News Briefs

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  Space News Business

News Briefs

posted: 06 June 2005
11:56 am ET


Global Effort Mounted To Track Solar Sail

Satellite tracking stations around the world are on standby to track Cosmos 1, a privately financed solar sail spacecraft scheduled to launch June 21 atop a converted missile from a submerged Russian submarine in the Barents Sea. The mission is being financed by the science-based entertainment company Cosmos Studios and managed by the Planetary Society.

NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, two government agencies interested in solar sail spacecraft, have signed agreements with the Pasadena, Calif.-based Planetary Society to provide tracking support of the Cosmos 1 mission in exchange for technical data on the solar sail craft.

U.S. Strategic Command, the Russian Space Agency, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Space Sciences Laboratory of the University of California at Berkeley, also have signed on to help track the first of its kind spacecraft as it orbits the Earth powered by the solar winds that buffer the planet.

DirecTV Solicits Launcher For Four Large Satellites

DirecTV Group is asking launch-service suppliers to submit bids on a single package to include the launch of three or four large Boeing 702-model telecommunications satellites in what promises to be the biggest commercial launch contract of the year, according to industry officials.

The Los Angeles satellite-television company wants to make a single purchase to cover launch of the Spaceway-3, DirecTV-10 and DirecTV-11 satellites, with an option to include DirecTV-12, officials said. The launches would occur in 2007.

DirecTV’s first Ka-band Spaceway satellite, converted from broadband to high-definition television service, is in orbit. The second is set for launch June 24. The third Spaceway has been reserved for use by Hughes Network Systems, which is 50 percent owned by DirecTV, for the satellite broadband market. The DirecTV 10, 11 and 12 satellites are under construction at Boeing Satellite Systems International and are designed to be used for high-definition television programming.

NASA Picks Jupiter for New Horizons Mission

A proposal to place a science probe in polar orbit around Jupiter will be NASA’s next New Horizons mission. The new mission, called Juno, beat out a proposal to collect and return samples from the Moon’s south pole.

NASA had been evaluating the two competing proposals since July 2004, and announced June 1 that it had selected Juno to proceed into preliminary design. Assuming Juno passes its review at the end of the preliminary design phase, NASA would give the green light to proceed into development of the mission, which will have its cost capped at $700 million. The mission is expected to be ready for launch no later than June 30, 2010.

Juno, a solar-powered mission proposed by the Southwest Research Institute, would be NASA’s second New Horizons mission. The first, the New Frontiers Pluto fly-by, is slated to launch in January 2006.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is managing the Juno mission. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver has been picked to build the spacecraft.

U.S. Air Force To Award Single T-MOS Contract

The U.S. Air Force plans to award a single 10-year contract in November worth $2.1 billion for the ground segment of its ambitious Transformational Satellite communications system.

The service issued its request for proposals for the Transformational Satellite Mission Operations System, or T-MOS, prime contract May 31, according to service officials.

Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon are designing competing T-MOS architectures under 18-month study contracts awarded in October 2003. The contracts have been extended twice, according to Karl Jensen, senior manager of space systems, intelligence and information systems at Raytheon. The latest three-month extensions, which will carry the work from June to Sept. 30, are worth $4 million apiece and bring the total value of each contract to $16 million, he said.

Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Beres, the T-MOS program manager, said the ground segment will be compatible with the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite system, the predecessor to the Transformational Satellite system.

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are teamed against a Boeing-led team to build the space segment of the Transformational Satellite system. A single prime contract to build those satellites is slated for award in late 2006. Those satellites are slated to start launching around 2013.

L-3-Titan Deal Would Give DoD Another Integrator

Analysts and company officials expect the U.S. government to approve L-3 Communications’ proposed $2.65 billion acquisition of San Diego-based Titan, which would turn L-3 into a midsized integrator of complex weapons.

There are few “second-tier defense companies [that] can get prime contracts … this deal allows us to fill a niche,” said Frank Lanza, L-3 chairman and chief executive. “The Department of Defense should endorse [the deal] and celebrate.”

The L-3-Titan deal would expand the Pentagon’s choice of weapon systems integrators, a rare development since the 1990s consolidations, said Jon Kutler, president of Jeffries Quarterdeck, a Los Angeles investment banking firm specializing in defense company deals.

