News Briefs

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  Space News Business

News Briefs

posted: 09 May 2005
02:46 pm ET


ILS Gets Deal To Launch Classified NRO Satellite

International Launch Services (ILS) has signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to launch a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), according to a May 3 ILS news release.

The satellite, known as NRO-29, will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard an Atlas 5 equipped with a 5-meter payload fairing, two solid rocket boosters, and a single-engine upper stage.

The satellite is the 16th contract awarded to ILS under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, and is expected to be the second spacecraft launched from Lockheed Martin’s West Coast launch pad, according to the release. The first satellite scheduled to launch from Lockheed Martin’s West Coast pad is also an NRO mission.

USAF To Combine Parts of Air, Space Warfare Centers

The U.S. Air Force is integrating part of its Space Warfare Center with its Air Warfare Center to form a new center that can increase cooperation among the officials who provide air and space capabilities for deployed troops, according to an April 26 Air Force Space Command news release.

The new organization will be known as the Air Force Warfare Center, and will be run by Air Combat Command, which today hosts the Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, according to the news release. The change is expected to take effect Oct. 1.

Officials from the Space Warfare Center, which is located at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, will remain in their current location, according to the news release. No facilities are expected to be closed as a result of the change.

USAF Creates New Unit For IT, Policy, Resources

John Gilligan, the U.S. Air Force’s chief information officer, will leave the service and return to the private sector May 10 as the Air Force consolidates his office under a new directorate that handles information technology policy and resources, according to a May 2 Air Force news release.

The Air Force plans to combine the chief information officer’s role with that of its office of warfighting integration, which is currently headed by Lt. Gen. William Hobbins.

Hobbins will head the combined office as well.

U.S. Air Force Test Fires Experimental Engine

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory test fired an experimental rocket engine intended to lay the groundwork for future reusable launch vehicles, according to news release issued by the lab on May 2.

The April 28 test of the Integrated Powerhead Demonstrator, which lasted for 4.9 seconds, was conducted at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Missouri.

The project is a joint effort by the Air Force Research Lab and NASA, who have spent about $80 million on the effort over the past 10 years. The prototype engine is not expected to be used in a space launch, but its technology and components could be used on future military rockets and NASA’s space exploration initiative.

Second-to-Last Titan 4 Launches from Florida

Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Air Force successfully carried out the last Titan 4 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., April 29, leaving one Titan 4 to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., later this year. That launch will mark the end of the Titan rocket line’s five-decade history.

The Titan 4B carried a “national security payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office,” Lockheed Martin said in a news release, referring to the agency that operates U.S. spy satellites.

The Titan line was born in 1955 when the Air Force awarded a contract to what was then the Glenn L. Martin Company to build an intercontinental ballistic missile to carry nuclear weapons. NASA used a later version, the Titan 2, to launch unmanned and manned Gemini test flights in the 1960s.

The Titan 4 was created by adding two solid rocket boosters, optional upper stages and a giant payload shroud. A Titan 4 launched NASA’s Cassini Saturn probe in 1997 and others have launched numerous spy satellites and communications spacecraft for the Air Force.

In all, 27 Titan 4s were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and 11 have taken off from Vandenberg, with the 12th and final rocket scheduled for launch this summer, according to Lockheed Martin.

NSAB Selects Proton-M To Launch Sirius 4 Satellite

Swedish satellite operator Nordic Satellite AB (NSAB) will launch its Sirius 4 telecommunications satellite aboard an International Launch Services Proton-M rocket in the spring of 2007, NSAB announced May 4.

Sirius 4, under construction at Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa., is expected to carry 52 Ku-band and two Ka-band transponders. It will be placed in geostationary orbit at NSAB’s 5 degrees east longitude orbital slot, where it will replace the Sirius 2 and Sirius 3 satellites. The Ka-band payload will be used to support interactive communications in Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

NSAB is 75 percent owned by satellite-fleet operator SES Global of Luxembourg.

