News Briefs

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  Space News Business

News Briefs

By WARREN FERSTER
Space News Editor
posted: 25 July 2005
02:47 pm ET


Suspected Contamination Delays Japan’s ALOS Launch

The planned launch this summer of Japan’s ALOS high-resolution optical and radar Earth observation satellite has been scrubbed because of suspected contamination of one of its transistors, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced July 22.

JAXA said transistor contamination was originally discovered during ground tests of another of its spacecraft, the Astro-F astronomy satellite, which is scheduled for launch later this year. The finding led to an inspection of all JAXA satellite transistors.

The ALOS transistor is the same as the contaminated hardware on Astro-F, and was manufactured during the same period. “Although the ALOS transistor is working properly, [there is] a high probability that it also contains a foreign object,” JAXA said. The ALOS transistor will be replaced and the satellite retested.

The 4,000-kilogram ALOS, or Advanced Land Observing Satellite, is to be launched into a 692-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit on Japan’s H-2A rocket. The satellite carries an optical imager with a 2.5-meter ground resolution, and an L-band phased-array synthetic-aperture radar.

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U.S. Agrees to Train Indian Astronaut

During Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington the week of July 18 to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush, the U.S. State Department announced that NASA will train an Indian astronaut and that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will include two U.S.-supplied instruments on its Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter.

A State Department statement described the astronaut training and the inclusion of U.S. instruments on Chandrayaan-1 as the “immediate benefits” of a civil space cooperation initiative meant to build closer ties between the United States and India.

NASA spokeswoman Debra Rahn said the U.S. space agency would train the Indian astronaut candidate at India’s expense and that no specific mission or flight opportunity has been identified.

Rahn said NASA and ISRO still are negotiating a formal agreement for flying the U.S. instruments ISRO has selected for Chandrayaan-1, slated to launch in 2007. The U.S. instruments, according to Rahn, are the Moon Mineralogy Mapper and the Mini-Synthetic Aperture Radar.

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Raytheon To Build More Sea-Based Interceptors

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency awarded Raytheon Co. a $124 million contract to build 12 upgraded Standard Missile-3 rockets, according to a Pentagon news release dated July 20.

The rockets will be used aboard Aegis ships for the Pentagon’s planned sea-based missile defense capability, according to the news release. The rockets include incremental upgrades in reliability, according to a Raytheon news release dated July 21.

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Northrop Grumman To Study Midcourse-Phase KEI

Northrop Grumman Corp. won an $8.2 million contract from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) July 20 to study the possibility of using a rocket being developed to shoot down missiles in their boost phase to also intercept warheads in the midcourse flight phase.

Northrop Grumman will spend the next two years developing a concept of operations and a notional architecture for using the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) for midcourse defense, according to a Pentagon news release.

While Northrop Grumman executives have discussed KEI’s potential for midcourse defense, the July 20 award is the first that directs the company to explore this capability, an MDA official said.

The award does not represent a change in the MDA’s acquisition strategy for boost-phase defense, the official said. Following a KEI booster flight and a missile intercept test with the Airborne Laser in 2008, the agency plans to choose a single system for continued development. However, the midcourse intercept study will provide the MDA with additional information with which to base its choice, the official said.

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CIA Technologist Picked to Run Spy Satellite Agency

The U.S. Defense Department announced July 22 that Don Kerr has taken over as director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which buys and operates spy satellites. Kerr’s position will be separate from that of U.S. Air Force undersecretary, the announcement said.

Kerr previously was the CIA’s deputy director of science and technology.

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EADS Astrium To Build Astra 1M DBS Satellite

EADS Astrium will build the Astra 1M television direct-broadcast satellite (DBS) for SES Global’s SES Astra division under a contract announced by the two companies July 21.

Under the contract, the 5,300-kilogram Astra 1M will be ready for launch in 2008. SES Astra of Luxembourg will select a launch-service provider separately. Financial terms were not announced.

Astra 1M will be located at SES Astra’s primary 19.2 degrees east orbital position for European television broadcasting. It will permit SES to move the orbiting Astra 2C satellite to SES’s other main European slot, at 28.2 degrees east, where it serves the British and Irish television markets.

