Helps Boost Hispasat’s 2006 Income

Spanish satellite-fleet operator Hispasat reported May 3 sharp increases in revenue , gross margins and net profit for 2006, saying resurgent demand in Latin America from digital-television broadcasters was a key to the performance.

Madrid-based Hispasat said revenues, at 120.5 million euros ($164.6 million) , grew by nearly 21 percent over 2005 as the company’s Amazonas satellite, carrying 32 Ku-band and 19 C-band transponders, won new Brazilian and other Latin American television broadcast customers. Located at 61 degrees west longitude, Amazonas is now 88 percent full, the company said in a May 3 statement of its financial results.

Hispasat’s EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was 88.6 million euros, or 73.5 percent of revenue, up from 71 percent in 2005. Net profit for 2006 totaled 24.5 million euros, more than double 2005’s 9.8 million euros.

Since 2004, Hispasat has reduced its debt by more than 50 percent. As of Dec. 31 debt was about 140 million euros.

In addition to Amazonas, Hispasat operates three satellites at 30 degrees west longitude covering Europe . Along with its minority shareholder, satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris, Hispasat is one of several strategic and financial investors taking part in the auction of Mexico’s Satmex satellite operator.

SES Scraps Deal with Boeing To Replace NSS-8

SES Global has terminated a contract with Boeing Satellite Systems International to build an identical replacement for the NSS-8 satellite lost in the Jan. 30 failure of a Sea Launch rocket. That decision followed Boeing’s refusal to abide by the contract’s terms, SES Global officials said.

SES Global Chief Executive Romain Bausch said May 2 that the company is seeking bids from other manufacturers for a similar satellite for its SES New Skies division and is keeping its legal options open with respect to possible recourse against Boeing.

In a conference call, Bausch said the Luxembourg-based satellite-fleet operator will not let the matter drop with a simple refusal on the part of Boeing. “We will handle this at the appropriate level,” Bausch said.

Boeing built the large NSS-8 satellite — which carried 92 C- and Ku-band transponders — under a contract signed in early 2001 that included an option for up to two additional satellites. The contract, which was later subjected to major modifications when Boeing fell behind schedule, included a provision that Boeing build an NSS-8 clone within 26 months following SES Global’s decision to exercise that clause in the contract, according to SES Global.

SES Global had 90 days from the date of the NSS-8 failure to exercise its option with Boeing. Bausch said the company attempted to do just that but was informed that Boeing could no longer meet the terms and conditions. The contract was terminated April 30.

In response to Space News inquiries, Boeing issued the following statement May 3 regarding its contract talks with SES Global: “Boeing has been notified by the New Skies customer that it has decided to terminate its contract with Boeing which called for the NSS-8 spacecraft and a replacement, if necessary. As a result, Boeing will not build a replacement satellite for the NSS-8 spacecraft that was lost in the Jan. 30 launch failure. As a part of our continuing support to all customers, Boeing will continue to be available to New Skies in whatever capacity desired.” (See related articles, page 12)

Last T-Sat Review Until Contract Award Finished

The U.S. Air Force recently completed the last major milestone review of the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) Communications System prior to the expected contract award late this year, according to a May 3 news release from the Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center.

The T-Sat program office spent the past four weeks along with other government testers reviewing designs developed by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. to ensure that the technology is mature enough for use with the T-Sat satellites, which are expected to launch beginning in 2016.

The review examined the overall system design proposed by each company and the contractors’ approaches to meeting mission and technical requirements of the T-Sat satellites, ground control equipment and user terminals, according to the news release.

Firms to Develop Backup Orion Heat Shield Materials

NASA awarded two contracts totaling $34 million to develop three alternative heat-shield materials the agency could fall back on if it runs into problems with the primary material chosen for its Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle . Boeing, which is developing the primary material, stands to receive $10 million to do early work on a proprietary alternative. The other two alternatives are being developed by Textron under a $24 million contract.

