News Digest

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  Space News Business

News Digest

By WARREN FERSTER
Compiler
posted: 08 August 2005
11:42 am ET


GOES Launch Delayed At Least Until Aug. 12

The launch of a new U.S. government weather satellite aboard a Boeing Delta 4 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., has been delayed at least until Aug. 12 due to problems with communications subsystem components on the spacecraft, according to Robert Villanueva, a Boeing spokesman.

The launch of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) N (shown at right being encapsulated in its protective fairing for launch), also built by Boeing, previously was scheduled for July 28. The satellite had been expected to launch in May, but has been delayed by a series of launch vehicle issues.

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Pentagon Demurs on Long-Term Lease Deals

 

An eagerly awaited U.S. Defense Department review of its satellite transponder leasing habits has yielded recommendations that stick to largely the status quo, drawing a disappointed reaction from an industry advocacy group.

“The satellite industry as a whole is disappointed to see they didn’t address multiyear procurement, and we are discussing next steps,” David Cavossa, executive director of the Satellite Industry Association (SIA), said Aug. 5. The SIA, which represents satellite companies, has been pushing for long-term transponder leases and other changes in the way the Pentagon procures commercial satellite capacity. Currently the Pentagon relies heavily on short-term leases of capacity on an as-needed basis, a practice that industry officials say results in higher prices and makes it difficult for them to plan ahead to meet the needs of their largest single customer.

At the request of Congress, the Pentagon launched a review of its satellite capacity buying habits earlier this year. The resulting report, “Defense Commercial Communications Satellite Services Procurement Process,” was released in July.

 

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Boeing Satellite Exec To Leave at the End of 2005

Roger Roberts, Boeing vice president and general manager of space and intelligence systems and chief executive officer of Boeing Satellite Systems, informed company officials Aug. 5 that he will retire Dec. 31.

Roberts will be replaced by Howard Chambers, who currently serves as vice president of program management for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, according to Marta Newhart, a company spokeswoman.

Newhart denied an Aug. 5 Wall Street Journal report that linked Roberts’ retirement to Boeing’s performance on the Future Imagery Architecture spy satellite program, which has run into repeated cost and schedule problems.

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SpaceX to Announce New Falcon 1 Business

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) expects to announce as many as four new orders during the month of August for launches aboard its Falcon 1 rocket. The company already has won three of those contracts, and expects to land the fourth soon, said Elon Musk, president of El Segundo, Calif.-based SpaceX.

“All I can say at this point is that we have three launch customers from three different countries, one of which is the U.S.,” Musk said Aug. 5. Those launches will take place in 2008, he said.

Musk said he also anticipates winning a contract with the U.S. Air Force and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for a 2007 Falcon 1 launch under a program designed to foster development of a new generation of quick-reaction launch vehicles.

The four new missions would bring SpaceX’s Falcon 1 launch backlog to seven.

The Falcon 1, which has been in development for three years, is expected to debut from SpaceX’s launch complex on the Kwajalein Atoll no earlier than Sept. 30. The payload for the inaugural mission is the U.S. Air Force Academy’s experimental FalconSat-2 satellite. The rocket is designed to carry up to 670 kilograms of payload to an orbital altitude of 200 kilometers for $5.9 million plus range fees.

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Africa, Middle East Seen Driving C-Band Growth

Sub-Saharan Africa will be the hottest growth market for commercial C- and Ku-band satellite capacity in the next five years, with Western Europe among the most sluggish, according to a global satellite-demand assessment by Northern Sky Research.

The Orlando, Fla.-based consultancy estimates that global demand for C- and Ku-band satellite capacity will grow 3.1 percent per year between 2005 and 2010. But more than 90 percent of this growth will be in Ku-band. C-band demand will be flat in most areas — with two exceptions being the Middle East and North Africa, where it will grow with a thriving video market.

Another exception is North America, where demand for C-band will decline during the period.

The report, “Global Assessment of Satellite Demand, 2nd Edition,” is consistent with other market forecasts in concluding that video broadcasting, which in 2004 accounted for 61 percent of all C- and Ku-band capacity leased commercially, will continue to increase its share of demand.

Global commercial satellite operators were beaming 10,650 standard-definition video channels in 2004, a 16.5 percent increase over 2003. High-definition television, which requires more satellite bandwidth than standard-definition television, will help keep the satellite-video market growing. High-definition television channels numbered just 56 in 2004, according to the study, but should be nearly 100 by the end of 2005, and around 200 in 2006.

The well-documented global trends — a healthier market for video than for traditional carrier-type telecommunications and telephony, and the gradual decline of C-band relative to Ku-band — mask the sharp differences among regions. The study attempts to assess regional demand for satellite capacity by measuring it in equivalent units of 36-megahertz transponders.

It also assesses regional pricing trends, despite the hazards. “Reliable transponder pricing is notoriously difficult to obtain… because of the large number of contract types and conditions,” the study says.

It is much easier to count leased transponders, even if 36 megahertz of capacity in a high-value video neighborhood covering the United States or Western Europe can generate two or three times the annual revenues of the same transponder used for telephony.

By counting only leased C- and Ku-band transponders, Northern Sky concludes that Intelsat Ltd. was the world’s biggest satellite operator in 2004, with 22 percent of the market. PanAmSat was second, with 15 percent of the market. SES Global followed at 12 percent, with Eutelsat S.A. of Paris in fourth position at 9 percent.