Volunteers To Help NASA Study Artificial Gravity

NASA plans to confine 32 volunteers to bed rest for 21 days, spinning them occasionally on a centrifuge, to test the merits of using artificial gravity to fight the bone loss and other health effects astronauts would suffer on a long mission in deep space.

The study will take place this summer at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and will be overseen by officials from NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.

“The studies may help us to develop appropriate prescriptions for using a centrifuge to protect crews and to understand the side effects of artificial gravity on people,” said Bill Paloski, NASA principal scientist in JSC’s Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Office and principal investigator for the project.

The subjects will lie on their backs in the centrifuge and spin fast enough to generate a force up to 2.5 times Earth’s gravity at their feet for an hour. Then they’ll go back to bed, NASA said in a statement.

Saudi Firm Purchases Alcatel Ground Station

The Almisehal Group of Saudi Arabia has purchased a satellite Earth station and terminal equipment for a broadband communications service from Alcatel Space of Paris in a contract Alcatel valued at more than 2 million euros ($2.6 million), Alcatel Space announced.

Under the contract, Almisehal will install the Alcatel gear for Saudi Telecommunications Co. for broadband access to schools, small businesses and the broader residential-consumer market in Saudi Arabia.

Alcatel’s technology employs the DVB-RCS technical transmission standard, one of several satellite-broadband technologies that are competing for market acceptance.

NASA Selects Partner for MMS Sensor Development

A team led by the San Antonio -based Southwest Research Institute beat out the University of California at Berkeley in a competition to work with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to develop the instrument suite for the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission.

The mission calls for four spacecraft with identical instrument suites to make coordinated high-resolution observations of the effects of solar wind and other cosmic processes on the Earth’s magnetosphere, the region in space closest to the planet. The mission, previously envisioned as a five-satellite constellation and slated for a 2010 launch, has been pushed back to 2013 for budgetary reasons. According to NASA, the mission’s instrument suite is expected to cost $140 million.

French Weapon Systems Will Be Galileo-Equipped

France’s armed forces intend to equip their future weapon systems with navigation terminals using the encrypted government-only signals offered by Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system in addition to using the future U.S. GPS military code, a French Joint Military Staff official said.

French Navy Cmdr. Bernard Cervoni of the joint staff’s space office said Galileo’s Public Regulated Service (PRS) signal will be fitted onto French weapon systems at the same time as these systems are modernized with the new-generation GPS military code to reduce the costs of the retrofit.

“We foresee equipping all our weapons systems with PRS,” Cervoni said. “These will be dual-mode systems with the GPS and Galileo capabilities.”

He said he expected this to occur around 2010, and again in 2020.

Cervoni said the 25-nation European Union has agreed that Galileo PRS signals can be used by European Union armed forces willing to pay for it. But no PRS units will be permitted for export outside the European Union — on weapon systems or otherwise — without the unanimous agreement of all European Union member states.

For example, France will be barred from equipping its Rafale fighter aircraft or any missile systems with PRS if the hardware is to be exported outside of Europe, he said.

Cervoni said that for now, “only two or three nations have said they want to use Galileo for military applications,” including France. “Each member state will decide its own policy for its own forces. We will see when the time comes what other nations decide.”

Cervoni said France believes that even the more widely available Galileo civil-commercial signal, like the current civilian GPS signal available worldwide, “is inherently a [weapon] proliferation issue. It is relatively easy to adapt commercial Galileo or GPS terminals to weapons.”

The Galileo PRS signal, he said, is designed to be transmitted over a wide enough swath of bandwidth to prevent jamming by adversaries. The PRS signal is separated from the rest of the Galileo signals, meaning that European forces could jam commercial users in a given conflict zone without interrupting the PRS signal or the GPS military code.

Skylark Rocket Motor Makes its Last Flight

The Swedish Space Corp. (SSC) on May 2 launched its Maser 10 suborbital sounding rocket from northern Sweden’s Esrange facility, lofting a 350-kilogram suite of microgravity experiments for the European Space Agency (ESA) in the last flight of the British Skylark rocket motor .