Lockheed Awarded SBIRS Work Worth $35.8 Million

The U.S. Air Force awarded a contract modification to Lockheed Martin Space Systems worth $35.8 million to address issues with the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High missile warning satellite program, according to a Pentagon contract announcement dated May 3.

The contract announcement stated that the money is intended to pay for “upgrades of the Geosynchronous Earth Orbit test anomaly resolution and operation support.”

Joseph Davidson, a spokesman for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, which is overseeing the development of the SBIRS satellites, did not respond to questions about the contract modification by press time.

The first SBIRS High satellite is expected to launch in 2008.

U.S. Plans $750 Million In Satellite Service Buys

About two-dozen providers of fixed and mobile satellite services will be able to bid on an estimated $750 million in U.S. government civil and military business in the next five years following awards announced May 2 by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). GSA’s Satcom-2 program succeeds Satcom-1, which was valued at about $500 million over five years.

Both regimes are indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts that give winning applicants the right to compete for specific business opportunities over the program’s life. As most contracts will feature two or more bidders, there is no specific revenue guarantee given to any of the selected companies. Small businesses have been guaranteed a piece of the work and account for one-third of the selected companies, GSA said.

Among the larger companies are: Americom Government Services, Arrowhead Global Solutions, Intelsat General Corp., Stratos Global, Telenor Satellite Services, ViaSat Inc. and Artel Inc.

“We’ve designed Satcom-2 to keep pace with the phenomenal growth in satellite technology we expect over its five-year contract life,” GSA Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner said in a statement.

Maine Engineer Wins Centennial Challenge

Peter Homer, an engineer from Southwest Harbor, Maine, won $200,000 in NASA’s first-ever Astronaut Glove Challenge after a two-day competition near Hartford, Conn.

“It feels good,” said Homer, whose two home-built spacesuit gloves beat entries from two other teams to take home the top prize. “It took a lot of sitting at the sewing machine.”

A total of $250,000, split into two separate prizes, was up for grabs during NASA’s Astronaut Glove Challenge, one of several Centennial Challenges offered by the space agency to spur interest and innovation in spaceflight technology. Entrants were asked to construct spacesuit gloves capable of meeting, or exceeding, the specifications of NASA’s current Phase 6 glove. Of six possible contenders, three teams presented their gloves for the competition.

“If you’re looking for innovative ideas, evolutionary steps and better gloves, you can’t beat it,” said Bill Spenny, shuttle spacesuit subsystems manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The smaller $50,000 award, reserved for any team to successfully demonstrate a Mechanical Counter Pressure glove that protects its wearer without using a pressurized bladder akin to those found in current spacesuits, went unclaimed and will roll over to next year, event organizers said.

Homer’s prize marks the first time NASA has doled out a cash prize under its Centennial Challenges program despite five previous meets over the last two years. The space agency’s separate Power Beam and Tether challenges, held in 2005 and 2006, have twice ended without winners. The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge also went unclaimed last year.

NASA Probe Provides New Views of Jupiter

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured hundreds of new images of the jovian system as it passed within 2.3 million kilometers of Jupiter Feb. 28 in a slingshot maneuver on its way to Pluto.

Some of those images, unveiled May 1 during a NASA news conference, reveal never-before-seen features of the gas giant and its moons. Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator, said the Jupiter flyby was “successful beyond our wildest dreams.”

“This is the eighth mission to Jupiter, and it gives us a chance for the first time to take these modern instruments in close where Cassini couldn’t go and with the bandwidth that Galileo couldn’t deliver to really unveil new views of the system,” Stern said.

T he new images depict features including : high-altitude clouds and a haze at Jupiter’s south pole that probably was formed by charged particles transported there during one of the planet’s auroras; Jupiter’s charcoal-black rings; volcanic eruptions on Jupiter’s moon Io; and Jupiter’s Little Red Spot, a new storm system that is smaller than the planet’s famous Great Red Spot.

