Congress Prods NASA for Report on Inspector General

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin pledged Feb. 28 to expedite his handling of a report detailing a federal investigation of alleged wrongdoing by NASA Inspector General Robert Cobb.

Griffin told U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) during a budget hearing that he received the report Feb. 15 and intends to submit his proposed corrective actions to the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency by March 15 for its assessment and comment. Griffin said it would be up to the White House to release the report to Congress .

Griffin actually has 60 days to review the report, which details the findings of Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigators assigned responsibility for examining allegations against Cobb, a White House appointee.

“I have actually 30 days with the possibility of a 30-day extension and I am trying to and fully intend to return my proposed corrective action within the 30-day period,” Griffin said. “I do not have it within my power to decide to release the report to you. I do have it within my power to expedite my handling of the report and I am doing that.”

Neither Nelson nor Griffin disclosed the nature of the allegations against Cobb, a White House attorney assigned to NASA in April 2002. The Orlando Sentinel reported in November that a confidential summary of the HUD probe outlined 69 allegations, made primarily by career employees in his office, that he “stifled investigations, mistreated department employees, and maintained a close personal relationship” with then-NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe and other top agency officials. Cobb denied any wrongdoing in the Orlando Sentinel story.

Nelson made clear to Griffin he was growing impatient waiting for the report.

“This committee won’t wait around very long because of information we have received ex parte about the subject of this investigation,” Nelson said. “I would encourage you to move with deliberate speed so that … the people’s representatives on this committee can do our own investigation by receiving that report. If that thing gets dug out we are going to have to do our own investigation.”

The House Science investigations and oversight subcommittee, meanwhile, plans to meet March 7 in open session to discuss issuing a subpoena for the report, a congressional aide said.

Madeline Chulomovich, executive officer in the NASA Office of the Inspector General, said March 2 that Cobb had no comment on the probe.

Air Force Plans To Delay GPS 3 Ground System Award

The U.S. Air Force is delaying the prime contract award for the ground segment of its next-generation GPS satellite navigation system by more than a year, according to a Feb. 23 letter to potential bidders signed by Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

The Air Force previously expected to choose a single contractor in mid 2007 to build the GPS 3 ground system, known as the Operational Control Segment (OCX). However, Hamel’s letter says the Air Force now intends to award up to two design contracts lasting as long as 18 months, after which it would select a single prime contractor.

The GPS OCX request for proposals was released Feb. 23 .

The Air Force anticipates awarding the design contracts in the latter half of 2007, the service said in a written response to questions. The selection of a single prime contractor is anticipated in early 2009. The Air Force has budgeted $320 million for the OCX program through 2009.

The service said the decision to extend OCX study work is in keeping with its “back-to-basics” approach to space procurement.

As of mid February, industry officials were still expecting a prime contract award late this year for the GPS 3 space segment. The GPS 3 satellites are scheduled to start launching in 2013.

Inmarsat Shops Around For 4th Inmarsat-4 Craft

Inmarsat plc has entered into discussions with satellite manufacturers with a view to ordering a fourth Inmarsat-4 mobile-communications satellite that would not necessarily be identical to the three previous models built by Astrium Satellites of Europe, according to industry officials.

London-based Inmarsat hopes to launch the third Inmarsat-4, which Astrium has completed, in early 2008 aboard an Atlas 5 rocket — assuming no Atlas 5 slot opens up in 2007.

Rick Medlock, chief financial officer of Inmarsat, in a Feb. 27 conference call, said Inmarsat expects to spend $120 million on the Atlas 5 launch, including insurance. Insurance rates covering the launch and first year’s operations of a satellite typically run about 15 percent, which would put the Atlas 5 launch-services cost at about $104 million for the 6,000-kilogram satellite.

HNS Shifts Spaceway 3 From Sea Launch to Ariane

The Spaceway 3 Ka-band broadband telecommunications satellite owned by Hughes Network Systems (HNS) will be launched as early as August aboard an Ariane 5 rocket, HNS and the Arianespace launch consortium announced March 1. It is the second time in a week that a satellite intended for launch by Sea Launch Co. has been transferred to Arianespace.

