News Briefs

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  Space News Business

News Briefs

posted: 02 May 2005
11:26 am ET


French Syracuse 3A Satellite Will Not Launch Before July

The planned May launch of the French Syracuse 3A military telecommunications satellite has been delayed at least until July to permit the Arianespace launch consortium to first loft U.S. and Indonesian commercial satellites , according to government and industry officials.

In the latest example of the headaches involved in juggling two Ariane 5 rocket variants and the need to launch two satellites at a time, Arianespace will put DirecTV’s Spaceway F2 direct-broadcast television satellite and Indonesia’s Telkom-2 telecommunications spacecraft on an Ariane 5 ECA flight to occur in late June at the earliest.

The Ariane 5 ECA is the enhanced version of the Ariane 5. After a redesign following a December 2002 maiden-flight failure, the vehicle made its first successful flight in February.

The Ariane 5 ECA is capable of lifting nearly 10,000 kilograms of satellite payload into geostationary transfer orbit, meaning it is capable of lofting most communications satellites two-at-a-time.

The French Defense Ministry’s Syracuse 3A will await a standard-version Ariane 5 launch, tentatively scheduled for July. Riding alongside the Syracuse 3A will be PanAmSat Corp.’s Galaxy 15 telecommunications satellite.

The standard Ariane 5 is able to carry less than 6,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit, making it difficult for Arianespace to find two compatible payloads for this vehicle. It is one reason why Arianespace wants to replace the standard vehicle with the ECA version as soon as possible.

Syracuse 3A is expected to weigh about 3,800 kilograms at launch. Galaxy 15, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., is expected to weigh about 1,800 kilograms.

The reshuffled launch schedule will permit DirecTV to meet a U.S. regulatory deadline for putting the Spaceway satellite into service. The first Spaceway satellite was launched April 26 aboard a Sea Launch rocket.

Syracuse 3A builder Alcatel Space said the satellite is packed and ready for shipment to Europe’s French Guiana spaceport whenever a launcher is ready. Syracuse 3A had been scheduled for launch in late 2004 but was delayed repeatedly because of what Alcatel Space officials characterized as a series of minor, unrelated issues that required extended ground testing.

Arianespace, in response to Space News inquiries, declined April 28 to confirm the recent changes to the Ariane 5 manifest. The company said it is preparing two launch campaigns simultaneously and will decide in early June which passengers will be launched on which Ariane 5 variant , and when.

French Military Seeks Better Reconnaissance Coordination

The French Defense Ministry has sent letters to 11 European nations calling for joint studies to harmonize Europe’s next-generation optical, radar and hyperspectral reconnaissance satellites.

French defense officials estimate that initial work should begin by late 2005 to be ready for a system that would be operational around 2013. French officials estimate that the studies would cost about 15 million euros ($19.6 million). The principal goal, they say, is to avoid the complex, costly and inefficient joint ground network being built to link French, German and Italian reconnaissance spacecraft slated to enter service in the next couple of years .

Navy Places Order for Boeing ScanEagle UAVs

The U.S. Navy awarded Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis a $14.5 million contract to provide unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, communications links and ground equipment to support current operations in Iraq and elsewhere, according to a Boeing press release.

The Navy plans to use the ScanEagle systems for missions including monitoring oil platforms in the Persian Gulf, according to the news release. U.S. Marine Corps units have used ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Iraq, but this contract will lead to the first deployment of the system aboard Navy vessels, Peggy Holly, Boeing’s ScanEagle program manager, said in the news release.

The ScanEagle can carry either an optical or infrared camera, and can loiter over an area of interest for 15 hours, according to the news release. Boeing is working on upgrades that will enable the system to loiter for more than 30 hours.

Chick Ramey, a Boeing spokesman, said the Navy asked the company not to divulge the number of UAVs included in the order.

Orbital Recovery’s Space Tug Clears Design Review

A proposed space tug intended to extend the life of commercial communications satellites has passed its baseline design review, according to an April 13 statement issued on behalf of the module’s developer, Orbital Recovery Ltd. of London.

