News Briefs

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  Space News Business

News Briefs

posted: 31 May 2005
01:26 pm ET


White Knight Paired with X-37 for Future Drop Tests

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> The novel carrier plane used with SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed vehicle to take people into space, was paired for runway tests in May with the X-37, an unpiloted prototype for future reusable space planes.

The tests were conducted at the Mojave, Calif., spaceport using the White Knight, which was built by Scaled Composites of Mojave to carry SpaceShipOne to launch altitude.

The White Knight/X-37 combination went through a set of ground evaluations, including high-speed taxi testing.

In its new role, the White Knight is being readied to fly the Boeing-, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)- and NASA-supported X-37 aloft for drop tests.

The X-37 is designed to serve as a test bed for airframe, propulsion and other technologies needed to make space transportation and operations significantly more affordable.

NASA transferred its X-37 technology demonstration program to DARPA late last year.

Also known as the Approach and Landing Test Vehicle (ALTV), the X-37 has been at the Mojave airport since mid-April, said DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker. “The first taxi test occurred earlier this month. In addition to the taxi tests, the ALTV also plans captive carry flights and drop tests.

The tests will continue through this summer, but we’ve not announced any specific dates,” Walker said.

U.S. Investigators Search Orbital Sciences Facilities

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> U.S. government agents searched Orbital Sciences Corp. facilities in Dulles, Va., and Chandler, Ariz., May 26 as part of what Orbital said it believes is an investigation into “contracting procedures on certain U.S. government launch vehicle programs,” the company announced May 27.

Orbital said in a May 27 news release that it is “not aware that it has violated any federal contracting laws, policies or procedures,” and that it is cooperating with the investigators. The company said it would decline further comment on the ongoing investigation.

Orbital builds the Pegasus air-launched and Taurus vertical-launch rockets and also has modified U.S. Peacekeeper and Minuteman missiles to create space-launch vehicles. The company is a major contractor to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, and recently was awarded a contract from the U.S. Air Force to produce designs for a line of air-launched rockets Orbital calls Raptor.

The company’s corporate headquarters is in Dulles. It manufactures rockets at its Arizona location.

Sandy Raynor, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona, which is handling the investigation, declined to comment in a May 27 telephone conversation.

Orbital’s stock, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, dropped about 10 percent the day of the announcement, closing at a $9.66 a share after closing the previous day at $10.57. The New York and Nasdaq exchanges closed higher at the end of the same day.

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> Vexcel Purchases Dutch Remote Sensing Company

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> Vexcel Corp. of Boulder, Colo., announced May 27 that it has purchased Synoptics, a remote sensing company based in the Netherlands.

Jerry Skaw, a spokesman for Vexcel, said that the acquisition of Synoptics will help expand Vexcel’s business in Europe.

Synoptics specializes in using satellite-derived data for monitoring agricultural, water and other environmental issues. Skaw declined to discuss annual sales figures because Vexcel is a privately held company.

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> SpaceVest Redeems Equity In Analytical Graphics

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> SpaceVest, a Reston, Va., venture capital firm that invests in advanced technology companies, has redeemed its equity stake in Analytical Graphics, an Exton, Pa., company that specializes in analysis and visualization software like its Satellite Toolkit now known as STK.

In a May 25 press release, SpaceVest said it realized a “ten-times return on its original investment in Analytical Graphics.”

That original investment came in 1995 when SpaceVest provided Analytical Graphics with an initial round of funding totaling $2.5 million.

SpaceVest provided $2 million in debt financing for Analytical Graphics in 1999, according to the release.

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> Eutelsat Seeks Bids on Satellite for African Markets

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> Satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat S.A. of Paris has issued a request for bids from satellite manufacturers for a telecommunications and television broadcast satellite to boost the company’s presence in several African markets.

The bids for the W7 satellite were issued the week of May16 following a Eutelsat board of directors meeting the previous week. Eutelsat is likely to seek bids from prospective builders for at least one more satellite this year, according to Eutelsat officials.

U.S. Senate Confirms Krieg For DoD Acquisition Post

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> The U.S. Senate confirmed Kenneth Krieg to serve as the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics May 26.

Krieg, who has served until now as the director of the Pentagon’s program analysis and evaluation office, replaces Michael Wynne, who had been serving on an acting basis.

