Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 02 April 2007
04:03 pm ET


Next Launch of Dnepr Delayed for One Month

The next launch of an ISC Kosmotras Dnepr booster, which had been scheduled to place 14 small satellites into orbit March 27 from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, has been delayed until April 17 or 18, according to a March 29 news release posted on the company’s Web site.

Company officials said in the release, that the launch has been delayed because of defects in a third stage telemetry cable, which has now been replaced.

“To ensure the absolute success of this launch mission and to allow for completion of all necessary electrical checkout of the rocket, the State Launch Committee, also mindful of the other launch missions scheduled to fly from the Baikonur Cosmodrome within the same timeframe, has set the new date for this launch on 17-18 April 2007,” ISC Kosmotras said in the release.

The payloads include EgyptSat-1 (Ukraine/Egypt), SaudiSat-3, SaudiComsat-3, SaudiComsat-4, SaudiComsat-5, SaudiComsat-6 and SaudiComsat-7 (Saudi Arabia) and seven CubeSat nanosatellites.

The next Dnepr launch will be the first one since a July 26, 2006, launch accident that destroyed all 18 satellites aboard. The Dnepr is a converted SS-18 ICBM that is called the RS-20 for domestic Russian launches and the Dnepr for commercial missions.

Meanwhile, another Dnepr customer — Bigelow Aerospace — has shipped its Genesis 2 space complex module from Las Vegas. The expandable module is expected to be lofted into orbit from the ISC Kosmotras Space and Missile Complex near Yasny, Russia, another site used for the Dnepr rockets, which are launched from missile silos.

The Genesis 2 launch window begins April 19, according to a statement from Bigelow Aerospace. Genesis 2 — like its predecessor, Genesis 1 now in Earth orbit — is a one-third scale version of the commercial space modules able to house space travelers that Bigelow Aerospace hopes to launch in the future.


Disputed Goddard Contract Once Again Awarded to SGT

Rebuffing a suggestion by incumbent Swales Aerospace that it make a dual award, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) again selected SGT Inc. for a five-year engineering support services contract that could be worth around $400 million.

NASA originally awarded the Mechanical Systems Engineering Services II/A contract to SGT in December, but rescinded the award in January following a protest by Swales. NASA said it would re-examine the proposals and give both bidders the opportunity to submit additional information before making its selection.

Swales, meanwhile, filed a lawsuit in February against a former employee claiming he had used proprietary Swales information to help SGT prepare its bid. SGT, which was not named in the lawsuit, denied receiving any inappropriate help with its proposal. Shortly after filing the suit, Swales wrote several Maryland lawmakers, including Democrat Sen. Barbara Mikulski and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer suggesting that a “drawn out dispute” could be avoided if NASA would make a dual award.

Mike Cerneck, chief executive officer of Swales Aerospace, said in a prepared statement issued March 30: “We are disappointed in the outcome of the re-evaluation by GSFC and will be requesting a debrief to better understand the basis of their decision.”

Optus Orders Another Satellite from Orbital

Optus Networks of Sydney, Australia, has placed an order with Orbital Sciences Corp. for a television direct broadcasting satellite to be delivered in 2009, Orbital announced in a March 29 press release.

The Optus-D3 spacecraft will carry 32 Ku-band transponders and will be used to distribute TV programming in Australia and New Zealand, Orbital of Dulles, Va., said. Based on Orbital’s Star series of relatively small- to medium-sized geostationary satellite platforms, Optus-D3 will be the third spacecraft the company has built for Optus. Optus-D1 is on orbit and Optus-D2 is scheduled for launch later this year, Orbital said.

The contract is the first of the year for Orbital’s commercial satellite manufacturing division. Several more orders for Star-class communications satellites are expected during the year, the company said.

The commercial satellite business has been a strong one for Orbital in recent years. The company recently completed an expansion of its Dulles manufacturing facility, and expects to deliver four satellites during 2007: Optus D2, Intelsat 11, Horizons 2 and Thor 5.

Russian Satellite Firm Plans To Expand Presence in China

The Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) announced its intentions March 30 to increase its presence in China following cooperation agreements with fixed communications operator China NetCom and a long-standing mutual-support accord with China Satcom, a satellite operator.

Moscow-based RSCC said Russian broadcasters “are interested in developing the networks in a southeastern direction.”

