Griffin Says Russian Deal No Threat To COTS Firms

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said the U.S. space agency’s plans to place another order for Russian Progress and Soyuz vehicles to service in the international space station should not deter investors from taking a stake in Oklahoma City-based Rocketplane Kistler, El Segundo, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) or any other firm setting its sights on the international space station resupply market.

SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler are splitting roughly $500 million that NASA awarded last year to help fund confidence-building demonstration flights under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Actual resupply contracts will be awarded following a 2009 competition that NASA says will be open to all.

“Even if we buy all of the Russian capability which is available for sale, we still need all of the COTS capability that can be brought to bear. So they are worrying about nothing,” Griffin said in a March 20 interview. “Investors should not be worried about NASA purchasing all the traffic COTS can bring.”

Griffin confirmed NASA is negotiating with Russia to buy the crew and supply transport services it anticipates needing through 2011, when a temporary exemption to the Iran Nonproliferation Act’s ban on such purchases expires. He declined to provide any further details about those negotiations.

“The other thing that COTS suppliers and the community needs to understand is that the United States is not going to put [the space station] hostage to whether or not the commercial marketplace shows up,” Griffin said. “No one ever in a government position has been more forthcoming about the desire to and interest in promoting commercial spaceflight capabilities and I’ve provided money for it. We will buy all that they can furnish. But the United States is not going to deliberately remove all support from the space station except for COTS.”

DSP Launch Delay Will Affect Other Satellites

The delay of a Delta 4 launch scheduled to place a U.S. Air Force missile warning satellite in orbit will push back the launches of at least two other payloads on the Delta 4 manifest, according to officials with United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture in government launch services.

The affected payloads are a classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite and a civilian weather satellite, the officials said.

The Air Force’s last Defense Support Program (DSP) missile warning satellite had been scheduled to launch aboard the heavy-lift variant of the Delta 4 April 1, but the mission was delayed after liquid oxygen leaked during a fueling test and caused a crack in the launch pad. The launch is now expected to take place late this summer, the officials said.

The DSP remains first payload in the Delta 4 launch queue once the pad is repaired, the officials said. Next up is the classified satellite, which is slated to launch six months after the DSP, also aboard the heavy-lift Delta 4 variant. That mission will be followed by a Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite, they said.


STSS Eyed for Possible Space Surveillance Role

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., is studying the potential of using a constellation of missile tracking satellites it is designing to perform space surveillance as well, according to a U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) official.

The official declined to provide any details of the study, such as its assignment date, length or value. The MDA official said the study by Northrop Grumman is one of “several different … follow on trade studies” of the proposed Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) conducted in 2007 to “assess technically feasible and affordable requirements for any future effort.”

The STSS is a proposed constellation of satellites that would track missiles through space after their motors burn out. Northrop Grumman Space Technology is the prime contractor on the effort and is building two STSS demonstration satellites slated for launch late this year. The MDA, citing budgetary pressures, recently shifted the tentative initial launch date for an operational STSS constellation from 2012 or 2013 to no earlier than 2016 or 2017.

Northrop Grumman also is prime contractor on a U.S. Air Force program dubbed the Space Based Space Surveillance System, which is intended to keep tabs on objects in Earth orbit. Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., is building an initial satellite for that system, dubbed Block 10, whose launch is likely to be delayed from late 2008 to the second quarter of calendar year 2009 unless Congress finds a way to boost its funding in 2008 . The Air Force also recently delayed the initial launch of satellites for an operational space surveillance constellation from 2013 to 2024.

There is a demonstrated nexus between satellite-based missile tracking and space surveillance. The MDA’s Midcourse Space Experiment satellite, for example, was launched in 1996 as a missile tracking demonstration but remains in use today for space surveillance.

Loral, Microsat Products Added To Rapid 2 Catalog

Microsat Systems of Littleton, Colo., an d Space Systems Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., have been added to NASA’s catalog of pre-qualified spacecraft vendors, the U.S. space agency announced March 21.

The so-called Rapid 2 catalog, maintained by the Rapid Spacecraft Development Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is intended to speed satellite acquisition by offering program managers a limited choice of spacecraft buses at pre-negotiated prices.

NASA intends to use the Rapid 2 catalog later this year to procure the spacecraft bus for the Landsat Data Continuity Mission it intends to launch around 2011.

Microsat Systems added to the catalog the bus it developed for the TacSat-2, a 370-kilogram satellite that launched atop a Minotaur rocket in December for NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Space Systems Loral added its SS/L-1300 commercial communications satellite bus.

