News Briefs

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  Space News Business

News Briefs

posted: 18 April 2005
11:35 am ET


Rockot Vehicle to Loft Kompsat-2 Satellite in November

South Korea’s Kompsat-2 optical Earth observation satellite, named Arirang-2 by South Korean authorities, is scheduled for launch in November aboard a Eurockot Launch Services vehicle from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, according to the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI).

But the development schedule of follow-on Arirang spacecraft, including the radar-equipped Arirang-5, remains unsettled, according to KARI spokeswoman Nammi Choe.

South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Technology announced in early April that it would attempt to accelerate development of Arirang-5, moving it ahead of the Arirang-3 and Arirang-4 programs to give the country an all-weather radar imager alongside its existing optical systems. Financial details remain unclear, and South Korean authorities likely would seek to purchase a radar imager following an international request for bids.

Elop Electro-Optics Industries Ltd. of Israel is supplying the Kompsat-2/Arirang-2 imager, designed to provide a ground resolution of 1 meter in black-and-white mode and 4 meters for color imagery.

Choe said April 11 that KARI has not yet selected a company to market the satellite’s imagery.

Single Dnepr To Launch All Five RapidEye Craft

The five-satellite RapidEye optical Earth observation constellation will be launched aboard a single Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket in early 2007 under a contract announced April 11 between RapidEye satellite builder Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. and Dnepr’s operator, ISC Kosmotras of Moscow.

The silo-launched Dnepr — a converted Russian SS-18 strategic missile — is operated from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Guildford, England-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. is building five 175-kilogram RapidEye satellites for RapidEye AG of Munich under contract to RapidEye prime contractor MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. of Canada. The RapidEye project’s entire cost, including construction and launch of the satellites, as well as ground installations, is estimated at 160 million euros ($207 million).

Saft Looks to Establish Foothold in U.S. Market

Satellite-battery manufacturer Saft, whose new-generation lithium-ion technology has found favor with Europe’s telecommunications satellite builders, is counting on 2005 as the breakthrough year in the U.S. market, according to Saft officials.

The company, whose global headquarters are in France, has a Cockeysville, Md., plant capable of producing lithium-ion batteries to satisfy U.S. government domestic-production regulations and has already placed the technology on NASA’s DART rendezvous satellite, built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

But a contract to build batteries for a big geostationary telecommunications satellite — the prime market for the lithium-ion technology — built in the United States has proved elusive.

“Some of the U.S. manufacturers have been relying on their own well-tested battery technology and are reluctant to try anything new, whether for commercial programs or for the U.S. government,” said Anne L. Sennet-Cassity, Saft director of satellite battery sales. “But we are working with the main manufacturers and we hope our success in Europe will open the market for us this year in the United States.”

Saft officials estimate the global satellite-battery market at between $40 million and $50 million per year, with Saft having a market share of between 30 percent and 50 percent.

The company’s first commercial lithium-ion satellite-battery sale was to EADS Astrium for the W3A telecommunications satellite owned by Eutelsat S.A. of Paris and launched in March 2004. The Amazonas telecommunications satellite, built by EADS Astrium for Hispasat S.A. of Madrid, also carries the lithium-ion hardware and has been in orbit since mid-2004.

The French Defense Ministry’s Syracuse 3A telecommunications satellite, built by Alcatel Space, is carrying Saft lithium-ion batteries and is scheduled for launch this spring. EADS Astrium’s two Skynet 5 military telecommunications satellites, being built to provide services to the British Defence Ministry, also use the technology. The first Skynet 5 is scheduled for launch in late 2005.

EADS Astrium officials have confirmed Saft’s marketing claims that lithium-ion technology offers a 50 percent weight savings over well-proven nickel-hydrogen batteries, which translates into more than 200 kilograms for a large telecommunications satellite . Astrium officials also have said lithium-ion batteries are much easier to use in pre-launch preparations because they do not need to be recharged as often — an important consideration if a rocket is stuck on a launch pad for several days due to weather conditions or other reasons.

Tests Finished, Helios 2 Is Declared Operational

The French Defense Ministry has taken delivery in orbit of the Helios 2A optical and infrared reconnaissance satellite after more than three months of testing during which all major systems were confirmed as operational.

Helios 2A was launched Dec. 18 and joins the Helios 1A satellite, in operation since 1995, in polar low Earth orbit. An identical Helios 2B satellite is being built by a contracting team led by EADS Astrium and Alcatel Space. The ground resolution of Helios 2A is classified but is estimated to be around 50 centimeters, which means objects that size and larger can be identified in its images.