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> House Members Create Bipartisan China Caucus

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives has formed the Congressional China Caucus, which is intended to raise awareness of U.S.-China issues and serve as a forum for discussion on those matters, according to a May 27 news release from the office of U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), who chairs the new caucus.

“With all eyes peeled on Iraq and terrorism, few truly have an understanding of the changing global trends that will be influencing America’s economy and defense in the coming decade,” Forbes said in the news release. “My colleagues and I are looking forward to starting serious discussion on China so we may better understand how their policies will impact America in the coming years.”

Other founding members of the caucus include Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Appropriations science, state, justice and commerce subcommittee; Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee; Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.); Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.); Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.); Steve Pearce (R-N.M.); Sam Graves (R-Mo.); and Jeff Miller (R-Fla.).

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> Boeing Ships DirecTV Satellite for Ariane Launch

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(175.500,0,” “,)> DirecTV Group’s Spaceway-2 Ka-band high-definition-television satellite has been shipped from manufacturer Boeing Satellite Systems’ El Segundo, Calif., plant and has arrived at the Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana in preparation for a Ariane 5 rocket launch in late June, DirecTV announced.

Spaceway-2, a Boeing 702 satellite frame, is scheduled to be launched aboard an Ariane 5 ECA vehicle with Indonesia’s smaller Telkom-2 telecommunications satellite.

Spaceway 2 will be operated from 99.2 degrees west longitude. The identical Spaceway-1 spacecraft was launched April 26 aboard a Sea Launch LLC vehicle.

U.S. Army Needs Sharper Imagery-Based Maps

The U.S. Army needs higher-resolution satellite maps to better understand the terrain in which its forces must operate, according to a service official.

“All of our archived data is 30-meter,” said Col. Tim Coffin, chief of the National Security Policy and Space & Missile Defense divisions on the Army staff at the Pentagon. “We can do much better.”

Coffin was referring to the 30-meter-resolution imagery collected by the U.S. government-owned Landsat satellites. Higher-resolution radar data from the NASA-Pentagon Shuttle Radar Topography Mission has not fully solved the problem, he said.

The Pentagon is increasingly relying on commercial satellites for its routine imaging needs. But while the commercial satellites in operation today can collect imagery at resolutions of 1 meter or better, they do not have the broad-area coverage that the Army needs, Coffin said at the Space at the Crossroads conference.

South Korea May Join Europe’s Galileo Effort

The European Commission expects to enter negotiations with South Korea over participation in Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation project once the council of the 25-nation European Union, made up of member-state ministers, gives formal approval for the talks, the commission announced May 23.

In addition to European Union countries, China and Israel already have signed agreements on participation in Galileo. The commission said it has begun negotiations on Galileo participation with India, Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Malaysia and Australia.

The 30-satellite Galileo constellation, similar to the U.S. GPS system, is expected to be in service around 2011.

ViaSat Supplies More Modems for Connexion

Connexion by Boeing has ordered 200 additional satellite modems from ViaSat Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif., bringing total ViaSat-built Connexion modems to more than 400, ViaSat announced May 12.

The new order is for both airline and maritime applications as Seattle-based Connexion, which began its satellite-broadband service to passenger airlines in May 2004, tries to expand its market to the commercial shipping industry.

Boeing and its first airline customer, Germany’s Deutsche Lufthansa AG, said May 12 that a survey of passengers in Europe and Asia who have used the Connexion service found that for 85 percent of them, the availability of broadband Internet access “would have an impact” on their future choice of airlines.

Lufthansa has installed Connexion on 42 of its long-haul aircraft.

Eumetsat Implementing New Broadcast System

Europe’s 18-nation meteorological satellite organization, Eumetsat, expects to transition all of its customers to the Eumetcast data-distribution system by the end of 2005 and will shut down the previous transmission system , called Wefax, in early 2006, the Darmstadt, Germany, organization announced.

Eumetcast beams meteorological information from a Eumetsat ground facility to users via a commercial telecommunications satellite. More than 1,000 Eumetsat users already are using Eumetcast , and that figure likely will reach 2,000 by the end of 2005, according to Eumetsat.

Eumetcast was adopted in 2002 following the failure of a system aboard a Eumetsat satellite that forced the organization to find an alternative to Wefax, which relied on the Eumetsat spacecraft to retransmit data to users.

Eumetcast customers need a satellite dish hooked up to their computers, plus software delivered by Eumetsat, to receive the data, which is transmitted in the DVB, or Digital Video Broadcast, transmission standard.