RSCC said its Express-AM33 satellite, to be launched in September into the 96.5 degrees east orbital slot, will carry steerable C- and Ku-band beams capable of providing high-definition television and other services to China and Southeast Asia.

GE Capital Finalizes Sale Of Its Equity in SES Global

GE Capital’s sale of its remaining equity stake in satellite-fleet operator SES Global, announced Feb. 13, was closed on March 30. The deal’s final terms, which differ slightly from those originally announced, are as follows: GE Capital is selling its 19.5 percent stake in Luxembourg-based SES Global for 1.238 billion euros ($1.6 billion), including 609.7 million in cash. The assets being transferred to GE — the AMC-23 satellite over the Pacific Ocean, 100 percent ownership of the Satlynx two-way satellite broadband provider, SES’s 34.1 percent ownership of satellite-fleet operator AsiaSat, a 19.9 percent stake in satellite operator Star One of Brazil and a 5.5 percent ownership in the Orbcomm satellite-messaging company — are valued at 628.6 million euros. The Star One equity will be transferred to GE pending Brazilian regulatory approval.

The cash portion of the deal was increased by about 22 million euros, and the value of the assets decreased by the same amount, to account for the fact that GE, as an SES Global shareholder, would have been eligible to receive 45 million euros in SES stock dividends on April 5 if the deal had not closed by then.

Japanese Intel Satellite Malfunctions in Orbit

One of Japan’s four current Intelligence Gathering Satellites (GS) malfunctioned March 25. A government official at the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, which is in charge of the satellites, told Space News March 30 the problem was probably due to a fault in the radar reconnaissance satellite’s electrical system.

Efforts to receive image data from the radar satellite have proved unsuccessful, although the remaining three satellites are all working normally, according to Yasuhiro Itakura, a research officer at the center.

The satellites, which were launched two at a time aboard Japanese-built H-2A rockets, were designed to have a five-year service life, and investigators are still trying to discover the cause of the malfunction, Itakura said, without giving any more details. The satellite that failed was launched in March 2003 along with an imaging satellite with an optical payload.

Japan’s fleet of reconnaissance satellites consists of two radar and two optical satellites. The radar satellites are able to resolve images through clouds with a resolution of 1 meter to 3 meters, while the optical satellites can resolve objects with a ground resolution of 1 meter. Japan succeeded in launching the second optical satellite in September 2006, and the second radar satellite and a high-resolution optical test satellite in February 2007. Two satellites were lost in a November 2003 H-2A rocket failure.

Vega Launcher Upper Stage Damaged in Test Firing

A government-industry board of inquiry has been established to determine the cause of a failure of the upper-stage engine of Europe’s future Vega rocket during a test firing in Sardinia, Italy, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced March 29.

During the March 28 test firing, the Zefiro 9 motor’s pressure dropped suddenly some 35 seconds after ignition and remained at below-nominal levels, resulting in a longer combustion time. An on-site inspection immediately after the test found damage to the motor’s nozzle but it remains unclear whether this is related to the pressure drop.

Zefiro 9, which will power Vega’s third stage, was successfully tested for the first time in December 2005. The motor, built by Avio SpA of Italy, is powered by about 10,000 kilograms of solid propellant. Vega, designed to carry small Earth observation and science satellites into low Earth orbit, is scheduled to make its inaugural flight in 2008.

Lockheed Martin Ships Last GPS 2RM Satellite




Lockheed Martin has delivered the last of eight upgraded GPS navigation satellites to the U.S. Air Force, according to a company news release dated March 21.

The GPS 2RM satellites are a subset of 21 GPS 2R satellites built by Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems, according to the news release. The modernized versions feature increased signal power, additional military and civilian signals and improved encryption and jamming resistance.

Fifteen of the Lockheed Martin-built GPS satellites are in orbit today, including three of the modernized versions, the third having been launched Nov. 17, the press release said. The fourth is expected to launch in late 2007. The remaining satellites are in storage with launch dates to be determined on an as-needed basis, according to the news release.


SSTL To Help Russian Group Build Earth Observing Craft

Small-satellite manufacturer Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) will provide avionics equipment, software and assistance with satellite assembly to a Russian research organization building Russia’s Kanopus Earth observation satellite under a contract announced March 27.