The Maser 10 vehicle reached an altitude of 252 kilometers and provided the five experiments — two in biology, three in fluid physics — with the intended six minutes of low-gravity conditions designed to simulate those found in low-Earth orbit. While the experiments functioned as planned, the parachute landing system failed, causing an overly hard impact on landing and damaging part of the payload.

Wolfgang Herfs, ESA’s Maser 10 manager, said that despite the hard landing, “indications show that the scientific objectives have been filled. We are almost certain that the vast majority of all scientific samples are intact … and that the data stored on board is readable.”

The Skylark motor, which has been retired, was first flown in 1957.

India’s PSLV Rocket Launches Cartosat-1 Earth Mapping Satellite

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched its Cartosat-1 Earth mapping satellite May 5 aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) that lifted off from a newly built launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India .

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the launch of Cartosat-1 — along with the Hamsat satellite for amateur radio operators — as a major milestone in the country’s space program. Cartosat-1 is India’s highest-resolution imaging satellite launched to date.

It was the PSLV’s ninth flight and the inaugural mission from the 4 billion rupee ($90 million) second launch pad at the ISRO facility.

In a post-launch televised press conference, ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair said the textbook launch “not only demonstrated PSLV’s multiple satellite launch capability, but it was also the heaviest payload ever carried by PSLV.”

Both satellites were placed into a near-polar sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 632 kilometers by 621 kilometers. The solar panels of Cartosat-1 were deployed soon after its injection into orbit, ISRO spokesman S. Krishnamurthy said.

Cartosat-1, weighing 1,560 kilograms, is the 11th spacecraft of the Indian Remote Sensing satellite series and is intended for mapping applications, Krishnamurthy said May 5.

It carries two panchromatic cameras that take black-and-white stereoscopic pictures at resolutions as sharp as 2.5 meters. The pictures will be useful for generating digital terrain elevation maps, among other things.

The 42.5-kilogram Hamsat satellite will serve amateur radio operators , Krishnamurthy said. It carries two transponders, one supplied by India and another by an organization based in the Netherlands.

Young Tells Air Force To Hold off on Radar Demo

The chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee advised the U.S. Air Force recently not to begin spending money on its proposed Space Radar satellite demonstration until Congress finishes its work on the Pentagon’s 2006 budget request, according to Pentagon officials.

The April 20 letter from Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) likely will keep the Air Force from awarding a contract to build the two quarter-scale demonstration satellites before October, the beginning of the new fiscal year, the officials said. The Air Force would like to launch the Space Radar demonstration satellites in 2008.

Young sent his letter to service leaders after the Air Force notified Congress that it planned to use some 2005 funding for the demonstration, the officials said.

Mars Express Mission Likely Will Be Extended

Europe’s Science Program Committee, which sets space-science priorities for the European Space Agency, is expected to approve a two-year extension of the Mars Express mission when it meets May 9-10. The funding extension would permit the satellite to continue looking for signs of life and water on Mars until late 2007.

The committee is scheduled to meet in Helsinki, Finland, to review Europe’s long-term space-science program. Extending Mars Express’ mission by two years is expected to cost about 15 million euros ($19.3 million).

Mars Express, which has been in orbit around Mars since December 2003, deployed the first of two 20-meter-long radar booms May 4. The booms are to be used to search for water up to several kilometers beneath Mars’ surface. Complete deployment of the Marsis radar antenna system is expected to be completed May 12.

Marsis operations had been delayed until now because of concerns that the booms could damage the satellite or its other observing instruments in a whiplash effect during deployment.

House Panel Expected To Boost Spacelift Funding

The House Armed Services Committee, which begins marking up its version of the 2006 Defense Authorization Bill the week of May 9, likely will provide more funding than the Pentagon requested for a program popularly known as operationally responsive spacelift, according to a staffer.

