Globalstar Halts Launch Campaign To Check Satellites for Defect

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PARIS — Mobile communications satellite operator Globalstar has scrapped a planned May launch of a second batch of six second-generation satellites following discovery of a defective component on one of the six spacecraft launched in October but hopes to have the problem resolved in time for a launch in July, Globalstar Chairman Jay Monroe said May 5.

The component in question is a momentum wheel, which helps maintain the satellite in stable position in orbit. Each 700-kilogram Globalstar second-generation spacecraft is equipped with four momentum wheels, but needs only three to function.

In an interview, Monroe said the satellite in question is working well. After several weeks spent checking the manufacturing and testing history on the momentum wheels built for all 24 second-generation Globalstar spacecraft, the company has concluded that the defect is unlikely to appear on other satellites, Monroe said.

“We have identified what we think the problem is and it relates to assembly and testing. The problem is understood and at the moment we do not believe we will have issues on other satellites,” Monroe said. He said the suspect assembly and testing procedures were used on other momentum wheels, but that as chance would have it, all the others are still on the ground, awaiting launch.

Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy is prime contractor for the 24 second-generation Globalstar satellites. Goodrich Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., provides the satellites’ momentum wheels.

Discovery of the problem in orbit obliged Covington, La.-based Globalstar to halt plans for a mid-May launch of a second six-satellite batch of satellites aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket operated from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The launch is being handled through Europe’s launch consortium, Arianespace of Evry, France, though the Franco-Russian Starsem joint venture in which Arianespace is a shareholder.

Monroe said a launch by mid-July should permit Arianespace and Starsem to meet Globalstar’s schedule of having all three remaining launches completed by the end of this year. He said that if the last launch slips into early 2011 there are no debt covenants or other milestones that will be threatened.

But a separate deadline that Globalstar had not viewed as a problem is fast approaching. Globalstar’s creditors had insisted, as a condition of their loan, that the company obtain an operating license in the United States for the second-generation system by Aug. 31.

Globalstar’s first-generation constellation was licensed in the United States, which is Globalstar’s biggest market. But the second-generation constellation is licensed in France.

Monroe said that, unbeknownst to Globalstar and its partners, U.S. regulators require non-U.S.-registered satellites to obtain a registration with the United Nations before being granted approval to provide service in the United States.

That too should not have been a problem, as France has a long history of being the registering country for satellites. But in this case, the Globalstar demand for United Nations registration by the French government came in the wake of a new French Space Law, which took effect in mid-2008.

Monroe said this legislation modified past practices and has substantially slowed the French government’s ability to produce the required paperwork and present it to the United Nations.

Monroe said Globalstar believes the U.N. registration can be done by sometime in July, and that Globalstar’s U.S. operating license will be granted automatically on the day that occurs.

Until then, Globalstar is unable to offer services in the United States from its six second-generation satellites, which became operational earlier this year.

 

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