One of the biggest attractions of Titan was its roster of 5,000 employees with top-secret security clearances, about as many as L-3 has now, Lanza said. Since Sept. 11, 2001, companies with employees holding top-secret clearances have been highly valued for their ability to work with military and U.S. intelligence agencies.

“It’s an asset you can’t price … it takes two years or more to get such clearances,” he said.

Spacehab Resolves Dispute with Underwriters

Spacehab has reached an agreement with the underwriters who insured the module the company lost when the space shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry Feb. 1, 2003, killing its crew, the company said in a June 2 press release.

Insurance for Spacehab’s Research Double Module was provided by five groups of underwriters at Lloyds of London, who paid the company $17.7 million for its loss shortly after the accident. In January 2004, however, the underwriters filed a complaint seeking return of that payment alleging among other things that the payment should not have been made because NASA had not yet indemnified Spacehab for its loss and that Spacehab had not cooperated with the underwriters to protect the rights of the underwriters.

Spacehab said the underwriters have agreed to drop their complaint against the company and join Spacehab in its pursuit of claims the company filed against NASA for loss of the double module.

Spacehab has filed two claims against NASA for the company’s losses in the Columbia accident.

NASA paid $8 million in response to Spacehab’s initial claim for $87.7 million, insisting that its contract with Spacehab limited the agency’s liability to $8 million. Spacehab appealed that decision to the Armed Services Contract Board of Appeals, which handles such matters. In November Spacehab filed a second claim for that same $79.7 million difference under the Federal Tort C laims Act.

SpaceX Finishes Live Firing Test of Falcon 1

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) conducted a launch rehearsal of its Falcon 1 rocket May 27 that featured a live firing of the fully integrated vehicle’s main engine on the launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Elon Musk, founder, president and chief executive officer of El Segundo, Calif.-based SpaceX, called the “hold down” test the last major milestone for the Falcon 1 before its maiden launch in two to three months from Vandenberg. On this flight, the Falcon 1 is scheduled to launch the U.S. Defense Department’s experimental TacSat-1 satellite.

In a luncheon speech May 31 at the 4th annual International Satellite and Communications Conference and Exposition (ISCe) in Long Beach, Calif., Musk said the brief firing test was just like an actual launch except the vehicle was not released from the launch pad. Atop the rocket was a piece of hardware that simulated the weight of the TacSat-1 satellite, he said.

The Falcon 1 rocket, developed with private financing and intended to significantly lower the cost of putting small payloads into low Earth orbit, is scheduled to make three launches this year, including that of TacSat-1.

The other payloads scheduled for 2005 launches are a satellite built by Malaysia and one sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Both of those launches are slated to take place from the U.S. Army’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific.

A larger version of the Falcon, dubbed the Falcon 5, is slated to debut next year carrying a payload for Bigelow Aerospace, a start-up led by Las Vegas motel magnate Robert Bigelow that is seeking to develop space for tourism. The Falcon 5 features the same engines and avionics as the Falcon 1 and will be comparable in capability to Boeing Co.’s Delta 2, Musk said.

Musk said SpaceX expects to announce up to two additional launch contracts in the next couple of months.

The Falcon 1 will be able to launch payloads at a price of roughly $1,500 per pound (1 pound is roughly .45 kilograms), Musk said. Development of the Falcon 5 is intended to bring that price down to some $1,000 per pound. SpaceX will reach the $500 per pound price mark with its fourth-generation vehicle, which is in development, he added.

Equity Owners of Satellite Firms Make Analysts Balk

A quick and informal survey of satellite finance experts during a panel discussion here at the ISCe conference did not turn up one official who would express a willingness to invest in any of the four major global satellite operators recently purchased by private equity firms.

Of the four panelists asked whether they would invest $10 million in either Intelsat, Inmarsat, New Skies Satellites or PanAmSat by 5 p.m. May 31, three said emphatically they would not.

Those expressing the no-confidence votes were Robert Gordon, vice president of space and defense at Boeing Capital Corp.; Roger Rusch, president of the TelAstra satellite consultancy; and Satish Tamboli, managing partner of Emerging Markets Telemedia.

