Board Sheds Light on Mars Probe Failure

Bad commands and faulty software uploaded to NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor led to the November 2006 loss of the spacecraft, an internal review board said in a preliminary report released April 13.

Confirming previous speculation, the board said the loss likely was due to faulty computer code uploaded last summer that ultimately caused one of the spacecraft’s batteries to overheat.

“The loss of the spacecraft was the result of a series of events linked to a computer error made five months before the likely battery failure,” said board chairwoman Dolly Perkins, a deputy director for technical matters at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Ground controllers last heard from the probe Nov. 2, 2006, after being ordered to perform a routine adjustment of its solar panels. The spacecraft reported a series of alarms but, in a final transmission, indicated it had stabilized. Subsequently, the spacecraft reoriented to an angle that exposed one of its two batteries to direct sunlight. The battery overheated and, over the course of 11 hours, depleted the other battery as well. An incorrectly oriented antenna prevented the spacecraft from communicating its status to controllers.

Cartwright Takes Aim At Responsive Space Foes

In a self-described “rant” during his April 12 keynote speech at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, blasted those in the intelligence community who have been fighting the efforts of many in the military to get intelligence information quickly into the hands of troops in the field.

Cartwright, said the Cold War mentality, in which everything about space was considered something to be held as a closely guarded secret, must change.

Cartwright passionately described the feelings of an officer who has spent months in the heat and cold of the desert, watching his troops fight and die, only to be approached days after satellite imagery becomes available “by a man who leans over and whispers in your ear that he has something that will show you what is over that next hill.” At that point, Cartwright said “I would just as soon shoot him as listen to him.”

He vowed to keep fighting those who are preventing his troops from getting access to such intelligence as soon as they need it “until they throw me in jail.”

Executives Detail Launch Costs

Globalstar said it expects to be able to launch and insure its fleet of 48 second-generation satellites for $10 million each, which Globalstar Chief Executive Jay Monroe said is about the same as the company is paying for the launch of eight final first-generation satellites this year.

In an April 12 interview, Monroe and Globalstar Chief Financial Officer Fuad Ahmad sought to correct what they said is a false impression of their launch costs as described in the company’s April 2 filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

In the SEC filing, Globalstar said is paying a total of $120 million for the launch, including insurance, of eight satellites on two Russian Soyuz vehicles scheduled for May and June.

But that price — $15 million per satellite — includes substantial work on the satellites’ payload and platform done in part because the hardware had spent years in storage.

Stripping out these non-launch-related costs, Globalstar is paying the French-Russian Starsem organization about $72 million for the two launches, Monroe said. Adding a 6.5 percent launch-insurance premium brings the total launch cost to $76.6 million, or $9.6 million per satellite.

Monroe said Globalstar believes that launch prices, which have been rising in recent months, will moderate as new vehicles are introduced onto the market. In addition, he said the company expects to be able to use the promise of multiple launches to secure favorable prices despite the fact that the second-generation satellites are heavier than those being launched this year.

The second-generation satellites are under construction by Thales Alenia Space — formerly called Alcatel Alenia Space — and scheduled for delivery starting in late 2009. The satellites will include substantial U.S.-made components and thus will fall under U.S. technology-transfer regulations, according to Thales Alenia Space. For Globalstar, that will eliminate low-cost Chinese rockets as a launch alternative unless U.S. regulations are modified.

Launch costs are important for Globalstar because it has told its investors that the second-generation constellation will be built and launched for about $1.2 billion, including insurance. Launches are scheduled to start in late 2009.

Globalstar has already signed a contract valued at 671 million euros, which the company said at the time of the deal was $871 million, with Thales Alenia Space . The contract value may be reduced by 28 million euros if all the satellites are all delivered by late 2010.

A $10 million-per-satellite cost for launch and insurance would bring Globalstar’s total capital expenditure for its second-generation system to about $1.3 billion assuming the accelerated delivery and the same dollar-euro exchange rate.

Canadian Space Agency Taps Boisvert as Chief

After a year’s search, the Canadian government on April 12 announced that former Telesat Canada Chief Executive Larry J. Boisvert has been named president of the Canadian Space Agency.