Designers of the ConeXpress Orbital Life Extension Vehicle say the craft could add up to eight years to the lives of expensive communications satellites by docking with them to provide orbital station-keeping and pointing services. Orbital Recovery plans to offer the craft commercially starting in 2008.

“Mission modeling performed with simulators confirmed the [tug design’s] ability to carry out its high-value space servicing flights, including the precision approach and docking phase with telecommunications satellites,” Orbital Recovery spokesman Jeffrey Lenorovitz said in a prepared statement.

Orbital Recovery has identified approximately 70 telecommunications satellites currently in orbit that are candidates for life extension through 2012 using the tug.

The space tug’s baseline design review was held March 31 at the European Space Agency’s ESTEC technical center in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

NOAA Weather Satellite To Launch May 11 on Delta 2

The scheduled May 11 launch of a polar-orbiting weather satellite for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will mark the first time a Boeing-built Delta 2 rocket is used for that series of satellites. NOAA-N will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

NOAA’s polar-orbiting craft in the past have been launched by Atlas vehicles and, more recently, aboard converted Titan 2 missiles, said Karen Halterman, NASA program manager for the NOAA satellites. NASA handles the procurement and launch of NOAA weather satellites.

The Titan 2 launch required the satellite to be outfitted with a solid-rocket motor to take it to its proper orbit, Halterman told reporters April 25. The Delta 2 can take the satellite directly to its orbit and with better accuracy, she said.

NOAA operates polar-orbiting satellites for global weather coverage and geostationary-orbiting satellites that concentrate on U.S. territory. Both systems are critical to U.S. government weather monitoring and forecasting capabilities.

NOAA-N will replace a spacecraft that has been on orbit for five years, two years past its design life, and is beginning to show signs of instrument degradation , said Michael Mignogno, NOAA program manager for the satellites.

Sea Launch Rocket Lofts Spaceway F1 Satellite

A Sea Launch Zenit 3SL rocket successfully launched DirecTV’s Spaceway F1 television broadcasting satellite into geostationary transfer orbit from a floating platform April 26, the Boeing-led Sea Launch venture announced.

According to the Sea Launch press release, Spaceway F1, at 6,080 kilograms, is the heaviest commercial satellite launched to date. Built by Boeing Satellite Systems of El Segundo, Calif., the 702-model, Ka-band spacecraft will provide high-definition television direct broadcasting services from its orbital slot at 102.8 degrees west longitude. Originally designed for business broadband services but modified for TV broadcasts, the satellite is equipped with a steerable antenna that can be reconfigured on orbit in response to market demands.

Spaceway F1 is the first of four high-definition TV broadcasting satellites that El Segundo-based DirecTV Group plans to launch over the next couple of years.

RT Logic Wins Contract for Range Upgrade Systems

RT Logic of Colorado Springs, Colo., will supply instrumentation equipment for the U.S. Air Force’s western launch range at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., under a $1.7 million contract with Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems & Solutions.

The Gaithersburg, Md.-based Lockheed Martin unit is the prime contractor on the U.S. Air Force’s Range Standardization and Automation 2A upgrade program. Under the contract, RT Logic will supply so-called Best Instrumentation Source Selector systems, which identify the specific instruments that are best positioned to provide telemetry at any time during a launch from Vandenberg, and then automatically switch to those instruments as data sources for range authorities, according to a company press release dated April 19.

The systems will be delivered during the first half of 2005, according to RT Logic, a wholly owned subsidiary of Integral Systems Inc. of Lanham, Md. A future contract to provide similar systems for the Air Force’s eastern range at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., is possible in the near future, the company said.

Space Adventures Inks Camera Deal With Ecliptic

Customers who sign up for rides into space arranged by Space Adventures Ltd., of Arlington, Va., now can document their experiences with the same type of video cameras used by the U.S. Defense Department and major launch companies to record the functioning of rockets on their way to orbit.

