DirecTV: HDTV Goal Reachable



Launch Delay


DirecTV Group said it will reach its goal of providing 100 local television channels of high-definition (HD) television in the United States this year even if there is a months-long delay in the launch of one of the two satellites it had scheduled to add to its fleet.


The El Segundo, Calif.-based satellite-television broadcaster said the DirecTV 10 satellite remains on track for a launch aboard an International Launch Services Proton-M vehicle by mid year. Once in operation, DirecTV 10 is expected to bring the company’s HD capacity to the 100-channel goal even if the DirecTV 11 satellite, also scheduled for launch in late 2007, faces substantial delays.


DirecTV 11 is scheduled for launch aboard a Sea Launch rocket. Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch suffered a launch failure Jan. 30 and has begun an investigation to determine the cause. The company is also assessing damage to the Sea Launch ocean-going platform, which is returning to the company’s home port under its own power.


In a Feb. 7 presentation on the company’s 2006 financial results, DirecTV Chief Executive Chase Carey said the company has been given encouraging preliminary assessments by Sea Launch but that it is too early to predict when Sea Launch will return to flight.


DirecTV reported a 5 percent increase in
subscribers in 2006, to 15.95 million. The company has consolidated its Latin American satellite-television operations with the recent purchase of increased ownership shares of its existing operations in
Latin America
. DirecTV Latin America now includes 74 percent ownership of Sky
, 41 percent ownership of Sky
and 100 percent ownership of Pan Americana, which covers the remaining nations in the region.


DirecTV revenues for 2006 were up 12 percent, to $14.76 billion, in part because of the improving performance of the Latin American operations. Net income quadrupled, to $1.4 billion.


Carey said the company will continue to focus on customers that subscribe to packages that include HD receivers or personal video recorders. While these customers cost more as DirecTV subsidizes the equipment, they pay higher monthly subscriptions, agree to two-year commitments and are less likely to quit the service, he said. Mike Palkovic, DirecTV chief financial officer, said the company’s after-tax profit on these higher-end subscriptions is more than 50 percent, substantially higher than the profit on customers that limit their subscriptions to the standard DirecTV set-top boxes.


Carey said DirecTV forecasts that its monthly churn – the percent of subscribers who quit the service – will be 1.5 percent in 2007, compared to 1.6 percent in 2006, and that it will cost the company between $650 and $700 to attract each new subscriber.



NASA, USAF To Jointly Upgrade RS-68


Engine NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said NASA and the U.S. Air Force recently agreed to cooperate on the development of the RS-68B engine. The RS-68 engine currently is used to power the Delta 4 rocket, one of the rockets developed for the Air Force under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. NASA intends to use the updated version of the engine to power the main stage of the Ares 5 heavy-lift rocket the agency plans to start developing after 2010 for human lunar missions.


“The use of this engine will save billions of dollars in future life cycle costs for future lunar missions as compared with our original plans to use the space shuttle main engine,”
said during a Feb. 7 speech before the National Space Club in


NASA spokeswoman Beth Dickey said Feb. 8 that a formal agreement with the Air Force was in the works but had not been finalized. Until then, Dickey said, NASA could not comment on the details of the proposed joint development beyond describing the safety and performance modifications NASA wants.


“The modifications NASA is interested in incorporating include modifying the engine start to reduce free hydrogen on the launch pad, changing the inter-propellant seal package in the turbo pump to reduce helium consumption, and upgrading the ablative nozzle to accommodate a longer firing duration of nominally 327 seconds,” Dickey said.



Ares 1 Parachute Fails During Desert Drop Test


A 1,400-kilogram Ares 1 drop test article broke free from its pilot parachute and plummeted to the ground Jan. 25 punching a hole in the desert floor, NASA officials said Feb. 8.


The incident occurred at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in
during the third of five drop tests NASA plans to conduct by early 2009 to finalize the design of the Ares 1 rocket’s first stage recovery system, which includes a pilot parachute, a drogue chute and three main parachutes.


Dropped from an altitude of about 5,200 meters by a C-130 aircraft, the instrumented test vehicle appeared to have properly inflated its 3.5-meter diameter pilot parachute, according to NASA officials, but then the three bridle lines attaching the chute to the vehicle broke, sending the heavy object into a free fall. A backhoe was called in to dig the test vehicle out of the ground.