Another panelist, John Stone, a director with Near Earth LLC, managed to dodge the question posed by panel moderator Jimmy Schaeffler, founder and chairman of the Carmel Group consultancy.

“I wouldn’t invest in any of them,” Gordon said, noting that the private equity owners of the satellite operators have squeezed all the value out of them. Tamboli expressed a similar sentiment.

When asked which of the four companies they would invest in if they had to choose, Tamboli named PanAmSat while Rusch opted for PanAmSat and New Skies.

Analysts Challenge FAA Estimate of Satellite Orders

Orders of commercial telecommunications satellites for fleet replenishment should hold steady at 14 to 15 per year over the next four to five years as the spacecraft built during the industry boom of the late 1990s start reaching retirement age, said Roger Rusch, president of the TelAstra satellite consultancy.

Commercial satellites have been lasting an average of about 12 years in orbit, which is less than the 15-year lifespan that is typically advertised by manufacturers, Rusch said during a panel discussion May 31 at the ISCe conference. But the demand will be tempered by the fact that satellites built today typically carry more transponders –roughly 45 — than those built a decade ago, he said.

Rusch echoed a criticism leveled May 26 by Hoyt Davidson, chief executive of Near Earth LLC, that demand projections by the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) were too high.

COMSTAC, an industry panel that advises the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on commercial launch-related issues, projects annual orders for commercial geostationary orbiting satellites will average 20.5 for the next 10 years.

Rusch said COMSTAC’s projections are always too high. But he also said that new and emerging satellite telecommunications applications will drive the total average number of satellite orders in the coming years to somewhere between 15 and 20.

Private Spaceflight Group Picks Canadian Launch Site

The road to space for a Canadian spaceship is a bit shorter now that its rocketeer team has found a suitable launch site.

The Ontario-based firm Planetspace/Canadian Arrow announced today that it has chosen a military base near Cape Rich, just off Georgian Bay, as the proving ground for its manned suborbital spacecraft.

Located on the Canadian Forces Meaford Range and Testing Area, the site will be used for engine test firings , escape system shakedowns and ultimately the first flights for the Canadian Arrow launch vehicle, project officials said.

“It’s about 70 square kilometers (44 square miles), so it’s a huge area,” said Canadian Arrow leader Geoff Sheerin of the test site. “There’s a potential that we could fly there a long time into the future.”

Sheerin said Meaford Range officials have agreed to allow Canadian Arrow use of the base’s facilities on a need basis for upcoming tests, though the project will need to receive authorization from Transport Canada, the Canadian transportation agency, before any test flights can occur. Engine firings atop a capture test stand should aid in that process, but must wait until the completion of an environmental review for Canadian Arrow’s planned test site near Barrie, Ontario, he said .

“You need to make sure that you’re not going to do any harm,” Sheerin said, adding that the environmental study could be completed in the next 30 days.

The Meaford Range and Cape Rich have restricted airspace and waterways stretching 2.5 miles out into Georgian Bay. “Because it’s at a point, it’s similar to being out on a barge,” Sheerin said.

Planetspace/Canadian Arrow hopes to begin manned launch operations by 2007 and has recruited a team of test astronauts to pilot the spacecraft. The initial tests at Meaford will focus on the launch system’s escape tower, which is designed to pull the manned capsule free from its booster in the event of an emergency.

“The escape system is something we want to get to maximum reliability,” Sheerin said. “We’ll fly it about four or five times.”

Originally a contender in the Ansari X Prize competition to build and launch reusable, manned spacecraft on suborbital flights, Sheerin’s Canadian Arrow team initially planned to launch its three-seater rocket from a barge on one of the Great Lakes.

The previous plan called for the suborbital space capsule and its V2 rocket-based booster to parachute back into the water where recovery crews would retrieve them. The other potential launch sites near Port Stanley on Lake E rie and the Sarnia region near Lake Michigan would have required a barge before any tests could take place, Sheerin said.

“We haven’t completely discarded the barge idea,” Sheerin said. “But [Meaford] saves us a lot of time in preparations.”

Canadian Arrow is the second private space firm to choose a launch site in Canada. The Toronto-based da Vinci Project, also an X Prize team, in 2003 selected the town of Kindersley in Saskatchewan to stage its balloon-launched suborbital spaceflights.

