RD-180 Engine Concerns Delay Atlas 5 Launch

The U.S. Air Force is delaying the launch of several experimental satellites including the Orbital Express refueling demonstration from Feb. 22 until March 8 due to concerns about the Atlas 5 launcher, the service said in a statement.

The Atlas 5’s first stage is powered by a Russian built RD-180 engine that has some hardware commonality with the RD-171 main engine on the Sea Launch Zenit 3-SL rocket that exploded on liftoff Jan. 30. In its statement, the Air Force said RD-180 must be requalified prior to the upcoming Atlas 5 mission.

Chosen To Loft Japan’s SERVIS-2 Craft

The Russian-German Eurockot Launch Services GmbH venture will launch Japan’s SERVIS-2 technology-demonstration satellite in 2009 aboard a Rockot vehicle operated from the northern Russian Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Bremen, Germany-based Eurockot announced Feb. 15.

The 900-kilogram SERVIS-2 spacecraft will be placed into a sun-synchronous polar orbit at 1,200 kilometers in altitude. The satellite, built for the Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer of Tokyo, will test commercial off-the-shelf technologies to verify that they can be used regularly in space missions.

Eurockot launched the SERVIS-1 satellite in October 2003. SERVIS, or Space Environment Reliability Verification Integrated System, is funded by Japan’s Ministry of Economics to test the performance of non-space-qualified technologies, including computer processors and memory , on satellites.

Raytheon Wins Contract For THAAD Tracking Radar

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency awarded a $212 million contract to Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems Feb. 9 to build a missile tracking radar to support the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor system , according to a company news release dated Feb. 15.

The AN/TPY-2, previously referred to as the THAAD radar, is a transportable X-band system designed to detect, track and discriminate ballistic missile threats.

The system will be built at two Massachusetts facilities — Raytheon’s Missile Defense Center in Woburn and the company’s Integrated Air Defense Center in Andover, according to the news release.

U.S. Air Force Planning New Command for ISR

The U.S. Air Force plans to establish a new command to spearhead its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) efforts, according to a senior service official.

Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR, said in an article posted on the Air Force’s Web site Jan. 30 that he hoped to have Air Force ISR Command up and running by March 1. The Air Force Intelligence Agency, which today is part of Air Combat Command, will form the nucleus of the ISR Command, Deptula said.

The new command is part of an effort to better coordinate ISR work within the Air Force. Deptula noted that the service has run into problems recently in the ISR arena, including its effort to design improved software for the Distributed Common Ground System, a processing system that provides analysis and distribution of intelligence data.

The new software wound up being incompatible with new sensors aboard U-2 and Global Hawk aircraft. The problem could take almost two years and $17 million to fix, Deptula said.

Proton Rocket To Launch Ciel-2 Satellite in 2008

An International Launch Services Proton-M rocket will launch the all-Ku-band Ciel-2 telecommunications satellite owned by startup Canadian satellite operator Ciel Satellite Group in late 2008, the companies announced Feb. 15.

Ciel, which is 70 percent owned by SES Global of Luxembourg, must launch the 6,000-kilogram Ciel-2 satellite into its intended 129 degrees west orbital slot by Dec. 31, 2008, or risk losing its Canadian operating license. The company secured its orbital position in 2005 on a temporary basis by placing an aging EchoStar satellite at the position.

Ciel will be leasing most of the Ciel-2 capacity to EchoStar for high-definition television broadcasts in the United States, with a yet-to-be-determined amount of capacity to be used by Canadian interests.

XM Sells Newest Satellite; Leases Back its Capacity

XM Satellite Radio, in a move designed to strengthen its balance sheet, has sold the XM-4 satellite’s transponders to a specially created trust and will lease the satellite from the trust for a period of nine years, the Washington-based company announced Feb. 14.