The contract is valued by SSTL at several million British pounds — 1 million pounds is about $1.96 million. The deal calls for SSTL to assist the Federal State Unitary Enterprise-The Russian Research and Production Enterprise Pan-Russian Research Institute for Electromechanics in building Kanopus in time for a launch in 2008.

Kanopus will aid in monitoring natural disasters and in agricultural planning.

SSTL Chairman Sir Martin Sweeting said in a statement that the contract will permit SSTL to “further develop its cooperation on future Russian small satellite projects.”

Computer Sciences Wins NASA Contract Extension

NASA has extended for at least six months a contract with Computer Sciences Corp. for facility-management support at Johnson Space Center in Houston, the agency said March 28.

The base performance period begins April 1 and is valued at $30.4 million. The deal includes five one-month options which if exercised could bring the total value of the extension to $55.4 million.

El Segundo, Calif.-based Computer Sciences has held the Center Operations Support Services contract at Johnson for five years. The extension, including the options, will bring the total value of the company’s contract over six years to $342.8 million, NASA said.

Under the contract, Computer Sciences provides logistics, construction, operations and maintenance, engineering, environmental and other services, NASA said. Major subcontractors on the effort include Anadarko Industries LLC of Houston and Lynx Ltd. of Las Cruces, N.M.

WorldSpace
Sales Grow, Losses Widen in 2006

Satellite-radio provider WorldSpace Inc., which is focusing on India as its primary near-term market, reported increases in revenues and subscribers but also sharply higher losses for 2006 compared to 2005.

Silver Spring, Md.-based WorldSpace, which operates two satellites, canceled a planned March 27 conference call with investors because of what it said were ongoing negotiations “for a potential financing transaction … to address the company’s cash-flow issues arising from the company’s projected year-end cash position.”

WorldSpace reported 2006 revenues of $15.6 million, of which $7.3 million was from subscriptions to the WorldSpace radio programming service. Subscription revenue, which is expected to be the core of WorldSpace’s future business, nearly doubled from 2005.

The company said that as of Dec. 31 it had 199,105 subscribers worldwide, with 80 percent of them in India.

Net loss for 2006 was $128.6 million, compared to an $80 million loss in 2005.

WorldSpace said its service in India continues to suffer from promotional offers for three-month subscriptions that did not convert to longer-term, higher-revenue customers. The company said sales of three-month subscriptions have now ceased, and that the number of subscribers quitting the service in any given period should decline sharply as a result.

Increased marketing costs in India were partly responsible for the higher cost of adding each new subscriber — $154 per subscriber in the fourth quarter of 2006 compared to $137 in the previous quarter, WorldSpace said.

Sharper Image Corp. To Sell Zero-G Flight Reservations

Reservations for flights aboard Zero Gravity Corp.’s (Zero-G’s) weightlessness simulator aircraft soon will be made available by San Francisco-based Sharper Image Corp., Zero-G said in a March 28 press release. Earlier in March, the upscale novelty retailer signed on as Zero-G’s sole marketer.

Zero-G operates G-Force One, a Boeing 727 aircraft specially modified for parabolic maneuvers that provide passengers with brief periods of weightlessness. Starting May 15, Sharper Image will sell G-Force One flight tickets through its retail stores, monthly catalog and Web site. Flight departure points are from Zero-G’s centers in Kennedy Space Center, Fla., and Las Vegas.

Specific terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but Sharper Image must sell a certain amount of tickets within the first year and will advertise Zero-G in its stores, catalog and Web site, according to the press release.

NASA Names Members of A
stronaut Healthcare Panel

Prompted by the arrest of now ex-astronaut Lisa Nowak, NASA has announced the membership of a committee that will review the mental and other health services available to astronauts.

The committee, which was announced March 26 , will review NASA’s current healthcare systems and medical policies, standards and certifications for astronauts. In April, committee members are scheduled to travel to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to review documents and interview personnel, including astronauts, involved in the agency’s spaceflight program, NASA said.

Chairing the group of external experts will be U.S. Air Force Col. Richard E. Bachmann, who studies aerospace medicine and has provided medical support to people who work in extreme environments like that in space.

Nowak, a 43-year-old mother of three, was arrested Feb. 5 after allegedly driving 1,500 kilometers from Houston to the airport in Orlando, Fla., where police say she confronted and pepper-sprayed Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman. Authorities say Nowak viewed Shipman as a romantic rival for the affections of U.S. Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein, a space shuttle pilot.

