Missile Defense Agency Takes Control of NFIRE

General Dynamics has successfully completed on-orbit check out of the Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) and turned the spacecraft over to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), according to a company news release dated May 24.

The NFIRE satellite, which was launched

April 24, is intended to help MDA gather data to help discriminate between the bodies of ballistic missiles and their exhaust plumes.

Ron Grabe, executive vice president and general manager of the launch systems group at Orbital Sciences Corp. said in a May 21 interview that the NFIRE satellite will collect images of the exhaust plume from two Orbital Sciences Minotaur rockets to be launched later this year from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Glitch with Target Halts Test of MDA Interceptor

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) did not complete a scheduled intercept test with the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System after the target missile failed to reach the defended area, according to an MDA news release dated May 25.

The target missile in the test was launched from Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. The interceptor, which was not launched, would have come from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“Program officials will conduct an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the malfunction,” according to the news release.

Air Force Lieutenant General Henry “Trey” Obering, MDA director, said in the news release that the agency uses missile targets that feature old ICBM motors, which risks ‘problems such as what was experienced on May 25.

“We have initiated a target modernization program, within our existing budget, which should mitigate these risks for the future,” Obering said. “A target will be brought forward from a test scheduled for next fall and we will attempt to repeat this test this summer.”

The test, which featured a target built by Sandia National Laboratory, cost approximately $30 million, according to an MDA official.


Report Says China Interested in ORS

China possesses the ability to jam GPS receivers and “common” satellite communications frequencies and is pursuing a “multi-dimensional” program so it can deny others access to outer space, according to the Pentagon’s annual study of Chinese military capabilities and intentions.

The study, “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China: 2007,” also says that China appears to be pursuing something similar to the U.S. Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program. In a note appended to a chart on Chinese space assets, the report says that China seeks to become a world leader in space development and maintain a leading role in space launch activity. Beijing’s goal is to place a satellite into orbit “within hours upon request.” Also, the rising Asian power has “established dedicated small satellite design and production facilities” and is developing microsatellites that could be used for “a rapid reconstitution or expansion of China’s satellite force in the event of any disruption in coverage,” according to the study, released May 25.

It mentions the Jan. 11 anti-satellite test and says that China “is improving its ability to track and identify satellites – a prerequisite for effective, precise physical attacks.”

Orbital Express Satellites Redock, Resume Experiment

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) resumed testing May 19 with two

experimental spacecraft designed

to demonstrate autonomous satellite servicing,

according to a news release posted on Boeing’s

Web site

May 22. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis is the prime contractor for the program


The Orbital Express demonstration had run into problems May 11

due to a failure of the primary flight computer aboard the Astro servicing satellite, one of two spacecraft involved in the mission,

according to the news release.

Prior to the failure, the Astro spacecraft demonstrated the ability to autonomously rendezvous with, refuel

and replace batteries aboard the second spacecraft in the experiment, known as NextSat. After

the computer problems surfaced, the two satellites were kept as many as

6 kilometers from each other.

A backup procedure was then employed by ground crews. “Using only an infrared camera and laser rangefinder due to limitations with the visible light cameras, ASTRO autonomously determined the necessary burns required to reach the various targeted station keeping points on the trajectory and began the rendezvous and docking process,” according to the news release. Using that procedure Astro successfully

rendezvoused and mated with NextSat again

May 19 for the first time since the computer difficulty, according to the news release.

DARPA is still investigating the

cause of the computer failure,

according to the news release.

Senate Committee Cuts All Funding for AIRSS

The Senate Armed Services Committee cut all funding for the Alternative Infrared Space System (AIRSS) missile warning system in its version of the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill and cut $200 million from the president’s request for the Airborne Laser boost-phase missile defense program. The House Armed Services Committee had cut $250 million from the Airborne Laser


In all, the Senate committee authorized $10.1 billion for ballistic missile defense, a reduction of $231 million from the administration’s budget request. When it met

May 23 and May 24 to markup the bill, the subcommittee also authorized increases of $315 million for

near-term missile defense programs such as the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), and cut funding for what it called “lower priority” programs such as Airborne Laser and the missile agency’s special programs, from which it cut $150 million.