Boisvert, who worked for satellite-fleet operator Telesat from 1972 until retiring in 2006, replaces Marc Garneau, a former astronaut who left the agency in 2005. Carole Lacombe, the agency’s senior vice president, has been acting president during the search for Garneau’s successor.

“Mr. Boisvert’s experience in the satellite industry will help strengthen Canada’s international reputation has a leader and innovator in space exploration,” Canadian Industry Minister Maxime Bernier said in an April 12 statement.

Chilton Says Purchase of 3rd SBIRS Satellite Likely

The U.S. Air Force likely will procure at least one more satellite in a long troubled missile warning program, according to Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of Air Force Space Command.

The service has not yet made a formal decision on whether to buy a third Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite. But Chilton, speaking with reporters April 12, said he is “pretty confident that we’re going to go in that direction.”

The SBIRS program originally was supposed to consist of five dedicated satellites operating in geosynchronous orbit. But the program was restructured in 2005 due to persistent cost growth and technical difficulties. The revamped program calls for the Air Force to buy no more three but possibly only two dedicated SBIRS satellites before moving on to the new Alternative Infrared Satellite System (AIRSS). Some Air Force officials have since raised the possibility of going back to the original plan to buy all five SBIRS satellites in light of the program’s improved performance of late.

Meanwhile, the Air Force has delayed a request for proposals for an AIRSS demonstration satellite that is scheduled to launch in 2009. The solicitation had been expected April 4, but remains under review at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, the service said in a written statement. The statement did not cite a reason for the delay, but said it was “unrelated to any activities associated” with SBIRS.

Clapper Confirmed to Pentagon Intel Post

The U.S. Senate confirmed James Clapper to serve as the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for intelligence on April 11.

Clapper, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general, served as director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in his last government assignment.

Pentagon Grant Funds Intelsat Router Demo

Intelsat won Defense Department grant earlier this year to demonstrate the viability of conducting military communications through an Internet router in space, the company announced April 9.

The Internet Routing In Space (IRIS) effort will be managed by Intelsat General, a wholly owned subsidiary of Intelsat. The amount of the grant was not disclosed.

Cisco Systems will provide commercial Internet Protocol networking software for the on-board router, to be built by Seaker Engineering.

Concerto Advisors is organizing equity financing for a new company being formed to fund the design, construction and operation of the equipment that will be used for the demonstration project. Following the testing period, Concerto’s affiliate will own the equipment, and Intelsat will operate it on Concerto’s behalf to provide services for government and commercial users.

The IRIS payload will fly on the Intelsat 14 satellite under construction by Space Systems/Loral and scheduled for launch in 2009.

Lockheed Martin To Continue D5 Life-Extension Upgrades

The U.S. Navy awarded Lockheed Martin Space Systems a one-year contract modification worth $135 million to continue life-extension work on the service’s fleet of Trident 2 D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles through 2008 , the company said in an April 9 press release .

The Trident 2 D5 Life Extension program provides updates to the missiles’ electronics, guidance and re-entry systems .

The Navy has been contracting with Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., for work on the Extension program via annual installments since 2002.

In a related development, Lockheed Martin awarded Alliant Techsystems of Edina, Minn., a contract worth $85.8 million to continue producing solid-rocket propulsion systems for all three stages of the Trident 2 D5 missile, Alliant Techsystems announced April 9.

Deliveries under the contract will run through 2011, Alliant Techsystems said.


International Corp. A
cquires SRS Technologies

ManTech International Corp., an information technology and technical services contractor, announced April 9 that it will acquire SRS Technologies Inc., an engineering services contractor that counts the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office and other defense and intelligence agencies among its customers . The purchase price is $195 million.

SRS of Newport Beach, Calif., specializes in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) services. The privately held company expects revenues of more than $175 million from 2007.

The acquisition, which is subject to U.S. regulatory review, is expected to be close by the 2007 second quarter, Fairfax, Va.-based ManTech said.