The Eumetcast service is available in Eumetsat’s Europe-centered coverage area including Africa, the Middle East and the East Coast of the United States. Eumetsat’s principal satellites are located at zero degrees longitude in geostationary orbit over the equator. Eumetsat said it plans to extend the Eumetcast service to include the organization’s polar-orbiting satellites, the first of which is scheduled for launch in 2006.

Eumetsat said its core customers, the meteorological services of European nations, account for only 10 percent of those receiving Eumetsat satellite data directly. More than half of Eumetsat’s users are educational and research institutions, and some 25 percent are made up of air-traffic controllers, armed-forces personnel and television broadcasters.

EMS Signs Several International Contracts

EMS Satcom of Ottawa signed a contract with the United Kingdom’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to provide maintenance support services for the ground-segment infrastructure the agency uses with the international satellite-based Cospas-Sarsat search and rescue system.

Under the terms of the three-year, $2 million contract, EMS Satcom’s Emergency Management Products Group will provide software updates for the MCA Earth station that communicates with the low Earth-orbiting satellites in the Cospas-Sarsat system, a global network designed to pick up distress signals and relay them to search and rescue teams.

EMS also will provide 24-hour-a-day support for the MCA’s search and rescue system, including a backup mission control center. EMS Satcom is a division of EMS Technologies Inc. of Atlanta.

EMS also recently announced several other contracts, including a $1.6 million, 12-month contract with the Indian Space Research Organisation to build a front-end switch assembly for Oceansat 2, India’s next-generation ocean-monitoring satellite. The front end switch assembly allows controllers to switch antennas as necessary. Oceansat 2 will study ocean surface winds, coastal habitats and erosion, according to a May 20 EMS press release.

EMS Satellite Networks also announced May 20 the creation of a joint venture with India’s Infinium Ltd. to sell Digital Video Broadcast-Return Channel via Satellite (DVB-RCS) services and equipment in India. DVB-RCS is a technology used to provide Internet services via satellite. The joint venture will be known as Infinium-EMS Ltd.

In addition, EMS Satcom announced a $1.2 million contract with Turkey May 24 for a turnkey system for that country’s search and rescue operations.

Spacehab Inc. to Develop Miniature Spectrometer

Spacehab Inc. and NASA have entered into a non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement under which the Houston-based company will develop a prototype miniature mass spectrometer system for monitoring air quality aboard astronaut-carrying spacecraft, Spacehab announced May 25.

The company will team with nanotechnology specialist Zyvex Corp. of Richardson, Texas, on the project. The resulting system, including the Zyvex-built spectrometer and Spacehab-supplied interface hardware, is expected to be about the size of a deck of playing cards, Spacehab said. Current on-orbit air quality monitoring systems weigh 45 kilograms and take up the space of a car trunk, Spacehab said.

“For human space flight missions, NASA must continually monitor air quality and toxicity levels to ensure the health and safety of the crew,” said Michael E. Bain, Spacehab’s chief operating officer. ” We are excited about this opportunity to provide a solution that is small, light-weight, and portable enough to be easily delivered to, and operated on, the space station and anywhere else humans live and work in space.”

The prototype system will be tested in a ground-based laboratory by the end of the year, Spacehab said. If the tests are successful, Spacehab will build an operational unit that could be offered on its logictics modules or leased or sold to individual customers, the company said.

Space Act Agreements are partnerships between NASA and industry that leverage the resources of both sides for research and development purposes.

Raytheon Hyperspectral Sensor To Go on TacSat 3

Raytheon Co. won a $15 million contract to build a hyperspectral imaging sensor that can be launched aboard the third in a series of small experimental satellites that will give military commanders the chance to directly task spacecraft, according to a May 26 Pentagon news release.

Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif., will build the Advanced Responsive Tactically Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer (Artemis), which is expected to be integrated aboard a prototype version of a common spacecraft platform. The Air Force expects to launch the TacSat 3 spacecraft, which also is known as Joint Warfighter 2, around 2007.

Orbcomm Signs Deals with Seven Technology Partners

Orbcomm of Dulles, Va., has signed agreements with seven companies that will incorporate Orbcomm’s satellite-based data services into their products, according to a May 23 press release.