A NASA official said the bridle lines that broke are not part of the pilot parachute design but only used for the test vehicle. NASA plans to repeat the test once it finds and fixes the root cause of the failure.



Lockheed Martin Makes Commercial Atlas



Lockheed Martin has signed its first commercial launch contract since selling its stake in International Launch Services. Inmarsat said Feb. 8 that the company has selected Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services to launch the Inmarsat 4 F3 mobile communications satellite aboard a Lockheed Martin-built Atlas 5 rocket by early 2008.


Andrew Sukawaty, chief executive of London-based Inmarsat, said his company still hopes for a late-2007 launch, but conceded that the earlier date looks less likely.


Inmarsat had signed options to launch the third and last Inmarsat 4 spacecraft with Sea Launch of Long Beach, Calif., and with International Launch Services of McLean, Va.


International Launch Services marketed Atlas and Russian Proton rockets until late 2006. It now markets Proton only.


The Jan. 30 failure of a Sea Launch rocket has added pressure on an already tight global commercial launch market, whose principal launch vehicles –
‘s Ariane 5, International Launch Services’ Proton, Sea Launch’s Zenit and Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 5 – are already heavily booked for future launches.


Sukawaty said the 6,000-kilogram Inmarsat 4 F3 satellite, to be placed into geostationary orbit at 178 degrees east longitude over the
Pacific Ocean
region, is ready to launch as soon as an opening appears in the Atlas 5 manifest. “We all know that satellites are sometimes delayed, and that launch manifests are dynamic,” Sukawaty said Feb. 8. “We’re not giving up on 2007, but early 2008 is perhaps more likely.”



Isakowitz Picked To Be Energy Department CFO


U.S. President George W. Bush announced his intent to nominate Steven Jeffrey Isakowitz to be the Department of Energy’s chief financial officer. Isakowitz currently serves as a senior manager for science and technology programs at the Central Intelligence Agency.


Isakowitz previously worked at NASA as deputy chief financial officer, comptroller and as deputy associate administrator for the exploration systems mission directorate. He also worked at the Office of Management and Budget as branch chief of science and space programs.


Sea-Based X-Band Radar Arrives at Alaskan Port The U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Sea-Based X-Band Radar system has completed its trip from
to the waters off the coast of the
Aleutian Islands
, according to a Feb. 7 agency news release. The Boeing-built sensor, which is mounted on an oil-drilling platform, had been undergoing sea-worthiness trials off the coast of


The sensor, which is intended to provide tracking and discrimination data about missiles headed toward the
United States
, will be home-ported at
in the
Aleutian Islands
starting late this summer after construction of its mooring facilities is completed.



Northrop Ships Payload For First AEHF Satellite


Northrop Grumman Space Technology has shipped the payload for the next generation of secure military communications satellites from its facilities in
Redondo Beach
, to Lockheed Martin Space Systems in
, for integration with the spacecraft platform.


The Advanced Extremely High Frequency (EHF) spacecraft will undergo environmental and other testing over the next several months in preparation for launch in April 2008, according to a Feb. 6 U.S. Air Force news release. The delivery of the payload took place 30 days ahead of schedule, according to the news release.


Air Force Brig. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of the military satellite communications systems wing, described the payload delivery as a key milestone in the program, noting that the Advanced EHF satellites will provide up to 10 times the secure communications bandwidth provided today by the Milstar constellation of satellites.



LCROSS On Track for Design Review


NASA has given the formal go ahead to the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), a $79 million mission the agency selected early last year to launch as a secondary payload with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in October 2008. LCROSS is due to strike the Moon’s south pole in February 2009.


Scott Horowitz, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems, led the confirmation review that authorized continuation of the LCROSS mission and set its schedule and budget. The critical design review for the Ames Research Center-led mission is scheduled for late February.


After the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter separates from its Atlas 5 launch vehicle to conduct its Moon-mapping mission, LCROSS will use the rocket’s spent Centaur upper stage as a lunar impact probe, targeting a permanently shadowed crater near the Moon’s south pole. The LCROSS spacecraft – consisting of the Atlas 5’s secondary payload adapter ring outfitted with a suite of six instruments – will observe the impact, which is expected to excavate about 200 tons of material from the lunar surface.