Space Adventures signed an agreement with Ecliptic Enterprises Corp., of Pasadena, Calif., for use of Ecliptic’s RocketCam in its space tourism business, Space Adventures announced April 26.

RocketCams have been attached to the exteriors of expendable launch vehicles to capture video of the rocket stages firing and separating on the way to orbit.

In the Space Adventures case, the RocketCams will deliver live video from the exterior and also the interior of space tourism flights, according to the company’s announcement. Space Adventures has arranged trips by two private citizens to space aboard Russian Soyuz capsules, American businessman Dennis Tito in 2001 and South African venture capitalist Mark Shuttleworth in 2002.

MSV Acquires Celsat Technology Patents

Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) of Reston, Va., has acquired the entire patent portfolio of Celsat Inc., a pioneer in developing technologies for hybrid communications networks used on satellites and ground-based repeaters, MSV announced April 25.

The transaction includes 13 granted patents, and two that are pending, dating back to 1991, MSV said. MSV is developing a hybrid mobile satellite communications system that includes an ancillary terrestrial component (ATC), or network of ground-based repeaters.

“With the addition of the Celsat patents, MSV’s leadership role and strategic advantage is further solidified,” said Peter D. Karabinis, chief technical officer of MSV. ” … We believe our portfolio far eclipses any other potential ATC portfolio both in breadth and in depth.”

Newly Created Panel Will Advise NASA on Exploration

NASA announced the establishment of an Exploration Systems Advisory Committee led by retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles, a space and missile defense veteran who in his last assignment was commander of Air Force Materiel Command.

The committee will meet quarterly, according to NASA, and provide advice and recommendations to NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. Other committee members are : Kenneth M. Baldwin, professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of California, Irvine; Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, a former rock guitarist identified by NASA as a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based missile defense analyst ; retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Tom Betterton, a Warrenton, Va.-based aerospace engineering consultant; retired Air Force Col. Larry Graviss, vice president of Tullahoma, Tenn.-based Sverdrup Technology, Inc.; Amy Kronenberg, program leader for radiation biology at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California; retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Vince Russo, an executive advisor to the president of the University of Dayton in Ohio; and Barry Zilin, president and chief executive officer of Practical Innovations, Inc. of Woodbridge, Va.

Inmarsat Signs Telenor as BGAN Distribution Partner

Inmarsat, the London-based supplier of maritime and aeronautical satellite communications services, has selected Telenor Satellite Services of Oslo, Norway, as the top distribution partner for its forthcoming mobile broadband satellite communications service, the companies announced April 21.

The new service, known as the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN), will be based on the next-generation Inmarsat 4 satellites, the first of which was launched in March . Inmarsat expects to inaugurate the new broadband service this year.

The new broadband network will offer high-speed circuit-switched and packet data services, plus voice telephony via small, lightweight user terminals.

“With our business agreement with Inmarsat firmly in place, Telenor is focusing its resources on training and preparing our global distribution network to offer BGAN service on the day it becomes commercially available,” Tore Hilde, chief executive officer of Telenor Satellite Services, said in a prepared statement.

Distant Planets Would Explain Spitzer Readings

Scientists using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope say they have spotted what could be dust from asteroids colliding around a distant star, which raises the possibility that planets also formed around that star, according to a summary of the research released by NASA.

A paper detailing the findings of the team of nine scientists will appear in the Astrophysical Journal.

“Asteroids are the leftover building blocks of rocky planets like Earth,” the study’s lead author, Charles Beichman of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, said in the NASA summary. “We can’t directly see other terrestrial planets, but now we can study their dusty fossils,” he said.

If confirmed, the new asteroid belt would be the first detected around a star about the same age and size as the sun, according to NASA.

