Briefs

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  Space News Business

Briefs

posted: 25 May 2007
12:01 pm ET










Hunter Amendment Funds Israeli Missile Defense Efforts











Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) successfully orchestrated some




last-minute changes to the defense authorization bill May 17 that would add $205 million to the missile defense budget for Israeli missile defense efforts.



Hunter successfully offered a motion to recommit the legislation, which effectively amends the bill. His motion passed by an overwhelming margin: 394-30.



The new language would add $25 million to the Arrow program; $45 million for a program known as David’s Sling; and $135 million for a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) fire unit. David’s Sling, also known as Kela David, is a joint venture between Rafael and Raytheon to target short-range missiles such as Katyushas and Iranian-made Zilzal missiles.



“This motion to recommit is $205 million that is dedicated to integrating our missile defense systems with those of Israel, using the great innovation of Americans and their great innovative capabilities to defend against this new era of terrorists with high technology,” Hunter said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as he made his motion.



The money cannot come from U.S. missile defense program accounts, a congressional aide said. Defense Secretary Robert Gates must take the money from other acquisition accounts.

Hunter also introduced language calling for greater cooperation and integration of




U.S. and Israeli systems for missile defense and force protection.







Budget Resolution Boosts NASA’s Funding Prospects






The $2.9 trillion budget resolution Congress adopted May 17 would permit appropriators to give NASA its full $17.3 billion request for 2008.

House and Senate appropriators are not expected to draft actual spending bills before June, but a NASA official said the budget resolution is encouraging news for the U.S. space agency, especially because




it includes language endorsing the Vision for Space Exploration and supports NASA’s goal of reducing the gap between retiring the space shuttle and fielding its successor.

“For the 110th Congress to pass a budget resolution with such strong language indicates broader and more stable support for NASA than some may have thought,” the official said.







Orbcomm
To Pick Contractor In June To Build 18 Satellites




Orbcomm, the satellite-based two-way messaging service,




will select a prime contractor in June to build




18 next-generation spacecraft for the company, which




still expects to launch a U.S. Coast Guard demonstration satellite this year. The demonstration satellite could be launched




on the same rocket that will carry the final six first-generation Quick Launch spacecraft, Orbcomm Chief Executive Jerome Eisenberg said during a May 14 conference call with financial analysts.





Eisenberg said the Coast Guard demonstration spacecraft is ready for launch but noted that its final testing cannot be completed




until a launch vehicle has been selected. No launch contract has been signed, he said.

Fort Lee, N.J.-based Orbcomm reported that in the first three months of 2007




it added a net 25,000 new subscriber terminals to its customer base, an 11.1 percent increase from Dec. 31 that brought the total subscriber count to about 250,000.

Orbcomm
recently struck an agreement with cellular-network provider T-Mobile under which Orbcomm will be responsible for selling T-Mobile terrestrial wireless airtime bundled with Orbcomm’s satellite-messaging service.

Orbcomm
Chief Operating Officer Marc Eisenberg said the T-Mobile agreement will offer customers of dual-mode handsets a single billing system for satellite and terrestrial airtime. Orbcomm




already is delivering some 2,000 dual-mode units per month, but customers pay Orbcomm and the terrestrial provider separately.

Marc Eisenberg said purchasing bulk airtime from T-Mobile at wholesale rates and bundling it with the satellite-messaging service ought to generate gross-profit margins of 50 percent.






NASA To Keep Lunar Robotics Program Office at Marshall



NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said he intends to keep




Marshall Space Flight Center’s 30-person lunar robotics program office open, rather than downsize the operation and move it to the U.S. space agency’s Washington headquarters.

NASA




previously had determined that




the office was no longer needed in light of an agency decision to scrap a plan to follow the 2008 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) with a series of robotic rovers. However, NASA’s move to shutter the Huntsville, Ala.-based office,




ran afoul of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and other members of the Alabama delegation who mobilized to keep the office open.





When asked about the issue May 16, Griffin said the office would remain in place.