Using its fleet of small low Earth-orbiting satellites, Orbcomm sells services to both mobile users like truck fleets and the owners of fixed assets like pipelines that use the satellite network to gather data from ground sensors.

The seven new deals are with companies known in industry jargon as value-added resellers, who have products designed for very specific markets. They are:

– Hunt Power, which offers customers a daily meter reading package that will rely on the satellite network.

– Intelek, which offers data-only communication systems serving companies with widely dispersed assets such as oil and gas production facilities that will use the satellites to gather data that can then be monitored by customers via the Internet.

– Lat-Lon, which tracks rail cars, trailers, containers and other mobile assets.

– High Tide Technologies LLC, which provides wireless data service for monitoring and controlling for environmental, water and sanitary sewer systems.

– SecurShield Technologies, which tracks and monitors buses and taxis.

– American Innovations, which sells remote monitoring systems to oil, gas, water, wastewater and industrial customers.

– Atlantic Electronics, which offers satellite data communication services for commercial fishing vessels.

The seven new deals give Orbcomm a total of 91 value-added resellers in its customer base. Orbcomm, which is a privately held company still in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection, did not disclose terms of the deals.

ILS Proton Launches Loral-Built DirecTV 8

The DirecTV 8 satellite was successfully launched May 22 aboard an International Launch Services Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The hybrid satellite, which is equipped with both Ku- and Ka-band transponders, will be added to DirecTV Group’s existing fleet of eight operational satellites to provide television programming direct to the homes of customers with their own satellite dish. The company plans to check the satellite out during the summer and put it into service in the fall.

Controllers at ground stations in Germany and Western Australia established contact with the satellite, which was manufactured by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and confirmed that all of its systems were functioning properly, according to a May 22 DirecTV press release.

The spacecraft, the second launched for El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV aboard a Proton, is based on Loral’s 1300 platform and is similar to DirecTV 5.

Satellite Images 2 Other Spacecraft in Mars Orbit

NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor has taken photographs of two other spacecraft that are in orbit around the red planet . The two spacecraft captured by the Surveyor’s camera are the European Space Agency’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Odyssey.

According to a May 19 NASA press release, the pictures are the first of spacecraft orbiting another planet that were taken by a spacecraft also in orbit around that planet. The image of Mars Express was captured April 20 when it was about 250 kilometers from the Mars Global Surveyor. The next day Surveyor photographed Mars Odyssey at a distance of between 90 and 135 kilometers , NASA said.

All three spacecraft are orbiting Mars at a speed of about 11,200 kilometers per hour . With a field of view of only 755 meters wide, the Global Surveyor’s Mars Orbiter Camera had little room for error in capturing images of other spacecraft moving that fast.

If the timing had been off by only a few seconds the photos would have been blank, according to NASA.

Penn State Named To Lead Satellite Autonomy Project

NASA has awarded Penn State University’s Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) a $9.6 million contract to lead the development of software that allows deep space probes to deal safely and autonomously with onboard failures, minimizing the need for human intervention .

“There is a need for both human-in-the-loop systems, in which the machine waits for instructions from humans, and autonomous systems, in which the machine assesses its own condition and collaborates with humans or other machines in making decisions about what to do,” Karl Reichard, a research associate and the head of ARL’s Complex Systems Monitoring and Automation Department, said in a May 19 Penn State press release.

The contract is structured such that Penn State of State College, Pa., will receive about $6.1 million of the $9.6 million total contract it will administer as it supports the work of university researchers and a team of contractors and NASA field centers who will share the remaining $3.5 million.

The team includes two NASA centers — Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, Calif. — and three private companies: Vector Technologies of Burke, Va.; Gormley & Associates of Irvine, Calif.; and Applied Perception Inc. of Pittsburgh .

The goal of the program is to develop new approaches to integrating control and condition-monitoring systems that will be useful in a wide range of situations and also be useful for the commercial sector, robotics and defense applications, according to the May 19 release.

London Group to Study ISS Cultural Utilization

The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded a British arts organization a six -month contract to study possible future cultural utilization of the international space station (ISS), particularly aboard European elements of the orbital facility .

Over the course of the study, the London-based Arts Catalysts group will consult “artists and cultural practitioners from a broad spectrum of disciplines” to determine the “features of the ISS that would be of interest to them, including its ground-based support facilities, such as launch sites, astronaut training facilities and national user support centres across Europe,” ESA said in a May 20 press release.

The value of the contract was not disclosed.

