Atlas 5 Rocket Launches Mars Orbiter for NASA

A Lockheed Martin-built Atlas 5 rocket launched NASA’s $450 million Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) out of Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Aug. 12.

MRO is expected to reach Mars in mid-March and use the planet’s upper atmosphere to slow down and settle into its mapping orbit. By November 2006, MRO should be ready to begin its two-year, $720 million mission to map the planet’s surface in unprecedented detail and search out evidence of water.

Once MRO’s science objectives are accomplished, NASA plans to use the satellite until at least 2011 as a communications and data relay for other spacecraft exploring the red planet.

SpaceX May Be Forced From Vandenberg Pad

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) may be forced to vacate a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in which it has invested some $7 million to support operations of its Falcon-1 rocket.

The SpaceX facility, Space Launch Complex 3 West, is adjacent to a site being readied for launches of primarily classified payloads aboard Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rockets starting in 2006. U.S. Air Force officials, concerned that a Falcon failure could threaten operations at the Atlas 5 pad, have approached SpaceX about the possibility of moving to another location at Vandenberg.

“We have had discussions with SpaceX about the possibility of moving to [Space Launch Complex-4] to better serve and protect all our launch partners, but no decisions have been made,” said Air Force Maj. Todd Fleming, a Vandenberg spokesman .

SpaceX officials said the company signed a five-year agreement with the Air Force to use Complex 3 West and would not relocate without a fight.

Meanwhile, SpaceX, whose Falcon-1 is slated to debut as soon as Sept. 30 from its launch facility on the Kwajalein Atoll, recently announced three new customers for the $5.9 million rocket. Swedish Space Corp. , MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. of Canada and an unspecified U.S. company have picked the Falcon-1 for planned 2008 launches, SpaceX said.

Large Thaicom 4 Satellite Launched Atop Ariane 5G

Thailand’s Thaicom 4/iPSTAR satellite was successfully placed into orbit Aug. 11 by an Ariane 5G rocket launched from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, launch operator Arianespace and Thaicom 4 owner Shin Satellite announced.

The 6,500-kilogram Thaicom 4, built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., will provide broadband Internet connections to fixed and mobile terminals over a wide swath of East Asia for an expected 12 years.

For the Arianespace launch consortium, it was the second Ariane 5 launch of the year. The company hopes to launch two or three more Ariane 5 vehicles between September and December.

The Ariane 5G rocket placed Thaicom 4 into a transfer orbit with a perigee of 574.8 kilometers and an apogee of 35,875 kilometers, Arianespace said. The target injection orbit was 574.9 kilometers at perigee and 35,894 kilometers at apogee.

Japan’s Suzaku Satellite Loses its Main Sensor

The main sensor on Japan’s recently launched Suzaku X-ray astronomy satellite has failed and cannot be recovered, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said Aug. 9.

The failure, discovered Aug. 8, apparently occurred when the store of liquid helium needed to cool Suzaku’s X-ray Spectrometer evaporated, rendering the sensor inoperable, JAXA said. The spectrometer was developed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and JAXA.

The incident came as JAXA was close to completing on-orbit checkout of the 1,600 kilogram, $78 million spacecraft following its July 10 launch on a Japanese M-5 rocket.

Suzaku is Japan’s second attempt at an X-ray observer to complement research conducted by NASA’s Chandra and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton missions. The first attempt came in 2000 but ended in disaster when the spacecraft , Astro-E, was lost in a launch failure.

Suzaku’s two other main sensors, an X-ray camera and a hard X-ray detector, are working normally. JAXAPRIVATE puncspace:p   intends to continue with the mission with those sensors, an agency official said.

OHB System to Improve SAR-Lupe Encryption

OHB System AG of Bremen, Germany, the prime contractor for the German Defense Ministry’s five-satellite SAR-Lupe radar reconnaissance system, has been awarded a supplemental contract to improve SAR-Lupe’s encryption, the company announced Aug. 8.