With the addition of Microsat and Space Systems Loral, the Rapid II catalog now includes eight vendors. The others are: Toulouse, France-based Alcatel Alenia Space; Boulder, Colo.-based Ball Aerospace and Technologies; Europe’s EADS Astrium; Gilbert, Ariz.-based General Dynamics C-4 Systems; Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences; and the UK’s Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

Greg Smith, the head of the Rapid Spacecraft Development Office, said that there will be no more calls for new buses prior to the Landsat procurement.


USAF To Seek Bids for A Third SBIRS Satellite

The U.S. Air Force plans to issue a formal request for proposals for a third Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High missile warning satellite in June, followed by a contract award in January 2008, according to a notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site March 22.

The request for proposals also will cover the purchase of the third and fourth SBIRS sensors that the Air Force plans to host on classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits, according to the notice. All of the hardware will be required to accommodate new components to address parts obsolescence issues that have arisen since the SBIRS contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin the late 1990s. The new sensors will require new methods of shielding to protect them from electromagnetic interference, an issue that delayed delivery of the previous sensors and drove up the cost of the program, according to the notice.

The service will consider other possibilities, but will most likely award the contract on a sole-source basis to Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the prime contractor for the SBIRS High Program, according to the notice.

The Federal Business Opportunities notice is part of advance work that the Air Force is conducting regarding the third SBIRS satellite, according to a written response to questions provided by Candrea Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

However, the service is awaiting a decision from the Pentagon that is expected to come this summer on whether to buy the third SBIRS satellite, or to move forward with a replacement in the form of the Alternative Infrared Satellite System (AIRSS), she said.

The Air Force originally planned to buy five dedicated SBIRS satellites, but capped the plan at no more than three after the most recent restructuring of the program in late 2005 due to cost growth and schedule delays. Air Force officials in the past have described the purchase of the third and fourth highly elliptical sensors as necessary regardless of whether the service buys the third SBIRS satellite or moves directly to the AIRSS program.

Sea-Based X-band Radar Featured in Tracking Test

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) tracked a ballistic missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., March 20 with several radar sensors that the agency is integrating into its U.S. missile shield, according to an MDA news release dated March 21.

MDA used the Sea-Based X-Band Radar and two Aegis ships equipped with SPY-1 radar sensors to track the target. The test did not involve firing an interceptor rocket, but troops aboard the Aegis ships conducted a simulated engagement involving a Standard Missile-3 sea-based interceptor.

Vietnam Hires Telesat To Oversee Satellite Project

The Vietnam Post and Telecommunications Group (VNPT) has contracted with Telesat Canada to provide technical oversight of the construction and launch of the Vinasat-1 satellite, VNPT announced March 18.

The satellite is being built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa., and scheduled for launch aboard a European Ariane 5 vehicle in mid 2008 .

The contract, which VNPT said was signed March 16, continues a relationship between Ottawa-based Telesat and VNPT that began before the Vietnamese selected Lockheed Martin to build Vinasat-1. The 2,600-kilogram satellite, carrying 20 C- and Ku-band transponders, is scheduled to operate at Vietnam’s 132 degrees east orbital slot for 15 years.

It is Vietnam’s first domestic telecommunications satellite. VNPT has estimated that the entire project — construction, launch and insurance of Vinasat-1, plus two ground-control stations — will cost around $270 million and will permit Vietnam to reduce its annual lease of foreign commercial telecommunications satellite capacity.

NASA Renews Contract for Satellite Communications

NASA agreed to a multiyear contract extension for space shuttle-related satellite communications services with Marshall Communications Corp. and Americom Government Services, the companies announced March 20.

Under the agreement, the companies will provide video feeds of space shuttle launch preparations, launches and in orbit operations, the companies said in a press release. The companies also will broadcast NASA TV programming, the press release said.

The contract will be extended another year, Monica Morgan, Americom Government Services spokeswoman, said March 22. The financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Americom Government Services is a wholly owned subsidiary of satellite operator SES Americom that specializes in providing services to U.S. government customers. Marshall arranges satellite solutions for government customers, including NASA and the Pentagon, and is prime contractor on this effort.

Spaceport America Gets $33 Million in Funding

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, working with the state legislature, has helped secure $33 million in immediate funding that will allow state officials to proceed with Spaceport America’s final design and some related road construction.