Redondo Beach, Calif.-based Northrop Grumman Space Technology is the spacecraft’s prime contractor.



FCC Grants ICO Request for Launch Deadline Extension


ICO Satellite Services has won
regulatory approval for a five-month extension, to Nov. 30, of the deadline to launch its large two-way mobile communications satellite.


In a Feb. 2 decision, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) accepted ICO’s arguments that delays in certain components of the ICO G1 satellite, now under construction at Space Systems/Loral in
Palo Alto
, were beyond its control and were not part of a strategy to delay the launch.


The FCC warned that any future delays “would be a cause for concern, and any further extension requests would face a substantial burden of persuasion.”


In support of its request for more time, ICO said it had already made substantial payments to complete the satellite and secure its launch aboard a U.S. Atlas 5 rocket. ICO has estimated that building, launching and insuring the ICO G1 will cost between $525 million and $600 million.


ICO in December won FCC approval to change the orbital slot ICO G1 will use to 92.85 degrees west longitude. ICO’s two-way communications system will operate in the 2-gigahertz band of radio spectrum.



DeWitt Cashes in on Loral Stock Options


Space Systems/Loral Chief Executive C. Patrick DeWitt has exercised options to sell 18,750 shares of Loral Space and Communications stock, Loral reported Feb. 2 to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).


DeWitt purchased the stock under an options grant for $28.44 per share on Jan. 2 and sold the entire amount the same day in seven transactions with an average sales price of about $44.25. The options grant had an expiration date of December 2012.



NASA Downgrades Threat Posed by


Test Debris


New analysis by NASA shows that the orbital debris created by
‘s Jan. 11 test of an anti-satellite weapon poses less of a threat to the international space station than previously thought, according to the
space agency’s human space flight chief.


“The debris environment was expected to be a little more concern to space station than it actually is,” William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations, told reporters Feb. 5. “The original projections showed we would have an elevated risk to station for about a year. We’re seeing now, less than a month after the event, that the risk to station is kind of back down to the normal background level.”


The international space station currently is orbiting at an altitude of about 340 kilometers, roughly 60 kilometers lower than normal to make it easier to reach for space shuttle orbiters hauling up heavy space station components – such as the S3/S4 truss segment Space Shuttle Atlantis is due to deliver March 15.
‘s obsolete Fengyun 1C weather satellite was orbiting at an altitude of about 865 kilometers when it was deliberately destroyed by impact from a ground-based ballistic missile.


Gerstenmaier said the space station’s relatively low altitude is providing an extra measure of protection against any Fengyun 1C debris that might drift its way.


“We’re down fairly low in the atmosphere, so any debris that drifts down around station will deorbit fairly quickly and get cleaned out by the atmosphere and the drag,” he said. “So it’s not as big a risk to us at the particular altitude we are in and the particular inclination we are in.”


Gerstenmaier said spacecraft in higher orbits, however, “will have a more prolonged risk from this event.”


The space station is due to be boosted to its normal altitude sometime next year, after the arrival of separate European and Japanese laboratory modules respectively known as Columbus and Kibo. “We stay low pretty much through this year because
is fairly heavy, so is the Kibo. So by the time we will be there, it will be at least a year,” he said.


Even then, Gerstenmaier said, NASA is not particularly worried. “It’s not an overly big concern to us and of course the station is pretty well shielded from a debris standpoint,” he said.



Chinese Rocket Launches New Navigation Satellite


successfully launched its fourth geostationary-orbiting Beidou navigation satellite Feb. 3, with the satellite to serve as an in-orbit spare for the first Beidou, which was launched in October 2000,
‘s state-owned Xinhua news agency reported.


A Chinese Long March 3A rocket placed the satellite into orbit following a launch from the
in southwest


Chinese government officials have announced plans to supplement the Beidou geostationary-orbiting satellites with two-dozen smaller spacecraft in medium-Earth orbit – a system
has named Compass.