NOAA Creates New Satellite Policy, Acquisition Position

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has created a new position within its satellite department to handle policy, coordination and management of satellite acquisitions, according to a NOAA news release dated May 25.

Abigail Harper, who previously served as assistant systems program director for the next generation of geostationary orbiting weather satellites, will serve as the first deputy assistant administrator for systems. Her responsibilities will also include overseeing satellite systems engineering at NOAA, and coordinating engineering and acquisition systems activities with other federal agencies including NASA and the Pentagon, as well as the private sector.


, Thales-AleniaTo Build UAE Com System

Astrium and ThalesAlenia Space have been selected to build a $1.36 billion civil-military satellite telecommunications system for Mubadala Development Co. of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), besting a competing offer by Boeing Satellite Systems International in what is likely to be one of the year’s biggest satellite procurements, Mubadala announced May 21.

and ThalesAlenia Space have not yet been awarded the contract, but have been selected as preferred bidders. The project, valued by Mubadala at more than 5 billion UAE Dirhams ($1.36 billion), includes two large telecommunications satellites and an elaborate ground infrastructure to be used for both commercial and military communications.

The company that will operate the system, Al Ya Satellite Communications Co., known as Yahsat, has not disclosed what percentage of the satellites’ capacity will be available for sale in the fast-growing Middle East market, and what will be reserved for military customers.

Stuck Rover Wheel Uncovers Evidence of Water on Mars


wheel that no longer rotates on



Mars rover

has exposed more evidence that the red planet

had more water in the past than it does now, a

NASA said in a May 21 press release


The bright soil just beneath the martian

surface – exposed by the stuck wheel’s scraping as Spirit moves about – has been analyzed by the rover’s alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and found to contain about 90 percent silica. Silica at such high


typically is produced through a chemical process that requires water.

The discovery was made

among hills in the Gusev Crater – a basin about the size of the state of Connecticut. The rover has been within 50 meters

or less of the silica-rich soil for the past 18 months.

In April, Steve Ruff, a researcher from Arizona State University at



suggested examining the soil with Spirit’s miniature thermal emission spectrometer. These initial findings provided indications of the presence of silica and spurred further examination using

the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer

in May


The silica could be the result of water in a hot spring environment or the interaction of the soil with acid vapors from volcanic activity in the presence of water, according to the release.

“This is some of the best evidence Spirit has found for water at Gusev,” said Albert Yen, a geochemist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Other signs that the crater once held water are the presence of sulfur-rich soil, minerals that have undergone physical changes

and evidence of volcanic activity.

NASA Selects Payloads for Sounding Rocket Missions

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate awarded grants totaling $4.2 million to four universities to launch scientific experiments aboard sounding rockets. The launches are planned to occur between 2008 and 2010.

Two of the university-led science investigations were selected by NASA’s heliophysics division. The other two were picked by the astrophysics division. The University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Colorado, Boulder, are developing separate astronomy payloads geared toward far ultraviolet spectroscopy. Dartmouth College’s payload will perform multicamera observations of substorm auras and their variations. The University of California, Los Angeles, is developing a payload to test a new photoelectron focusing system that could be used for future solar observations.

NASA’s sounding rocket program is managed by the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern shore and conducts launch campaigns worldwide, including from Wallops, New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range and Alaska’s Poker Flat Research Range.

In a May 23 news release, NASA billed the awards as “a new step in reinvigorating the agency’s sounding rocket science program.”

“NASA’s sounding rocket program also is one of the most cost effective ways to train future orbital science mission team members and principle investigators, giving them hands-on space flight experience,” Alan Stern, NASA associate administrator for science, said in a statement. “I hope this effort will be a catalyst for more suborbital work conducted for space science and Earth science research.”

Com Dev Invests in Large U.S. Production Facility

Satellite electronics manufacturer Com Dev of Canada, making good on a pledge to better position itself to win U.S. Defense Department business, has purchased a large facility in El Segundo, Calif., as part of a $25 million investment in the company’s Com Dev USA subsidiary, Com Dev announced May 22.