The 6,000-kilogram Spaceway 3, a Boeing 702 model, had been slated for an early 2007 launch on a Sea Launch rocket. But the Jan. 30 on-pad failure of Sea Launch’s Zenit 3 SL rocket has grounded not only that system but also a nearly identical vehicle that the company’s Land Launch venture uses to launch lighter satellites from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Commercial-fleet operator SES Global moved its AMC-21 satellite from Land Launch to an Ariane 5 the week of Feb. 19, and plans a launch in mid 2008.

A slot for Spaceway 3 opened in Arianespace’s otherwise full 2007 manifest due to delays to satellites planned for delivery this year. Among them is the 4,100-kilogram Star One C1 telecommunications satellite for Brazil’s Star One satellite-fleet operator. The satellite, under construction at Alcatel Alenia Space, had been scheduled for a May launch but now will slip to later this year.

Lockheed Nabs Contract for Aegis Radar Improvements

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency awarded a $979.2 million contract modification to Lockheed Martin Maritime Sensors and Systems of Moorestown, N.J., for continued work on the Aegis sea-based missile defense system, according to a Pentagon contract announcement dated Feb. 27.

Ken Ross, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, said the work will include development of a new signal processor that will improve the Aegis radar system’s ability to discriminate between missiles and decoys. The improved capability will support not only sea-based Standard Missile-3 interceptors but the overall U.S. missile defense architecture as well , he said.

NASA Renews Contract With United Space Alliance

Houston-based United Space Alliance signed a four-year contract with NASA worth $6.34 billion to continue supporting space shuttle and international space station operations through 2010, the U.S. space agency announced Feb. 27.

The contract, backdated to October 2006, replaces a temporary arrangement the company had been working under. The contract includes five one-year options that if exercised would keep the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture busy supporting the space station through 2015.

TerraSAR-X Satellite Arrives at Launch Site

Germany’s TerraSAR-X radar Earth observation satellite arrived at Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Feb. 27 and will be ready for launch aboard a Dnepr rocket by late March or early April, according to Rolf Werninghaus, TerraSAR-X project manager at the German Aerospace Center, DLR.

TerraSAR-X carries a 1-meter-resolution imaging radar and a laser-communications payload as part of a government-industry joint venture between DLR and Infoterra GmbH, a subsidiary of EADS Space.

ISC Kosmotras, the Russian-Ukrainian company that markets the silo-launched Dnepr vehicle, is returning to operations after a July failure that resulted in a lengthy dispute between Russia and Kazakhstan over compensation for rocket-debris pollution.

It remains unclear whether it will be TerraSAR-X or a group of smaller research satellites including Egyptsat-1 that will be the carried aloft on the next Dnepr launch.

Japan Lofts Two Imaging Satellites for Constellation

Japan lofted two satellites aboard an H-2A rocket Feb. 24, one that completes its initial constellation of imaging reconnaissance satellites and one to demonstrate optical-sensor technologies for the next-generation system.

The primary payload aboard the rocket, launched from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, was a radar imaging spacecraft for the nation’s initial Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) system. The constellation, conceived after North Korea lobbed a missile over Japanese territory in 1998 , now consists of two radar and two optical imaging satellites.

The secondary payload was a demonstration satellite carrying an optical sensor designed to collect imagery at higher resolutions than the current fleet, according to Yasuhiro Itakura, a research officer with Japan’s Cabinet Satellite Center, which manages the IGS program.

“We are not saying what the exact resolution is, but QuickBird-level resolution is the benchmark,” Itakura said in a Feb. 28 telephone interview. QuickBird, a commercial satellite operated by DigitalGlobe of the United States, collects imagery at resolutions as sharp as 61 centimeters, which is detailed enough to discern objects of that size or larger.

The optical IGS satellites now in orbit collect imagery with 1-meter resolution, while the radar craft offer 1- to 3-meter resolution. Both the optical and radar IGS satellites utilize technologies developed by Japan’s civil space program.

The demonstration satellite, incorporating both domestic and imported components, represents technologies never before tested by Japan, Itakura said. “We need to find out if it really works,” he said.