Meanwhile, aerospace veteran Burt Rutan and his firm, Scaled Composites, launched the manned spacecraft SpaceShipOne on three suborbital flights staged from Mojave, Calif., in 2004. Other efforts with launch sites in hand include the space tourism firm AERA Corp., which plans to use Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as the starting point for its Altairis passenger spacecraft, and Rocketplane Limited, Inc., which hopes to set its Oklahoma Spaceport at Burns Flat in that state.

Iridium Brings in Help To Develop New Services

Iridium Satellite LLC has formed what the company calls “direct technical relationships” with four companies that have expertise in specific areas that will help Iridium develop new products and services that take advantage of the company’s constellation of low Earth-orbiting communication satellites.

The four companies, which signed on to Iridium’s Value Added Developer’s program are; Flight Explorer, of Alexandria, Va.; Gannexion B.V., of Almere, Holland; The Oceanside Group, Oceanside, Calif. and Ontec Technologies, Phoenix, Ariz., Iridium announced in a June 1 press release.

Iridium operates a fleet of communication satellites in low Earth orbit that provides global — including the oceans and polar regions — real-time voice and data communication coverage for users of its mobile telephones.

Flight Explorer is a provider of Internet-based global flight-tracking information. Gannexion sells land mobile and maritime wireless communication services for government and commercial customers. Oceanside makes oceanographic and hydraulic communication equipment. Ontec develops Web applications to work with satellite-tracking hardware.

The mission must pass a review of schedule, technical and cost risks before continuing to the development stage. The cost cap for the project is $700 million.

Boeing Team Finishes Assembly of Sea- Based X- Band Radar with Dome Installation

An industry team led by Boeing Co. completed assembly of the Sea-Based X-Band Radar, which is intended to assess and track ICBMs fired at the United States, according to a U.S. Missile Defense Agency new release issued May 16.

The final piece of the system, which is currently kept at Kiewit Offshore Services in Corpus Christi, Texas, was a protective dome that stands 31 meters high, 36.5 meters in diameter and weighs 8,165 kilograms.

The Pentagon and industry team now will enter a final phase of integration and testing work on the radar sensor over the next several months. Once that work is complete, the radar sensor will be taken to its home port of Adak, Alaska.

Spot Expands Marketing Role of Terra Image USA

Spot Image appointed Terra Image USA (TI-USA) as its primary distributor of Spot imagery and services, expanding the company’s current role as Spot’s channel partner for the U.S. civilian markets to include market development and sales to commercial customers and the U.S. Department of Defense.

TI-USA, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., also has created a group of advisors to assist in its new duties, including retired Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Desert Storm; retired Gen. Larry D. Welch, former U.S. Air Force chief of staff; and retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Al Baciocco, said Joseph T. Gorman, chairman of TI-USA, said in a May 31 press release.

TI-USA has been a channel partner with Spot since July 2004.

The Spot satellite system comprises three satellites that can capture medium- to high-resolution images of any ground location across the globe. Spot Image Group, headquartered in Toulouse, France, has subsidiaries in Australia, China, Japan, Singapore and the United States. Spot and TI-USA share an office in Chantilly, Va.

Airborne Laser Nose Window Gets Flight Test

The Pentagon and an industry team led by Boeing demonstrated a maneuver that will be critical to shooting down a ballistic missile with an aircraft armed with a high-power laser, according to a U.S. Missile Defense Agency news release issued May 20.

The Airborne Laser system successfully exposed its conformal window on the aircraft’s nose for the first time in flight May 17, according to the news release. The window is stowed upon takeoff and landing to protect its lens, and is rotated so the laser can fire through it when the system takes aim at a missile, according to the news release.

Americom To Provide HUD With Satellite Bandwidth

Americom Government Services, Inc. (AGS), a subsidiary of SES Americom, Princeton, N.J., will provide satellite communications bandwidth for all 80 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offices across the country, the company announced May 31.

The bandwidth will allow HUD offices to transmit audio and video communications as well as share information with each other. HUD programs aim to increase access to affordable housing and increase homeownership.

The value of the contract was not disclosed.