In a March 17 press statement, Rick Homans, chairman of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority and cabinet secretary for economic development, said the legislation enables Spaceport America to stay on an ambitious schedule to be operational by late 2009 or early 2010.

State lawmakers supporting the legislation were able to free up $33 million by removing a condition that had been put on the original appropriation of $100 million that passed in the 2006 session. The conditions included the need to receive a site operator’s license from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is now not expected until the first quarter of 2008.

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority still must be licensed by FAA before it can be eligible to receive the remaining $67 million.

Virgin Galactic Considers Aurora Tours From Kiruna

Virgin Galactic, the company founded by Sir Richard Branson to take paying passengers on trips into suborbital space, is talking to officials at Spaceport Sweden in Kiruna about launches from there that would give passengers a view of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, from space.

As an early experiment, an instrument-packed sounding rocket will be launched into an aurora early next year from Kiruna. The flight objectives would include testing the radiation environment to determine whether a passenger-carrying spaceship would experience avionics issues or static charges on its hull.

“We also want to know whether or not you can actually see anything from inside the aurora,” Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn said.

Lockheed Sees Japan as Potential THAAD Market

Buoyed by recent testing success with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile interceptor, officials with a prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. are eager to find buyers of the system among U.S. allies and have identified Japan as the most promising market.

Michael Trotsky, vice president of air and missile defense at Dallas-based Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said the company is focusing on the Asia-Pacific region and that Japan and Taiwan have the most obvious requirements for THAAD batteries. “Really only Japan has expressed a significant interest so far,” he told reporters March 19.

Obering: 2nd ABL Craft Would Differ From 1st

A second Airborne Laser (ABL) aircraft likely would incorporate new design specifications intended to keep the program’s operations and maintenance costs down, according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

If the first ABL aircraft, now undergoing tests of its tracking capabilities, is successful in shooting down a target missile in a planned 2009 demonstration, it will “mark a great technological achievement,” Obering told reporters March 19. The MDA will take what it learns from the experience with the first platform in building the second, he said, adding that the agency took a similar approach with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile interceptor.

Obering said it is too early now to predict the long-term operations and maintenance costs of the ABL.

NASA Expands Partnership With Business Incubator

NASA has signed a Space Act Agreement that expands its existing relationship with the Houston Technology Center (HTC), a business incubator specializing in technologies, NASA said in a March 19 press release.

The agreement expands previously established programs including one called Executive on Loan, where a space agency official works on site with HTC client companies to find commercial-sector applications for NASA technologies and vice versa.

Grant proposal assistance and licensing information also will be provided under the agreement.

Report Cites MDA Progress, Urges Better Transparency

The Pentagon should begin using procurement funds to pay for operational assets in the U.S. missile shield, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report issued March 15.

The report, titled “Missile Defense Acquisition Strategy Generates Results but Delivers Less at a Higher Cost,” notes that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has implemented stronger quality control measures that have helped reduce the number of problems with the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System, built by a team led by Chicago-based Boeing Co.

However, the MDA uses research and development funds, which do not have the same accountability requirements as procurement dollars, for the missile shield’s sensors, interceptors and control segment. This makes it difficult to measure the agency’s progress, particularly after it scaled back its deployment and capability goals for 2006 to apply funding toward quality control , the report said.

David Ahern, director for portfolio systems acquisition in the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said in a letter attached to the GAO report that the Pentagon did not concur with the recommendation to begin using procurement funding for the missile defense shield. Using procurement funding would prevent the MDA from employing its spiral acquisition approach of buying hardware systems in small quantities and making continual upgrades, he wrote.

“This approach, with congressional support, was instrumental to our ability to field an initial capability to defend the nation against ballistic missile attack — a capability which was put on alert in July 2006 and prepared to respond if necessary to a North Korean ballistic missile threat,” Ahern wrote. “Without this flexibility, the continuous development of missile defense assets would be inhibited and our ability to protect the United States, our deployed forces, friends and allies from evolving threats would be impaired.”

Orion Hardware to be Tested at NASA Glenn

NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland will perform integrated environmental testing on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle from 2007 to 2011, work that will be worth approximately $63 million, the agency said in a March 19 press release.

The tests will analyze the ability of the Orion hardware to withstand the conditions of launch, orbit and re-entry. Prototypes of the Orion service module, crew module, launch abort system and spacecraft adapter will undergo testing as individual units and as an integrated unit, Robert Moorehead , director of spaceflight systems at Glenn, said in a phone interview March 22.