“The Marshall robotic office is going to remain open. The only question is what do we ask them to do with the money that we have.” Griffin said. In addition to overseeing LRO, the office will lead design studies for future lunar robotic missions the agency might undertake. “Before we send people back to the Moon we are going to need communications and navigation and we may want additional sensing missions,” Griffin said. “There’s a lot of lunar robotics yet to be done. We are only arguing over time frame.”




OMB Protests Cuts in Defense Budget Request





The Office of Management and Budget formally notified Congress May 16 of




its opposition to proposed




cuts in




the Pentagon’s 2008 budget request for several space and missile defense programs,




but did not threaten a veto over those issues.



The Statement of Administration Policy, which was posted on the Office of Management and Budget’s




Web site, expressed concern about




the $760 million overall reduction to the 2008 budget request for missile defense programs contained in the House version of the 2008 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1585), which




passed the House May 17.




In particular, the statement cited a $160 million reduction to planned spending of $310 million for




missile defense sites that the Pentagon hopes to build in Europe, as well as a $250 million reduction to the $539 million request for the Airborne Laser.

The statement did not cite potential impact from those cuts, but a Missile Defense Agency official said last week that if the spending levels on the Airborne Laser were finalized, the first intercept test with the system could be delayed another




three years




beyond the current planned test date in




2009.

The statement also cited concern about




the $150 million reduction to the Air Force’s 2008 $587 million budget request for the GPS 3 program, and said it could lead to a significant delay past the current planned first launch date of 2013 for the program, and “force the continued use of aging or obsolete equipment.”

While the statement did not threaten a veto over the space and missile defense issues, it did threaten to do so over policy issues in the authorization bill that would effect military personnel requirement and purchasing of equipment from foreign suppliers.



Glitch Prompts Hold on Orbital Express Servicing



The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) put orbital servicing demonstrations with the two spacecraft that make up its Orbital Express mission on hold




May 11 after one of the




spacecraft experienced computer problems, according to a statement posted online by DARPA.

The Orbital Express demonstration includes a satellite called Astro that is used to service a second spacecraft called NextSat. Astro has already been used to refuel NextSat and replace its batteries during exercises conducted following its launch




March 8.

As of May 18,




program officials had




not attempted any further servicing demonstrations since




the




computer problems with Astro surfaced, but they did fly




Astro past NextSat at distances of several kilometers




, according to the Boeing statement.








Hypersonic Engine Shows Improved Performance in Latest Testing








Recent wind tunnel tests on Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s X-1 hypersonic ground-test engine show that its performance in terms of thrust and fuel management is likely to be better than suggested by earlier tests on a similar engine, a U.S. Air Force official said.

Flight versions of the X-1




are scheduled to power the Air Force Research Laboratory’s X-51A test vehicles during a series of B-52 drop tests starting in 2009. Four




flights to speeds of Mach 6.5 are planned as a step toward a reusable, “air-breathing” space launch vehicle or perhaps a hypersonic cruise missile. The X-1’s initial performance predictions were based on tests of a similar engine inside the GASL wind tunnel facility in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.




, now owned by ATK.

Last December, the Air Force and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne shifted testing to the High Temperature Tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “We always felt that the engine would perform better once we got it into a bigger facility and into a better air flow situation,” said Charlie Brink, the X-51A program manager at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “Now we have hard data that says the engine is performing much better than our first cut at performance numbers, and that’s what’s got us excited,” Brink said.







Inmarsat
Selected as ESA‘sAlphaSat Industry Partner





The European Space Agency (ESA) has tentatively selected Inmarsat as its commercial partner for a large new telecommunications satellite that will test new technologies and, for Inmarsat, provide a sought-after complement of L-band transmission capacity over Europe, Africa and the Middle East, according to ESA and Inmarsat officials.

The AlphaSat satellite, to be launched around 2012 into the 25 degrees east orbital slot, will give mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat of London




7 megahertz of L-band uplink capacity and the same amount in downlink to expand its mobile broadband service.

