News Brief

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  Space News Business

News Brief

posted: 23 May 2005
02:51 pm ET


NRO Budget Request Item Has Air Force’s Attention

The U.S. Air Force is watching closely to see how Congress reacts to the inclusion by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) of cash reserves for programs in its 2006 budget request.

If lawmakers heed the wishes of the spy satellite agency, the Air Force may include space program funding reserves in its 2007 spending plan, according to Joseph Rouge, associate director of the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office.

Senior Air Force officials have talked about the need to set aside a cash reserve of roughly 20 percent of a satellite program’s budget in order to fix unforeseen problems quickly without having to go through a lengthy congressional reprogramming process. During the time it takes for Congress to approve the additional money, the cost of fixing such problems can double , Benjamin Gimeno, director of the NRO’s legislative liaison office, said May 18 during a panel discussion at the Space at the Crossroads conference in Washington.

Satellite Delays Could Draw U.S., Allies Closer

The Pentagon may need to increase its cooperation with U.S. allies if it is unable to secure funding for new communications and surveillance satellites, according to a Defense Department official.

Congress is wary of potential cost growth and technical issues on the U.S. Air Force’s Transformational Satellite Communications System ( T-Sat) and Space Radar surveillance program. Lawmakers put the brakes on both development programs last year and are threatening to do the same this year.

The Air Force hopes to begin launching the T-Sat and Space Radar systems in 2013 and 2015, respectively, but Defense Department officials are looking at contingency plans , said U.S. Army Col. Tim Coffin, chief of the National Security Policy and Space & Missile Defense divisions on the Army staff at the Pentagon.

“Perhaps we’re going to have to get friendlier with our friends,” Coffin said during a panel discussion at the Space at the Crossroads conference in Washington May 18.

Delays to the satellite communications systems slated for deployment before T-Sat also are having an impact on the Army’s planning, Coffin said.

The Air Force expected to begin launching the Wideband Gapfiller satellites in December 2004, but that date has been pushed to early 2006. The first launch of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, once slated for 2005, now is not expected until 2008.

Soldiers likely will have to rely more heavily than they would like on commercial communications satellites to fill their growing bandwidth needs as they wait for those systems to be deployed , Coffin said.

Software Upgrade Will Boost X-45A Autonomy

Boeing Co. began testing software upgrades to its X-45A unmanned surveillance and combat aircraft May 13 at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. , according to a Boeing news release.

The software upgrades will enable the aircraft to attack targets and autonomously react to unanticipated situations on the battlefield, said David Koopersmith, Boeing program manager for Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS).

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis and Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems of El Segundo, Calif., are developing separate J-UCAS variants for the Pentagon. The program is intended to develop networked clusters of aircraft that can suppress enemy air defenses, strike other targets with precision-guided munitions and conduct surveillance.

Alcatel Space Ships Calipso to Vandenberg for Launch

The Franco-American Calipso climate-monitoring satellite was shipped May 18 from the Alcatel Space manufacturing plant in France to Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., where it is scheduled for launch this summer aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket, Alcatel Space announced May 19.

Calipso is part of a broader NASA-coordinated climate-monitoring system called the A-Train. The system ultimately will feature five satellites in low Earth orbit, including Calipso and its Delta 2 co-passenger, NASA’s Cloudsat satellite.

The Calipso mission will cost about $250 million, a figure that includes the satellite’s construction, launch and two years of operations. The satellite uses the Proteus multi purpose satellite platform built by Paris-based Alcatel Space.

Lockheed Martin Gets Contract for BSAT-3a

Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa., will build the BSAT-3a telecommunications satellite for Japan’s Broadcasting Satellite System Corp. under a contract ann ounced May 18.

BSAT-3a, scheduled for delivery in mid-2007, will be based upon Lockheed Martin’s A2100A satellite platform and will carry eight 130-watt Ku-band transponders for direct-broadcast television services in Japan.