The demonstration will last at least several months, he said. Development work on the next-generation optical satellite under way, Itakura said.

The Cabinet Office intends to place a fourth optical and a third radar satellite in orbit via separate launches in 2011.

Itakura said the third radar satellite will offer improvements over the current systems but he declined to be specific.

Com Dev To Build Parts for Globalstar

Com Dev International of Canada and Anaren Inc. of Syracuse, N.Y., have won preliminary contracts to provide electronic components for the second-generation Globalstar low-orbiting satellite telephone constellation, the two companies announced.

Under a contract initially valued at $3.5 million and expected ultimately to be worth more than $20 million, Cambridge, Ontario-based Com Dev said it will provide unspecified payload electronics to the satellite constellation’s prime contractor, Alcatel Alenia Space of France and Italy.

Anaren said its contract with Alcatel Alenia Space is valued at more than $8 million and calls for development and production of integrated beam-forming assemblies for the Globalstar payload. A final contract is expected within 90 days, Anaren said.

The 48 second-generation Globalstar satellites are scheduled to start launching in late 2009.

Rosetta Lander Camera Snaps Close-up of Mars

Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft took close-up photos of Mars as it performed a swing-by of the planet Feb. 25 on its way to a rendezvous with a comet, the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a press release that same day.

The photographs were taken with the Rosetta Lander Imaging System (CIVA) from a distance of 1,000 kilometers — about four minutes before Rosetta’s closest approach to the red planet.

Rosetta will rendezvous with the comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. After dispatching the 100-kilogram Philae lander, the Rosetta mothership will continue to orbit the comet for two years of observations.

The instruments aboard the Rosetta orbiter were turned off during the Mars flyby, leaving the lander’s instruments, primarily CIVA, to make the observations. According to ESA, it was the first time the Philae lander operated in a totally autonomous mode and served as an important test in preparation for future observations.

More system tests will be done during the cruise phase and an Earth swing-by slated for this coming November, ESA said.

Rosetta was launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, in March 2004.

Lockheed Martin to Defer Gain on Sale of ILS Stake

Lockheed Martin will defer an expected $60 million net gain on the sale of its stake in International Launch Services (ILS) until its ongoing financial obligations to ILS customers are ended, Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin said in a Feb. 26 filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Lockheed Martin also provided updates in the filing on legal disputes with Loral and with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).

Lockheed Martin sold its interests in ILS, which markets Russia’s Proton rocket, and a related entity in October to Space Transport Inc. The sale ended Lockheed’s involvement in ILS and in the commercial business of Proton launches.

But potential liabilities associated with launches booked before the Lockheed sale are expected to continue until sometime in 2008, depending on Proton’s commercial launch rate.

As of Dec. 31, ILS Proton customers had made $344 million in advance payments for upcoming launches. Lockheed Martin’s liabilities for future launches totaled $335 million as of Dec. 31. This is the amount that Lockheed Martin would be obliged to pay in the event that the launches did not occur and that ILS was unable to refund the advances on its own.

As of Dec. 31, Lockheed Martin had recorded $265 million in payments to Proton manufacturer Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow to build the vehicles corresponding to the customer advances.

In its SEC filing, Lockheed Martin said that to protect itself against its ongoing Proton liability, it withheld a $70 million cash payment to Space Transport Inc. related to the sale of ILS. The payment will be made piecemeal as ILS meets its launch commitments.

Lockheed Martin also reported on two legal proceedings.

On Nov. 1, the company reached a settlement with Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., arising from a 1995 allegation that Lockheed Martin had infringed on Loral’s patent for satellite attitude-control thrusters. Lockheed Martin said the settlement was reached “with no liability to Lockheed Martin.”

Start-up launch vehicle provider SpaceX of El Segundo, Calif., meanwhile, has sued Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co. on antitrust grounds regarding the 50-50 United Launch Alliance joint venture through which the two aerospace giants provide launch services to the U.S. government.

SpaceX’s complaint, made to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, was dismissed in February 2006. Lockheed Martin noted that the court dismissed a follow-up complaint in March and said in its SEC filing that SpaceX “failed to allege a case or controversy because its inability to compete in the [U.S. government’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle] market arises from SpaceX’s inability to offer a qualified launch vehicle and not from any actions by the defendants.”