Under the agreement, XM increased the value of its existing in-orbit insurance policy for the satellite before selling the transponders to the trust, named Satellite Leasing LLC, for $288.5 million. The trust is managed by Wells Fargo Bank Northwest, National Association.

The sale-leaseback transaction calls for XM to lease the satellite’s capacity for at least five years, with an option to repurchase the spacecraft after nine years. XM will retain legal title to the satellite and will continue to be responsible for its operation and for purchasing annual in-orbit insurance coverage.

XM-4 was launched in October 2006 and entered operations in January.

Audit Criticizes NASA for Award Fee Management

NASA needs to do a better job of following its own guidelines on determining contract award fees, the U.S. Government Accountability (GAO) said in a report released Feb. 16.

The report, “Use of Award Fees for Achieving Program Outcomes Should be Improved,” was requested by House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.).

The report says NASA has not consistently followed its own criteria for determining a contractor’s award-fee eligibility and has in some instances paid award fees when contractors did not meet specified cost, schedule or performance milestones .

“Given NASA’s dependence on cost-plus-award-fee contracts, I’m concerned that GAO’s investigation found that NASA has failed to follow its own long-standing guidelines governing award fees,” Gordon said in a statement. “While there can be mitigating factors, I don’t think it makes sense for contractors to receive a majority of the allowable award fee if they don’t meet the contract’s cost, schedule, or performance requirements.”

NASA concurred with the GAO’s recommendations and said it was taking steps to address the identified problems.



1st SBSS Block 20 Launch Slips from 2013 to 2014

The U.S. Air Force is delaying its schedule for a constellation of satellites intended to keep tabs on other objects in orbit, according to a service official.

As of November, the Space Based Space Surveillance System (SBSS) pathfinder satellite, or SBSS Block 10, was slated for launch in late 2008. The Air Force official said SBSS Block 10 is on track for launch in fiscal year 2009, which begins Oct. 1, 2008 . That satellite is to be followed by constellation of orbit-surveillance satellites called SBSS Block 20.

The Air Force has delayed the first SBSS Block 20 launch from 2013 to 2014 because it was forced to divert funding that it planned to request for 2008 and subsequent years for the constellation to other Defense Department priorities, the official said.

Astronaut at ISS Sets U.S. Spacewalk Record

Michael Lopez-Alegria, a veteran astronaut and international space station (ISS) commander, broke the U.S. cumulative spacewalking record Feb. 8 during the third of a series of space station assembly spacewalks by the Expedition 14 crew.

Lopez-Alegria spent six hours and 40 minutes working outside the ISS with Expedition 14 flight engineer Sunita Williams, who holds the record for the most spacewalking time by a female astronaut at 29 hours and 17 minutes over four career spacewalks .

Lopez-Alegria surpassed NASA astronaut Jerry Ross to snag the U.S. spacewalking title with a total of 61 hours and 22 minutes . Ross, who had held the record since 2002, logged 58 hours and 32 minutes during nine spacewalks and seven spaceflights .

“If we made it look easy or otherwise, it was thanks to a lot of people on the ground,” Lopez-Alegria said as he thanked a long list of astronaut trainers, staff, engineers and flight controllers.

The NASA astronaut has a long way to go to catch up to cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyov, who currently owns the world spacewalking record with 16 spacewalks, 82 hours and 22 minutes .

Losses Widen During Second Quarter

Houston-based Spacehab reported Feb. 13 that it lost $1.8 million on revenues of $12.9 million in the second quarter of its 2007 fiscal year, which ended Dec. 31 .

The loss follows a first quarter that saw the space services company lose $32,000 on revenues of $14.9 million.

Spacehab, which leases space shuttle hardware to NASA and provides pre-launch satellite processing services through its Titusville, Fla.-based Astrotech subsidiary, ended its 2006 fiscal year last June with a $12 million net loss, about half of which was attributed to its write-off of a pressurized module that was destroyed in February 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry.