The company said it paid $8.75 million for the facility, which must await an initial production order before being qualified to build satellite components. Com Dev also must appoint a separate board of directors composed entirely of U.S. citizens before being certified as a U.S. supplier.

Cambridge, Ontario-based Com Dev said it expects to begin seeking manufacturing contracts within a year for the new site.

Com Dev said it is continuing to scout acquisition targets in the United States, which ultimately could be relocated to the new El Segundo site, which Com Dev said is large enough – 4,140 square meters – to generate about $50 million in annual revenue from satellite component orders.

“As a foreign-based supplier, Com Dev has secured a number of significant military mandates by virtue of its unique capabilities in passive microwave equipment, but its opportunities have been limited by geography,” Com Dev said in a statement. “The company estimates that approximately 98 percent of U.S. government space spending remains within the country.”

AAE Systems To Provide Network For Iraqi Bank

AAE Systems Inc. won a contract to install a satellite-based communications network for an Iraqi bank that will support voice, data, facsimile, database and transaction services, the company announced May 21.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based satellite communications equipment and solutions provider will link over 120 bank locations in Iraq with the turnkey system, the company said.

AAE spokeswoman Maricris Lopez declined May 23 to divulge the contract value, citing contractual restrictions.

Facing License Revocation, ICO Signs Launch Contract

ICO Global Communications has signed a contract with International Launch Services (ILS) to launch up to 10 ICO Global two-way mobile communications satellites two at a time aboard ILS Proton rockets between 2009 and 2011, ICO announced May 24.

The announcement came two days after British regulators served public notice that ICO would need to demonstrate, by June 30, that it is taking concrete steps to complete its satellite constellation or face a revocation of its license.

Reston, Va.-based ICO’s planned 12-satellite medium-Earth orbit constellation is registered in the British Cayman Islands, with Britain serving as the national regulatory authority for the project.

ICO has been trying to persuade British and other European regulators that the single satellite it launched in 2001 should be sufficient to confirm ICO’s registration for S-band transmissions. That satellite is still in intermittent operations, providing service to U.S. government customers.

But Britain’s Ofcom, in its May 22 statement, suggested ICO would need to show further progress on its constellation in order to retain its license.

Under ICO’s agreement with McLean, Va.-based ILS, which markets the Russian Proton rocket, ILS will design an adaptor permitting Proton to place two ICO satellites at a time into orbit. ICO’s constellation is designed to operate at

an altitude of 10,390 kilometers. Each of the modified Boeing BSS 601-model satellites is expected to weigh

about 2,750 kilograms at launch.

Construction of ICO’s satellites

has been partially completed, but manufacturer Boeing Satellite Systems International of El Segundo, Calif., has long since stopped work on the project and is now involved in a lawsuit with ICO over contract issues.

In a May 24 statement, ICO Senior Vice President Bob Day went so far as to suggest ICO might select a new prime contractor for its constellation. “ICO looks forward to the cost-effective launch of ICO’s Boeing satellites, or those of another satellite vendor,” Day said.

ICO has a large geostationary-orbit satellite on order for its two-way mobile communications service planned in North America, a business ICO is developing separately from its Europe-registered constellation. In a recent series of presentations to investors, ICO said it hoped to be awarded at least several hundred million dollars in the Boeing lawsuit but did not otherwise say whether it had raised any financing to complete construction and launch of its medium-orbit constellation.

Test Demonstrates Key WGS Control Component

The U.S. Air Force announced May 21 that it has completed tests that verified the capabilities of the system that will control the payload on its first Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) communications satellite.

The testing of the so-called Configuration Control Element was designed to ensure that military users can send commands to and receive telemetry from the payload on the first WGS satellite once it is on orbit, the Air Force said.

The tests involved linking the payload command system with a satellite simulator and with the ground-based system that will control the WGS satellite platform, or bus. Connections were established between the U.S. Army’s Wideband Satellite Operations Center at Camp Roberts, Calif., the main WGS control facility at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., and the Boeing Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif.

Boeing is building five WGS satellites for the Air Force, the first of which is scheduled for launch this year.