The French arms procurement agency, DGA, said Helios 2A will be used for mission planning, evaluation of potential collateral damage and post-strike analysis, as well as for making high-resolution maps of geographic areas of interest, including Afghanistan and Iraq. Helios 2A also will provide digital elevation models to guide cruise missiles.

RascomStar Taps Aon for Market Survey, Insurance

RascomStar-QAF, the pan-African satellite operator whose first satellite is under construction at Alcatel Space, has selected Aon Explorer of Paris to perform market assessment studies and to provide insurance-brokerage services for the launch of the spacecraft, Aon Explorer announced.

RascomStar, backed by numerous African governments led by Libya, was created to provide voice and data telecommunications to African villages. The first satellite is scheduled to be completed by RascomStar shareholder Alcatel Space in early 2006. RascomStar is headquartered in Mauritius, with technical supervisory offices in Toulouse, France.

XM, AOL Collaborate on New Online Radio Service

XM Satellite Radio will team up with Internet service provider America Online (AOL) to develop a new online radio service, XM announced April 11.

The service will feature channels from both XM and the AOL Radio Network and be split into free and premium options, Washington-based XM said . The free offering will feature samples of 20 XM stations along with 130 AOL Radio stations, while the premium service will feature more than 70 XM stations and more than 130 AOL and third-party stations.

XM also will integrate some AOL programming into its satellite radio offerings as part of the arrangement.

The new service is expected to roll out this summer with the launch of Dulles, Va.-based AOL’s next-generation AOL.com Web portal.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after XM announced net subscriber growth of 540,000 in the 2005 first quarter, raising its total customer rolls to 3.8 million.

Chief of ISRO is Named Intersputnik Chairman

Gopalan Madhavan Nair, secretary for India’s department of space and chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has been elected chairman of the board of Intersputnik, the Moscow-based intergovernmental satellite organization, according to an Intersputnik press release dated April 5.

The release said the Intersputnik board, meeting in Bangalore, India, April 4-5, also elected Vadim E. Belov of Russia as the organization’s new director general. He will succeed Gennady G. Kudryavtsev, who served in the post for 12 years.

Established in 1971, Intersputnik today has 25 member countries including Azerbaijan, whose membership was announced at the Bangalore meeting.

Intersputnik provides communications services to broadcasters, telecom operators and corporate customers via the Lockheed Martin-built LMI-1 satellite as well as Russian Express-A series satellites.

Orbital Test Launches Medium-Range Target

Orbital Sciences Corp. carried out the first successful test launch of a new Medium Range Target vehicle designed for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the company announced April 12.

The vehicle was air-launched by a C-17 aircraft more than 1,400 kilometers west of Hawaii and flew a ballistic trajectory before falling into the Pacific Ocean northwest of the Kauai Pacific Missile Range Facility. The new target vehicle also can be launched from ground- or sea-based sites.

Orbital, based in Dulles, Va., developed the target vehicle under a contract from the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. The vehicle is based on the Castor 4B solid-rocket motor produced by ATK of Hopkins, Minn.

Chandra X-Ray Data Suggest Colliding Galaxies Fuel Stars and Black Hole Growth

New research suggests that collisions among galaxies in the earliest days of the universe may be the ultimate cause for accelerated star formation and black hole growth, NASA announced April 6.

NASA scientists combined the deepest X-ray image ever obtained by the Chandra X-ray Observatory with data from ground-based telescopes to study adolescent galaxies and the black holes at their cores.

The galaxies, known as submillimeter galaxies because they were first identified by the James Clerk Maxwell submillimeter telescope in Hawaii, underwent a growth spurt more than 10 billion years ago. During the spurt, gas in each galaxy was forming stars at a rate of about one per day, or 100 times the present rate in the Milky Way galaxy.

Separate observations by the Hubble Space Telescope indicate that most submillimeter galaxies are actually two colliding galaxies . As the galaxies merge, gases are driven toward their central regions , triggering bursts of star formation and fueling the growth of a central black hole.

The Chandra data also suggest that the black holes at the center of submillimeter galaxies are surrounded by a dense shroud of gas and dust, material most likely consumed by the black holes as they continue to grow , NASA said.

Ball Aerospace Delivers New Horizons Instrument

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., has delivered the main instrument package for NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission, Ball announced April 11.

The high-resolution visible and infrared digital imager/spectrometer, dubbed Ralph, is designed to collect images as well as data on the surface composition and temperature of Pluto, its moon Charon and other objects in Kuiper Belt.