EADS Astrium, which has satellite manufacturing facilities in France, Britain, Germany and Spain, will use its Eurostar 3000 satellite platform, which offers a minimum 15-year service life. Astra 1M will carry 36 Ku-band transponders and generate 10 kilowatts of power at the end of its life.

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NASA Authorization Bill Backs Exploration Plans

For the first time in five years, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a NASA authorization bill that sets policy priorities and funding guidelines for the U.S. space agency.

The bill, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act of 2005 (H.R. 3070) was approved July 22 by a vote of 383 to 15. Its passage marks the first formal endorsement by the House of NASA’s space exploration plans, which entail speeding development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle and sending humans to the Moon by 2020. The bill also endorses a space shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope and would let NASA out of its commitment to outfit the international space station to accommodate a six-person crew.

The Senate Commerce Committee approved a NASA authorization bill of its own, S. 1281, that still awaits action by the full Senate. The House and Senate must work out all differences between their respective bills before a NASA authorization act can be signed into law.

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NASA Offers Cash for Best Astronaut Glove

NASA is offering a $250,000 cash prize to the team that designs and builds the best performing astronaut glove by November 2006.

The Astronaut Glove Challenge is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, which is intended to encourage innovation and technical breakthroughs through cash prizes. NASA is looking for a glove that is strong, easy on the hands and permits a high degree of dexterity. The purse will be awarded at a November 2006 competition to the team that designs the best glove as determined by a series of tests based on those criteria. The glove that scores the highest and surpasses the performance of existing astronaut gloves will win the money.

The contest is being managed for NASA by Volanz Aerospace Inc., an Upper Marlboro, Md.-based non-profit space education and research company.

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Telecom Craft for Nigeria Still on Track, China Says

China’s first commercial satellite export, the Nigcomsat-1 telecommunications spacecraft for Nigeria, has completed preliminary design review and is on track for a planned launch by a Chinese Long March 3B rocket in 2007, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said in a statement dated July 12 but not published until the week of July 18.

CNSA’s remarks came after press reports in Nigeria saying the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency has fallen behind on financial payments for the project, which features substantial Chinese vendor financing but also includes financial milestones required from Nigeria.

Nigcomsat-1 is based on the China Academy of Space Technology’s high-powered DFH-4 satellite platform. Sinosat-2, under construction for Sino Satellite Communications Co. Ltd. (Sinosat) of Beijing, is scheduled for launch in mid-2006 — a year later than originally scheduled — and will be the first DFH-4 platform in orbit. Alcatel Space of Paris is providing the communications payload for Sinosat-2 and was prime contractor for the full Sinosat-1 spacecraft, launched in 1998.

In its English-language statement, CNSA said Nigcomsat-1 is a “milestone in China’s high-tech project export and is of paramount significance in expanding [the] influence of China’s aerospace cause in the world, in particular in developing countries.

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Northrop Grumman’s UAV Flown Over 7,000 Hours

Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial reconnaissance system reached its 7,000th total flight hour June 22 during a combat mission supporting the United States’ war on terrorism.

The Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a prototype system originally designed to demonstrate its ability to fly at high altitudes for long periods of time. However the U.S. Air Force called it into service after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington to provide image-based information for Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Global Hawk can fly at altitudes close to 20,000 meters for more than 35 hours, according to the news release issued by Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems, based in Los Angeles.

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AGI Once Again Named Best Small Company To Work For

 

Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI), Exton, Pa., has been named the “Best Small Company to Work for in America” for the second straight year by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management.

The organization publishes each year a list of the 50 best small- and medium-sized companies to work for in the United States. AGI also received the title in 2004.

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FCC Approves License For Alcatel’s SkyBridge

 

U.S. regulators have granted a license for Alcatel Space’s multibillion-dollar SkyBridge broadband satellite constellation eight and one-half years after Alcatel sought approval for it and more than two years after the company abandoned the project.

In a decision published July 19, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized Alcatel’s SkyBridge LLC to launch 80 Ku-band satellites into low Earth orbit for global broadband communications links to computers equipped with satellite-communications terminals.

