Sen. Sessions Warns Against Missile Defense Cuts

A key U.S. lawmaker warned that reductions to U.S. missile defense spending beyond the Pentagon’s self-imposed $5 billion cut over the next six years would cause major programmatic disruptions.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, characterized the current Missile Defense Agency (MDA) budget as “thin,” and said the Senate should refrain from adopting amendments to the 2006 Defense Authorization Act to further cut spending .

The full Senate has yet to vote on the measure. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to mark up its version of the 2006 defense budget.

The Pentagon cut $5 billion out of the MDA budget over a six-year period beginning in 2006 to help cover the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sessions also said he hopes to see the MDA perform more intercept tests, but cautioned the agency against rushing to conduct tests before absorbing lessons from previous failures.

Contractor May Operate Sea Based X-Band Radar

The Pentagon is reviewing whether to allow a contractor to operate the large sea-based radar built for the U.S. national missile defense shield , according to U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Larry Dodgen, commander of Army Space and Missile Defense Command and the Pentagon’s Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense.

The Sea Based X-band Radar was built by Chicago-based Boeing Co., and will be operated by the company unless the Pentagon decides otherwise, Dodgen said during an Aug. 16 speech in Huntsville, Ala.

The radar, mounted atop a converted oil-drilling platform , is expected to arrive at its home port in Adak, Alaska, by the end of 2005.

The Pentagon has not decided yet whether to allow the platform to maneuver to the port under its own power , or to tow it using a military ship called the Blue Marlin, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, MDA’s director, said in a separate speech. The Blue Marlin was used to tow the U.S.S. Cole back to the United States from the Middle East after it was damaged in a terrorist attack, and could bring the radar sensor to port much faster, he said.

MDA Moves To Eliminate $300 Million in Overhead

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) expects to save about $300 million in overhead costs in 2006 as a result of measures that include consolidating its testing staff in Huntsville, Ala., according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, the agency’s director.

The MDA currently has separate testing staffs for each of the systems it is developing , and could save through a more efficient arrangement , Obering said. He noted that the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure commission has recommended moving some 2,000 MDA jobs from the Washington area to Huntsville.

If that recommendation is not adopted, the MDA likely will create a single campus in the Washington area to comply with new security rules directing the relocation of Defense Department personnel out of office space located near public streets, Obering said. MDA staff currently is located at the agency’s headquarters in the Navy Annex in Arlington, Va., and in a variety of leased office space in that area.

Huntsville hosts missile defense work at Redstone Arsenal with the Army Space and Missile Defense Command, as well as the Army Aviation and Missile Command.

Satellite TV Gains Users But is Losing Some Fans

Satellite television is adding subscribers at its fastest clip ever, but the industry’s edge over cable companies in customer satisfaction is slipping, according to a study by J.D. Power and Associates.

The report, “2005 Residential Cable/Satellite TV Satisfaction Study,” said 27 percent of U.S. households subscribe to a direct-to-home satellite television service, up from 19 percent in 2004 and 2 percent in 2001. The study, released Aug. 17, was based on responses from 11,586 households.

But the study also found that as satellite TV subscription numbers grew, customer satisfaction declined, while customer satisfaction with cable providers increased. For the first time since 2001, a cable service provider — WOW! (WideOpenWest) — won the top spot for customer service. WOW! operates in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.

Satellite provider DirecTV ranked second for customer satisfaction.

“Overall, satellite customers are still more satisfied with their service than cable subscribers, but if satellite providers want to continue to attract subscribers away from cable, customer satisfaction is a critical area where they can’t afford to lose ground,” Steve Kirkeby, senior director of telecommunications research at J.D. Power, said in a statement.

Satellite services remain slightly cheaper than cable on average, the report found. Satellite subscribers pay an average of $57.72 per month. Cable subscribers pay an average of $58.51 a month.

MDA Satellite Program Drives SpaceDev Sales

Work for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), including a second task order for microsatellite design work valued at $8.3 million, drove increasing revenues for SpaceDev Inc. in second quarter of 2005.

SpaceDev’s revenue increased 58 percent, to $1.9 million, for the three months ending June 30, compared to $1.2 million in the same period last year.

SpaceDev attributed the growth to execution of current contracts, including the missile defense order, which is part of a larger $43 million contract with the MDA to design up to six microsatellites.

In an interview, SpaceDev Chief Executive Officer Jim Benson said the company is finishing design work on the first three satellites and that construction is slated to begin in February. The satellites, costing about $7 million each, will communicate in real time and fly in formation, Benson said.

SpaceDev’s net income for the quarter came in at $110,938, compared with a loss of $1.3 million during the second quarter of last year. Operating income registered at $74,681, up from $32,865 in second quarter of 2004.

“We expect all favorable trends to continue into the third quarter,” Benson said.

GOES-N Launch Delay Extends Into October

A new U.S. government weather satellite whose August launch was postponed due to a battery problem with its Boeing-built Delta 4 rocket will not get off the ground before October, according to a statement posted on Boeing’s Web site Aug. 18.