The testing facility is scheduled to be operational beginning in December 2008, according to Moorehead. The additions and preparations necessary to ready the facility will be taking place until then. Lockheed Martin will make the final decision on when testing will begin.

The testing will be carried out at the Space Power Facility at the center’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, in accordance to specifications given to the team by Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on Orion, Moorehead said. The Space Power Facility, which according to NASA is the world’s largest thermal vacuum chamber, will undergo several modifications for the Orion testing, including the addition of a new acoustic chamber, a mechanical vibration test stand and equipment for electromagnetic testing.

The new equipment will be used to support other projects at Glenn, including aerodynamic research, Moorehead said.

Boeing Joins Northrop To Compete for IBCS Work

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis has joined a team led by Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Huntsville, Ala., that is seeking to build a new communications network for air and missile defense systems for the U.S. Army.

Boeing will focus on software to help integrate the various sensors and interceptors that will plug into the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS).

Northrop Grumman is competing against a team led by Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., for the contract to design the IBCS. The Army plans to award the contract in August.

Raytheon’s IBCS team includes Davidson Technologies Inc. of Huntsville, Ala.; General Dynamics C4 Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and IBM of Armonk, N.Y.


Upcoming Launch Could Open New Orbcomm Market

Orbcomm Inc., which doubled its subscriber base for machine-to-machine satellite links in 2006, to 225,000 as of Dec. 31, expects to add 150,000-170,000 subscribers in 2007 and select a builder for its second-generation satellite constellation by June.

The Ft. Lee, N.J., company, which completed an initial stock offering on the U.S. Nasdaq market in November, plans to launch its next satellite in the first half of this year. The satellite will be part of Orbcomm’s existing constellation but also will carry a U.S. Coast Guard Automatic Identification System payload, which may open a new market for Orbcomm. The company expects the system, which allows the Coast Guard to access information about ships approaching U.S. territorial waters, to be adopted by government coastal authorities throughout the world.

In a March 15 statement on its 2006 financial results, Orbcomm reported a net loss of $11.2 million on revenues of $24.5 million . Losses were up compared to 2005 in part because of a new stock-based compensation plan inaugurated as part of the stock introduction. Revenues from the company’s core business were up 81.8 percent after stripping out one-time revenues from 2005 associated with the sale of Earth stations. For 2007, Orbcomm forecasts revenues of between $34 million and $38 million.

Orbcomm operates a fleet of 30 low-orbiting satellites that, when linked with subscriber modules, permit the tracking of assets in transit via rail, on the road and at sea. Homeland security, particularly port security, is among the most promising markets, Orbcomm officials said.

Subscribers pay Orbcomm an average of $5.50 per month. Orbcomm also sells what it calls its subscriber communicators — terminals attached to the tracked assets that communicate with the satellite constellation.

The company has an additional six satellites on order and planned for launch late in 2007 , and now says it will select a prime contractor to build the rest of a second-generation constellation by mid year.

Orbcomm Chief Operating Officer Marc Eisenberg said in a March 15 conference call that the company is open to an eventual partnership with a terrestrial communications provider, perhaps a cellular network operator, to marry Orbcomm’s low-bandwidth asset-tracking service with a higher-speed voice provider.

One of Orbcomm’s biggest customers, General Electric, is about to become a shareholder once GE Capital completes its purchase of satellite-related assets now owned by satellite-fleet operator SES Global of Luxembourg. These assets include a stake in Orbcomm. The GE-SES Global transaction, now under tax and regulatory review, is part of a GE decision to cash in its equity stake in SES Global.


Las Vegas Airport To Host Zero-G Weightless Flights

Zero Gravity Corp. (Zero-G) of Las Vegas and Dania, Fla., will begin regularly scheduled flights for the public aboard its weightlessness-simulator aircraft from Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport April 21, Zero-G said in a press release March 5.

For $3,500, passengers can fly aboard G-Force One, Zero-G’s modified Boeing 727-200 airplane, which flies in a parabolic pattern to provide brief periods of weightlessness for its passengers. The aircraft features padded floors for safety and video cameras to record the experience.


Industry Execs Tapped To Manage CNES Facilities

The French space agency, CNES, has selected managers from satellite-builder Alcatel Alenia Space and rocket-motor manufacturer Snecma to run the agency’s Toulouse and Guiana Space Center facilities, CNES announced March 21.

