by buying all shares of
Essex
common stock at $24 per share. The cash transaction is worth approximately $580 million.

 

 


Sparta


Inc. Awarded Missile Defense Work

 

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency awarded a $155 million contract to Sparta Inc. of
Lake Forest
,
Calif.
, for scientific, engineering and technical assistance support on ballistic missile defense and related technology, according to a Pentagon contract announcement dated Jan. 26.

 

The contract, which was awarded on a sole-source basis, runs through January 2012.
Sparta
is a systems engineering firm specializing in space, strategic defense and information systems.

 

 

ABL Testing to Feature Low-Power Laser Firings

 

Boeing Co. of Chicago and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency have begun a round of Airborne Laser (ABL) testing that will include the initial in-flight firings of the aircraft’s low-power lasers over the next several months, according to an article posted on U.S. Air Force Materiel Command’s Web site .

 

The ABL is a modified Boeing 747 aircraft equipped with a high-power chemical laser designed to destroy missiles in the boost phase of flight.

 

The current phase of ABL testing involves two low-power solid-state lasers that are intended to track incoming missiles and provide targeting information to the main chemical laser. The lasers also will measure atmospheric distortion, which will be corrected for by adaptive optics on board the aircraft. The lasers will be fired at an instrumented target board on the outside of a military aircraft with a missile painted on its side.

 

The ABL is expected to attempt its first intercept of a ballistic missile in late 2008.

 

 


New


U.S.


Weather Satellite Declared Ready for Service

 

The U.S. Air Force has declared a Lockheed Martin-built weather satellite launched in November operational, according to a company news release dated Jan. 29.

 

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) F-17 spacecraft has been turned over to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the civilian agency that manages the operation of
U.S.
weather satellites.

 

Launched Nov. 4, DMSP F-17 is the second in a series featuring upgrades over earlier DMSP satellites. These upgrades include larger sensors, an improved power system, increased battery capability, and a more powerful computer that features more memory to enable more autonomous operations, according to the news release.

 

The Air Force has launched 44 DMSP satellites since 1965, according to the news release. There are three DMSP satellites in storage at Lockheed Martin Space Systems facilities in
Sunnyvale
,
Calif.
, remaining to launch.