The Jupiter flyby came just 13 months after the New Horizons probe’s launch, and served as a dress rehearsal for its rendezvous with Pluto in 2015. The instruments performed so well that the team will veer from its original plan and prepare for the Pluto mission early.

The original plan was to put New Horizons into hibernation for several years after the Jupiter flyby before waking it again to prepare for Pluto, but Stern said the team now will be conducting the first rehearsal for the Pluto encounter in 2009.

RP Engineering Upper-Stage Engine Tested for Third Time

Rocket Propulsion Engineering Corp. (RP) conducted April 3 the third successful hot-fire test of a prototype liquid-oxygen-kerosene upper-stage engine the company is developing for a small launcher.

During the 3.7-second test firing at RP’s Mojave, Calif., test stand, the fuel-film-cooled engine generated 4,430 pounds of thrust, the company said in a press release. The 4,500-pound-thrust engine is being developed as an upper stage for the C-50, a rocket designed by the company to launch payloads weighing up to 180 kilograms.

In a prepared statement, RP President Jim Grote said testing of the engine has progressed more quickly than expected. “Thrust was within 100 pounds of nominal and [specific impulse] was higher and the engine met our thermal goals … We did not expect to achieve all of these results for another three or four tests. They will let us move up the schedule for the flight-weight engine tests.”

The testing is being supported in part by a $1 million contract with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency , the company said. Longer-duration tests are planned for this summer, the company said.

Images Suggest Mars Ice Occurs at Varying Depths

Scientists studying infrared images taken by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter have determined that the depth at which subsurface martian ice lies varies between areas located just a few meters apart, according to a May 2 press release from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Odyssey’s Thermal Emission Imaging System camera was used to measure seasonal variations in the surface temperature of sites in the far northern and southern hemispheres of Mars. Water ice within a meter or so of the surface was discovered at these sites five years ago by the spacecraft’s Gamma Ray Spectrometer suite.

The more recent thermal images show that some of the sites warmed or cooled more slowly with the change of seasons than others located nearby. Since water ice retains heat better than martian soil, scientists concluded that the areas where temperatures were slower to change were those in which ice lies closest to the surface, NASA said.

The scientists also found that the composition of the martian topsoil plays a key role in determining how close the ice is to the surface. Rocky areas tend to pump heat into the ground, forcing the ice to retreat from the surface, said Joshua Bandfield, a research specialist at the University of Arizona in Tempe and the author of a paper on the study that was published in the May 3 issue of Nature. Conversely, dusty areas tend to insulate the ice, enabling it to survive closer to the surface, he said.

Martian terrain varies widely between rocks and dust, and this accounts for the patchy vertical distribution of the subsurface ice, Bandfield said in the press release.

Com Dev International Lands $35 Million Order

Satellite-component supplier Com Dev International Ltd. of Cambridge, Ontario, won a follow-on contract worth 39 million Canadian dollars ($35 million) to build a space science instrument for an undisclosed civil space customer , the company said in an April 30 press release.

The award represents the production phase of the program , Com Dev President Mike Pley said in a May 3 phone interview. Com Dev has completed work for the development phase of the contract.

In its press release, Com Dev said it was prevented by contractual restrictions from identifying its customer. In the interview, Pley would not be specific about the nature of the instrument, which the company expects to deliver in 2009.

“This contract, which is among the largest in our history, represents a major milestone in our ongoing strategy of growing our civil space business,” Pley said in a prepared statement.

Integral Software Contract Expanded to Cover JCSAT-11

Integral Systems Inc., a satellite-control software provider, signed a contract with Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems to expand JSAT Corp.’s ground system to include operations of the JCSAT-11 satellite, Integral said in a press release May 1.

Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa., is building JCSAT-11, an 2100-model spacecraft, for Tokyo-based JSAT. Integral’s Epoch software suite already is used to control JSAT’s JCSAT-9 and JCSAT-10 satellites, which also were built by Lockheed Martin.