Immediately following the incident, Nowak was charged with attempted first-degree murder, attempted kidnapping and three other criminal acts. The charges were later downgraded and Florida prosecutors have entered charges of kidnapping. Nowak’s lawyers have formally entered a not guilty plea and the trial is expected to begin July 30.

NASA has revoked Nowak’s spaceflight status and, in collaboration with the Navy, ousted her from NASA’s astronaut corps. The agency also is looking into its procedures for screening astronauts for both mental and physical health and reviewing services available to astronauts during their careers.

The other external members of the newly formed committee include: Air Force Col. Timothy Sowin, a neuropsychiatrist; James R. Fraser, an expert in aerospace medicine from the Federal Aviation Administration ; retired Navy Capt. Sandra Yerkes, a clinical psychiatrist; Mark Bauer, a clinical psychiatrist from the Department of Veterans Affairs ; Elizabeth Holmes, a clinical psychologist from the U.S. Naval Academy; James Bagian, a former NASA astronaut physician and an expert in aerospace medicine and patient safety from the Department of Veterans Affairs ; and Navy Capt. Paul M. DeLaney, an expert in medical legal matters and medical privacy legislation.

Ellen Baker, a current NASA astronaut physician, will serve as a consultant to the team. Also, serving as ex officio members will be James M. Duncan, chief of space medicine at Johnson , and Wayne Frazier of NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance.

In June, the committee is expected to report its findings to Richard S. Williams, NASA’s chief health and medical officer, who after review will pass them along to NASA Administrator Mike Griffin.

Raytheon To Build More GBS Terminal Hardware

Raytheon Co. will build 59 Global Broadcast Service (GBS) receiver terminals for the U.S. Army and 69 for the U.S. Air Force under a $14.5 million contract modification from the Air Force, according to a March 23 Defense Department contract announcement.

The units will allow theater commanders to quickly transmit command and control information to far-flung forces. The GBS is a satellite-based system that transmits video, imagery, maps and other large data files to multiple sites simultaneously.

Raytheon is slated to complete work on the terminals in September.

Cassini
Sheds Light on Saturn Feature

NASA’s Cassini Saturn has captured images with unprecedented detail of a puzzling hexagonal feature swirling atop the gas giant’s north pole, the U.S. space agency said in a press release March 27.

“This is a very strange feature, lying in a precise geometric fashion with six nearly equally straight sides,” said Kevin Baines, atmospheric expert and a member of Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We’ve never seen anything like this on any other planet. Indeed, Saturn’s thick atmosphere where circularly shaped waves and convective cells dominate is perhaps the last place you’d expect to see such a six-sided geometric figure, yet there it is.”

Images of the feature were taken more than two decades ago by NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 deep space probes, but the Cassini images are the first to capture it in its entirety, NASA said. The images were taken from Oct. 30 to Nov. 10 by Cassini’s infrared spectrometer, NASA said. The feature cannot be seen by Cassini’s visible light cameras because the north pole of Saturn is enshrouded in the darkness of the planet’s 15-year winter, NASA said.

Cassini also has discovered another, darker hexagon that escaped detection by the Voyager craft. Based on the recent images, scientists no longer believe the hexagon is related to auroral activity or planetary radio emissions as previously thought.

Saturn’s hexagon is similar to Earth’s polar vortex, in which winds blow circularly around the poles. But the hexagon is big enough, at 25,000 kilometers across, to fit four Earths inside it, according to the press release.


Researchers Demonstrate Improved Plasma Thruster

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta have devised a means to regulate power on Hall-effect plasma thrusters to increase their performance and efficiency, which could lead to longer-lasting or more capable satellites.

A team led by Mitchell Walker, assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, has built a prototype engine that allows controllers to tailor thrust to the task at hand, thus saving fuel.

Satellites equipped with such thrusters could either hold their orbital position for longer periods or could carry less fuel and thus have more space devoted to payload. Alternatively, engineers could take advantage of the technology to make their satellites smaller, enabling them to launch on lower-cost rockets.

In a March 22 interview, Walker said the prototype engine also produces more thrust relative to power, which on satellites could reduce the time needed for repositioning or changing orbits.