A good way to test the asteroid-belt hypothesis would be to train other astronomy sensors on the dust to see if it contains water in any form, said Geoff Bryden, an astronomer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and one of the authors of the paper. The presence of water, which could not be detected by Spitzer, would suggest that the dust came from a comet rather than asteroids. It also would mean the dust does not necessarily imply the presence of planets orbiting the star, Bryden said.

The NASA statement said the leading alternative scenario is that a so-called super comet was drawn in by the star’s gravity and now is boiling away. But Bryden said there are too many other possibilities to be confident of any one.

“It could be caused by a swarm of a million Hale-Bopps, small comets,” Bryden said. “Or, it could be caused by one big one. It could be a comet coming in and hitting an Earth [-like planet]. We just know that there’s a lot of dust.”

Bryden added that even the asteroid hypothesis is not necessarily the most likely to be correct. “It’s very small grains. It’s not a normal distribution of grains for an asteroid belt,” he said.

SES Americom Delivering Korean Programming to U.S.

SES Americom of Princeton, N.J. , is beginning to use its AMC-4 satellite to deliver broadcast channels of Korea Telecom (KT) to households in North and South America.

The deal, announced April 18, is another sign of the growing popularity of ethnic programming and SES Americom’s efforts to expand its role in that market niche through its relationship with Herndon, Va.-based Home2US Communications, a pay TV platform service that uses the AMC-4 satellite.

“By distributing Korean programming on AMC-4, Home2US has opened the door to some exciting possibilities for a wide range of service offerings for Asian-speaking audiences living in the U.S. and throughout the North and South American regions,” Carl Capista, SES Americom’s vice president of North American media services, said in a prepared statement. The relationship with KT will encourage other non-U.S. broadcasters to bring their content to audiences in the Americas, he said .

Home2US and SES Americom already beam Asian programming from the Asian Network and Onnuri TV/CGNTV across North America. The AMC-4 satellite, launched in 1999, is a Lockheed Martin A2100 hybrid C-band and Ku-band spacecraft located at 101 degrees west longitude.

Home2US offers satellite solutions to broadcasters who wish to capitalize on the growing ethnic subscriber base in the United States.

XM Satellite Radio Adds Space-Oriented Show

XM Satellite Radio has added the weekly radio show of the Planetary Society in Pasadena, Calif., to its line up. The half-hour Planetary Radio show features scientists and space policy leaders discussing the latest developments and debates in space exploration.

Guests have included astronaut Buzz Aldrin, novelist Ray Bradbury and television personality Bill Nye, The Science Guy. The show, which debuted Nov. 25, 2002, has been available only on a handful of U.S. radio stations and on the Planetary Society’s Web site, www.planetary.org.

“We’ve just jumped up several notches in terms of audience reach with the XM Satellite service,” said Susan Lendroth, events and communications manager for the Planetary Society. Washington-based XM Satellite has approximately 3 million subscribers, and Lendroth said she hopes many of them will try out Planetary Radio.

Cassini Sensor Detects Hydrocarbons at Titan

As it passed through the upper atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan April 16, NASA’s Cassini space probe detected a surprisingly rich variety of hydrocarbons, said space scientist J. Hunter Waite of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Particles from Titan’s atmosphere entered Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer, which measured their atomic masses, explained Wait, principal investigator for the instrument. The instrument reported complex mixtures of hydrocarbons and carbon-nitrogen compounds at an altitude of over 1,000 kilometers above Titan’s surface.

“That was surprising to us,” Waite said. “Just about every hydrogen or hydrogen-carbon compound we could imagine was present. That tells us that a lot of particle formation was going on high up in the atmosphere.”

Waite said the readings were made on the night side of Titan, which indicates that Saturn’s magnetic influence might play a large role in forming the particles compared to the effect of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Cassini will make seven to eight more fly-bys of Titan for the mass spectrometer team over the next four years and many more passes for the craft’s other science instrument teams. Scientists hope the Titan findings will yield clues about the atmospheric chemistry that preceded life on Earth.

Comments: Warren Ferster, wferster@space.com