“This acquisition is consistent with ManTech’s growth strategy to broaden our footprint in the high-end intelligence, homeland security and defense markets,” ManTech Chairman and Chief Executive George J. Pedersen said in a prepared statement.

Telesat’s Anik F3 Satellite Launched by Proton Rocket

Telesat Canada’s Anik F3 telecommunications satellite was successfully placed into orbit April 10 by an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton-M rocket launched from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, ILS and Telesat Canada announced.

The first ILS launch of the year placed the 4,640-kilogram Anik F3, carrying 24 C-band, 32 Ku-band and two Ka-band transponders, into geostationary orbit some nine hours and 11 minutes after liftoff. The satellite is expected to operate for 15 years at Telesat Canada’s 118.7 degrees west longitude slot.

Built by Astrium Satellites of Europe, Anik F3 uses Astrium’s Eurostar E3000 satellite frame that will provide 11 kilowatts of power to the payload.

ILS said the Anik F3 mission was the 40th Proton launch for ILS and the 325th Proton mission conducted since the vehicle entered service for the Russian government.

SES Global Shareholders Approve Dividend Payment

Shareholders of satellite-fleet operator SES Global of Luxembourg on April 10 signed off on a dividend payment of 44 euro cents (59 U.S. cents) following approval of the company’s 2006 financial results, SES Global announced. The company also announced the cancellation of the shares formerly owned by GE Capital as part of an agreement reached in March.

The cancellation of the former GE shares — equivalent to 19.5 percent of SES Global’s share capital — increases to 70 percent the amount of SES Global equity traded on the Paris-based Euronext and Luxembourg stock exchanges.

With SES Global’s stock trading at around 14.40 euros, the dividend gives investors a yield of slightly more than 3 percent.

Alliance Spacesystems Opens Colorado Office

Pasadena, Calif.-based Alliance Spacesystems LLC, which specializes in robotics and related engineering work, has opened a Boulder, Colo., office to better serve its customers in that region, the company said in an April 5 press release .

“A growing part of our work in space exploration and in commercial and government space applications is based in Colorado,” Alliance President and Chief Executive Rene Fradet said in a prepared statement.

The Boulder-Denver is home to Ball Aerospace Technologies Corp. and Lockheed Martin Space Systems. Peterson Air Force Base, home of U.S. Air Force Space Command, is located south of that area in Colorado Springs.

AeroAstro Wins Contract To Develop Self-Repairing FGPAs

Ashburn, Va.-based AeroAstro Inc. has won a two-year, $600,000 contract through the NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to develop self-repairing hardware for spacecraft data communications systems, the company said in an April 10 press release .

AeroAstro, a small satellite and satellite technology provider, is using what it calls Fault Tolerant Electronics Supporting Space Exploration to create redundancy on a circuit-level scale using computer chips called field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). AeroAstro has developed a way to partition FPGAs into groups capable of reconfiguring themselves to restore system performance if other FPGAs experience problems , according to AeroAstro’s 2005 SBIR proposal about the technology.

The technique applies a level of redundancy seen in software to a hardware scale, according to the release.

Fault-Tolerant Electronics Supporting Space Exploration is expected “to provide rugged electronic platforms with the capability not to just recover from a single fault, but to reconfigure themselves to literally work around multiple faults,” Bill Seng, AeroAstro’s chief technology officer, said in a prepared statement. “This is critical technology for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars, where repair facilities are few and far between.”

Harris Names Teammates on Ground System Competition

Lockheed Martin Information Technology is among Harris Corp.’s teammates in pursuit of the $455 million contract to provide maintenance and other support service’s to U.S. Air Force satellite ground stations.

The Network and Space Operations Maintenance (NSOM) contract combines the Air Force’s Operational Space Services and Support and the Mission Communications Operations and Maintenance contracts. Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris is the incumbent contractor on those programs.

Other members of the Harris led team are: L3 Communications Titan Group; Faith Enterprises Inc.; ASRC Aerospace; Arctic Slope World Services; Nortel Government Solutions; and Gnther Douglas.

Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems also has announced its intent to compete for the six-and-a-half-year contract, which is expected to be awarded in late 2007.