Inmarsat’s
proposal to ESA bested a competing offer by Eutelsat of Paris and Telespazio of Rome, which had proposed to use the AlphaSat platform to provide Ka-band broadband services in Europe. Eutelsat




now is weighing a purely commercial procurement of a Ka-band satellite for the same purpose.



ESA’s decision came May 15 during a meeting of the agency’s Joint Communications Board. MagaliVaissiere, head of ESA’s telecommunications department, said negotiations with Inmarsat




now will begin in earnest to negotiate a firm contract. She said the contract




likely will




be signed by late July, if not before


.



ESA is paying for the development of the AlphaSat platform, called AlphaBus, which is being developed by Astrium Satellites and ThalesAlenia Space as a way to help




European builders enter the




commercial market




for very large satellites. The satellite model will weigh




up to 7,000 kilograms at launch and be capable of providing 18 kilowatts of on




board power at the end of its 15-year service life.

ESA




also is financing development of three technology payloads for AlphaSat. ESA and the French space agency, CNES, have agreed to spend a combined 220 million euros ($298 million)




on AlphaSat development.



The exact cost to Inmarsat will not be known until the negotiations are finished, but each of the commercial bidders had been asked by ESA to secure about 200 million euros in internal and external financing, principally for the launch of the satellite aboard an Ariane 5 rocket and the cost of adding its commercial payload to the AlphaBus platform.

Inmarsat
spokesman Christopher McLaughlin said the company is pleased to have been selected, but he declined to specify Inmarsat’s expected capital investment pending a conclusion of negotiations with ESA and industry.




GMV Space Systems Nabs First Intelsat Contract



GMV Space Systems of Rockville, Md., a provider of ground-based flight-control software, has signed its first flight software contracts with communications satellite operator Intelsat Ltd., the company announced May 7.

GMV Space Systems, a subsidiary of Madrid-based GMV, will provide the flight dynamics software used by ground controllers to keep Intelsat’s 12 Boeing 702 satellite platforms




properly positioned in orbit. Intelsat of Bermuda and Washington operates 51 satellites built by




a variety of manufacturers.

“This is a big deal for us,” said Theresa Beech, managing director of GMV Space Systems. The company already provides software for satellite operators SES Global of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris. “This is the last of the big ones for us,” Beech said of the contracts with Intelsat.

Taken together, the Intelsat




contracts are worth $400,000, but Beech said the dollar amount does not represent their true significance. “For us, this is an avenue to more business,” Beech said.




Tactical Drone Used as Telecom Relay Platform





Separate mobile ground forces successfully communicated over the horizon with one another and with a fixed command post with the aid of a tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (TUAV) during testing earlier this year, Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles said in a press release May 10.

The testing, led by Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Office of Naval Research, was conducted Feb. 26 through March 3 at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. “We have successfully demonstrated that TUAVs can function as airborne communication relays and move information back and forth between tactical and command and control units,” said John Featherston, chief engineer for Northrop Grumman’s Beyond line-of-sight TUAV Communications Relay project.

The tests involved a KillerBee TUAV built by Swift Engineering Inc. of San Clemente, Calif., and a secure, wireless local-area network provided by CenGen Inc. of Columbia, Md.





Aerojet
Selected to Design Ares 1 Roll Control Engines



NASA has selected Aerojet’s Redmond, Wash.




, unit to design and possibly build developmental versions of the small engines that will keep the first stage of NASA’s new Ares 1 crew launch vehicle from rotating unacceptably, NASA announced May 15.

The Ares 1’s solid-fuel first stage will be equipped with a roll-control system consisting of hyrdrazine thrusters to counter the rocket’s rotation over the first two minutes of flight




. The rotation must be managed to keep Ares 1 on the proper trajectory, NASA and contractor officials said.

Over the next 11 months, Aerojet and its valve subcontractor, Moog of Buffalo, N.




Y.




, will design the control system and build prototype engine valves.