First SBIRS Platform Clears Vacuum Tests


Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., has completed thermal vacuum testing of the first dedicated geosynchronous satellite platform built under the U.S. Air Force’s Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning program, the company announced Feb. 5.


The platform, including the core structure, propulsion module and communications and thermal-protection systems, spent Jan. 16 to Feb. 2 inside a chamber at Lockheed Martin’s
facility, where it was subjected to temperature extremes in excess of what it will encounter in orbit, the company said.


Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems of Azusa, Calif., is slated to deliver the satellite’s main infrared sensor in mid 2007 for integration with the platform and testing in preparation for a scheduled 2008 launch, Lockheed Martin said.


Lockheed Martin is supplying at least two and possibly three dedicated geosynchronous satellites, as well as two sensors hosted by classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits, under its SBIRS prime contract. The Northrop Grumman-built sensors for the classified satellites have been delivered, and the first of those is in orbit and operating as designed.


Lockheed Martin also reported progress on the second dedicated geosynchronous SBIRS satellite, which is slated for launch in late 2009. The core structure for that satellite has successfully completed pyroshock testing, demonstrating that it can handle the stresses of the pyrotechnic events associated with its deployment.



Northrop Unit To Provide Technical Support to SMC


The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) awarded Northrop Grumman a four-year follow-on contract worth $92 million to provide information technology services to the U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles Air Force Base,


SMC procures space vehicles and missiles on behalf of the Air Force. The task-order contract, awarded under the GSA’s Answer information technology procurement vehicle, calls for Northrop Grumman Information Technology of McLean, Va., to provide network support and maintenance, and software development, the company said. The work will support both SMC and the Missile Defense Agency, the company said.



Last of the DSP Satellites Being Readied for Launch


The U.S. Air Force’s 23rd and final Defense Support Program (DSP) missile warning satellite has been mated with its launch vehicle payload adapter in preparation for a scheduled April 1 launch aboard a Delta 4-Heavy rocket, DSP prime contractor Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., announced Feb. 5.


The next step for the satellite will be encapsulation into its payload fairing. In early March, the encapsulated payload will be transported from its integration facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,
, to the nearby launch complex, where it will be mated with the booster, which is supplied by United Launch Alliance of Denver.


The DSP will be launched into geosynchronous orbit, where it will stand watch for launches of ballistic missiles using an infrared sensor. Variants of the DSP satellites have been in operation since the early 1970s. Starting in 2008, the DSP satellites, the number and health of which are classified, will be replaced by the Space Based Infrared System missile-warning satellite system.



Northrop, EADS To Build Germany’s Euro Hawk UAV


The German Ministry of Defense awarded a $559 million contract to a joint venture of Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. and European aerospace conglomerate EADS of Amsterdam to develop a new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) featuring a signals intelligence payload, according to a Feb. 1 news release from the new entity, which is known as EuroHawk GmbH.


The Euro Hawk is based on the design of Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk UAV, which has logged significant flight time during battle in
. The Euro Hawk is designed to have an endurance of 30 hours in flight, according to the news release.


The joint venture is scheduled to deliver the first Euro Hawk around 2010, followed by four more aircraft through 2014, according to the news release.


The joint venture also will provide equipment for mission control, launch and recovery ground segments, as well as provide logistics support for testing and operations, according to the news release.



Bastion Technologies Nabs Goddard Support Contract


NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center awarded a five-year mechanical systems engineering support contract potentially worth $200 million to Bastion Technologies Inc., the
space agency announced Jan. 31.


Under the indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity cost-plus-award-fee contract, Bastion Technologies of Houston will provide engineering services for spaceflight and ground-system hardware and software projects at the Greenbelt, Md., field center. Bastion’s teammates on the effort are Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Space Technical Services division of
and Millennium Engineering and Integration Co. of Huntsville,


A separate mechanical systems engineering support contract Goddard awarded in December to SGT Inc. of
was rescinded Jan. 18 following a protest by incumbent Swales Aerospace of Beltsville, Md. NASA is re-evaluating the SGT and Swales proposals and expects to make a new award around the end of February.



DigitalGlobe Unit Awarded USGS Aerial Mapping Work


AirPhotoUSA, an aerial photography company recently acquired by remote-sensing satellite operator DigitalGlobe, received its fourth contract to provide imagery to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), according to a Feb. 5 press release from DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo.


