NASA Picks 8 for Spacecraft Catalog

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SAN FRANCISCO — NASA selected eight contractors, including one new firm, Thales Alenia Space of Italy, for its latest list of satellites that can be acquired by government agencies looking for a way to trim mission costs and schedules.

The contractors and satellites they offer will be included in the third installment of the space agency’s Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition Catalog, a listing of firm, fixed-price goods and services available to government organizations.

Companies selected for inclusion in the new catalog are: Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.; General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems; Lockheed Martin Space Systems; Orbital Sciences; Surrey Satellite Technology-US; Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems; Thales Alenia Space Italia of Rome; and Thales Alenia Space of France. The list was announced March 30.

Nearly all of the companies were included in the previous Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition Catalog, which was released in late 1999 and augmented periodically when the space agency received additional bids. In many cases, however, the product offerings have changed and satellite models have been upgraded, said Greg Smith, chief of the Rapid Spacecraft Development Office (RSDO) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

One exception is Thales Alenia Space of Italy, a firm selected to offer the Prima satellite bus that is designed to carry payloads weighing 1,138 kilograms, according to an RSDO document. RadarSat-2, a Canadian synthetic aperture radar satellite, employs the Prima satellite platform. The catalog also includes Proteus, a satellite used in NASA’s Cloud Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder program and built by Thales Alenia of France to hold 300-kilogram payloads.

Missing from the current list are Swales Aerospace of Beltsville, Md., and EADS Astrium, Europe’s largest space company, two contractors included in the previous catalog. Astrium did not submit a bid for the new catalog and neither did Alliant Techsystems of Minneapolis, which acquired Swales Aerospace in 2007, Smith said.

In contrast, Orbital Sciences will play a larger role than in previous catalogs due to its plans announced in March to acquire General Dynamics’ space business. The new catalog includes two General Dynamics satellite buses designed for payloads of 65 kilograms and 3,115 kilograms, respectively. Orbital Sciences is offering the LEOStar-2, which was used for NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory.

In the past, NASA Goddard mission managers have used the catalog for their payloads, but it has been used less frequently by other NASA centers and only once by the Defense Department, Smith said, adding that the situation may change. “We have had more interest in this catalog than any of the previous ones,” Smith said. “We have interest from other [NASA] centers and other missions.” Smith declined to name those missions.

The latest catalog features three spacecraft from Surrey Satellite Technology (SST)-US, the American  subsidiary of Britain’s Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. The previous catalog included satellites from Surrey Satellite Technology of Britain. John Paffett, SST-US chief executive, said the new catalog is exactly the type of U.S. opportunity the firm is seeking. As an American company, albeit foreign owned, SST-US can more efficiently serve a U.S. customer base, Paffett said.

The three Surrey satellites included are: SSTL 150, a platform designed to accommodate payloads of 50 kilograms and used in the RapidEye remote-sensing constellation; SSTL 300, a bus that can carry 150-kilogram payloads that is used in the NigeriaSat-2 program; and STL 600, a platform capable of carrying 200-kilogram payloads that is being used by European Space Agency for the GIOVE-A navigation mission operating in Medium Earth Orbit.

Ball’s entry is the BCP 2000, the basic design used for NASA’s Quick Scatterometer and National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project.

Lockheed Martin’s LMx, a platform designed for 460-kilogram payloads, is included in the catalog. The LMx is an improved version of the satellite used by GeoEye’s Ikonos commercial Earth-observation mission, according to Lockheed Martin spokesman Gary Napier. Another catalog entry is Northrop Grumman’s Eagle, a lightweight, modular platform designed for 86-kilogram payloads and used in the Korea Multipurpose Satellite program.