Under the contract, valued at about 18 million euros ($22.2 million), OHB System will enhance the SAR-Lupe system’s ability to protect communications between the satellites and its ground stations. These enhancements are one reason why the launch of the first SAR-Lupe satellite, formerly scheduled for 2005, has moved to 2006.

European Commission OKs United Launch Alliance

The European Commission, the executive arm of the 25-nation European Union, approved the creation of the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint rocket-making venture, United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The Brussels, Belgium-based commission on Aug. 8 announced that ULA, which is designed to provide launch services exclusively to the U.S. government, “does not have a direct impact on customers” in Europe.

The commission’s review of ULA centered on whether the combination would permit the companies to coordinate their commercial-launch affiliates, Lockheed Martin’s International Launch Services and Boeing’s Sea Launch. Both these companies compete with Europe’s Arianespace and others to launch commercial satellites . Both will continue to operate as before.

The U.S. government currently does not permit U.S. government satellites to be launched on non-U.S. vehicles, unless there are exceptional circumstances such as bilateral programs in which the U.S. and other governments jointly develop satellites.

The joint venture company, therefore, will affect the competitive landscape for the U.S. government, but not for others, the commission said.

The creation of ULA “does not increase the risk of coordinated behavior compared to the situation pre-merger,” the commission said. “The commission will continue to monitor market developments and any further consolidation of the activities of the parties involved in this concentration.”

NASA Names Several to Senior Management Team

NASA announced a number of senior appointments Aug. 12, including that of William H. Gerstenmaier as associate administrator for space operations. Gerstenmaier will direct NASA’s international space station, space shuttle, space communications and launch vehicles programs. He replaces William F. Readdy, who will remain at NASA H eadquarters as a special assistant until October, when he will leave the agency. Readdy’s deputy for the space shuttle and space station , Michael Kostelnik, also is leaving.

Gerstenmaier previously was manager of the space station program office at Johnson Space Center. He will be replaced there by Mike Suffredini.

Mary Cleave is NASA’s new associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate and Colleen Hartman, recently returned to NASA from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be her deputy. Cleave was director of NASA’s Earth-Sun System Division and began her NASA career as an astronaut.

Other NASA appointments include:

– Lisa J. Porter as senior advisor for aeronautics to Administrator Mike Griffin . Porter was a senior scientist at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

– Michael P. Ralsky as senior advisor to NASA Deputy Administrator Frederick Gregory. Ralsky is a former White House official.

– Brian Chase, a former congressional staffer and vice president of Washington operations for the Space Foundation, is NASA’s new assistant administrator for legislative affairs.

General Atomics Wins Army UAV Competition

General Atomics Corp. won a U.S. Army contract potentially worth $1 billion Aug. 8 to develop a new, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), according to an Army news release.

General Atomics beat out Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems for the Extended Range Multi Purpose UAV contract. Northrop Grumman had offered a variant of its Hunter UAV called the Hunter 2.

The winning design is called Warrior, and is based on General Atomics’ Predator UAV. The contract begins with a $214 million development phase that will last 48 months. Warrior UAVs will perform reconnaissance, communications and strike missions while dwelling over areas for 36 hours at a time at altitudes of around 7,620 meters.

The Army plans to buy 11 Warrior systems, each of which includes 12 UAVs, five ground control stations and related support equipment. The systems are expected to begin operations in 2009.

Brooks McKinney, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman, said the company will continue marketing the Hunter 2 to the U.S. and other governments. The company is in discussions with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding a potential Hunter 2 sale for border patrol, and may get a decision by the end of August, he said.

Rainbow DBS Pays SES Americom Kill Fee

Cablevision Corp.’s Rainbow DBS division has paid a one-time contract-termination fee of $19.8 million to SES Global’s SES Americom subsidiary following Rainbow’s decision earlier this year to shut down the company’s Voom satellite-television venture, SES Global said in financial statements published Aug. 8.