Lockheed Martin had battled Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., for the work. Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems President Ted Gavrilis said the A2100A is capable of serving the small telecommunications satellite market, with on-board power as low as 1 to 4 kilowatts, as well as the market for much larger satellites delivering up to 12 kilowatts of power.

Tatsuo Gunji, president of Tokyo-based Broadcasting Satellite System, said in a statement that the company has about 17 million subscribers.

Canada Issues Grants for Space Technology Work

The Canadian government on May 18 announced that 44 research projects had been granted a total of 20.4 million Canadian dollars ($16.1 million) as part of the Canadian Space Agency’s Space Technology Development Program.

Canadian Industry Minister David L. Emerson announced the awards, saying the investment would “allow the Canadian space industry to continue developing leading-edge space technologies.”

In a statement, Canadian Space Agency President Mark Garneau said the research ” will help Canada remain at the forefront of niche markets in telecommunications, spacecraft design and laser sensors.”

The technologies to be developed include an imager permitting spacecraft to take 3-D pictures of themselves in orbit and a compact laser system for use in planetary exploration, Earth observation and space-servicing missions, the agency said.

Korea’s COMS Contract Goes to EADS Astrium

After an international competition that lasted more than two years, the South Korean government has selected EADS Astrium to be the prime contractor for its multipurpose Communications, Oceanography and Meteorology satellite (COMS).

The contract, awarded by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), calls for EADS Astrium to provide the COMS skeletal structure, or platform, as well as the imaging instruments for the satellite’s oceanographic and meteorological missions. KARI will be responsible for the satellite’s experimental Ka-band communications payload, EADS Astrium announced May 17.

Financial details were not disclosed, but KARI officials in the past have estimated total COMS mission costs — including design, production, launch and operations — at more than $250 million.

Expected to weigh 2,400 kilograms at launch, COMS will use a platform EADS Astrium said will be “based on” the company’s Eurostar 3000 product. It will provide 2.5 kilowatts of power at the end of its minimum seven-year orbital life. COMS will be placed in geostationary orbit at either 116 degrees or 138 degrees east longitude.

EADS Astrium did not provide a launch date, but KARI officials in the past have targeted a 2008 launch.

EADS also is under a $35 million contract with KARI to assist in the development of the Kompsat-2 Earth observation satellite platform. Kompsat-2 is scheduled for launch by Eurockot Launch Services, a European-Russian company, aboard a R ussian Rockot vehicle in November.

Canada Wants to Keep EMS Unit in the Country

The Canadian government, in the interest of building up the country’s space industry, is offering financial incentives to attract a buyer for EMS Technologies Inc.’s Montreal-based Space & Technology division, according to Alfred Hansen, EMS president and chief executive officer.

EMS has been trying for some time to sell off the business, which has struggled in recent years, due in part to problems associated with the antenna it is supplying for the Canadian Space Agency’s Radarsat-2 satellite program. But Hansen, in a May 17 conference call to report the company’s 2005 first quarter financial results, said the components for the long-delayed satellite will be shipped within 30 days, bringing an end to EMS’s involvement in the program.

The Space & Technology division, which is reported as a discontinued operation for accounting purposes, earned $1.1 million for the three-month period ending March 31, compared with $300,000 for the 2004 first quarter, the company said. Hansen said the unit’s rising fortunes, due in part to the closing out of the Radarsat-2 work, should make it more attractive as an acquisition target. He said there are four potential buyers for the unit.

Overall, Atlanta-based EMS lost $1.4 million — not counting the Space & Technology unit results — on sales of $63.7 million for the 2005 first quarter. The company earned $1.9 million on sales of $64.1 million for the 2004 first quarter. Hansen characterized the last two quarters as disappointing, but said EMS’s core businesses continue to perform well. He said 2005 could turn out to be a positive year for the company despite the “slow start.”

