DART Launch Set for No Earlier than April 15


NASA has set the launch of the Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) spacecraft for no earlier than April 15, the agency announced.

The mission has been on hold since the discovery of a leak in the reaction control system in the third stage of the satellite’s Pegasus launch vehicle in February.

The regulator, which is used to maintain pressure in the system during flight, has been repaired by Orbital Sciences Corp., the manufacturer of Pegasus rockets, and reinstalled. NASA also has completed an analysis of tests that simulated the loads DART will experience during launch.

DART, which was also built by Orbital Sciences, will test hardware and software that is designed to allow a spacecraft to locate and rendezvous with another spacecraft without human guidance. During the mission, DART will approach a target satellite and perform close-proximity operations over a 24-hour period.

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APT Having Difficulty Fully Insuring Apstar 6

APT Satellite Holdings Ltd. has been unable to secure full insurance coverage for its Apstar-6 telecommunications satellite, which is set for launch April 12 on a Chinese Long March rocket. The company said it will realize a $50 million capital loss in the event of a launch failure.

Hong Kong-based APT said Apstar-6, which was built by Alcatel Space of France, cost $183 million for the satellite and the launch vehicle. The satellite has 38 C-band and 12 Ku-band transponders.

When launch insurance and other expenses are included, the capital cost of the Apstar-6 program is $225 million. APT sought insurance for that amount but was able to secure coverage of only $175 million at acceptable rates, the company said.

Covering the final $50 million would “jeopardize the cash flow of APT Group,” the company said.

To minimize its potential losses, APT secured a commitment from launch-services supplier China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) of Beijing that, in the event of an Apstar-6 launch failure, CGWIC would design, build and launch an Apstar-6B satellite for $120 million.

Insurance and other charges would bring the cost of Apstar-6B to $165 million. Apstar-6B would use China’s DFH-4 satellite design and carry 28 C-band and 16 Ku-band transponders.

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OHB To Integrate, Test New Orbcomm Satellite


OHB-System AG will integrate and test a new satellite for Orbcomm Inc. that also will carry a secondary payload for the U.S. Coast Guard, OHB announced March 17.

Orbcomm provides global messaging and data services using a fleet of 35 low Earth orbiting satellites. The new spacecraft will provide standard Orbcomm service as well as support the Coast Guard’s Automatic Identification System for ocean-going vessels.

The spacecraft is scheduled for launch in early 2006 aboard a Cosmos 3M rocket.

OHB Technology AG has been a longtime shareholder in Orbcomm and invested an additional $3.6 million in March 2004 with the expectations that the company will “assume a key role in the development of the new generation of Orbcomm satellites.”

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Ball Wins Contract with $100 Million Potential

NASA picked Ball Aerospace and Technology to design a key imaging instrument for the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Mission, an international constellation of rain-measuring satellites the U.S. and Japanese space agencies hope to start launching in 2010.

Under the cost-plus contract, Ball will design and build the conical-scan microwave radiometer for the core GPM satellite, a U.S.-built spacecraft featuring a Japanese-built precipitation radar.

Ball’s contract includes an option to build an additional microwave imager for a second GPM constellation spacecraft. The contract, which includes post-launch mission support, could be worth as much as $100 million over the next 8 years.

Ball is also hoping to build the GPM spacecraft. NASA is considering buying the GPM spacecraft from its catalog of proven designs rather than building the spacecraft in house. NASA has been looking at spacecraft designs from Ball, Orbital Sciences Corp. and General Dynamics C4 Systems (which acquired small satellite builder Spectrum Astro in July 2004). A selection is expected later this year.

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NRO Seeking Program Reserves in ’06 Budget

The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) included additional funding in its 2006 budget request to quickly deal with unanticipated problems that may come up on its programs, according to Peter B. Teets, NRO director and acting secretary of the U.S. Air Force.

Program reserves can help address a problem without having to go through the lengthy congressional process for reprogramming funding, Teets told the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee March 16.

The NRO has used program reserves in the past, but has not had meaningful funding available for that purpose since the late 1990s, according to Rick Oborn, an NRO spokesman.

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Space Entrepreneur Anderson Denied Bail


A federal judge again denied space entrepreneur Walt Anderson’s request to be released on bail. Anderson and his attorney Abbe Lowell appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay March 10 to appeal an earlier decision to hold Anderson without bail in the District of Columbia’s jail.

Anderson was arrested Feb. 26 and charged with evading more than $200 million in federal and local taxes. There was no immediate scheduling of Anderson’s next court appearance.


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Teets Sets Retirement; To Leave USAF March 25


Acting U.S. Air Force Secretary Peter B. Teets announced that he will resign effective March 25, according to a March 18 Pentagon news release.

Teets has served as undersecretary of the Air Force and director of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office since December 2001. He took on the role of acting service secretary when James Roche left the post in January.


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Northrop To Help Build Australian Ground System


Northrop Grumman Corp. will team with three Australian firms to develop an Australian ground system for the Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, according to a Northrop Grumman news release dated March 14.

Northrop Grumman is hoping to sell the Global Hawk vehicle to the Australian government for both military and civil missions, according to the news release.

Tenix Defence, Saab Systems, and L-3 Communications Integrated Systems will work with Northrop Grumman to develop a ground facility that can command and control the vehicle as well as exploit its data. As work progresses, Northrop Grumman plans to bring on additional defense and information technology firms to join the team, according to the news release.

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