HMX Tests Propane-Fueled Small Rocket Engine

AirLaunch LLC’s subcontractor, HMX Inc., has completed calibration, ignition and duration tests on a new rocket engine that could be used for small-spacecraft launchers such as AirLaunch’s planned QuickReach booster, Reno, Nev.-based AirLaunch announced July 12.

The new engine is fueled by propane and liquid oxygen and is designed to produce 24,000 pounds of thrust when operating in a space-like vacuum.

The testing was conducted from April to June at the Civilian Flight Test Center at the Mojave Spaceport in California.

Work on the new engine was sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in support of its Falcon launcher program, which aims to aid the development of small launch vehicle and hypersonic technologies.

ATK Plant in Magna, Utah To Build KEI Second Stage

Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co. selected ATK Thiokol’s Magna , Utah, plant to manufacture the solid-propellant first stage of a high-speed ballistic missile interceptor under development for the U.S. military.

Raytheon is leading the booster development for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) under a subcontract to Northrop Grumman.

Raytheon and ATK surveyed ATK’s solid-rocket production facilities and chose Magna over other plants such as one in Elkton, Md., which is building the second stage of the KEI booster, according to a Northrop Grumman news release issued July 27.

The first-stage motor is expected to be test fired in early 2006, according to the news release . The second-stage motor is expected to be test fired later this year, according to the news release.

Spacenet Lands Partner For Service in Argentina

Expanding its international reach for the second time in a month, Spacenet Inc. of McLean, Va., will now be able to manage broadband networks in Argentina because of a new partnership.

Spacenet announced an alliance July 21 with Servicio Satelital of Argentina, a company which has 75 percent of the satellite broadband market share in that country, Spacenet said.

Spacenet spokesman Stan Schneider said the services offered in Argentina will be nearly identical to what the company provides in the United States.

Spacenet’s first venture into Mexico was announced in mid-July.

“This is the most recent step in what [Spacenet] believes will be a steady expansion into markets outside the U.S.,” Schneider said.

Schneider would not comment on how much additional business the company expects to gain by the venture, or what other countries Spacenet hopes to expand to in the future. He did say the company is eyeing areas in Latin America and Europe.

Spacenet’s involvement will help Servicio Satelital to offer more services and appeal to larger companies, Schneider said.

HDNet, PanAmSat Extend Services Deal to 2021

Dallas-based HDNet will extend its agreement with Wilton, Conn.-based PanAmSat to transmit high-definition (HD) television programming via the Galaxy 13 satellite to providers through January 2021.

Kurt Riegelman, senior vice president for North American sales for PanAmSat, said the multi-transponder agreement will allow HDNet to increase its offerings should that company decide to do so.

Riegelman would not comment on the term of the companies’ original agreement, but said the extension is significant because it demonstrates HDNet is in the business for the long haul.

“HDNet was one of our first HD customers on Galaxy 13, and as such, they are one of the top tier HD clients that new customers like to nestle next to,” Riegelman said.

HDNet provides news, sports, music and entertainment programming, as well as unedited movies, over its network.

MDA Wins Contract To Study Mars Data Use

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) of Richmond, British Columbia, won a contract from the Canadian Space Agency to conduct an initial study on how to gather and process data for NASA’s 2009 Mars Science Laboratory Mission, MDA announced July 25.

The company’s information solution will help scientists determine the composition of martian rocks and soil as well as provide information on water activity, the formation of the planet’s crust and other surface conditions.

The overall value of the project is 7.5 million Canadian dollars ($6.2 million), with the initial study worth about 1.2 million Canadian dollars.

Saab Ericsson to Upgrade Rocket Guidance System

Saab Ericsson Space announced July 26 it has won a contract from Northrop Grumman, which is heading the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract (NSROC), to upgrade its S19 guidance, navigation and control systems for the space agency’s sounding rockets.

The upgraded system, called S19 L, has a new guidance processor and a laser gyro to help deliver scientific research payloads to very-high altitudes from such locations as the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and the Esrange in Kiruna, Sweden. It also reduces a rocket’s wind sensitivity, Saab Ericsson of Gothenburg, Sweden, said in a news release.

The contract runs through June 15, 2006, according to Saab Ericsson spokesman Lars Ljunge, at which time the NSROC team is scheduled to receive the four modified systems it has ordered. Ljunge would not disclose the value of the contract.

Digital Spectrum Analyzer Delivered by SAT Corp.