The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory of Laurel, Md., is building the New Horizons spacecraft for NASA and the Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio , which is the principal investigator for the mission.

New Horizons is scheduled to launch in January 2006 and swing by Jupiter before arriving at Pluto in July 2015.

PanAmSat Signs Pair of Distribution Agreements

PanAmSat Corp. signed content-distribution agreements with a pair of international customers, PanAmSat announced .

Under a multiyear agreement with China Radio International, PanAmSat will distribute 36 channels of radio programming around the globe using C-band capacity aboard the PAS-8, PAS-9 and PAS-10 satellites, PanAmSat announced April 11.

State-owned China Radio International, China’s sole overseas radio network, initially will broadcast in eight languages and plans to expand to 39 . The programming will include 200 hours per day of news, music and commentary.

PanAmSat, headquartered in Wilton, Conn., also signed a deal with the Mexican consortium Grupo Pegaso to provide satellite capacity for a new Internet service. A new entity, Pegaso Banda Ancha, will be created to offer t he service first in Mexico, then in Central and South America and eventually in the United States, PanAmSat said April 6.

PanAmSat will provide capacity to the venture via its PAS-1R spacecraft and also will supply ground support using its service center in Ellenwood, Ga., PanAmSat said. Financial details of the agreements were not released.

Boeing GOES-R Team Includes Harris, Ball

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. and Harris Corp. will be the major subcontractors on Boeing Co.’s bid to build a next-generation weather satellite system for the U.S. government, Boeing announced April 7.

Ball of Boulder, Colo., will lead payload integration if Boeing’s team wins the contract to build the planned Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) system . Harris of Melbourne, Fla., will provide system integration for the ground-based data processing and command, control and communications system.

The GOES satellites are operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency typically operates a pair of GOES satellites, one each overlooking the East and West coasts of the United States.

Boeing Civil and Commercial Satellites of El Segundo, Calif., is prime contractor on the current generation of GOES satellites. The company recently shipped the first of those three spacecraft, GOES-N, to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in advance of a scheduled May launch .

Other Boeing team members for the GOES-R bid include Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc. of Lexington, Mass., which will provide simulation and modeling services for the data products, and Carr Astronautics of Washington, which will provide image navigation and registration technology.

Mars Rovers Granted Second Mission Extension

NASA has approved up to 18 more months of operations for the agency’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, the agency announced April 5.

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers completed their initial 90-day missions in April 2004 and have been operating under extensions since then. The latest extension will allow the rovers to continue exploring the red planet through September 2006 — if they last that long.

“Either mission could end tomorrow with a random part failure,” Jim Erickson, rover project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. “With the rovers already performing well beyond their original design lifetimes, having a part wear out and disable a rover is a distinct possibility at any time. But right now, both rovers are in amazingly good shape. We’re going to work them hard to get as much benefit from them as we can, for as long as they are capable of producing worthwhile science results.”

Frontier and EchoStar Form Bundling Alliance

Frontier Communications will offer the Dish Network direct-to-home satellite television service under an agreement with EchoStar Communications Corp. of Littleton, Colo., Frontier announced April 6.

Frontier, based in Rochester, N.Y., will bundle the satellite television service in a single package with is telephone and Internet offerings.

“This relationship strengthens our market position by putting in place the video component of a ‘triple play,’ offering of telephone, television and high-speed Internet,” Maggie Wilderotter, president and chief executive officer of Citizens Communications, Frontier’s parent company, said in a statement.

Canadian Tracking Firm To Set Up U.S. Joint Venture

Satelinx International Inc. of Montreal will create a joint venture to market its GPS-based vehicle tracking services in the United States, Satelinx announced April 6.

Satelinx USA Inc. will be formed in cooperation with an unnamed New York-based group. Under the agreement, Satelinx International will grant Satelinx USA Inc. a license to market and distribute all Satelinx products and services throughout the United States.

The agreement requires Satelinx USA to have annual sales of 15,000 of the vehicle tracking units and a growth rate of at least 10 percent per year. Satelinx International estimates that the joint venture will generate at least $23 million in sales of Satelinx vehicle tracking services alone.

Ames Makes Award for Supercomputing Work

Advanced Management Technology Inc. received an order under an existing contract to support supercomputing research development at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, Calif., the agency announced April 4.

Advanced Management, based in Arlington, Va., will provide technical support to the Advanced Supercomputing Division at Ames . The division supports NASA space shuttle return-to-flight efforts as well as other space exploration research.