Originally developed by Soviet scientists in the 1950s and 1960s, Hall-effect thrusters work by passing xenon gas through an electromagnetic field, causing the gas to ionize and accelerate through a nozzle, which produces thrust. The technology has been adopted in the West in the last decade or so, and is primarily used on geostationary satellites for orbital station-keeping and maneuvering.

Hall thrusters are attractive to satellite owners because they are far more fuel efficient than conventional chemical propulsion systems. Walker and his team, using hardware supplied by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., have taken that efficiency to an even higher level.

The key is a newly designed electromagnetic field whose power level can be regulated from the ground and which better controls the xenon ion exhaust particles so that fewer bounce off the thrust chamber walls and more pass through the nozzle, Walker said. Walker likened his engine’s operating flexibility prototype to shifting gears on an automobile.

The work was funded under a one-year grant from the U.S. Air Force.

Walker said that with additional funding, he could deliver a flight ready engine based on the prototype in five years. He said most of the interest in the engine has come from the Air Force, but added that NASA also might find applications on deep space probes.

Satellite TV Equipment Firm Exploring Strategic Options

The Wegener Corp., a provider of satellite TV user equipment, announced March 13 it has formed an independent committee to explore options for increasing shareholder value, including a possible sale of the company.

Wegener of Duluth, Ga., has hired Near Earth LLC, a New York investment firm that specializes in the satellite, media and telecommunications industries, as an advisor in the evaluation process. Among the options to be considered are technology licensing agreements, marketing agreements, joint ventures, mergers and the partial or complete sale of the company.

Further developments are unlikely to be revealed until the review is complete and the board of directors decides on a course of action, according to the press release.

“As we work to realize this potential, management and our board of directors have determined that we should examine potential means for further strengthening Wegener’s strategic position and maximizing value for our shareholders,” Wegener Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Placek said in a prepared statement.

GeoEye
to Equip Partners With Orbit Logic Software

Orbit Logic of Greenbelt, Md., will develop a version of its satellite image-collection planning software for use at fixed and mobile ground stations operated by partners of GeoEye, according to a March 27 Orbit Logic press release.

The software will be used to develop optimized collection schedules for GeoEye’s GeoEye-1 high-resolution imaging satellite, which is scheduled to launch late this year. Orbit Logic already has delivered GeoEye-1 collection planning software for use at GeoEye’s Dulles, Va., headquarters.

GeoEye has a network of partners around the world that will task GeoEye-1 to photograph sites of interest within their designated geographical territories. A partner’s territory typically consists of the region surrounding its satellite ground station.

The software will enable the partners to schedule image collection independently of GeoEye , Alex Herz, an Orbit Logic spokesman, said March 27. Potential scheduling conflicts between GeoEye partners and attempts to take photographs beyond the satellite’s recommended constraints will be automatically detected and prevented by the software , he said.

GeoEye exercised a task order under its pre-existing contract with Orbit Logic for the additional collection planning systems, which are expected to be available by the end of the year, the press release said. GeoEye operates satellites that collect high-resolution images for U.S. government and commercial customers.

Baker Tapped for Senior Post With NOAA Satellite Services

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tapped Charles Baker to be deputy assistant administrator of its Satellite and Information Service, according to a NOAA news release dated March 28.

Baker, who since April 2004 has served as chief financial officer and chief administrative officer for NOAA’s satellite division, fills a spot that was held by Mary Kicza. Kicza is now the head of the satellite division.

Prior to coming to NOAA, Baker worked for 13 years in the Pentagon comptroller’s office, where he dealt with investment strategies for programs including GPS modernization.

Northrop To Begin Installing EHF Terminals on B-2 Fleet

Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems of El Segundo, Calif., will begin replacing the ultra high frequency (UHF) satellite communications equipment aboard U.S. Air Force B-2 Stealth bombers with extremely high frequency (EHF) satellite terminals , the company said in a press release March 14.

The Air Force recently has approved the plan by Northrop Grumman — the prime contractor for the B-2 — to begin installing the EHF equipment, which the company said will enable the aircraft to send and receive information 100 times faster than before.

“Upgrading the B-2’s satellite communications capabilities from UHF to EHF will be like going from a dial-up Internet connection to broadband,” Dave Mazur, vice president of long range strike for Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems, said in a prepared statement. “It will allow the aircraft to use both current and future military satellite communications networks to share battlefield information with allied commanders around the world.”