SAT Corp., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based subsidiary of Integral Systems Inc., announced July 21 it has delivered a digital spectrum analyzer to Arrowhead Global Solutions Inc. so the company can monitor and safeguard satellite communications for the U.S. Department of Defense.

The analyzer, called SAT-DSA, will allow Arrowhead Global, Falls Church, Va., to monitor multiple uplink and downlink signals in less time than a classic analog spectrum analyzer, according to a news release issued by Integral Systems, headquartered in Lanham, Md.

The SAT-DSA system also can detect and characterize interfering signals, access historical spectral data and provide remote user access capabilities.

Samsung Unit To Produce XM-Capable MP3 Players

Samsung Electronics America Inc. has struck an alliance with XM Satellite Radio to debut MP3 music players that allow users to receive and record XM audio content, the companies announced July 26.

The new MP3 players will allow users to record XM audio content when the device is connected to a home or car docking station, and then listen in places where no XM service is available, such as in a subway. Users also can use the device to store songs from their personal digital music collections.

In conjunction with the release of the players, XM announced July 27 the availability of XM+Napster, an online service for accessing, purchasing and managing music from XM and Los Angeles-based digital music provider Napster. When XM-capable MP3 players are connected to a personal computer, users can match XM song titles with Napster’s music catalog and download them to the player.

The players, offered in two versions with different storage capacities , should be available by the end of the year, according to Samsung Electronics America of Ridgefield Park, N.J., and XM Radio of Washington.

NGA Awards $5.9 Million Contract to Space Imaging

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) awarded a contract worth $5.9 million to Space Imaging for additional imagery from the company’s Ikonos satellite, according to a Space Imaging news release dated July 26.

The deal builds on the company’s ClearView contract with the agency that was awarded in January 2003. Mark Brender, Space Imaging vice president for corporate communications and Washington operations, declined to comment on the full value thus far of the company’s ClearView contract. However, he said that Space Imaging was awarded at least $48 million in 2003, $36 million in 2004, and $36 million in 2005 before the $5.9 million supplemental contract.

Space Imaging has also been awarded more than $10 million in other NGA contracts outside of ClearView since launching the Ikonos satellite, Brender said.

Olsen Again Slotted for Space Station Tourist Visit

Arlington, Va.-based Space Adventures said July 27 that its client, Greg Olsen, has been confirmed to ride with the Soyuz TMA-7 crew that is slated to launch to the international space station Oct. 1.

Olsen, a 60-year-old research scientist who heads the Princeton, N.J.-based company Sensors Unlimited Inc., has been planning his space tourist trip since June 2003. He had been training for an April 2005 flight to the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA vehicle but was disqualified for health reasons.

Olsen is paying $20 million for the upcoming 10-day visit.

Missile Warning System Costs Again Rise Over 25 Percent

The U.S. Air Force is expected to notify Congress shortly that the cost of its new missile warning satellite system has risen again by more than 25 percent, a move that will trigger a review that includes a look at alternatives to the program, according to industry officials and congressional aides.

Air Force officials had informed Congress in March that the price tag for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) likely would rise by at least 15 percent due to new cost estimates on the third through fifth satellites .

SBIRS , consisting of four geosynchronous-orbit satellites, one spare spacecraft, sensors hosted by two classified intelligence satellites in highly elliptical orbit, and ground equipment, initially was expected to cost about $2 billion. But by late 2004, the Air Force’s cost estimate had grown to $9.9 billion. The satellites, originally scheduled to start launching in 2002, now are expected to launch no earlier than 2008.

The military services are required by a law known as the Nunn-McCurdy provision to conduct reviews of programs whose costs rise by 25 percent to justify their continuation based on their importance to national security, evidence that the problems that led to the cost growth are under control, and the lack of viable alternatives. SBIRS underwent such a review in 2002, but the Pentagon chose to continue the program, albeit with more high-level oversight .

Maj. Brenda Campbell, an Air Force spokeswoman, said that service officials declined to comment on the matter at this time.

Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute in Washington, said the Pentagon likely will come to a similar conclusion this time around given the need to start replacing the existing Defense Support Program missile warning constellation late next decade. The SBIRS satellites are under construction by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), meanwhile, finds itself in a similar situation with the Boeing-led Future Imagery Architecture spy satellite program, which is once again running into cost and schedule issues, Thompson said. The most recent problems, which are with the system’s electro-optical satellites, have forced the agency to begin a study on the program’s future, Thompson said.

Rick Oborn, an NRO spokesman, declined to comment, citing the classified nature of the Future Imagery Architecture.