The LXE division of EMS, which produces mobile computers and networking equipment, along with the Satcom unit, which makes mobile satellite terminals, were strong performers for the quarter. However, the company’s Defense & Space Systems division, which makes antennas and other hardware for military satellite systems, lost $373,000, its first loss in three years. EMS attributed the money-losing quarter for the defense business to funding delays and technical problems on a number of contracts.

EMS’s Wireless and SatNet divisions also were money losers during the 2005 first quarter. The SatNet division is up for sale, and several companies have expressed interest, Hansen said.

GOES-R Design Phase Draws At Least 3 Bids

Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have submitted competing bids for one of up to three contracts worth $30 million apiece to design the next generation of U.S. geostationary orbiting weather satellites.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) intends to award the design contracts for the Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) system this autumn. Bids for the work were due May 10.

The prime contract for GOES-R, a series of satellites slated to begin launching around 2012, includes the space and ground segments and overall system integration. With an estimated value of around $4 billion, the contract, to be awarded in mid-2007, is shaping up as the biggest ever awarded by NOAA.

Boeing Satellite Systems of El Segundo, Calif., is building NOAA’s current generation of geostationary weather satellites under an effort dubbed GOES-NOP. The first of those three satellites is scheduled for launch this year. The company’s GOES-R design team includes Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo.; Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla.; Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc. of Lexington, Mass.; and Carr Astronautics of Washington.

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., is teamed with Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., on GOES-R. Northrop Grumman would be prime contractor and build the space segment, with Raytheon responsible for the ground segment.

Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems said in a May 10 press release that Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Integrated Systems & Solutions and Information & Technology Services units are participating in its GOES-R bid. Buddy Nelson, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said he could not name the company’s outside partners in the effort.

Two companies that previously expressed interest in the GOES-R program, Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., did not bid on the study contracts. Space Systems/Loral, builder of the GOES-Next series of satellites , is interested in a subcontracting role on the GOES-R program, according to spokesman John McCarthy .

MOST Microsatellite Shows Star Twinkles like Clockwork

The Canadian Space Agency’s Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars (MOST) micro satellite has returned evidence of a clock-like cycle at work in the case of a star once noted for its seemingly chaotic variations in brightness, according to a University of Montreal statement.

An international team of scientists used the MOST spacecraft to make five weeks of nearly continuous observations of light from the star WR123, which is about 19,000 light years from Earth.

The scientists found “a stable variation repeating about every 10 hours,” according to the statement.

The scientists presented the MOST findings May 17 at the Canadian Astronomical Society meeting in Montreal.

The science team was led by Laure Lefevre and Anthony Moffat of the University of Montreal and Sergey Marchenko of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.

Northrop Grumman, Titan Will Evaluate NASA Software

Northrop Grumman Information Technology of Falls Church, Va., and Titan Corp. of Reston, Va., will compete with each other to test software used with some of NASA’s highest visibility programs, according to a May 11 announcement from the agency.

The companies will perform “independent verification and validation” of software related to the space shuttle, international space station and James Webb Space Telescope, NASA said. Software experts will perform the work at locations including NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont, W. Va.

The companies must compete for specific projects “to ensure the best quality work and best price,” NASA said. The projects each will be worth between $100,000 and $200 million, according to the agency.

The ordering period for the work is five years, but the actual work could extend beyond that time frame, NASA said. The effort is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Connexion Adds Live TV to In-Flight Broadband Package

Connexion by Boeing, the satellite-based service providing in-flight Internet links to passengers on commercial aircraft, plans to add live television to its offerings, the company announced May 17.

The service is set to debut this summer aboard selected flights operated by Singapore Airlines. Customers with laptops will be able to receive live broadcasts of several news channels depending upon the origin and destination of the flight.

The TV lineup includes BBC World, EuroNews, Eurosportnews and either MSNBC or CNBC.

Connexion said in a statement that later this year it plans to expand the service to other airlines that carry its Internet service.

MDA Satellite Contract Boosts SpaceDev Sales

SpaceDev of Poway, Calif., credits the micro satellite network it is developing for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) with helping the company increase its 2005 first quarter revenues by 78 percent from the same period last year.