Although Spacehab’s logistics module and cargo carrier were launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in December, that business was not enough to keep the company out of the red for the 2007 second quarter. Spacehab also eliminated 32 staff positions late last year and saw the departure of Mike Kearney as president and chief executive officer. He was replaced by Thomas B. Pickens , a Spacehab board member since 2003.

Sensors on DMSP F-17 Operating Successfully

Five sensors on the most recently launched U.S. Air Force weather satellite have been checked out on orbit and are operational, according to a Northrop Grumman news release dated Feb. 8.

The Air Force launched the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) F-17 spacecraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Nov. 4. Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. is the Air Force’s DMSP sensor management contractor and also supplied two of the instruments on the F-17 spacecraft — the Operational Linescan System and the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder.

The Operational Linescan System uses visible and infrared scanning to map cloud coverage and surface features. The system also provides command and control, data handling, data storage and encryption for all of the satellite’s sensors, according to Thomas Delaney, a Northrop Grumman spokesman.

The Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder is a passive instrument that measures radiated microwave energy to determine surface and atmospheric temperature and humidity. It is the first DMSP sensor to contain an imager, temperature sounder and moisture sounder in a single unit, Delaney said.

Northrop Grumman also oversees three space environment sensors on DMSP F-17 that have been activated as well, according to the company news release. Those sensors are: the Special Sensor Ion/Electron Scintillator, which was built by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the University of Texas at Dallas; the Special Sensor Precipitating Electron Spectrometer, built by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Amptek Inc. of Bedford, Mass.; and the Special Sensor Magnetometer, built by the Air Force Research Laboratory and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Raytheon Demonstrates Reconfigurable Terminals

Raytheon Co. demonstrated the ability to reconfigure U.S. military satellite terminals to communicate across long distances without the use of satellites, the company said in a Feb. 9 news release. Such a capability would keep forces connected over the horizon in the event that satellite capacity becomes unavailable.

Raytheon’s Troposcatter (Tropo ) works by bouncing signals off irregularities — such as small variations in humidity, temperature and pressure — in the troposphere, approximately 10 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, according to the news release. The system took part in a recent exercise of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton in California.

Col. Kirk Bruno, information technology officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, noted in the release that the Tropo system is easy to use and said he looked forward having it available to enable troops to communicate over the horizon even if they cannot gain access to satellite assets.

Jerry Powlen, vice president of the integrated communications systems group at Raytheon Network Centric Systems of McKinney, Texas, said in the news release that the Tropo system also could prove useful should an enemy jam satellites used by U.S. troops.

NGA Issues Guidelines for Interoperability Standards

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is releasing a set of guidelines for the creation of interoperability standards for the manipulation, sharing and utilization of imagery and related information, the NGA said in a Feb. 12 press release.

The guidelines are contained in an unclassified document dubbed “Geospatial Intelligence Standards: Enabling a Common Vision,” to be posted shortly on the NGA’s Web site. The standards are designed to facilitate the utilization of geospatial intelligence from various sources across a broad spectrum of defense, intelligence and other agencies, the NGA said.

“Having [geospatial intelligence] standards that are universally adopted and implemented across the defense and intelligence communities, as well the entire U.S. government and our coalition partners, is crucial to mission success,” U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Robert B. Murrett, the NGA’s director, said in a prepared statement. “Standards ensure that [geospatial intelligence] data, services, and products — regardless of source — are timely and accurate.”

GMV Assumes Raytheon Software Support Work

GMV will assume the flight-software support function for about 65 Boeing-built commercial geostationary satellites under a licensing agreement with Raytheon Co., which originally supplied the software, GMV said in a Feb. 9 press release.

GMV, whose major aerospace software businesses are located in Madrid, Spain and Rockville, Md., will provide maintenance, training, analysis, help-desk support, upgrades, patches and other support services, the company said. The Raytheon-designed software is used for satellite telemetry and orbital operations, GMV said.

