TacSat-1 Launch May Move To Kwajalein Atoll

The U.S. Air Force may launch the Defense Department’s TacSat-1 experimental satellite from the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific rather than Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., as currently planned due to a potential range conflict.

TacSat-1, the first in a series of satellites intended to demonstrate space capabilities that can be deployed quickly to directly support military forces in the field, is slated for launch around the end of the summer aboard the debut mission of the Falcon-1 small rocket.

The mission already has been delayed several times due to issues with the rocket, built by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of El Segundo, Calif.

Elon Musk, founder and chief executive officer of SpaceX, said the Air Force is contemplating the switch to Kwajalein because the launch from Vandenberg of a Titan 4 rocket carrying a classified payload may be facing lengthy delays.

The Titan 4 and Falcon 1 use different pads at Vandenberg, but the Air Force is often reluctant to conduct any launches while a Titan 4 and its payload are sitting out in the open on the pad.

During an interview April 6 at the annual National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., Musk said switching the TacSat-1 launch to Kwajalein likely will happen if the Titan 4 mission is delayed for six months or more.

Construction of Falcon 1 launch accommodations at the U.S. Army-run facility on Kwajalein is under way and should be completed by August, Musk said. If the TacSat-1 launch moves to Kwajalein, the Falcon 1’s debut payload could become a small satellite built by students at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, he said.

SpaceX is launching the student-built Falconsat-2 satellite as part of a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) aimed at spurring development of low-cost, quick-reaction launch vehicles.

SpaceX also plans to launch a satellite for the Malaysian government from Kwajalein in December aboard the Falcon 1, and is negotiating with DARPA to launch another experimental military satellite in early 2006, Musk said.

Meanwhile, the company is building a secure compartmentalized information facility in El Segundo in hopes of winning classified business, Musk said.

NASA Needs Web Help For Upcoming Shuttle Missions

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NASA is looking for corporate sponsors to help handle the high volume of Internet traffic the U.S. space agency anticipates as it prepares to launch its first two space shuttle missions since the 2003 Columbia disaster.

In exchange for providing NASA with increased Internet capabilities during the pre-launch preparations and actual launches of the space shuttles Discovery and Atlantis, the sponsoring companies would get to place their corporate logos on NASA’s Web site.

NASA expects 20 million to 30 million visits to its Web site during events related to the Discovery and Atlantis flights. NASA is planning to launch Discovery (above) between May 15 and June 3. If Discovery makes that window, NASA would launch Atlantis in July. Companies interested in the sponsorship opportunity have until April 13 to submit their proposals.

Roskosmos Wants Say In Launch Vehicle Pricing

The Russian Space Agency, Roskosmos, wants to put a stop to the sale of cut-rate launch services aboard the Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr vehicle, especially for piggyback launches of non-Russian satellites, Roskosmos said April 1.

The agency said it wants Russian rockets to continue to attract foreign business, but only at prevailing market rates. “[T]he tendency to offer launch services to foreign customers at costs much lower than world prices is evident. In particular, it relates to piggyback launches of foreign satellites aboard … Dnepr.” The Dnepr is a silo-launched converted missile that has been used to launch satellites for European organizations. It is marketed by the Russian-Ukrainian company ISC Kosmotras of Moscow.

A new variant of the Dnepr vehicle has not yet been approved by Roskosmos, the agency said.

Roskosmos is urging non-Russian satellite owners to clear their launch contracts with the agency ahead of time. This is not the first time that Roskosmos has tried to stop Russian companies from dealing directly with Western satellite owners.

In a separate announcement, Roskosmos said it has taken delivery of seven Cyclone-2 vehicles, which are being redesigned as upgraded Cyclone-2K rockets set for launch starting in early 2006. The Cyclone-2K will be able to place up to 2,000 kilograms of satellite payload into a sun-synchronous low Earth orbit from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Cyclone is designed by Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye organization.

Roskosmos said that in parallel, it is supporting continued production of the Cosmos small-satellite launcher by Russia’s Polyot organization.

“Realization of these programs makes it possible to strengthen cooperation between Russia and Ukraine in space,” the agency said.

ISRO Plans Satellite To Serve Needs of Developing Nations

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced plans to build and launch a remote sensing microsatellite that would provide imagery for developing countries.

Named Third World Satellite, or TWSAT, it will weigh 90 kilograms and is meant specifically for developing countries that can benefit from remote sensing applications, ISRO spokesman S. Krishnamurthy said March 31.

According to ISRO’s annual report for 2004-2005, ISRO will install 50 data reception terminals in selected Third World countries and also in some Indian universities. India already has been assisting its neighbors Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka in training technicians to interpret satellite imagery .

The ISRO annual report on TWSAT said the payload would be “a three-band Charged Coupled Device with single optics and beam splitters.” The satellite will be based on a standard platform that can carry different payloads, the report said.