The Epoch system provides support functions including telemetry and command processing and display, flight dynamics, ranging and equipment status to allow JSAT to control its Lockheed Martin-built satellites.

Integal does not disclose the values of its contracts, Stuart Daughtridge , a company spokesman, said May 1.

The JCSAT-11 is slated for launch later in 2007.

Raytheon Wins Order for 128 GBS Receiver Units

Raytheon will provide 128 Global Broadcast Service (GBS) receiver terminals to the U.S. military under a $14.5 million contract with U.S. Air Force Electronic Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., the company said in a May 1 press release.

The contract calls for Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems of Garland, Texas, to provide 59 receiver suites for the U.S. Army and 69 for the Air Force, the company said.

The GBS is a satellite-based system that enables the military to broadcast bandwidth-heavy multimedia files to command centers and forces around the world.

Hayabusa Craft Headed Back to Earth

Japan’s Hayabusa asteroid sample return spacecraft, hobbled by technical glitches including the loss of two of three reaction control wheels, began its return trip to Earth April 25, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in a press release.

Preparing the spacecraft for its return trip on the power of an aging ion engine took longer than expected, and additional issues remain, JAXA said. “The operation is still challenging as we have to carefully monitor the conditions of the only active reaction wheel, the ion engine and onboard equipment,” JAXA said. “We will operate the Hayabusa with the greatest care and utmost effort.”

The spacecraft now is scheduled to make its return to Earth in 2010, three years later than originally expected. Hayabusa successfully touched down on the asteroid Itokawa in November 2005, but then suffered a series of technical problems that have put the mission’s outcome in doubt.

Panels To Power Mars-Bound Spacecraft

Emcore Corp.’s Photovoltaics Division nabbed a $2 million contract from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to provide solar panels for the vehicle that will carry NASA’s planned Mars Science Laboratory rover to the red planet.

The Mars Cruise Stage solar panels are scheduled for delivery in 2008 and will provide 1 kilowatt of end-of-life power to the rover at a distance of 1.6 astronomical units from the sun, Emcore said in an April 27 press release. An astronomical unit is about 150 million kilometers, or roughly the distance between the Earth and sun. The panels will be produced at Emcore’s recently expanded facilities in Albuquerque, N.M.

In a prepared statement, David Danzilio, vice president of Emcore’s Photovoltaics Division, said the contract confirms the company’s position as the leading supplier solar panels for interplanetary missions.

Reuben F. Richards, Emcore’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement that the company has recently secured more than a dozen contracts for spacecraft solar panels. “Our recently completed expansion provides Emcore with the capacity to meet the most challenging requirements of our space and terrestrial customers,” he said.

The $1 billion Mars Science Laboratory, being built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is designed to probe the martian surface for signs of past or present microbial life. The 775-kilogram, nuclear-powered rover is slated to launch in late 2009 and arrive at the red planet in 2010.

Industry Canada Approves TerreStar License Transfer

The Canadian government has approved the transfer of TMI Communications and Co. LP’s license to operate a 2-gigahertz mobile satellite service in that country to TerraStar Canada, a company that TMI owns jointly with TerraStar Networks of Reston, Va.

The transfer includes a license to launch and operate a satellite at the Canadian-registered 111.1 degrees west longitude orbital slot, according to a press release issued by TerreStar Networks April 30.

The transfer of what TerreStar referred to as the Approval In Principle for the satellite service was granted by Industry Canada, which regulates the country’s telecommunications industry.

Industry Canada was required to ensure TerreStar Canada complied with Canadian regulations, especially regarding foreign ownership, TerreStar Networks spokesman Drew Krejci said via e-mail May 2. “The approval by Industry Canada was their way of saying that TerreStar Canada meets the relevant laws and policies and can hold the authorization,” he said.

TerreStar Networks, a subsidiary of Motient Corp., plans to launch a mobile broadband service in North America that relies on a satellite and a network of ground-based signal repeaters. The company has ordered two satellites from Space Systems/Loral, the first of which is slated to launch in late 2007 or 2008.