Minnesota Students Win 2005 Rocketry Challenge

A Minnesota team of 4-H students won the 2005 Team America Rocketry Challenge. The final competition was held May 21 in The Plains, Va. Eric Eid, Joseph Kamen, Theodore Kamen, Benjamin Pangerl, Julia Nelson and Nicole Nelson will share the top prize of $8,000.

With a nearly perfect score, the team from the Dakota County 4-H Federation of Farmington, Minn., finished first in a field of 100 teams from across the country. They launched their payload of two raw eggs and returned it safely (unbroken) to Earth in 59.9 seconds, just one-tenth of a second off the goal of 60 seconds.

The annual event is sponsored by the U.S. Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Association of Rocketry in association with NASA, the American Association of Physics Teachers and 34 of AIA’s corporate members.

A team from Plantation High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., finished second — just one-tenth of a second behind the Minnesota team. A team from Shelby Junior High School in Shelby Township, Michigan, finished third.

The purpose of the event is to increase interest in math and science among high school and middle school students. Nearly 10,000 students from 712 teams participated in the regional competitions leading up to the national finals this year, the third year of the contest, according to a May 21 AIA press release.

NASA Will Stay Active in Earth Science, Griffin Says

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said he sees no good argument for transferring the agency’s Earth science program to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates weather satellites.

“NOAA is an operational agency and I use their services every time I dial 1-800-WEATHERBRIEF to get a pilot briefing, or look at an aeronautical chart, or turn on the Weather Channel. They are in the operational business, and I think they want to stay there. NASA is in the research and development business, or should be,” Griffin said May 18 at the Space at the Crossroads conference in Washington.

Griffin said while NOAA might pick up responsibility for some Earth-observation measurements deemed operational, NASA would continue to invest in research and advancing the “technological state of the art” in Earth observation.

“NASA ought to be right at that edge. When we have something that is operational, or within sight of operational, NOAA should procure those instruments, those kinds of spacecraft from commercial providers on their own and NASA should move on to the next step,” Griffin said. “NASA can’t get out, and shouldn’t get out, of Earth science because then NOAA will not — with its operational budget — have the incoming stream of new developments to stay at the state of the art. If NASA drops its part of the ball, the game is not going to go well.”

Lawmaker Interested in Separate Space Force

The Pentagon has made significant efforts to improve its management of space personnel, but at least one well-placed lawmaker still believes the military may need to form a separate space force in the near future.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who sits on the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee as well as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s technical and tactical intelligence subcommittee, remains frustrated that space officers must compete for promotions with pilots, said Kim Kotlar, the lawmaker’s administrative assistant.

Thornberry was one of the primary authors of the legislation that mandated the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, which was chaired by Donald Rumsfeld prior to his 2000 nomination to serve as secretary of defense.

The commission’s influential report stopped short of recommending the establishment of a separate space force, but said the military services should improve their career development, education and training programs for space personnel.

Since the report was published in January 2001, the services have tried to enhance the career prospects of its space professionals through the creation of the space cadres. But Thornberry remains dissatisfied, according to Kotlar. The lawmaker believes the “time may be right sooner than later” for the creation of a separate space force, Kotlar said during a May 18 panel discussion at the Space at the Crossroads conference.

Telesat Signs Multiyear Consumer Broadband Deal

Telesat Canada of Ottawa has signed a multiyear contract to purchase Ka-band consumer broadband satellite terminals from ViaSat Inc., confirming an agreement announced in March 2004, the two companies announced May 11.

The announcement did not disclose specific terminal prices or quantities. But Telesat officials in the past have said they expect to have more than 10,000 consumer-broadband terminals in service in Canada by the end of 2005, with initial wholesale prices of between $600 and $700 before discounts or sponsor subsidies.

ViaSat told investors May 12 that Telesat ordered 40,000 consumer broadband terminals in the three months ending March 31.

Telesat’s two-way consumer-broadband service uses the company’s Anik F2 satellite. The company has been testing an initial batch of 60 ViaSat terminals since Anik F2 became operational in early 2005.

Mark Dankberg, chairman of Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat, said in a statement that the Telesat order brings to nearly 200,000 the number of ViaSat DOCSIS-based terminals ordered worldwide. DOCSIS is one of several technical transmission standards vying for dominance in the emerging satellite broadband market.

Comments: Warren Ferster@space.com