“With this agreement, GMV will be providing operational software and support services to over 150 satellites around the world,” said Theresa Beech, managing director, vice president of business development and acting officer of GMV.

GPS-based Tracking Device Debuts on ICBM Test Launch

A GPS-based Minuteman 3 tracking device flew for the first time in a test launch Feb. 7 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles said in a Feb. 9 press release.

The GPS Metric Tracking System is being installed on all U.S. Minuteman 3 ICBMs as part of a fleet-wide modernization program led by Northrop Grumman. Developed by Northrop Grumman, the device was one of two independent tracking systems used during the recent launch, the company said.

The device will replace C-band transponders previously used to track Minuteman launches from Vandenberg, Northrop Grumman said. That system, which uses ground-based radars that lock on to C-band signals transmitted by the ICBM-mounted transponder, is to be deactivated in 2007, Northrop Grumman said.

to Invest in Newly Acquired Firms

The Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow will invest more than 5 billion rubles ($190 million) into three newly acquired assets, including two propulsion outfits and one manufacturer of satellites and rockets, the space-industrial conglomerate’s top executive said Feb. 11.

Khrunichev Director-General Vladimir Nesterov told a press conference in Moscow that his center will invest 900 million rubles into the Voronezh Mechanical Plant of Voronezh; 1 billion rubles into the Isayev Design Bureau of Chemical Machine-Building of Korolev; and 750 million rubles into the Production Association Polyot of Omsk.

Khrunichev officially announced Feb. 9 that it is swallowing up these enterprises as well as the Moscow Enterprise for Equipment Dlina as part of a government-ordered restructuring of Russia’s sprawling space industry. Nesterov said the newly enlarged Khrunichev plans to produce $1 billion worth of launch vehicles and other equipment in 2008.

Colliding Comets May Have Created Cosmic Dust Cloud

Scientists using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have come up with a new theory to explain the cloud of dust surrounding the Helix nebula: Colliding comets.

According to a Feb. 12 press release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., scientists initially were puzzled by the presence of large amounts of dust around the planetary nebula. Planetary nebulas typically are made up of super-hot outer-layer materials cast off by dying stars. The mystery dust, which was observed circling the white dwarf at the center of the Helix nebula at a distance of 35 to 150 astronomical units, should have been blown away in the process.

The scientists now theorize that the dust is being created by the collision of comets that orbited the white dwarf when it was a living star much like our sun. The death of the star threw the comets and any outer planets that might have been orbiting the star into each other’s paths, the scientists said in a paper to be published in the March 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The comet-collision theory also might explain the high-intensity X-rays observed shooting out from the dead star by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Germany’s Rntgensatellit X-ray telescope. According to You-Hua Chu, an astronomer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, fragments from the dust cloud might be falling onto the white dwarf and triggering the X-ray outbursts.

Patriot Interceptor Hits Cruise Missile Target

An upgraded variant of the U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC) 2 interceptor destroyed a cruise missile target in a test at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, according to a Raytheon news release dated Feb. 7.

The interceptor, known as the Guidance Enhanced Missile-T (GEM -T) , has been upgraded to operate with PAC-3 launch and radar systems. The intercept of the cruise missile came at the end of a two-month period that featured successful intercepts of two ballistic missiles using the GEM-T, according to the news release.

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., is the prime contractor on the Patriot interceptor program.

Loral Finishes Work on GOES Satellite Contract

Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., has completed its contract to support operations on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) program, the company announced Feb. 13.

Under a contract from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center of Greenbelt, Md., Loral built five GOES weather satellites, dubbed GOES I through M. The satellites, owned and operated by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, monitor weather and atmospheric conditions from orbital perches overlooking the East and West coasts of the U.S. mainland.

Each GOES satellite is equipped with two main instruments: An imager for observing cloud formations and other phenomena; and a sounder that takes vertical profiles of atmospheric temperature and humidity. ITT Space Systems of Rochester, N.Y., built both sensors on the GOES I-M satellites.