Bethpage, N.Y.-based Cablevision had leased 13 transponders on SES Americom’s AMC-6 satellite for 10 years starting in October 2004 on the assumption that its direct-to-home satellite business, specializing in high-definition programming, would take off.

Luxembourg-based SES Global recorded the termination payment, made in late June, as a 17 million-euro non-recurring item in its second quarter 2005 financial accounts.

Cassini Probe Observes Saturn’s Moon Mimas

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made a flyby of the Saturn moon Mimas Aug. 2, capturing the most-detailed images yet of Mimas’ heavily cratered surface, including the 140-kilometer-wide Hershel crater.

Scientists hope the new images will help them determine how many crater-causing objects have crashed on Mimas, and perhaps even indicate where these objects originated.

Cassini’s close-up photos of the moon’s grooves also could help scientists figure out whether these ridges are related to the impact that created the landslide-filled Hershel crater.

The Cassini spacecraft is a cooperative project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The mission is managed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Inmarsat BGAN Users Moved To Company’s I-4 Satellite

Inmarsat has finished shifting all of its regional BGAN, or broadband global area network, customers from a satellite operated by competitor Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Co. of Abu Dhabi to Inmarsat’s I-4 satellite, London-based Inmarsat announced Aug. 3.

Inmarsat had been using Thuraya’s spacecraft at 28.2 degrees east longitude since 2002 to introduce its mobile-broadband product in Thuraya’s 99-nation coverage area. Inmarsat leased the Thuraya capacity for about $20 million per year, according to London Stock Exchange filings by Inmarsat, which conducted an initial stock offering earlier this year.

Inmarsat’s I-4 satellite, located at 63.9 degrees east longitude, will provide broader coverage of Asia. It is the first of two to three planned I-4 spacecraft, which will gradually take over Inmarsat’s existing mobile voice and data communications business and will inaugurate Inmarsat’s global BGAN service.

To switch from Thuraya to I-4, Inmarsat’s BGAN customers were required to flip a switch on their mobile terminals to change the antenna’s orientation, and to download a software patch from Inmarsat.

Com Dev Wins Award for Military Satellite Components

Com Dev International of Cambridge, Ontario, won a contract to provide long-lead electronics components for an unnamed European military telecommunications satellite program, the company announced Aug. 2.

The initial contract is valued at 11.7 million Canadian dollars ($9.6 million), but the work is expected ultimately to be worth 19.9 million Canadian dollars . Long-lead items are components whose production is started ahead of the rest of the satellite .

The contract “is a further testament to our continued success in diversifying our business beyond the traditional commercial space markets,” Com Dev Chief Executive John Keating said in a statement.

The contract work will be carried out at Com Dev plants in Cambridge and in Aylesbury, England.

EADS Astrium of Europe is building two Skynet 5 military communications satellites under a long-term services-procurement contract with the British Defence Ministry.

Orbital Successfully Launches MDA Target

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., announced Aug. 8 that it successfully launched a medium-range target vehicle in support of an ongoing U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) test effort.

The MDA’s Critical Measurements and Countermeasures Program, Campaign 1 analyzes solutions to potential ballistic missile threats.

The target vehicle, powered by a Castor 4BR solid-rocket motor, launched Aug. 4 from the Kauai Test Facility at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii . The company’s Launch Systems Group in Chandler, Ariz., led the test.

Orbital also provides target vehicles for the MDA’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense System, as well as the Navy’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and the U.S. Army’s Patriot and Theater High Altitude Area Defense systems.

Integral Systems Sees Strong Quarterly Growth

Business with the U.S. Air Force helped satellite-control system provider Integral Systems to double-digit growth for the third quarter of 2005, the Lanham, Md.-based company reported Aug. 8.

Integral’s revenues for the quarter were $25.4 million, up 12 percent from the $22.6 million recorded during the 2004 third quarter.

Operating income rose 23 percent , from $2.1 million in 2004’s third quarter to $2.6 million for the three-month period ending June 30. Net income increased as well, from $1.4 million to $1.9 million .