NASA has the option to ask Aerojet to build two developmental engines in a subsequent 11-month phase.

The contract has a base value of $4.5 million and could be worth $8.1 million with options,




Aerojet spokeswoman Kristin Conner said via e-mail.

“The engines being developed by Aerojet under this contract will be used to mature the roll control system that will be used on the Ares I tests program,” NASA said in a press release.

Ares 1 will be used to launch




the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, the designated replacement for NASA’s space shuttle, into low Earth orbit. Orion initially will be used to service the international space station but NASA plans also to use it to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020.






Feeney is Top Republican on House Space Subcommittee





Florida Rep. Tom Feeney has replaced California Rep. Ken Calvert as the ranking




Republican on the




House Science and




Technology space and aeronautics subcommittee.

Calvert announced May 9 that he had accepted a temporary assignment to the House Appropriations Committee. Calvert is filling a vacancy left by Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who resigned from the committee in April amid an investigation into his alleged ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.








Study Points to Tides as Force Behind




Geysers on Enceladus




The




geysers of water vapor and ice crystals that the Cassini spacecraft spotted bursting from Saturn’s bright moon Enceladus may be caused by strong interior tides that force sheets of ice to rub together, generating friction and heat, scientists said in a summary of a new study to appear in the May 17 issue of the journal Nature.



The scientists believe the geysers spring from a region of Enceladus marked by fault lines dubbed “tiger stripes.” The fault lines were seen clearly when Cassini flew by Enceladus in 2005.

“We think the tiger stripes are the source of the plumes, and we made predictions of where the tiger stripes should be hottest that can be tested by future measurements,”




Francis Nimmo, a professor at the University of California,




Santa Cruz




and lead author of the paper, said in a prepared statement.

The tides are driven by the moon’s eccentric orbit, which creates a gravity tug on the moon








as it approaches close to Saturn and then moves away.

“It’s getting squeezed and stretched as it goes around Saturn, and those tidal forces cause the faults to move back and forth,” Nimmo said.







QuikScat
Finds Evidence of Melting Snow in Antarctica






Scientists studying data from NASA’s Quick Scatterometer, or QuikScat, satellite have found evidence that significant snowmelt occurred across large regions of Antarctica in January 2005, the U.S. space agency announced in a May 15 press release.



In the release, the scientists said it was the largest-scale melting of snow on Antarctica detected via satellite in the last 30 years. It was the first widespread melting discovered using the QuikScat satellite, which was launched in June 1999.



QuikScat was used to monitor snowfall and snowmelt in Greenland and Antarctica from July 1999 to January 2005, NASA said. The satellite found that early 2005 melting occurred in several regions that together cover an area about the size of California.

“Antarctica has shown little to no warming in the recent past with the exception of the Antarctic Peninsula, but now large regions are showing the first signs of the impacts of warming as interpreted by this satellite analysis,” said Konrad Steffen, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a team leader on the study. “Increases in snowmelt, such as this in 2005, definitely could have an impact on larger scale melting of Antarctica’s ice sheets if they were severe or sustained over time,” Steffen said in the press release.






Four in Hunt to Provide Next Landsat Platform





Four companies are vying for the contract to supply the spacecraft platform for NASA’s planned 2011 Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM).

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the Greenbelt, Md., facility in charge of the land-imaging mission, announced May 14 that its Rapid Spacecraft Development Office had awarded study contracts to four pre-qualified vendors interested in supplying the platform, or bus. The four vendors are: Ball Aerospace Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.; General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, Gilbert, Ariz.; Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va.; and Space Systems/Loral, Palo Alto, Calif.

All four companies will spend four months preparing a study showing how their respective spacecraft would accommodate the LDCM’s main instrument, the Operational Land Imager. The companies also will come up with a rough design for the finished satellite.

“The LDCM project is excited about working with industry during this initial phase of the spacecraft procurement,” said Bill Ochs, NASA’s LDCM project manager.