An upcoming seasonal eclipse period, during which for reasons of orbital geometry the Sun’s rays would be obscured from the satellite’s solar arrays for extended stretches during the day, is another factor in the delay, Boeing said. Eclipse periods coincide with the vernal and autumnal equinox.

The launch countdown for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) N satellite, built by Boeing Satellite Systems, was halted shortly before liftoff Aug. 16 after an engineer noticed that a ground system was not transferring power to the battery that runs the rocket’s second-stage self-destruct system as quickly as expected, according to the statement.

Boeing and NASA have yet to set a new launch date , but the company noted in the statement that it must wait about 48 days after the eclipse period begins in late August or early September so that the satellite’s solar panels can properly charge once it reaches orbit.

The launch had been scheduled for May, but has been delayed several times due to problems with the Delta 4 rocket. Battery problems with the vehicle grounded the entire Delta 4 fleet for a period this summer.

German Payload to Fly Aboard NFIRE Satellite

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to fly a German laser communications payload aboard an experimental infrared satellite that is slated for launch next year, according to an agency official.

The MDA found itself with additional room aboard the Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE), which is designed to help gather data on distinguishing between a missile’s body and exhaust plume, after it eliminated a controversial payload that was to separate from the main spacecraft to take a closer look at a target, said Kevin Robinson, the MDA’s chief engineer on the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program . Data from the NFIRE experiment is supposed to feed into the interceptor program.

Robinson did not provide additional details about the German payload.

CSA Funding Common Microsatellite Bus

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and industrial partner Dynacon Enterprises Ltd. of Mississauga, Ontario, are working on a generic, multi-mission microsatellite bus. The adaptable spacecraft frame would be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of payloads, said Simon Grocott, Dynacon’s manager of attitude control systems.

The first of a planned trio of missions utilizing the microsatellite platform would be a Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite, a joint CSA-Defence Research and Development Canada program. The tiny telescope-carrying satellite, targeted for launch in 2008, would detect and track near Earth asteroids, as well as other objects in Earth orbit.

Grocott said the asteroid-scouting craft’s design would draw from Canada’s first microsatellite, the Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars spacecraft launched in June 2003.

The other proposed CSA missions that would utilize the asteroid-detection microsatellite’s design are : a radar altimeter payload to measure ocean wave height in 2010; and an advanced technology demonstration in 2012.

Nanosatellite Designed For Biology Research

The Astrobionics project at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is developing a tiny satellite dubbed GeneSat-1 designed to study biological effects of the spaceflight environment, such as radiation and microgravity, on the human body.

The test subjects on the flight of the roughly 10-kilogram, fully-automated miniaturized craft will be E. coli bacteria. “The first milestone is to get the flight experience and heritage with this device,” said Bruce Yost, deputy project manager of the work for Ames support contractor Defouw Engineering .

Validating the GeneSat-1 in Earth orbit could foster its use to study biological changes in micro-organisms and other specimens on the Moon and elsewhere in deep space.

The GeneSat-1 platform is undergoing assembly and testing, and is expected to be completed this December, Yost said. A possible launcher for the craft is a Dnieper booster marketed by Kosmotras, a Ukrainian-Russian company.

NASA Still Getting Heat for Canceling Unex

Orlando Figueroa, deputy associate administrator for programs in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, found himself on the hot seat while delivering the keynote address to the 19th Annual Conference on Small Satellites Aug. 8, as audience members criticized the agency’s decision a few years back to cancel a program that funded student-built satellites.

Figueroa noted that small satellites have a place in NASA’s space exploration plans, but said the U niversity-class Explorers (Unex) program experienced “more failures than successes.” Unex was initiated to provide frequent flight opportunities for low-cost, highly focused science experiments developed by university students .

“We have to go back and revisit it again,” Figueroa said. “NASA simply couldn’t continue to throw out $15 million to $20 million per shot and not get anything in return. It’s irresponsible to the taxpayers.”

More than one audience member scolded Figueroa for what they said was a lack of opportunities provided by NASA to give students hands-on experience building satellites and payloads.

Figueroa said NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has requested a review of the issue and how best to address the concern.

SBIRS Propulsion Unit Shipped to Sunnyvale

Lockheed Martin Space Systems has moved propulsion hardware for the first of a series of U.S. Air Force missile warning satellites from NASA’s Stennis Space Center, Miss., to its facilities in Sunnyvale, Calif., where it will undergo integration with the spacecraft and testing later this year, the company announced Aug. 15.

The propulsion subsystem, which will maneuver the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High satellite during its transit to geosynchronous orbit and keep it properly positioned at its operating location , was developed at Lockheed Martin’s Mississippi Space and Technology Center at Stennis .

The propulsion subsystem has 18 reaction engine assemblies, a fuel tank, two oxidizer tanks and a liquid apogee engine, Lockheed Martin said.