The satellites were launched between 1994 and 2001, and two remain in service. Collectively, the GOES I-M satellites have outlived their life expectancy by 55 percent, Loral said.

“The… satellites continue to be a critical component to our National Weather Service operations and their longevity has given us additional leeway in our schedule to deploy next-generation systems,” Martin Davis, GOES program manager at Goddard, said in a prepared statement. NASA purchased and launched the satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scan Eagle UAV Meets Interoperability Standard

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems’ Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has been certified as compliant with NATO interoperability UAV standards , according to a Feb. 7 news release from the St. Louis-based company . The standards are intended to allow data from various UAVs operated by NATO members to be shared through a common interface.

“This accomplishment demonstrates Boeing’s continued commitment to systems interoperability,” Marshall Williams, mission management systems manager at Boeing Unmanned Systems, said in a prepared statement. “This new capability will pave the way for even greater versatility for ground station deployment choices and support advanced multi-vehicle autonomy features to be demonstrated later this year.”

MDA Sensors Monitor Routine Missile Test

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) used sensors designed to support its national missile shield to detect and track an ICBM launched Feb. 7 by the U.S. Air Force in a routine test , according to an MDA news release dated Feb. 8.

This so-called target of opportunity enabled the MDA to test its sensors without having to pay for a target missile , according to the news release. The tracking sensors employed by the MDA included the sea-based Aegis Long Range Surveillance and Tracking radar and the mobile ground-based AN/TPY-2 radar system, according to the news release.

Model Rocketry Contest Begins Across the U.S.

Qualification rounds are under way for the fifth annual Team America Rocket Challenge, the student model rocketry contest , the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) announced Feb. 8.

Competing teams consist of three to 15 students in grades seven to 12. The object of the contest is to launch an egg-carrying rocket to an altitude of 257 meters, keep it aloft for 45 seconds and bring the cargo back to Earth unbroken. The 100 teams with the highest scores will be selected for the finals, scheduled for May 19 in The Plains, Va.

The 690 registered student teams from 48 states and Washington must build their model rockets from scratch. Qualifying flights must be completed April 8. Winners will receive a total of $60,000 in scholarship money and have their expenses for a trip to the Paris Air Show paid by Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass.

Insat 4B Solar Panels Deployed in Testing

Technicians successfully tested the solar-panel deployment sequence for India’s Insat 4B communications satellite in preparation for the spacecraft’s scheduled March 9 launch from Kourou, French Guiana, aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket, Arianespace, the launch services provider, reported.

Built by the Indian Space Research Organisation, Insat 4B has two solar panels that when fully deployed will give it a 15.16-meter wingspan and generate 5.5 kilowatts of electrical power, Arianespace of Evry, France, said in an update posted Feb. 14 on its Web site. On Feb. 7, Arianespace reported that antenna deployment tests on the satellite had been successfully completed.

Like its identical twin, Insat 4A, which was launched in December 2005, Insat 4B is equipped with 12 Ku-band and 12 C-band transponders, and will provide direct-to-home television services in India. It is slated to launch along with Britain’s Skynet 5A secure military communications satellite.

L-3 Wins Extension on SOFIA Support Contract

L-3 Communications’ Integrated Systems division will continue supporting development of the airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) under a contract with NASA’s Dryden Flight Facility, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., NASA said in a press release Feb. 8.

The cost-plus-award-fee contract is worth up to $26 million over five years if all options are exercised. The contract began Feb. 9.

SOFIA, a modified Boeing 747 aircraft equipped with a 2.5-meter infrared telescope, is a joint project of NASA and the German space agency.

L-3 of New York will provide engineering support as SOFIA transitions from development to operations. The observatory, which was nearly canceled last year due to delays and cost growth, is expected to begin flight testing this year. Initial observations with the airborne telescope are slated to begin in 2010, with full-scale science operations to follow starting around 2012.