Paris-based Alcatel was one of several companies in the late 1990s that proposed building elaborate satellite constellations to provide broadband access worldwide. All of them dropped the idea in the face of resistance from financial markets and the rapid global buildout of digital subscriber lines (DSL), cable modem and terrestrial wireless technologies.

All but Alcatel withdrew their FCC license applications.

Alcatel continued to press the FCC for approval, in part to get U.S. government validation of the SkyBridge operating concept. By operating in Ku-band, SkyBridge would be using the same broadcast frequencies as many commercial geostationary satellite operators providing television broadcasts and other telecommunications services.

Many of these companies had argued that the SkyBridge fleet, crisscrossing the globe at an altitude of 1,450 kilometers, would interfere with the signals coming from their satellites.

The SkyBridge license accepts Alcatel’s argument that it could avoid interference and provides an FCC validation of what international regulators agreed to in 2000 after heated debate between U.S. and European government authorities.

Alcatel Space spokesman Laurent Zimmermann said July 20 that the FCC license will increase the value of Alcatel’s SkyBridge-related patents and make it easier for future low-orbiting satellite systems to win FCC approval.

“Validating the SkyBridge concept was important for us,” Zimmermann said. “It is the first time the FCC has approved this kind of frequency sharing, and it sets a valuable precedent for others in the future who may wish to design a similar project.”

As part of its license approval, the FCC ordered that SkyBridge pay a $5 million cash bond within 30 days. Payment of the bond would trigger a series of project milestones required by the FCC. Zimmermann said Alcatel would review its options before deciding whether to pay the bond.

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Michigan Aerospace Wins NOAA Technology Contract

 

Michigan Aerospace announced July 18 it has won a $2.1 million contract from the University of New Hampshire to further develop the company’s atmospheric wind measurement technology that could improve long-term weather forecasting.

The one-year contract is part of a larger grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that will demonstrate Michigan Aerospace’s Light Detection and Ranging wind measurement technology on a high-altitude balloon platform that will allow measurements up to 30,000 meters. Four balloon flights are planned starting in 2006, which will help lead the way to permanent satellite-based measurement systems in the future, the Ann Arbor-based company said in a news release.

Not only could the technology improve long-term weather forecasting, but also may be used in military and homeland security applications, the company said.

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South Africa Opens Third Meteosat Training Center

 

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has opened Africa’s third training center for Europe’s second-generation Meteosat geostationary meteorological satellites, which provide data more frequently and more accurately than the first-generation Meteosat series, SAWS and Europe’s weather-satellite organization, Eumetsat, announced July 20.

Kenya and Niger previously established Meteosat Second Generation training facilities, which helped African weather services use the satellites’ ground reception hardware, and also provided training of personnel who were then ready to train others.

Four Meteosat Second Generation satellites are being built by prime contractor Alcatel Space of Paris for Eumetsat, headquartered in Darmstadt, Germany. The first, renamed Meteosat 8 once it was in orbit, was launched in August 2002. The second has been delayed because of difficulty in securing a launch slot. It now is scheduled for launch in November aboard a European Ariane 5 GS rocket.

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Event Enables Scientists To Study Pluto’s Moon Charon

 

A group of scientists in Chile were able to observe Pluto’s tiny moon, Charon, as it momentarily obscured a distant star during a rare astronomical alignment July 10-11, which could reveal more information about Charon’s physical properties and help scientists determine the existence of an atmosphere.

By examining how the distant star’s light dimmed and brightened as Charon masked it from Earth’s view for under a minute, scientists will be able to look for signs that the moon has an atmosphere as well as gather more accurate values on the moon’s radius and shape, according to a July 19 news release from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.

The disappearance of a celestial body behind a closer object is known as occultation.

A team of scientists from MIT and Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., studied the occultation at the Clay Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory. The telescope has a 6.5-meter mirror that allowed the scientists to observe fraction-of-a-second changes in light. Electronic cameras also recorded the occultation, which had been observed only once before about 25 years ago.

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EchoStar Lowers Prices For Dish in Key Markets

 

EchoStar Communications Corp. will offer customers in selected cities the chance to try its Dish satellite television service at a significantly lower rate than it usually charges.