The upgrade will enable the B-2 aircraft to communicate via the Air Force’s Advanced EHF secure communications satellites, which are slated to begin launching next year.

Japan Exec Says H-2A Is Available Commercially

With six consecutive successes since a 2003 failure and a newly demonstrated ability to launch 6,000-kilogram telecommunications satellites, Japan’s H-2A rocket is positioned to become a credible commercial-launch alternative, according to a manager of the company that builds the vehicle.

Shoichiro Asada, general manager of H-2A launch services for Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., said the company has openings for two commercial customers in 2008 in addition to the two scheduled Japanese government launches. He said the vehicle’s manifest has room for at least one commercial launch in 2009.

The H-2A’s most powerful variant , the H-2A 204, was successfully flown in December, carrying the 5,800-kilogram ETS-8 telecommunications research satellite into geostationary transfer orbit. This H-2A configuration, which in 2008 will be the workhorse version of the vehicle, can carry a spacecraft weighing up to 6,000 kilograms to the same orbit, Asada said.

The H-2A has mainly Japanese-made components and has been considered too expensive for most commercial customers. But with the recent increase in commercial launch prices and a possible shortage of vehicles in 2008-2009, H-2A may see a market opening, according to industry officials.

Lockheed Official Says ITAR Not a Big Problem

Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems (LMCSS) has been able to work though U.S. technology-transfer restrictions over the past five years to a point where “most of the satellite payload units are classified as not ITAR constrained,” LMCSS Chief Technical Officer Barry Noakes said.

The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) were tightened in 2000 and broadened to include satellite components. The restrictions have since been criticized as making it difficult for U.S. companies to talk about satellite systems with prospective customers.

Noakes said ITAR restrictions have been exaggerated by some companies. “I still think that ITAR is an excuse” for companies that, for reasons of their own, do not want to share data on some of their satellite systems, he said. “These are not necessarily technologies that the U.S. government wants protected,” he said.

Noakes said LMCSS has been able to secure approval for satellite payload systems, including tube amplifiers, solid-state power amplifiers and even some antenna systems, so that they do not fall under the most rigorous ITAR examinations.

Sea Launch Failure Did Relatively Minor Damage

Sea Launch Co. has tentatively concluded that the Jan. 30 failure of its Zenit 3 SL rocket just seconds after liftoff, resulting in a fireball that engulfed the entire floating launch platform, destroyed no more than 5 percent of the platform’s machinery, Sea Launch Chief Financial Officer Kjell J. Karlsen said.

Karlsen said the repairs to be done on the platform are easy enough to complete either at Sea Launch’s home port in Long Beach, Calif., or elsewhere along the U.S. West Coast. The platform will not need to be transported to Norway, where it was built, or to Southeast Asia for repairs.

The launch failure destroyed the SES Global NSS-8 telecommunications satellite, which was owned and built by Boeing Co. and insured by Boeing for $200 million. Sea Launch had taken out a separate insurance policy valued at $56 million to cover a relaunch obligation in the event of failure.

Sea Launch also had a policy for the launch platform’s hull and machinery, a policy written not by space insurers but by marine underwriters. Early assessments are that no more than $50 million in damages will be declared — well within the $260 million in coverage that Sea Launch had purchased.

“Our marine insurers breathed a sigh of relief” when the first damage assessment concluded that, despite the spectacular images as the rocket collapsed 3.9 seconds after ignition, platform damage was limited,” Karlsen said. The platform can be repaired and recertified for transport in time to resume mid-Pacific Ocean launches this fall, he said.

Underwriters Have Limit of $500 Million per Launch

The space insurance industry today counts about 30 underwriters, most of them in Europe, that together have up to $500 million they are willing to spend on any one launch risk, according to space insurers.

No single company has more than $50 million to place on space insurance in any given year, and the $500 million limit is only a theoretical ceiling — in practice, no satellite operator is willing to pay a premium so high that all underwriters would place their entire annual budget on a single launch.

After five consecutive years of profitability, the space insurance business has begun to attract new participants. The latest entry is Atrium Space Insurance Consortium of London, backed by several Lloyd’s syndicates, which has assembled $22 million for 2007 to insure satellite launches or a satellite’s in-orbit operations for a year.