The study contracts are worth up $600,000, according to Greg Smith, director of the Rapid Spacecraft Development Office. NASA plans to solicit formal bids in the fall to select the contractor who will build the spacecraft bus, integrate instrument, provide launch support and oversee the first 90 days of mission operations, according to the NASA release.
























































Integral Sales Drop for Second Straight Quarter



Satellite ground-system provider Integral Systems




Inc. of Lanham, Md., is reporting declining revenues for a second consecutive quarter compared to 2006.

The company blames legal bills from a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probe and a downturn in deliveries from its Communications Systems Segment for a $3.1 million drop in revenues in the second quarter of fiscal year 2007 compared to the same quarter last year.

Revenues in the first quarter were off by $1.8 million compared to 2006.

Integral has been struggling to emerge from a series of personnel upheavals and inquiries dating back to early 2006.

In a prepared statement, Chief Executive Officer Pete Gaffney said the company’s strong bookings for the year, including $38 million in the second quarter, indicate that the company is rebounding. He predicted the company is “on track” to meet its revised goals for the year.






U.S. Army Approves EaglePicher Batteries





The U.S. Army’s Communications and Electronics Command has cleared two GPS receiver batteries developed by EaglePicher Technologies for use by forces in the field.



EaglePitcher’s
BA-5360 and BA-5380 batteries are lithium-manganese dioxide batteries that offer 35 percent more running time than their predecessors, which are based on sulfur dioxide, EaglePicher said in a press release May 15.

The batteries are used to power Precision Lightweight GPS receivers and other equipment. EaglePicher Technologies of Joplin, Mo., is under contract through 2009 to provide the batteries to the Army and Defense Logistics Agency, the company said.






NASA Watchdog Flap To Be Subject of





Upcoming Hearing



The House and Senate




postponed a May 23 hearing to examine allegations of misconduct by NASA Inspector General Robert Cobb and the U.S. space agency’s response to the findings of a White House-ordered investigation of the internal watchdog.

The joint hearing




was announced May 15 by the House Science and Technology investigations and oversight subcommittee and the Senate Commerce space and aeronautics subcommittee, but by May 17 the hearing was put on hold. In its place, Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), the chairman of the investigations and oversight committee, plans to hold his own hearing May 24 focused on a video teleconference NASA Administrator Mike Griffin held in April to address Office of Inspector General Personnel. Miller has chastised NASA for destroying recordings of the meeting, which he said should not have occurred in the first place.

Cobb has been at the center of controversy stemming from allegations contained in a White House report that he has failed to uphold his investigative responsibilities and has treated his subordinates harshly. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has called on the White House to remove Cobb.

However, NASA General Counsel




Mike Wholley concluded that the White House investigation found nothing that warranted Cobb’s dismissal. Nelson also has called for Wholley’s resignation.



NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has publicly defended both Cobb and Wholley, a stance for which he has taken heat




from some of the agency’s




congressional overseers.



NSSL Group Signs on as Distributor for Thrane



NSSL Group of London, which specializes in




solving mobile communications conundrums for yachters,




has set up a subsidiary




called the NSSL Wholesale Co.




to market satellite and radio equipment built by mobile-communications giant Thrane & Thrane of Lyngby, Denmark.

The








arrangement calls for




NSSL to sell Thrane’s satellite and radio communications equipment throughout Europe, and eventually in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia, said Danielle Edwards, product marketing manager for NSSL Group. NSSL Wholesale will distribute the equipment to




satellite solutions providers, who sell the services to consumers, Edwards said.



Thrane & Thrane builds mobile communications equipment compatible with the Iridium and Inmarsat satellite constellations. The company has decided to distribute its products via wholesalers, Edwards said.

One of the customers for the new wholesaler




could be NSSL




Ltd., the NSSL unit that installs mobile satellite equipment for consumers, said Edwards. The Wholesale Co.




was set up in part to ensure fairness. “We didn’t want it to seem that NSSL had an unfair advantage,” she said.