The promotion allows customers in Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Mo., and Sacramento, Calif., to subscribe to the service for $19.99 per month for up to a year.

The company’s Dish Network Digital Home Advantage carries more than 60 channels, including local stations. Customers who subscribe to the offer receive three free months of HBO and Showtime as well. With a one-year commitment, installation, hardware and an equipment upgrade is included.

Tom Watts, chartered financial analyst for SG Cowen in New York, said EchoStar’s strategy is likely a response to other deals being pushed by cable companies.

“There’s no question that with the increased competition from cable television, where they have been dropping prices for bundles which include video, telephone service and high-speed data, this is in response to some of that competition,” Watts said.

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EMS Installs Satellite TV Hub For Mediterranean Operator

 

EMS Satellite Networks, a division of EMS Technologies of Atlanta, announced July 20 it has delivered and installed a satellite broadband access hub to Hellas-Sat, a satellite operator based in Greece that serves the eastern Mediterranean.

The DVB-RCS redundant hub will allow Hellas-Sat to provide two-way connectivity via satellite for video, voice and data transmissions with an outbound rate of 45 megabits per second. The hub was installed in Athens, Greece, home of Hellas-Sat’s teleport and direct-to-home television platform.

Stephane Germain, vice president of sales and marketing at EMS Satellite Networks, said in a July 10 telephone interview that this satellite technology is attractive for a country like Greece since satellites can reach customers in all of its remote locations — whether it be islands or communities.

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ESA Observation Deck Ready for Launch to ISS

The European Space Agency (ESA) has delivered a 1,800-kilogram observation deck for the international space station (ISS) to NASA as part of a barter arrangement under which ESA receives station-related transport services from U.S. space shuttles, ESA announced July 20.

The cupola is a pressurized module with several windows. It is to be fitted to the station to permit astronauts to monitor work on the station’s exterior, including operations of the station’s robotic arm. It tentatively is scheduled for launch by NASA in 2009.

The cupola was built by prime contractor Alcatel Alenia Space at the company’s Turin, Italy, facility. Casa of Spain, Apco of Switzerland, Lindholmen Development and Saab Ericsson Space of Sweden, EADS Space Transportation of Germany, and Verhaert Design and Development of Belgium were the principal subcontractors. The cupola is one of several hardware elements that ESA is furnishing to NASA in return for access to the space shuttle for carrying ESA supplies to and from the station.

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Northrop Grumman Team Tests Webb Space Telescope Software

 

The Northrop Grumman team developing the James Webb Space Telescope has completed tests on software that will bring the telescope’s 18 mirror segments into alignment following launch, the company announced July 18.

Team members at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii were testing the accuracy of the coarse-phasing mode, a process that is part of the telescope’s Wavefront Sensing and Control System, which helps tune the telescope to achieve proper alignment for clear observations.

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., is the prime contractor for the James Webb Space Telescope.

The company’s partner on the project, Ball Aerospace & Technologies of Boulder, Colo., conducted the tests along with officials from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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Andrews Awards SpaceDev SmallTug Design Contract

 

SpaceDev has been awarded a $1.25 million contract by Andrews Space to design a vehicle that will use gravity assists to lower fuel consumption and mission costs. The contract is part of the first phase of a NASA Human and Robotic Technology program contract. Andrews Space is the prime contractor, and SpaceDev is the primary subcontractor, according to a July 12 SpaceDev press release.

The goal of the overall program is to design, develop, launch and operate a small, low-cost spacecraft called SmallTug that will travel to L-1, a point between the Earth and Sun where the pull of Earth’s gravity makes a spacecraft orbit the sun at the same speed Earth does (so the spacecraft remains in the same relative position to the Earth).

SmallTug also is intended to demonstrate key technologies and advanced orbital mechanics that will support NASA’s future exploration of the Moon and Mars.

The contract from Seattle-based Andrews asks SpaceDev to provide a preliminary design for a highly modular small spacecraft bus and a plan for integrating new electric propulsion and high-performance solar systems.