Marc Pircher, currently technical director of Alcatel Alenia Space, will become director of CNES’s Toulouse facility, where most of the agency’s 2,500 employees work. He will replace the retiring Pierre Moskwa.

Joel Barre, director of the Snecma Space Motors division of Safran Group, will become director of the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, replacing Jean-Louis Marce, who is retiring.

Both appointments take effect July 1 .

LA Firm Buys Former TRW Space Component Maker

Admiralty Partners, a Los Angeles-based investment firm focused on acquiring aerospace, defense and information technology businesses, announced March 19 that it had acquired the aerospace and defense business units of Vertical Circuits, Inc.

That division of Vertical Circuits, which was previously known as TRW Space Components, has been renamed Trident Space & Defense LLC, according to a March 19 Admiralty news release.

Trident Space & Defense LLC, which is based in Torrance, Calif., builds computer systems and electrical components, as well as ground stations for the commercial space industry.


MacDonald Dettwiler Buys Satellite Camera Provider

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) of Canada has acquired satellite camera provider Orbital Optics Ltd. (OOL) of England for about 900,000 British pounds ($1.75 million ) , according to a March 20 MDA press release .

The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory of Chilton , England, established OOL in Oxfordshire in April 2006 to market its high-resolution optics

“This acquisition not only improves MDA’s ability to offer unique highly competitive solutions for small satellite mission opportunities around the world, but it also increases our content on these bids,” Steve Oldham, MDA director of business development, said in a prepared statement.

Certifies Software For Satellite Modems

Software developed by End II End Communications of Charlotte, N.C., to give satellite communications the speed and security of a land line has been certified by San Diego-based ViaSat for use with its Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) systems, End II End said in a March 19 press release.

The End II End software successfully performed a series of interoperability tests with several of ViaSat’s satellite-based modems. The tests were conducted by ViaSat personnel at the End II End Optimization Lab in Charlotte .

The End II End product, which is called Optimal, was developed to eliminate the trade-off between speed and security when using interactive applications (including Citrix or Microsoft Exchange) that require large amounts of bandwidth to run effectively, a critical need for users in remote areas. “They’re able to get a near land-line experience,” Doug Triblehorn, End II End Communications spokesman said in a telephone interview March 22.

, PSN, To Weigh Bids for Palapa D Satellite

After several years of hesitation, the Indonesian satellite operators Pacifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN) and Indosat are weighing bids for a satellite to be designated Palapa D and expect to decide by mid year on a contractor, PSN founder Adi R. Adiwoso said March 20.

Palapa D, which is to be launched into Indonesia’s orbital slot at 113 degrees e ast longitude in 2009 or 2010, will carry 36 C-band and 12 Ku-band antennas, Adiwoso said.

PSN also has taken title to the aging Apstar 1A satellite, formerly owned by APT Satellite of Hong Kong, and moved it to an orbital slot at 150.5 degrees east longitude, where it will operate in an inclined orbit — meaning reduced north-south stabilization — for an additional six to seven years, Adiwoso said.

Two Firms Advance Plans For European Satellite Radio

Two companies planning to provide digital satellite radio service in Europe using the L-band frequency say they are making progress in securing regulatory and financial backing. U.S.-based WorldSpace and Ondas Media S.A. of Spain are designing different systems, with different satellite orbits and different approaches to the European market.

WorldSpace Inc. is on track to begin providing satellite-radio programming in Italy in 2008 as part of a strategy to secure licenses and fund the related investment one nation at a time in Europe, WorldSpace Chief Operating Officer Alexander Brown said.

WorldSpace, whose AfriStar satellite at 21 degrees east longitude covers much of western Europe, received Italian regulatory approval in May 2006. In December, it contracted with Telecom Italia to design and deploy the terrestrial network that delivers the satellite’s signals to places the satellite cannot reach. Operating in L-band, WorldSpace estimates that each nation in Europe will require the installation of between 50 and 200 terrestrial signal repeaters, depending on the country’s size and its population density. By contrast, he said, a Middle Eastern nation would need less than 10 repeaters for full coverage.

Ondas Media, which has been at odds with WorldSpace over rights to L-band frequency over Europe, proposes to build a system with satellites in highly elliptical orbits, affording a better elevation angle to users, especially in northern Europe, when compared to satellites stationed in geostationary orbit over the equator.

The most pressing question for Ondas is financial backing. Torsten Freymark, the company’s chairman, said Ondas continues to assemble a financing package, but he did not provide details. Nonetheless, the company believes it will be able to start offering services in 2010, he said.