The Pentagon is seeking $23.5 million for the effort, which is intended to field low-cost rockets and satellites that can be launched on short notice in response to emerging military needs.

“We are serious about this. At least look at this,” the aide said . “The Air Force has not given it adequate consideration.”

Both the House and Senate Armed Services committees recommended adding $25 million to the Pentagon’s $25.9 million request for operationally responsive spacelift programs for 2005.

ASI to Build Robotic Arm For Phoenix Mars Lander

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Pasadena, Calif., picked Alliance Spacesystems Inc. (ASI) to build the robotic arm for the agency’s 2007 Phoenix lander mission to Mars’ icy north pole.

Under the $5 million contract, ASI of Pasadena will build a robot arm similar to the one it built for a 2001 Mars lander mission that NASA canceled in the wake of the back-to-back failures of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander.

ASI also built the robotic arms for Spirit and Odyssey, the two rovers that have been exploring Mars since early 2004.

NASA’s Next Mars Probe Delivered to Launch Site

A U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane landed at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., April 30, carrying NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which is scheduled for launch Aug. 10.

The new Mars orbiter was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. It will study Mars for scientists and mission designers, who are looking for the best locations for future landings. The spacecraft also will relay information to Earth from spacecraft already on the surface of Mars.

NASA contractors and Air Force staff trucked the orbiter to Kennedy’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, where NASA engineers will verify that it is ready for launch, said NASA spokesman George Diller.

Engineers first will test the spacecraft’s ability to communicate with scientists via NASA’s Deep Space Network, an international network of large dish-shaped antennas that provide communication links with spacecraft far beyond Earth orbit.

In June, engineers will test deployment of the MRO’s main antenna and solar arrays. In July, they will fill the spacecraft with hydrazine and install it inside the payload fairing of an Atlas 5 rocket.

ESA Microgravity Payload Survives Parachute Failure

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) microgravity payload, Maser 10, appears to be mostly intact following a wild ride on a Skylark suborbital rocket that ended with the payload slamming into the ground because of a parachute failure .

“Right now, we are almost certain that the majority of all scientific samples are intact for further analysis and that the data stored onboard is readable,” Wolfgang Herfs, ESA’s sounding rocket project manager, said in a May 2 press release.

Since 1986, scientists have used the Materials Science Experiment Rocket (Maser) program to study the behavior of materials in microgravity for possible applications in the medical, nano-technology and other industries.

Maser 10 carried five experiments, including a biological study of the muscle protein, actin and several fluid physics experiments. The payload was launched aboard a Skylark rocket from Swedish Space Corp. ‘s launch facility in Estrange, Sweden. It attained an altitude of 250 kilometers.

The launch was the 441st and last for the Skylark sounding rockets manufactured in Great Britain, according to the Royal Astronomical Society in London. The Maser 10 rocket was supplied by Sounding Rocket Services L t d in Bristol, which also makes parts for the Oriole sounding rockets built by DTI Associates, A Haverstick Company, based in Arlington, Va.

SES Americom Puts Old Satellite Out to Pasture

SES Americom of Princeton, N.J., has stopped operating a 15-year-old communications satellite, and has maneuvered the spacecraft to a location safely above other satellites in geosynchronous orbit, the company announced May 2.

The company said Satcom C1 outlived its design life by nearly seven years through efficient fuel management. The spacecraft was built by RCA Astrospace , now part of Lockheed Martin Commercial Satellite Systems, in Newtown, Pa. It provided communication services to the continental United States for 10 years before being moved to a different location above the Atlantic.

SES Americom is the U.S. arm of the communications giant SES Global based in Luxembourg. The Americom part of the company operates 18 spacecraft over North and South America providing cable television programming, aeronautical and maritime communications, Internet services, mobile communications and private communications networks for governments.

The AMC-12 satellite, launched earlier this year and declared operational last month, will take the place of Satcom C1 over the Atlantic, said SES spokeswoman Monica Morgan. The retirement leaves three Astro-built spacecraft in Americom’s fleet.