SpaceX has appealed the dismissal. SpaceX’s inaugural launch in 2006 ended in failure, and the company hopes to make a second launch attempt from U.S. Army’s Kwajalein missile range in March.

Committee Grills Sirius CEO on Merger with XM

The political pressures of the proposed XM-Sirius merger were on full display March 1 as the House Judiciary Committee’s new antitrust task force grilled Sirius’ chief executive officer (CEO), Mel Karmazin.

David K. Rehr, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, told the task force that the proposed merger would create a government-sanctioned monopoly, a charge Karmazin hotly rejected.

Gigi Sohn, president of the consumer group Public Knowledge, told the committee she thought the merger might be in the public interest if three conditions were attached. The new company, Sohn said, should make its programming available in so-called al la carte form; provide a percentage of public service programming on its channels; and be prohibited from raising prices for three years after the merger is approved.

When Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) asked Karmazin if the company would agree to price controls, Karmazin said yes: “We believe we need to show you this is in the public interest and price is important.”

Setting the Democrats’ tone at the hearing, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) told Karmazin that while he respected the CEO’s defense of his company, “we have not too good a record of satellite radio keeping its promises. I think that is a problem both companies will have to overcome.”

Karmazin told the task force the companies were “prepared to make concessions” and stood ready to work with the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department as they review the proposed deal.

Key Systems Delivered for GeoEye-1 and Worldview-1

Contractors to DigitalGlobe and GeoEye, the leading U.S. commercial imaging satellite operators, announced the delivery of key systems in support of their customers’ next-generation high-resolution satellite programs.

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) of Richmond, British Columbia, announced Feb. 28 it has delivered, installed and tested key ground systems for GeoEye’s planned GeoEye-1 satellite. In a press release, MDA said the so-called Data Chain includes a pair of raw-image processors located at GeoEye’s Dulles, Va., headquarters, and uplink and downlink terminals at Dulles; Barrow, Alaska; Tromso, Norway; and Troll, Antarctica. Each terminal will transmit commands to and receive raw imagery from the GeoEye-1 satellite, which is slated for launch in the third quarter of 2007, the press release said.

Orbit Logic of Greenbelt, Md., meanwhile, said it has delivered software that will be used to plan the imagery collection operations of DigitalGlobe’s planned WorldView-1 satellite.

The Collection Planning System will aid in WorldView-1 scheduling, recorder management and downlink planning. The system is scalable to support additional satellites, Orbit Logic said in a Feb. 27 press release.

The software system will undergo testing at DigitalGlobe’s facilities in Longmont, Colo., prior to the planned launch of WorldView-1 in mid 2007.

GeoEye-1 and WorldView-1 will have imaging resolutions of 41 centimeters and 50 centimeters, respectively. The construction and launch of both satellites is being financed in large part by contracts with U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Ceremony Held to Dedicate Soyuz Launch Pad at Kourou

The heads of the Russian, European and French space agencies met Feb. 26 to dedicate the site from which Russia’s Soyuz rocket will conduct launches from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. Launches of commercial, military and civilian government satellites aboard Soyuz rockets are expected to start in late 2008 or early 2009.

Russian Federal Space Agency Director-General Anatoly Perminov, European Space Agency (ESA) Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain and French space agency President Yannick d’Escatha joined Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall to place at the new site a stone taken from Soyuz’s historic launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was a Soyuz rocket that launched the first human astronaut, Yuri Gagarin, 50 years ago this coming October.

The Arianespace commercial-launch consortium expects to conduct around two Soyuz launches per year from the site. The equatorial latitude of the Guiana Space Center increases the Soyuz vehicle’s payload capacity . Operating from that site, the vehicle will be able to lift a satellite weighing slightly more than 3,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit, where most commercial telecommunications satellites are sent.

France has agreed to finance 50 percent of ESA’s investment in the Soyuz venture and to provide a loan guarantee to Arianespace for a 10-year loan amounting to 121 million euros ($159 million) to cover costs associated with Soyuz operations. The commission of the 27-nation European Union is providing around 34 million euros as part of its program to support new infrastructure projects.