In a press release, Steven R. Chamberlain, Integral’s chairman and chief executive officer, attributed the gains to Air Force business and growth at the company’s RT Logic subsidiary. RT Logic of Colorado Springs, Colo. , supplies satellite telemetry and command processing systems.

Overall, Integral’s revenues for the nine months ended June 30 were $70.6 million, up 8 percent from the $65.2 million reported for the same period last year .

Telenor Now Free to Sell Inmarsat Directly in Brazil

Telenor Satellite Services will no longer have to use an intermediary to sell its products in Brazil, thanks to a new ruling by the Brazilian government, the company announced Aug. 9.

In a July 25 announcement in the Dirio Oficial da Unio, the government-record publication of Brazil, the government gave permission for Telenor, based in Oslo, Norway, to offer Inmarsat satellite services directly to customers in the South American country.

Telenor has been negotiating the arrangement since 2002. Previously, Telenor had to sell its services in Brazil through a state-sponsored service provider.

“Now, we can offer our complete portfolio of ‘on demand’ Inmarsat satellite services to service providers in Brazil and their customers needing reliable communications on land, at sea and while in flight,” Telenor Chief Executive Officer Tore Hilde said in a press release. The company will offer the complete profile of Inmarsat services, including broadband Internet, on-demand services and Web-based account management, as well as mobile voice and fax.

The company has established an office in Rio de Janeiro to help meet anticipated sales growth in Brazil.

Vexcel and DigitalGlobe Team on Image Handling

Vexcel Corp. has joined forces with imaging satellite operator DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo., to provide the hardware and software to process and catalog DigitalGlobe imagery.

Vexcel of Boulder, Colo. , will use its Proton Capture Systems telemetry and data distribution processor to download and archive images captured by DigitalGlobe’s Quickbird satellite. The system also will be used for DigitalGlobe’s WorldView satellite, which the company is developing and expects to launch by 2006.

“The point is to be able, once these new satellites are launched, to have a system that would support them,” said Jerry Skaw , marketing communications manager for Vexcel.

The setup is unique, Skaw said, because the capture systems, which have just been installed at DigitalGlobe’s ground station in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, are able to distinguish between images when downloading data from the satellite. The processor, which is located at DigitalGlobe headquarters, can pull images after they are downloaded while the capture systems are still downloading other data.

In addition to the increased revenue, Skaw said the deal will help raise Vexcel’s profile.

“Any time you do business with a high-profile customer like DigitalGlobe, that recognition is probably equally important,” Skaw said. Vexcel would not disclose the financial details of the contract.

Spacenet Now Offering Backup Internet Services

Spacenet Inc. of McLean, Va., is offering a new service that provides a satellite-based backup to terrestrial Internet services to businesses, the company announced Aug. 9.

The Connexstar Backup solution also can be used to supplement bandwidth when traffic is high, or as an alternative platform to a company’s existing provider, Spacenet said.

Subscribers to the backup service will pay a monthly usage fee that is less than the full Connexstar service fee. Corporate customers can elect to purchase additional usage time on a site-by-site basis.

“It’s a perfect offering for customers that need only a part-time network solution, and it’s another example of Spacenet’s continuing innovation and improvement,” Spacenet executive vice president Christina Clifton said in a prepared statement.

U.S. Army Flight-Tests Cruise Missile Stopper

U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command flight tested for the first time a full-scale prototype of a rocket designed to intercept cruise missiles Aug. 3 at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., according to an Army news release.

The Low Cost Interceptor (LCI), in development for the past four years, is intended to counter relatively rudimentary cruise missiles so the Pentagon can save more-expensive interceptors for more-sophisticated threats, according to the news release. In the test, or “short hot launch,” the LCI prototype launched from a rail and flew roughly 2,000 meters downrange, the Army said.

The LCI, built by Miltec Corp. of Huntsville, could be used by U.S. forces on battlefields around the world as well as for homeland security.