Imagery Shows How Snow Affects Plankton Levels

Satellite images have helped scientists gather documentation to show how diminished snow cover in the Himalayas might be indirectly responsible for a 350 percent increase in phytoplankton in the Arabian Sea over the last seven years, according to a scientific paper published in the April 22 issue of Science magazine.

With less snow to reflect sunlight, the land heats up more than it otherwise would, warming the air above, according to the authors. The warmer air creates a low-pressure system over India that draws monsoon winds from the Arabian Sea. These winds stir the sea and move nutrients to areas where they are not normally present, creating ideal conditions for blooms of phytoplankton, according to the paper.

Dense blooms of phytoplankton are known to kill fish by indirectly depleting the waters of oxygen, said Joaquim Goes, a senior researcher at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in West Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and lead author of the paper, “Warming of the Eurasian Landmass is Making the Arabian Sea More Productive.”

As the phytoplankton die, they are consumed by a type of bacteria that soaks up oxygen from the water. Later, another type of bacteria that flourishes in oxygen-depleted waters takes over, Goes said in an April 27 telephone interview. These bacteria give off nitrous oxide, which easily enters the air. That’s significant because nitrous oxide has been shown to be 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas , Goes said.

“This whole issue of global warming could be sped up if you have more nitrous oxide coming into the atmosphere,” Goes said.

The NASA-funded study was based on measurements of chlorophyll levels in the Arabian Sea over a seven-year period using ocean color images from the Sea-viewing Wide-Field of View Sensor on the OrbView 2 satellite and from Japan’s Advanced Earth Observing (ADEOS) satellites. The scientists related that information to ocean-surface wind measurements from satellite instruments including the imager aboard the U.S.-Japanese Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, according to the paper.

The paper warns that if the warming trend continues, more widespread phytoplankton blooms could be in store for the Arabian Sea.

XMM Newton Detects Distant Star Hot Spots

Hotspots detected on the surfaces of neutron stars by Europe’s X-ray Multi-Mirror (XMM-Newton) satellite appear to be caused by bits of particles slamming back into the stars after racing through their magnetic fields, according to astronomer Patrizia Caraveo of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Milan, Italy. The findings by Caraveo and four co-authors were published in the April 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

Neutron stars rotate, and this rotation generates electric fields just like in an electric motor. “The electric field can become so strong it extracts particles from the neutron star and accelerates those along magnetic field lines,” Caraveo said. The particles interact and become fragmented in the field, she added. “The hotspots are due to the heating of the particles, or parts of particles, returning to the star,” Caraveo explained. “We believe the hotspots signal the magnetic pole of the neutron stars.”

The astronomers detected the hotspots in readings from the European Photon Imaging Camera aboard XMM-Newton. These hot spots are three to four times hotter than surrounding surfaces of the stars, which measure about 500,00 degrees Celsius, Caraveo said.

Some of the spots are as small as a football field, but Caraveo was careful to point out that spots that small were not imaged by XMM. She said they were calculated by measuring variations in X-ray spectra emitted by the stars.

FSRI Program Addresses Math Teacher Shortage

Citing a shortage of math and science teachers in Florida, the Florida Space Research Institute (FSRI) at Cape Canaveral has added an interactive math course for schoolteachers to its Web-based education service.

FSRI is an advocacy group for Florida’s space industry. The organization has added the new 25-hour curriculum to its Advanced Learning Environment, a Web-based educational program developed in conjunction with NASA for teachers desiring to take continuing education courses.

FSRI also is sponsoring summer aerospace industry jobs for up to 20 technology teachers from Florida. In addition, with the support of the University of North Florida and the University of West Florida, the organization will hire two new aerospace education mentors to support teachers in Florida school districts. Three high-performing teachers will win flights aboard Zero-G Corp.’s G-Force One microgravity aircraft, which provides passengers with brief periods of weightlessness by conducting a pattern of parabolic maneuvers.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com