Freymark said Ondas will not necessarily own the satellites it uses, but that a piggyback arrangement in which an Ondas payload rides aboard someone else’s satellite is a possibility. There are few satellites over Europe intended for Ondas’ planned orbit, however.

Freymark, evoking a subject that has been a source of friction with WorldSpace, said he does not believe European regulators will permit what he called an “outside” company — WorldSpace is located in the United States and operates under a U.S. license — to roll out service in Europe.

Two Firms Lay Plans for Asian Mobile Satellite TV

Toshiba Corp. and South Korea Telecom are seeking partners to invest in deployment of satellite-delivered mobile television, radio and disaster-management services in East Asia, according to one of the designers of a similar service already in operation in Japan and South Korea.

Masashi Suenaga, general manager of Satellite-Digital Mobile Broadcasting (S-DMB) Business Development at Tokyo-based Toshiba, said the company believes in the commercial promise of S-DMB in Asia despite the struggle of the Japanese project managed by Mobile Broadcasting Corp. A similar system, using a different business model, has been a success in South Korea.

Speaking at the Mobile Satellite 2007 conference March 20, Suenaga said S-DMB in other nations should begin with a network of ground-based signal amplifiers, or gapfillers, that can be deployed piecemeal. Once the business is up and running, the satellite component could be added.

The Japanese and Korean systems are the world’s first commercial deployment of S-DMB. Both use the same MBSat satellite, built by Space Systems/Loral and launched in March 2004. As pioneers, the two services are closely watched by backers of similar systems proposed in North America, Europe, India and China. U.S. satellite television provider EchoStar Communications Corp. recently became a TU Media shareholder as well as a sponsor of an S-DMB system being built in China, with a Loral-built satellite, called CMBSat, financed by EchoStar.

Japan’s MBCo started commercial operations in October 2004. The TU Media-managed service in South Korea was initiated in May 2005.

In Japan, MBCo retained ownership of the entire chain of operations, including the satellite and the user terminals, and focused on the automobile market. It offers seven video channels and 37 audio channels and charges users around $16 per month. To date the service has secured just 60,000 subscribers.

In South Korea, TU Media has left much of the system’s management and ownership, including the Korean share of the satellite and the network of terrestrial signal boosters and subscriber acquisition responsibility, to SK Telecom. It has concentrated on the hand-held market and provides 15 video channels and 19 audio channels to users paying $11 per month, plus additional charges for pay-per-view broadcasts.

The service, delivered through some 50 different hand-held platforms including 30 cellular telephone models, now counts about 1.1 million subscribers.

“The business model is very different,” Suenaga said of the Korean experience compared to what has happened in Japan, adding that in Japan, MBCo has had to contend with a strong terrestrial mobile video service.

Suenaga said Toshiba and SK Telecom, which are both members of the Pan Asia Mobile TV initiative, “are working together to support the launch of mobile TV service in Asia countries applying S-DMB. Financial and strategic participation are welcome.”

Florida, Zero-G Form Center For Research, Education

Space Florida — a newly formed state agency to promote Florida’s space industry — has linked up with Zero Gravity Corp. (Zero-G) to create the Florida Microgravity Education and Research Center.

The center is intended to facilitate space education and research opportunities for Florida teachers and students. “The center will be the first-of-its kind by any state in providing the breadth and depth of academic and research capability to perform microgravity research and education programs,” according to a March 19 joint statement.

Zero-G, based in Florida and Las Vegas , uses a specially modified aircraft to provide Federal Aviation Administration -approved weightless flight to the general public.

Once the center’s mission and structure is in place, it hopes to reach approximately 8,000 teachers and 80,000 students annually through microgravity flights and workshops, as well as online curricula, downloadable materials and its professional development programs.

NASA Ames, Hawaii Ink MOU On Barking Sands Launches

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by NASA’s Ames Research Center and the state of Hawaii is intended to foster future launches of satellite payloads and passengers from Hawaii .

The two-year agreement with the state of Hawaii was negotiated through NASA’s Space Portal — a newly formed organization in NASA Research Park at the Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, Calif. That Space Portal seeks to spur new partnerships with NASA to promote the development of commercial space exploration.

Officials at the University of Hawaii are working on development of a rocket booster and microsatellites that could be launched into Earth orbit — and even to the Moon — from the U.S. Defense Department’s Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, Kauai.