The task order is valued at $49.4 million for one year and includes a one-year option.

ESA Might Insure ATV, First Galileo Satellites

The 16-nation European Space Agency (ESA) would insure much more of its orbital hardware if rates were lower, and the agency is still considering insurance policies for the first test versions of the Galileo satellite navigation constellation and the seven planned launches of Europe’s unmanned space station supply vehicle, said Chris de Cooker, head of ESA’s organization, management methods and regulations department.

Adding the agency’s voice to that of several commercial satellite fleet operators, de Cooker said ESA wants the insurance market to set ESA insurance rates based on the agency’s proven record for in-orbit reliability, rather than on overall insurance market trends.

“Reliability of our spacecraft can be verified,” de Cooker said. “We perform extensive ground testing and we pay close attention to the work of our contractors and we sometimes even require our contractors to purchase insurance for their ground activities. But it is far from clear how insurance companies evaluate us.”

ESA has insured, generally for only a fraction of their replacement value, several of its telecommunications and observation satellites. However, many programs that might otherwise be insured end up going without insurance because of the high premiums imposed on ESA — and on all satellite owners — despite individual company or agency track records.

“Premiums are often not logical or fair,” de Cooker said. “We often choose not to insure and in many cases the decision would have been different if the premiums had been lower.”

As is the case with most space agencies, ESA’s satellites typically are one-of-a-kind spacecraft that are not reproduced for other programs. But that is changing somewhat with the Galileo satellite navigation project, whose first four demonstration satellites are being purchased by ESA. Similarly, the large Automated Transfer Vehicle, seven of which are being built to resupply the international space station, is a candidate for insurance coverage, de Cooker said.

ESA, he said, has been surprised by what he called “the unsophisticated approach” of the insurance industry in treating all prospective policy holders the same, regardless of safety record.

“This should not be acceptable given the level of maturity of the industry,” de Cooker said.

M-5 May Launch Science, Remote Sensing Payloads

The Japanese government’s M-5 rocket is scheduled to return to flight this summer, and its owners are positioning the vehicle as a possible future commercial rocket for science and Earth observation payloads.

The three-stage, solid-fueled M-5, which was first launched in 1997, has launched four times, including a failure on its third flight in 2000, the mission in which the Astro-E astronomy satellite was lost. The next flight, in 2003, successfully orbited the Hayabusa asteroid sample-return satellite.

A rebuilt Astro-E2 is scheduled to be placed into low Earth orbit this summer, followed by three more science missions to be launched at dates not yet fixed, said Kazuyuki Miho, associate senior engineer for the M-5 program at Japan’s space agency, JAXA.

A failure of a solid-rocket booster on Japan’s large H2-A vehicle in 2003 slowed M-5 development because of suspected similarities in the hardware of the two vehicles. But the H2-A has successfully returned to flight, and JAXA has independently cleared the M-5 for flight.

The latest M-5 version can place satellites weighing up to 1,850 kilograms into polar low Earth orbit.

Large Satellite Fleets Foregoing Insurance

Large satellite operators, even those carrying significant debt, are no longer obligated by the terms of their loan covenants to carry insurance for their satellite fleets or cash equivalents, a development that was unheard of several years ago, according to Peter D. Nesgos, a partner in the New York law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP.

As a result, several satellite-fleet owners are dispensing with insurance coverage. Nesgos said the recent decisions by several operators to drop coverage were based on pure cost-benefit analysis, instead of a risk-mitigation strategy that used to guide these companies. “It used to be that full insurance was required” as a condition of large loans, he said.

Financing Creating Risk On Some Satellite Firms

Financial institutions may be going too easy on satellite-fleet operators, granting overly generous terms to companies looking to pile up debt as part of their refinancing, according to French bank Calyon.

Frederic de Toldi, Calyon’s director for telecommunications and media, said debt transactions involving fixed satellite services operators in recent months have included back-ended repayment profiles and other terms that have made them overly risky. As a result, he said, Calyon has remained largely on the sidelines.

“High liquidity and competition among banks has led to these favorable terms,” de Toldi said. “Sanity checks are needed for these jumbo transactions.” He said recent refinancings for Eutelsat S.A. of Paris; Intelsat Ltd. of Washington; New Skies Satellites of The Hague, Netherlands; and PanAmSat Corp. of Wilton, Conn., have left all these companies with debt levels equivalent to six times their EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

The financial sector, he said, “could not possibly be more favorable to the development of space activity” than it is now.

Comments: pdeselding@compuserve.com