In a related development, the Air Force announced it had obtained approval to begin full-scale production of the Ground Multiband Terminal (GMT), which will enable military forces to make connections via commercial and military communications satellites, including WGS.

The transportable GMTs, built by a division of L3 Communications Corp. of New York, will replace the Ground Mobile Forces terminals currently in use by the Air Force, the service said in a May 21 press release. The new terminals will provide 10 times the capacity of their predecessors, the service said.

The Air Force formally accepted the first two terminals in December after extensive testing. Delivery of the full-rate-production GMT terminals is expected to begin this year and continue through 2011, the Air Force said.

California Team Wins Student Rocketry Contest with Near-Perfect Flight

A rocket built by students from a San Francisco Bay area school soared to within a fraction of a meter and less than a second of a perfect score in the finals of the latest Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). Thus,

the Newark Memorial High School team took the first prize in the annual model-rocket contest

, according to

a May 19 press release from the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) of Arlington, Va.,

the event organizer.

The TARC finals, which took place May 19 at Great Meadow field events center in The Plains, Va., included 99 other student teams from across the country.

The fifth annual TARC featured teams of three to 15 students in grades 7-12. Each team was required to build a model rocket from scratch and use it to launch a raw egg to an altitude as close as possible to 257.58 meters in a flight lasting for 45 seconds. The egg had to be recovered intact, and winners are determined by a point system.

“I had a feeling we were going to do well, but I didn’t think we were going to get first,” team member Anthony Camarra said. Last year the team, which also consisted of Ramon Arias, Donny Evans, Matthew Jacuzzi and Emily Thym, finished in 11th place.

“You’ve taken your first step,” said U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who presented the first-place trophy. “Now keep going.”

Madison West High School Team 2 of Wisconsin and W.G. Enloe High School of Raleigh, N.C., placed second and third, respectively.

The top three finishers will split more than $60,000 in scholarship money and prizes, including $5,000 in scholarship money for each team from Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md. The Newark Memorial team also will attend the International Paris Air Show in June, courtesy of Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon Co.

“If the results of this contest are any indication, the future of aerospace is in good hands,”

John Douglass, AIA president and chief executive,

said at the finals.

After Outage, XM Radio Restores Full Service

XM Satellite Radio of Washington restored normal service to all customers May 22 after a technical glitch caused outages or degraded service for some users the day before.

In a statement posted on its Web site, XM said the problem occurred while software was being uploaded to its satellite broadcast system, causing one of the satellites to lose its signal.

The company did not identify which satellite experienced problems. In a May 21 note to investors, William Kidd, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities, identified the problem satellite as XM-3, a Boeing 702 model satellite that was launched in early 2005. The company’s newest satellite, dubbed XM-4 and also based on the Boeing 702 platform, was launched Oct. 30.

Mercury Test Capsule Delivered to New Home

A test capsule from NASA’s first manned spaceflight program has been moved from its home for more than 20 years, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Ore.

“Mercury spacecraft No. 10 will be one of their anchor artifacts,”

Jim Remar, senior vice president of the Kansas Cosmosphere, said in a press release May 18. “A section of Evergreen’s new museum will be built around it.”

Mercury spacecraft No. 10 was shipped to its new home May 21, Jessica Crosby, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Cosmosphere, said in a May 22 phone interview


The Kansas Cosmosphere is designing the

Evergreen Museum’s new space

exhibit under a $2.4 million contract. The exhibit

is slated for completion in July 2008, Remar said.

The Mercury No. 10 had been on loan from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for 25 years,




It now is on long-term loan to the Evergreen Museum from the Smithsonian, Nicole Wahlberg, a museum spokeswoman, said May 24. Such long-term loans are for indeterminate periods, only requiring regular checks on the upkeep of the artifact from the loaning body, Wahlberg said.

The test capsule

was replaced by the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury spacecraft in the Cosmosphere’s Hall of Space museum in September.

The Liberty Bell 7 carried

America’s second astronaut, Gus Grissom, into space for



in 1961. The spacecraft sank after splashing down, and was recovered from the ocean floor in 1999. The Cosmosphere obtained the Liberty Bell 7 and restored it in about six months for a six-year national tour, Crosby said.