David Wade, who heads Atrium’s underwriting group, said the company was created in January and has already hired three veterans from Telesat Canada for Atrium’s engineering team. The engineering group is based in Ottawa.

ILS to Phase Debut of More Powerful Proton

International Launch Services (ILS) will debut a more-powerful version of the Russian Proton-M rocket this year in two phases, with the second phase being a June launch of a DirecTV television-broadcast satellite that will demonstrate the vehicle’s ability to place a 6,300-kilogram satellite into geostationary transfer orbit, ILS Chief Financial Officer Philip R. Slack said.

McLean, Va.-based ILS, which was separated from Lockheed Martin in October in a sale to a specially created company named Space Transport Inc., has scheduled six launches this year, with the next being the planned April launch of Telesat Canada’s Anik F3 telecommunications spacecraft.

ILS, which used to go after contracts for telecommunications satellites of just about any size, is no longer focusing on market share and will seek to conduct no more than three to six launches per year, Slack said.

ILS’s shift in focus to larger satellites coincides with a change in the global commercial launch market, which now features higher prices. “Launch rates are coming back to $20,000 per kilogram,” Slack said, adding that ILS sees the annual commercial launch market for geostationary-orbiting satellites as a flat 17-18 satellites per year for the foreseeable future.

Coming out of the Lockheed Martin sale, Slack said ILS is debt-free, cash-flow positive and bolstered by a healthy backlog.

Meanwhile, Proton prime contractor Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, following a Russian government-ordered reorganization of the nation’s space-hardware sector, now directly controls two-thirds of the Proton vehicle’s component suppliers , including the builder of the Breeze-M upper stage.

Addressing a concern among some customers about ILS’s status without Lockheed Martin, Slack said that in many ways, smaller is better.

“We now have less bureaucracy to worry about,” Slack said. “We are more nimble, and more able to respond quickly and make decisions.”

Lawmaker: Missile Defense Talks Should Involve NATO

The U.S. Defense Department should widen its discussions on a European missile shield to include all NATO members rather than focusing on two nations that would host defensive installations, according to a key U.S. lawmaker.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said during a March 27 hearing that she supports the concept of working “with our European allies on missile defense. ” But she expressed concern that the Pentagon is negotiating on a bilateral basis with Poland and the Czech Republic on the deployment of missile defense interceptor and radar sites, respectively, in those countries .

“I know that sometimes it’s faster to work with a ‘coalition of the willing,’ but such coalitions usually don’t have strong foundations,” Tauscher said.

Brian Green, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategic capabilities and a former aide to the strategic forces subcommittee, told Tauscher that bilateral negotiations among NATO states on capabilities that can benefit other members are not uncommon, and are appropriate in this case.

Raytheon, Harris Finish NMT Prototype Testing

Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., and Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., completed testing in March of competing designs for a new satellite communications terminal for U.S. Navy ships and submarines.

The Navy is expected to pick one of the designs this summer for its Navy Multiband Terminal (NMT) program, which could be worth up to $1 billion to the winner. The NMT is expected to offer Navy forces access to more satellite signals than they have available today, while taking up less room than existing equipment.

In separate written statements, Mike O’Reilly, director of Navy programs for Harris’ Government Communications Systems Division, and William Swanson, Raytheon’s chief executive officer, said the tests demonstrated that their respective hardware designs will offer a dependable system for the Navy.

Boeing T-Sat Hardware Transmits at Three Rates

A Boeing-led team successfully transmitted data at three different rates via laser optical systems in recent tests supervised by the U.S. Air Force, according to a company news release dated March 20.

The tests validated the ability of hardware designed by Boeing for the Air Force’s planned Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) Communications System to point and acquire laser beams, and use them to transmit data at rates of 2.5, 10 and 40 gigabits per second, according to the news release. The tests were conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington .

Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., is competing against a team led by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., for the T-Sat prime contract, which is expected to be awarded late this year.

Howard Chambers, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, said in the news release that the demonstration proved that Boeing’s laser-optical technology is ready for use on the T-Sat satellites.

Hardware used in the test included a telescope and pointing electronics developed by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo.; an optical high-powered signal amplifier developed by LGS Innovations of Vienna, Va., formerly known as Lucent Technologies; and a low noise amplifier and optical modems developed by Boeing, according to the news release.

Boeing will conduct additional demonstrations as it prepares for a T-Sat design review scheduled for April.