Krishnamurthy said the satellite will have a spatial resolution of 35 meters and a swath width of 140 kilometers. The price tag for TWSAT project, including the ground terminals, is about 200 million rupees ($4.6 million), he said.

ISRO completed the initial design study for TWSAT early this year. A firm launch date for the satellite has yet to be finalized

Xtar-Eur Satellite Set for Commercial Operations

The Xtar-Eur satellite launched in February has completed in-orbit testing and is prepared for commercial operations from its orbital slot at 29 degrees east longitude, Xtar LLC announced April 4.

The company, 56 percent owned by New York-based Loral Space and Communications and 44 percent by Hisdesat Servicios Estrategicos S.A. of Spain, has sold an initial capacity equivalent to three and one-third 72-megahertz transponders to the Spanish Defense Ministry.

Xtar-Eur carries 12 72-megahertz transponders and is designed to provide X-band capacity to government agencies. Xtar LLC also has leased eight 72-megahertz transponders aboard the Spainsat satellite, whose main customer is the Spanish Defense Ministry. Spainsat is scheduled for launch in 2006.

Launcher for Mars Probe Arrives at Cape Canaveral

The Atlas 5 rocket that will launch NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter toward the red planet this summer arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. at the end of March.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver delivered the Atlas 5 rocket to the Cape in two pieces. The vehicle’s Centaur upper stage was delivered first, arriving March 29 aboard an Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft. The Atlas 5’s main booster stage was shipped from Lockheed Martin’s Denver facility two days later. The rocket will be assembled and tested in preparation for an Aug. 11 liftoff.

The $500 million Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, weighing 2,180 kilograms at liftoff, will be the largest spacecraft to orbit Mars . The spacecraft, also built by Lockheed Martin, is due to make the trip from Denver to Florida around the end of April.

Spain Takes 3 Percent of French Pleiades System

The Spanish government will invest 16.5 million euros ($21.2 million) for a 3 percent stake in the French civil/military Pleiades high-resolution optical satellite imaging system, Spain’s Pleiades technical director said April 6.

In return for its investment, the Spanish National Aerospace Technology Institute (INTA) will be given direct tasking capability for the two-satellite Pleiades system and will receive and distribute its own imagery to defense and civilian users through a dedicated Spanish Pleiades ground station.

INTA and the French space agency, CNES, announced the agreement April 6.

Jose Corugedo, technical director for INTA’s Pleiades investment, said INTA is evaluating whether to make similar investments in Italy’s Cosmo Skymed and Germany’s SAR-Lupe satellite systems — both of which feature radar satellites — to complement the Pleiades contribution. Spain also is a 2.5 percent shareholder in the French Defense Ministry’s Helios 2 high-resolution optical satellite system. The first of two Helios-2 satellites was launched in December.

The two Pleiades satellites are under construction at EADS Astrium and Alcatel Space and are scheduled for launch in 2008 and 2009. The satellites are expected to have a ground resolution of 70 centimeters and a swath width of 20 kilometers.

The Spanish government has been evaluating whether to launch its own optical or radar imaging satellite system and has conducted a series of system-design studies as part of a program called Ishtar. To date, no decision has been made on whether to build Ishtar hardware.

Argentina Seeks Role in Europe’s Galileo Effort

The European Commission said April 4 that it will open formal negotiations with Argentina on a possible role for the South American country in Europe’s Galileo satellite-navigation project. This follows a request from Argentina’s government that came after bilateral meetings in Argentina in December.

Negotiations will start once the European Council, made up of the heads of state of the 25 European Union governments, gives its approval.

The commission has signed Galileo cooperation accords with China and Israel and is in informal talks with India, Russia, Ukraine, South Korea, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Malaysia and Australia. The Galileo system is expected to be operational around the end of the decade.

Remote Sensing Groups Warn of Landsat Data Gap

Two U.S. remote sensing associations have sent a joint plea to the White House urging the development of a Landsat bridge mission to head off a potential gap in the continuous collection of imagery of the Earth’s land masses.

In an April 6 letter to John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the presidents of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) and the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS) praised the White House for its 2004 decision to ensure the long-term collection of Landsat imagery by including a land imager on the next generation of U.S. polar-orbiting weather satellites.

But they warned that the White House’s decision not to develop a bridge mission between the two old-and-ailing Landsat satellites and the first launch of the new weather satellites around 2010 could result in a five- to 10-year gap in the flow of Landsat-quality imagery upon which thousands of users have come to depend. A bridge mission, they argue, could be ready to launch in 36 to 40 months at less than half the $700 million-$800 million cost of Landsat 7.

ASPRS and MAPPS are led by Karen L. Schuckman and Ken Fleming, respectively.

Tinsley Lab Opens New James Webb Mirror Facility

Tinsley Laboratories, Inc. has opened a new facility where engineers will grind and polish the mirror segments for the James Webb Space Telescope during the next two years, prime contractor Northrop Grumman announced April 1.