PanAmSat Signs up for Ride Aboard Land Launch Vehicle

Sea Launch LLC has signed the first customer for its new Land Launch rocket system with a contract from PanAmSat Corp. for the mid-2007 launch of PanAmSat’s PAS-11 satellite, the two companies announced July 28. The contract is part of a broader deal that includes two other PanAmSat satellites to be launched from Sea Launch’s mid-ocean launch site, and an undisclosed number of options for additional launches.

Land Launch operates from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan using a variant of the Russian-Ukrainian-built Zenit-3SL rocket, which was designed to launch from a converted oil-drilling platform on the equator in the Pacific Ocean.

For the ocean-launched Sea Launch vehicle, Wilton, Conn.-based PanAmSat has signed contracts to launch its Galaxy 16 and Galaxy 18 telecommunications satellites in 2006 and 2007, respectively, according to the July 28 announcement. The satellites are expected to weigh about 4,700 kilograms each at launch. Both are being manufactured by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif.

Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch has been talking to customers about widening its product offer to include Land Launch for more than two years. In its Land Launch version, the Zenit-3SLB vehicle will operate from the home base of the original Zenit rocket.

While the Sea Launch ocean-launched vehicle is capable of lifting satellites weighing more than 6,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit, Land Launch has a limit of about 3,500 kilograms, according to Sea Launch. That makes it more suited for the smaller commercial telecommunications satellites that have accounted for an increased share of the global market in recent years.

The PanAmSat’s Land Launch contract , which includes several options for future launches , is for one of these smaller satellites. PAS-11, built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., is expected to weigh 2,500 kilograms at launch.

Land Launch is expected to offer competition to the smaller-class offering planned by Europe’s Arianespace commercial-launch consortium. Arianespace is scheduled to start launching Russian Soyuz vehicles from Europe’s equatorial French Guiana space port starting in 2008.

Iran’s First Satellite Slated For Launch Late This Year

The Iranian government’s first satellite, the 70-kilogram Mesbah messaging spacecraft, is on track to meet its scheduled late-2005 launch aboard a Russian Cosmos rocket, according to prime contractor Carlo Gavazzi Space of Italy.

“The satellite is basically completed,” Carlo Gavazzi General Manager Roberto Acati said. Mesbah, which employs store-and-forward messaging technology and will operate in low Earth orbit, is based on the company’s Mita satellite platform.

The Iranian government continues to debate whether to purchase a geostationary-orbiting telecommunications satellite, called Zohre, from Russian suppliers. But industry officials said no firm contract has been signed.

Mesbah and Zohre are designed for civilian and commercial purposes, but Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said the country has begun using space technology for military applications as well. “The Defense Ministry has entered … the fourth dimension of defense — space,” Shamkhani said on Iranian television July 23, according to a transcript translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. “Significant steps have been made in the fields of reception stations, control, launching, launch pads and satellite tracking,” he said.

Competition Planned for Missile Tracking Satellites

The Pentagon plans to open a competition early next year to build up to five new missile tracking satellites, according to a notice issued July 28 on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site .

The military is considering allowing Northrop Grumman Space Technology, the current prime contractor on the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS), to conduct a competition for the satellite payloads, according to the notice. However, the notice also asks companies that could compete as a prime contractor for the new satellites to register their interest.

Northrop Grumman Space Technology, Redondo Beach, Calif., is refurbishing two experimental STSS satellites based on hardware from a planned demonstration that was canceled in 1999. Those satellites are slated to launch in 2007 to demonstrate missile tracking from space.

The satellites described in the notice — two, with options for three more — would be used operationally , and would begin launching around 2012.

White House Designates New Acting Air Force Secretary

The White House announced July 28 the designation of Preston “Pete” Geren as acting U.S. Air Force Secretary. Geren is a former Texas congressman who has served as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s special assistant for inter-agency initiatives, legislative affairs and special projects since one week before the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Geren will succeed Michael L. Dominguez, who was named acting secretary at the end of March. Dominguez was the last of three men to hold the acting position since James G. Roche left the job in January. Peter B. Teets, then undersecretary of the Air Force, was named acting secretary and resigned March 25. He was succeeded by Michael Montelongo, the service’s comptroller, who held the post until March 28, when it was filled by Dominguez, who had been the assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.

The White House also announced July 28 the president’s intention to nominate John J. Young, assistant secretary of the Navy for research and acquisition, as director of defense research and engineering. Young would replace Ron Sega, who has been nominated to be undersecretary of the Air Force. Young would oversee the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as part of his duties.