SpaceDev is a Poway, Calif.-based company that designs satellites, propulsion systems and other projects. If SpaceDev’s contract is renewed by NASA and Andrews, the company will construct the 100-kilogram vehicle to launch by 2008 at an overall cost of under $20 million, SpaceDev officials said.

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Paradigm Signs Canadian Navy Communications Deal

 

Paradigm Secure Communications Ltd. will provide encrypted communications services to the Canadian Navy under a contract with Public Works and Government Services Canada on behalf of the Canadian Department of National Defence, Paradigm announced.

Under the contract, Stevenage, England-based Paradigm, a subsidiary of EADS Space that operates Britain’s Skynet satellites for the British Defence Ministry, will provide communications and modem equipment in Britain for communications between Britain and Canada. Financial terms were not announced.

Paradigm is part of a team, including French and Italian services, that is under contract to supply the NATO alliance with satellite communications. Paradigm is providing two large Skynet 5 satellites, under construction at EADS Astrium in Britain and France, as part of its contract with Britain and with NATO.

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Thales To Design Galileo Network Security System

 

Thales of France will design the security networks for Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system under a contract with Galileo Industries S.A. of Brussels and the European Space Agency, Thales announced July 19. Thales subsidiaries in Britain, France and Germany will divide the work.

Financial details were not announced. The 30-satellite Galileo system, expected to be operational around 2010, will be used by commercial and government customers worldwide and will include a guarantee of signal accuracy for some of its paid services.

Thales said its contract includes the design of network- and signal-protection features and controls to regulate access to Galileo’s various types of services. The contract also includes features to protect Galileo data confidentiality, verify the satellites’ signal accuracy and prevent accidental or intentional signal interference, Thales said.

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Spacenet, GlobalSat Enter Broadband Service Agreement

 

Spacenet announced July 13 that Mexican satellite service provider GlobalSat has entered the company’s global services alliance, extending Spacenet’s broadband services to Mexico and allowing GlobalSat to offer worldwide service through Spacenet of McLean, Va.

The Spacenet global services alliance allows satellite and ground connectivity providers to integrate their networks for greater global access.

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Indian Particle Detectors To Fly on Russian Mission

 

Particle detectors developed by Indian astronomers will form part of the scientific payload aboard Russia’s Coronas-Photon satellite scheduled for a 2007 launch to observe solar flares.

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) spokesman S. Krishnamurthi told Space News that a formal agreement is soon to be signed with the Russian authorities for inclusion of the Indian payload in the international project.

Coronas (Complex Orbital Observations Near-Earth of Activity of the Sun) is a Russian program for studying the Sun and solar-terrestrial connections physics using a series of three spacecraft. The 1,900 kilogram Coronas-Photon is the third satellite in this series and is to be launched from Plesetsk cosmodrome in Northern Russia by late 2007, Krishnamurthi said.

The Indian payload called RT-2 will be one among a host of scientific payloads Coronas-Photon will carry to study the mechanics of charged particle emissions during solar flares and the interaction of solar particles and electromagnetic radiation from the Sun with the Earth’s atmosphere and ionosphere, Krishnamurthi said.

The RT-2, consisting of two scintillation detector systems and four Cadmium-Zinc-Telluride detectors, will monitor high-energy phenomena of the solar disk using spectroscopy, spectrometry and high-resolution imaging of solar energetic X-rays. It is being developed jointly by ISRO, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai and the Centre for Space Physics in Kolkata, Krishnamurthi said.

While the Tata Institute will be the lead agency for developing the RT-2 payload, ISRO’s various units will help in the design and testing of the instrument. The Kolkata center will be involved in developing hardware and software for data analysis, Krishnamurthi said.

Professor A R Rao of the Tata Institute who is leading the Indian team told Space News that the engineering model of RT-2 would be delivered to the Russian satellite team by June 2006 and the flight model by December 2006.

A Russian team of experts headed by Yu D Kotov of the Moscow engineering physics institute, the principal investigator of the Coronas-Photon project, was in India on July 11 to discuss the project with Indian scientists.

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Correction:

The article “Space Station Harvest Relieves Crew’s Minds, Appetites,” [July 18, page 18] incorrectly identified the origin of the leafy vegetable Mizuna. It is native to Japan.