The contract is for aerial imagery of 16 urban areas totaling more than 103,600 square kilometers, the release said.


The imagery will be used by federal civil agencies and state and local governments, the release said.


The company is not disclosing the dollar amount of the contract, DigitalGlobe spokesman Chuck Herring said Feb. 5.



GeoEye Pays off Debt Related to Acquisition


Imaging satellite operator GeoEye has finished paying off a $50 million credit facility it took out to finance its January 2006 purchase of onetime rival Space Imaging of Thornton, Colo.


The facility was paid off using cash flow generated during 2006, according to a Feb. 5 press release from GeoEye of Dulles, Va. GeoEye said that in conjunction with the repayment of debt, it has canceled preferred stock that was connected to the loan.


“Our board of directors and executive team are very pleased that the company’s and our employees’ performance have enabled us to repay this loan in such a short period of time – just about a year after the completion of the Space Imaging acquisition,” Matt O’Connell, GeoEye’s chief executive officer, said in the release.


Near Earth LLC Forms Advisory Services Unit Near Earth LLC, an investment banking firm devoted to the satellite, media and telecommunications industries, has formed a new business unit to focus on advisory services.


The unit, called Near Earth Advisory, will provide such services as valuations, research projects, business planning and litigation support, according to a Feb. 5 press release from Near Earth LLC of New York. The company’s Near Earth Capital business unit will continue to provide transactional services, the release said.




Air Force Modifies Integral CCS-C Contract


Integral Systems received a $4.5 million contract modification from the U.S. Air Force to continue work on the Command and Control Systems-Consolidated (CCS-C) satellite control program.


Integral is the prime contractor for the program, which entails the design of a single command and control system for all Air Force communications satellites.


The additional work is in support of the Wideband Global, also known as Wideband Gapfiller, satellite communications program, according to a Feb. 5 press release from Integral Systems of Lanham, Md.


The contract modification covers security enhancements and additional command procedures to support the first Wideband Global satellite, scheduled for this year, the release said.


The total value for the CCS-C contract is valued at around $180 million, according to Jim Schuetzle, executive vice president of government ground systems for Integral.



Harmonic Gear Enhances Russian Satellite TV Offer


Russian direct-to-home satellite television provider NTV-Plus of Moscow will now offer a high-definition video service.


To power the service, NTV-Plus will use encoders built by Harmonic Inc. of
, according to a Feb. 5 press release from Harmonic.


NTV-Plus is one of more than 20 operators using the equipment to power high-definition broadcasts, according to the release.



EchoStar and HBO Sign Distribution Agreement


satellite TV provider EchoStar Communications Corp. and cable network Home Box Office (HBO) of
New York
have entered into an agreement to distribute HBO and Cinemax programming on EchoStar’s Dish Network.


The agreement also dismisses HBO’s legal proceedings against EchoStar in
New York
‘s southern district, EchoStar of Englewood, Colo., said in a Feb. 5 press release. HBO was suing EchoStar for $90 million in what it said were unpaid programming fees.


Specifics and financial details of the agreement were not disclosed, according to the release.


New Globalstar Phone Is Company’s Smallest Globalstar USA LLC of Milpitas, Calif., released a new satellite phone that the company says is the smallest on the


Globalstar’s new handset, called the GSP-1700, weighs approximately 203 grams, around half the weight of the previous Globalstar phone, and is approximately 45 percent smaller in volume, according to a Feb. 1 press release from Globalstar.


The company also re-introduced an E-Star Emergency airtime rate plan that costs $29.99 per month, the release said.



Advantech To Deploy Saudi VSAT Network


Advantech Satellite Networks Inc. of
will build a very small aperture terminal (VSAT) communications network for Saudi Aramco in the
Saudi Arabia
, according to a Jan. 31 press release from Advantech.


The network will include multiple hubs and hundreds of satellite terminals, and will be used to look for new oil reserves in the Saudi Arabian desert, the release said.


The network will also provide disaster recovery and backup communications in remote areas, the release said.


Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed. Advantech Satellite Networks is a subsidiary of Advantech Amt Inc. of