NASA Debuts Hurricane Resource Web Site

One day before the official onset of the 2005 Atlantic Ocean hurricane season June 1, NASA launched a new hurricane Web site that provides satellite and computer data to explain how the agency investigates hurricanes. The site also contains information on both active and former hurricanes, granting users the ability to search by topic with additional access to a multimedia section containing satellite and video images, NASA announced in May 31 news release.

The site may prove especially useful this year, with some forecasters predicting a busier hurricane season due to warming ocean temperatures.

The Web page can be viewed at www.nasa.gov/hurricane.

Hawaii Taps DigitalGlobe For FEMA Flood Mapping

The state of Hawaii, Kauai County and RMTC/URS, a joint-venture group that provides flood hazard mapping and engineering services to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will buy Quickbird Imagery from DigitalGlobe to more effectively map rainy terrain in Kauai County and aid disaster preparation there, DigitalGlobe announced May 25.

DigitalGlobe will provide Hawaii with its Digital Ortho Quadra Quad product, which includes Quickbird imagery with a ground resolution of about six-tenths of a meter.

That resolution is high enough to meet the requirements of FEMA’s Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map, Stephanie Routh of Dewberry, Inc., an RMTC/URS partner, said in a May 25 press release. RMTC/URS is a joint venture of Dewberry, URS, TerraPoint, Airborne1, R.M. Towill Corp. and Sea Engineering.

The Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map database is a collection of digital data used to enhance FEMA mapping and engineering projects related to flood hazards, according to the agency’s Web site.

Romanian Firm Leases Two Nordic Satellite Transponders

Nordic Satellite AB (NSAB) of Sweden has leased out two transponders on its Sirius-2 telecommunications satellite to Digital Cable System, a Romanian cable-television consortium consisting of nearly 50 Romanian cable companies, NSAB announced in a June 1 news release.

The multiyear lease agreement also grants Digital Cable System the option for a third transponder, which company President Gheorge Minea said the consortium will likely use once it offers direct-broadcast satellite television. No financial details on the agreement were disclosed.

Ariane 5 ECA Set To Launch Spaceway 2 and Telkom 2

The Arianespace launch consortium confirmed June 1 that its next flight, scheduled for June 24, will use an Ariane 5 ECA rocket — the vehicle’s new, more-powerful version — to place the U.S. Spaceway 2 television-broadcast satellite and Indonesia’s Telkom 2 telecommunications spacecraft into geostationary transfer orbit.

The 1,975-kilogram Telkom 2, built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., previously had been scheduled aboard a standard-version Ariane 5.

DirecTV Group’s Spaceway 2, built by Boeing Satellite Systems International of El Segundo, Calif., is expected to weigh 6,116 kilograms at launch.

NGA, Navy To Explore Joint Cooperation, Capabilities

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the U.S. Navy plan to work together to speed the development of new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, according to a May 6 NGA news release.

James Clapper, NGA director, and Vice Adm. Walter Massenburg, commander of the Naval Air System Command (NAVAIR) have agreed to create the NGA NAVAIR Experimental Aviation Activity. The focus of their cooperation will be on the use of existing systems and on the development of new capabilities, in areas including surveillance aircraft, lighter-than-air vehicles and data-processing infrastructure, according to the news release.

The NGA NAVAIR Experimental Aviation Activity will be the framework for cooperation between NGA and Navy officials, but it will not entail the creation of a new organization, said NGA spokesman Stephen Honda.

“The capabilities developed from this partnership will provide flexible and timely solutions to support warfighter operational planning, rapid responses to operational questions during conflict and assessments of new concepts and technologies for future ground, aircraft, and sea systems,” Clapper said in the news release.

Hamel Takes Over At USAF Space and Missile Systems

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Hamel has taken over the top spot at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, according to an Air Force Space Command news item posted on the command’s Web site May 27.

Hamel, who previously served as the commander of the 14th Air Force at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, replaces Lt. Gen. Brian Arnold, who retired from the military on May 20.

Hamel’s postings since joining the Air Force in 1972 have primarily been space-related jobs, including serving as the first director of the Air Force’s Space Operations and Integration Office at the Pentagon from November 2000 through May 2002, and director of requirements at Air Force Space Command from November 1999 through November 2000.

Comments: Lon Rains, lrains@space.com