The facility, in Richmond, Calif., will be equipped with nine computer-controlled optical surfacing machines to perform high-precision grinding and polishing of the mirror segments.

Tinsley engineers expect to receive the first mirror segment, an engineering development unit, next month.

The primary mirror of the telescope, which is planned for launch in 2011, will be formed by 18 hexagonal beryllium segments each measuring 1.3 meters across. The facility will enable Tinsley to process up to 12 mirror segments simultaneously.

After initial polishing at room temperature, the mirror segments will be tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., in a cryogenic chamber at minus 243 degrees Celsius to mimic the cold of space. The mirrors will then be returned to Tinsley’s facility for refinement.

Tinsley, a subsidiary of SSG Precision Optronics Inc. of Wilmington, Mass., is part of the Webb mirror manufacturing team led by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., and includes Brush Wellman, Tucson, Ariz., and Axsys Technologies of Cullman, Ala.

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif. is the prime contractor for the Webb Telescope, which is slated for launch in 2011.

Case Mounts That Soot May Change Arctic Environment

NASA scientists are reporting more evidence that black carbon, or soot, produced by human activity may be increasing the melting of sea ice and snow near the North Pole, NASA announced March 23.

The Arctic climate has warmed significantly in recent years and can be altered by human-generated particles and other pollution, NASA said.

When soot falls it darkens the surface of the ice and accelerates melting by increasing the amount of sunlight absorbed. Airborne soot also warms the air and affects weather patterns and clouds, according to a NASA report summarizing the recent findings of Columbia University’s Dorothy Koch and NASA’s James Hansen, who conducted the research for NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

Using the institute’s General Circulation Model, which gathers atmospheric data from NASA and international satellites, Koch and Hansen concluded that the timing and location of Arctic warming and sea ice loss in the late 20th century are consistent with a significant contribution from airborne pollution particles called aerosols, according to NASA.

In the atmosphere over the Arctic, about one-third of the soot comes from South Asia, one-third from vegetation burning around the globe and the remainder from Russia, Europe and North America, according to the report.

The Koch-Hansen paper appears in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

NASA Awards 2nd Contract Extension to DynCorp

NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has exercised a second one-year option with DynCorp to provide maintenance and operations at the center, NASA announced March 31.

Under the $51 million option, DynCorp Technical Services of Fort Worth, Texas, will continue providing backup power to the mission control center, and support to the international space station and space shuttle training facilities, vacuum chambers and other laboratories.

Work will be performed at Johnson and the nearby Sonny Carter Training Facility and Ellington Field.

The contract, which DynCorp won in 2002, has one option year remaining and could be worth up to $279 million.

NASA Extends Spaceflight Safety Contract With SAIC

NASA has exercised a one-year option with Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) to continue its safety work on the space shuttle and international space station programs at Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA announced March 31.

Under the $54 million extension to the Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance Service Contract, SAIC of San Diego, will work closely with Johnson’s Safety and Mission Assurance Office.

Work also will be performed at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, N.M., and at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

The extension brings the total value of the 11-year contract to $437 million.

U.S. Air Force Modifies ITT’s Launch Range Upgrade Work

ITT Industries Inc. has been awarded a contract modification for upgrades at the U.S. Eastern Launch Range in Florida, the U.S. Air Force announced March 31.

Under the $7 million modification, ITT Industries Systems Division of Cape Canaveral, Fla., will replace the magnetic tape unit recorder subsystem at the range as well as provide upgraded computers and modems.

Top Government, Commercial Inventions Honored by NASA

A heat barrier for the space shuttle solid rocket motor and a high-temperature resin are the top NASA inventions of 2004, the agency announced March 31.

Bruce Steinetz and Patrick Dunlap of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, won the NASA Government Invention of the Year award for their flexible carbon-fiber thermal barrier designed to withstand the extreme-temperature environments in solid rocket motors.

The barrier protects the O-rings in the solid rocket boosters from the 3,000-degree-Celsius temperatures produced during launch.

Ruth Pater of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., won the Commercial Invention of the Year award for a high-temperature polyimide resin that hardens when heated. NASA says the resin can be used in a variety of commercial and government applications.

The composite material produced by the resin can withstand extreme temperature variations and has applications in the automotive transportation, defense, sporting goods, electronics, oil drilling and civil engineering fields, NASA said.

Unitech LLC of Hampton, Va., is commercializing the resin under a non-exclusive license from NASA.

SES Astra Subsidiary To Offer Technical Services

SES Astra has created a subsidiary that will provide technical services and products to the satellite industry, SES Astra announced March 23.

SES Astra TechCom S.A. of Betzdorf, Luxembourg, will focus on the work SES Astra initiated in 2002 to provide consulting and turnkey satellite ground system operations and services.

Jos Giannandrea and Pascal Rogiest have been appointed general managers of the new subsidiary.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com