GOES-10 Relocated for South America Coverage

The head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), joined by ambassadors from Argentina, Brazil and Chile, announced April 10 the successful repositioning of a U.S.-owned geostationary weather satellite to improve weather and climate observations in South America.

The Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite-10, or GOES-10, was moved from 135 degrees west longitude to 60 degrees west longitude following formal requests from Latin American members of the World Meteorological Organization, with Brazil and Argentina taking the diplomatic lead. The satellite, launched in 1997, arrived at its new position Dec. 4.

“Repositioning GOES-10 provides a constant vigil over atmospheric conditions that trigger severe weather, and I am pleased that the United States can strengthen the quality and quantity of data available to our Latin American partners,” Conrad C. Lautenbacher, NOAA administrator, told roughly 75 diplomats, NOAA employees and media at a press conference held at the Brazilian embassy here.

“In the past, coverage has been interrupted during hurricanes and other severe weather events in the U.S. Now, South Americans will have continuing satellite coverage. We will no longer be left in the dark,” said Gilberto Cmara, director of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute.

The GOES-10 repositioning is the first American commitment to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems in the Americas, Lautenbacher said.

NASA Targets June Launch For Space Shuttle Atlantis

NASA is targeting an early June launch for its Space Shuttle Atlantis and will complete repairs to the orbiter’s hail-battered external fuel tank rather than replace the 15-story vessel with a pristine one, mission managers said April 10 .

Atlantis and its six-astronaut crew are now slated to launch towards the international space station no earlier than June 8 to deliver new starboard solar arrays and girders to the orbital laboratory.

“As of right now we’re going to stay with the tank,” NASA shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said during an April 10 teleconference .

Hale said the ongoing repair work to Atlantis’ fuel tank would allow the orbiter to return to its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., around May 6, but that would not allow the shuttle to launch within the flight window that closes on May 21.

Replacing the Atlantis’ fuel tank with a new one would push the orbiter’s launch date to no earlier than June 19, Hale added.

The new launch window stretches from June 8 to about July 18, with the next flight opportunity occurring around Aug. 5, NASA officials said.

Atlantis’ STS-117 mission has been delayed since Feb. 26, when a severe thunderstorm battered the orbiter’s fuel tank with golf ball-sized hail just weeks shy of a planned March 15 liftoff. The hail left more than 2,600 divots in the vital foam insulation covering the fuel tank .

SBIRS Sensor Used for Situational Awareness

The U.S. Air Force has taken advantage of a new missile warning sensor to boost its ability to keep tabs on objects in space, according to a senior service official.

Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, told reporters here April 10 that the first Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) sensor, which is hosted by a classified satellite in a highly elliptical orbit (HEO), has helped the service quickly determine the orbital location of a variety of satellites shortly after launch.

The sensor also has been used to spot and track missile launches during U.S. missile defense tests, Hamel said.

The Air Force announced in November 2006 that the HEO sensor was operational. The SBIRS constellation is expected to include a second HEO sensor, as well as at least two dedicated satellites in geosynchronous orbit, the first of which is scheduled to launch in late 2008.

The HEO sensor can assist with space situational awareness while simultaneously performing its primary missile warning mission, according to a SBIRS program official.

Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of Air Force Space Command, has made improving space situational awareness a top priority over the past year.

Industry Frets About Component Suppliers

U.S. defense and intelligence leaders are so concerned about the health of American satellite component companies that they’ve established a Space Supplier Council to gather “off-the-record” concerns from executives and relay them to top government officials, said William Ballhaus, president and chief executive officer of Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, Calif.

Today, 60 percent to 70 percent of the technology in government satellites comes not from prime contractors but from component suppliers specializing in everything from solar cells to signal amplifiers, optical coatings and flight software.

“In my eyes, the supplier base has eroded to the point where many of the capabilities and technologies are at risk,” Ballhaus, who chairs the Space Supplier Council, said during a panel discussion April 10. The council eventually will offer policy recommendations in hopes of making it easier for suppliers to stay in business. He said the council is still gathering facts: “Then we’ll come up with some recommendations.”