Spitzer Offers Peek Into The Milky Way’s Core

Astronomers from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater recently completed a structural analysis of the Milky Way with help from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, finding a long central bar in the galaxy’s center that distinguishes it from neighboring spiral galaxies.

The astronomers, who surveyed nearly 30 million stars in the Milky Way to learn more about its innermost regions, found that this structural bar spans nearly 27,000 light years and serves as the galaxy’s central feature rather than what some researchers presumed to be a central ellipse, according to an Aug. 16 University of Wisconsin news release.

The Spitzer telescope helped the astronomers cut through interstellar dust to gather infrared starlight data from millions of stars at the center of the galaxy. The charting process was akin to drawing the boundaries of a forest from deep within the woods, according to the news release.

NASA Hires ASRC for Management Training

NASA announced Aug. 12 that it has hired ASRC Management Services Inc. of Greenbelt, Md., to provide agency engineers and program managers with career training and development services to ensure safe practices and mission success.

NASA said the services will support project managers and teams at every level of the agency, providing formal classroom and Internet training in such areas as risk management, cost containment and schedule maintenance.

The one-year contract is valued at up to $49 million, NASA said.

Fire Scout Demonstrates Versatility in Recent Tests

Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) successfully completed a supply delivery as well as data and video relays during a series of demonstration flights Aug. 1-3 for military and other government officials at Arizona’s Yuma Proving Ground.

Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems of El Segundo, Calif., announced Aug. 15 that the demonstrations showed the UAV can be flown using existing U.S. Army ground control stations, making it easily adaptable into the Army’s current stable of intelligence-gathering and surveillance vehicles.

During one demonstration, the Fire Scout delivered supplies to a remote site, where a participant unloaded the supplies and pressed a button on the outside of the UAV to return it to its launching point. The Fire Scout also provided streaming video using the Tactical Common Data Link.

Northrop Grumman is under contract to build four Fire Scout UAVs for the U.S. Navy and another eight for the Army.

AEA To Make Battery for NASA Solar Observatory

AEA Technology plc of England has won a $1.9 million contract from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to supply the battery for the agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft, which will study the Sun’s dynamic state and how it affects space weather, AEA announced July 27.

The AEA 120- amp hour lithium-ion battery will be able to provide more than 1,400 watts of power over the SDO’s 10-year mission during eclipse periods — when the Earth blocks sunlight from reaching the spacecraft’s solar panels, company spokesman Chris Pearson in an e-mail interview.

Pearson said work on the nearly 40-kilogram flight battery was slated to begin Aug. 15, and delivery to Goddard is expected in May 2007.

Florida Firm Unveils New Satellite Simulation Device

Tampa Microwave of Florida announced Aug. 3 the debut of a new Dual Band Satellite Emulator, which simulates the operation of up to six Ka- or Ku-band satellite Earth terminals. The frequencies include those used commercially and by the military, the company said. The device will allow users to engage in mobile system simulation for training and maintenance purposes, the company said.

Latest NASA Mars Probe Carrying e2v Sensors

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which launched Aug. 12 on a mission to study the red planet’s surface and seek out evidence of water and possible life, is equipped with e2v technologies’ imaging sensors to help capture pictures of Mars at resolutions close to 1 meter, e2v of England announced Aug. 16.

The imaging sensors are incorporated into the MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera, which will provide the highest-resolution photos of Mars yet taken at up to 20,000 pixels by 40,000 lines. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., built the high-resolution camera for the Mars probe.

MobiTv Leases Capacity From SES Global Units

MobiTv has contracted with SES Americom and SES Astra to deliver its programming to mobile phone customers in Canada, Europe and Latin America.

Under the agreement, MobiTv of Berkeley, Calif., will lease satellite capacity and related equipment and services from the SES companies, both owned by SES Global of Luxembourg.

Networks and technology from both companies will be used to deliver news, entertainment and sports content to phones.

MobiTv is a global network that delivers television content to mobile phones. SES Global operates the world’s largest commercial geostationary satellite fleet, providing television and others primarily in Europe and North America.

Space Position Filled at U.S. Strategic Command

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Kevin Chilton took over U.S. Strategic Command’s recently established Joint Functional Component Command for Space and Global Strike Aug. 9 at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, according to a Strategic Command news release.

Chilton, who previously served as acting assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force, replaces Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, who is scheduled to receive his fourth star and take command at Air Force Material Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio .

PanAmSat’s Galaxy 14 Launched by Soyuz

PanAmSat Corp.’s Galaxy 14 telecommunications satellite was successfully launched Aug. 13 by a Russian Soyuz rocket that lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The spacecraft, built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., will undergo several weeks of testing before beginning operations at 125 degrees west longitude. It has a 15-year design life.

PanAmSat of Wilton, Conn., will use Galaxy 14 to provide television and other transmission services to customers in North America.

Soyuz rockets are marketed commercially by Starsem, a joint venture whose shareholders include Arianespace and EADS of Europe; and the Russian Federal Space Agency and Russia’s Samara Space Center.

Comments: Warren Ferster,