Orbital Sciences Unit Nabs Fleet Management Contract

Orbital Sciences Corp. will deliver a set of fleet management tools that will enable a Tacoma, Wash., public transportation provider to track its buses, gain rider information and analyze routes, Dulles, Va.-based Orbital announced Feb. 21.

Under a contract valued at $6.2 million, Orbital’s Transportation Management Systems division will supply Pierce Transit with the OrbCAD XP vehicle dispatch and location system along with associated analytical tools . The technology will integrate wireless Internet services into more than 40 of Pierce Transit’s 391 vehicles, enabling supervisors to function as mobile dispatchers.

“It will enhance our ability to supervise fleet operations and improve our situational awareness of all our transit services,” Lynne Griffith, chief executive of Pierce Transit, said in a prepared statement.

SkyPort International To Buy RAMTelecom

Hoping to extend its North American reach, satellite teleport operator SkyPort International of Houston has signed a letter of intent to purchase Ottawa-based RAMTelecom Inc., a satellite broadband solutions provider, SkyPort said Feb. 28.

“The acquisition of RAMTelecom will provide a more comprehensive offering for SkyPort and a broad reach into Canada as we build out our world-wide coverage,” Bill Hutchinson, SkyPort’s co-chief executive, said in a prepared statement.

Privately held SkyPort has formed a Canadian subsidiary dubbed SkyPort Global Communications (Canada) Inc. to make the acquisition. SkyPort Global will purchase RAMTelecom’s outstanding shares for $0.60 per common share, $0.10 per outstanding option and $0.04 per outstanding warrant.

The deal is subject to shareholder approval. RAMTelecom, which is publicly traded, plans to mail disclosure documents to shareholders by mid May and possibly hold a shareholders meeting in late June, according to the SkyPort press release.

The companies formed a strategic alliance in January to provide their customers with redundant communications services. Work is under way to install proprietary technologies at each other’s facilities.

Northrop, Raytheon To Vie for IBCS Contract

Two companies have publicly expressed interest in bidding for a U.S. Army contract to develop a better communications network for air and missile defense systems.

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., declared its intent to compete for the contract to build the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) in a Feb. 27 news release .

Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Huntsville, Ala., announced its intention in October to bid for the IBCS, which is expected to become operational in 2011.

Dan O’Boyle, a spokesman for the Army’s Aviation and Missile Command, said that the Army is planning to choose a single contractor for the program in August. He declined to discuss the potential value of the work.

NASA, DoD To Develop Joint Aeronautics Strategy

The Pentagon and NASA have signed an agreement to develop a strategy for jointly managing aeronautical test facilities, according to a NASA news release dated Feb. 26.

The National Partnership for Aeronautical Testing agreement, which was signed by Michael Griffin, NASA administrator, and Kenneth Krieg, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, was part of an effort by the Pentagon and NASA to implement the goals of the National Aeronautics Research and Development Policy, which was signed by President George W. Bush in December.

The agreement also established a council responsible for developing projects that better manage aeronautical test facilities, which include wind tunnels and ranges used for conducting testing on aircraft, missiles and space launch vehicles.

MDA Awards Northrop STSS Design Contract

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) awarded a $17.5 million contract to Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., for studies as part of the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) program, according to a Pentagon contract announcement dated Feb. 26.

Northrop Grumman is prime contractor for two experimental STSS missile-tracking satellites slated to launch late this year. MDA officials said the recently awarded study contract, which runs through September, will focus on an operational missile tracking constellation that the MDA hopes begin launching around 2016.

Northrop Grumman will help MDA refine its requirements for the operational satellites, evaluate potential satellite performance, and examine potential payload technology, the MDA officials said.

USAF To Seek Bids for GPS Jamming Hardware

Air Force Materiel Command plans to issue a request for proposals in late 2007 for GPS jamming hardware that can be used during military exercises, according to a Feb. 27 notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site.

The Air Force is looking for hardware that has already been tested under realistic military conditions, and hopes to field the equipment in 2008, according to the notice.