The agency awarded SpaceDev a $43 million contract for the micro satellites in April 2004. It will use the satellites to test the concept of using numerous small satellites for distributed sensing and communications.

“During the first quarter, we continued to successfully perform on our Missile Defense Agency contract, which includes up to six high-performance networked micro satellites,” Jim Benson, SpaceDev’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

SpaceDev reported revenues of $1.8 million for the period ending March 31, compared with $1 million for the 2004 first quarter.

Net income was $101,000, compared with a net loss of $443,000 for the year-earlier period, the company reported May 17.

Operating income for the latest reporting period was $66,000, compared with $12,000 during the previous first quarter, the company said. SpaceDev said the latest quarter marks the first in which the company had both net income and positive cash flow.

SpaceDev’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were $95,000, or 5.2 percent of sales, compared with $28,000, or 2.7 percent of sales, for the 2004 first quarter.

The missile-defense contract has a potential value of $43 million, and SpaceDev won an $8.3 million task order under that program last October, the company said.

Benson also said SpaceDev has leased additional space at its facility to support testing of a high-tech rocket motor it is developing for the U.S. Air Force.

Swift Captures Afterglow Of Short Gamma-Ray Burst

Scientists working with NASA’s Swift space telescope report they have detected and pinned down the location of a short gamma-ray burst for the first time by observing its afterglow, the space agency announced May 11.

Swift detects gamma-ray bursts and then quickly trains its telescope on the area to record the burst’s X-ray afterglow. Scientists examine the afterglow to learn something about its source.

On May 9, Swift detected a 50-millisecond gamma-ray burst and locked its sensors in the direction of the burst within a minute. The spacecraft’s X-ray telescope then detected a weak afterglow that lasted about five minutes, NASA said.

Gamma-ray bursts are the most violent explosions in the known universe. Scientists believe exploding stars cause long-duration gamma-ray bursts that last at least two seconds.

Short gamma-ray bursts are mysterious because they appear and vanish so rapidly. Scientists suspect they are caused by collisions of black holes and neutron stars, NASA said.

“Seeing the afterglow from a short gamma-ray burst was a major goal for Swift, and we hit it just a few months after launch,” said Neil Gehrels, Swift project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., as quoted in the NASA statement. “For the first time, we have real data to figure out what these things are.”

Swift was built by NASA in partnership with the Italian Space Agency and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council of the United Kingdom. It was launched in November 2004.

The burst appears to have occurred in a galaxy some 2.7 billion light years from Earth that is populated with old stars, NASA said.

“We are combing the region around the burst with the Keck Telescope in Hawaii for clues about this burst or its host galaxy,” said Shri Kulkarni, a gamma-ray burst expert at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

ManTech International Wins U.S. Army Contracts

The U.S. Army awarded two contracts to ManTech International Corp. worth a combined $19 million to upgrade missile defense and information operations facilities.

ManTech Space Systems of Colorado Springs, Colo., will handle the work as part of a team led by BAE Systems North America, which is headquartered in Rockville, Md.

The work includes construction and renovation for the Joint Functional Component Command Integrated Missile Defense Operations Center and Staff Support Area at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, as well as upgrades at the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations in Arlington, Va.

Americom Government Unit Wires U.S. Troops to Internet

Americom Government Services of Princeton, N.J., is introducing a new Very Small Aperture Satellite (VSAT) system designed to provide U.S. troops and other customers with high-speed Internet, data, voice and video service via satellite, the company said in a May 17 statement.

The system, known as SmartPoint, was created with non-technical users in mind, David Helfgott, president and chief executive officer of Americom Government Services said in the statement.

The company highlights the utility of the system for military operations — noting, for example, that the SmartPoint system comes packaged as four transportable cases that can fit in the back of a Humvee.

The VSAT system also is designed to be deployed quickly and easily in the field: by two people in 15 minutes, according to the company.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com