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Initial SBIRS Launch Could Slip Yet Again

The U.S. Air Force’s troubled Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning satellite program may be in for further delays as the Pentagon conducts another review to justify continuing the effort.

The SBIRS satellites originally were scheduled to begin launching in 2002, but that date has slipped repeatedly, to June 2008. The latest date is now in jeopardy, according to an Aug. 3 Air Force news release.

SBIRS was expected to cost about $2 billion when the system prime contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin Corp. in 1996. The program’s total cost, driven up by funding-related delays and technical difficulties, was estimated at $9.9 billion when the Pentagon submitted its 2006 budget request to Capitol Hill in February. The Air Force told Congress a month later that the cost would go up again by an unspecified amount.

Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Dominguez notified Congress July 28 that the program’s cost was expected to increase by more than 25 percent, triggering a recertification review under a law known as the Nunn-McCurdy provision. The Pentagon will have to certify to Congress that: SBIRS is essential to national security; no lower-cost substitutes exist; the new SBIRS cost estimates are realistic; and the program is structured to avoid further problems.

The Pentagon conducted a similar review on SBIRS in 2002, opting to continue the program with additional oversight from senior military and industry officials.

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WorldSpace Shares Rise on First Day of Public Trading

Struggling satellite-radio provider WorldSpace Inc., riding a wave of investor enthusiasm for satellite-radio in the United States, successfully completed an initial public offering (IPO) of stock on the U.S. Nasdaq market Aug. 4. The stock price rose by nearly 6.5 percent on the first day of trading even after the company increased the number of initial shares and twice boosted the offering price.

Washington-based WorldSpace, which has two satellites in orbit, offered 11.9 million shares of stock — up from the originally planned 8.8 million — at a price of $21 per share. The stock closed Aug. 4 at $22.36, with 12.7 million shares traded, but slipped to close at $20 Aug. 5.

WorldSpace is a founding shareholder in XM Satellite Radio, which along with competitor Sirius Satellite Radio has made subscription-based satellite radio a popular consumer product, with more than 7 million subscribers in the United States. XM, which uses WorldSpace technology for its system, recently agreed to invest in WorldSpace as an entry into the Asian market.

WorldSpace is targeting markets in India, China and Europe to offer a similar service. WorldSpace has spent $1.2 billion developing its services over the past five years, but in 2004 generated less than $9 million in revenue.

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NASA’s Mercury Orbiter Completes Earth Flyby

NASA’s Messenger spacecraft swung by Earth Aug. 2 for a gravity-assisted boost that propelled it deeper into the solar system to study Mercury, the least explored of the terrestrial planets including Venus, Earth and Mars.

Messenger used Earth’s gravity to sling it into a trajectory toward Venus for two scheduled gravity-assist flybys in October 2006 and June 2007. These flybys will propel Messenger toward Mercury, where it will make another three flybys — in January 2008, October 2008 and September 2009 — to help place the spacecraft into orbit around the planet for a yearlong science mission starting in March 2011.

Messenger will provide the first images of the entire planet of Mercury, as well as collect data on the planet’s crust, geological history, atmosphere and its core and polar materials. The spacecraft, which launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Aug. 3, 2004, is operated by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

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Sea-Based X-Band Radar Gets Formal Dedication

U.S. military officials dedicated the Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX) July 26 at a ceremony at Kiewit Offshore Services in Corpus Christi, Texas. The new device will be able to track and assess ballistic missile threats as part of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, Boeing Co. of Chicago announced in a July 26 news release. Boeing is prime contractor on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system and built the SBX.

The SBX consists of an advanced X-band radar mounted on a converted oil-drilling platform about 70 meters wide and 120 meters long. The system will collect and transmit data to elements of the ballistic missile defense system that operate sea- and ground-based interceptors.

The radar will be able to move throughout the Pacific Ocean from its home port in Adak, Alaska, where it will head in several months after sea tests and exercises.

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United Technologies Now Owns Rocketdyne

United Technologies Corp. on Aug. 2 closed on its purchase of Boeing’s Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power unit, which builds the main engines for the space shuttle and other launch vehicles.

The $700 million deal, announced in February, narrows the field of U.S. competitors in the liquid-fuel rocket propulsion business to two: Pratt & Whitney Space Propulsion, a division of Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies; and GenCorp Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif.

Patrick Louden, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney Space Propulsion of West Palm Beach, Fla., said the sale will give the company a comprehensive product line that can better serve customers. He did not comment on how much additional revenue the deal could bring.

“This will make us better able to support the launch industry, and ultimately our customers, including NASA and its vision for space exploration,” Louden said.

Fernando Vivanco, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, said the company sold Rocketdyne to concentrate on other business areas.

“We’ve been focusing more and more on systems integration,” Vivanco said. “Owning the ability to produce propulsion systems is not what I’d call a strategic core competency for Boeing.”

Rocketdyne, based in Canoga Park, Calif., has additional facilities in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, and employs approximately 3,000 workers. Louden said nothing will change for Rocketdyne, at least for now.

“For the foreseeable future we’re telling our employees that everything will stay the same … that right now, everything will be stable,” Louden said.

Rocketdyne does significant business with various Boeing units, and that relationship is expected continue.

“We’ve been a customer before, and now Boeing will become a customer,” Louden said.

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European Venus Probe Bound for Baikonur

Europe’s Venus Express satellite is expected to arrive at the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan the week of Aug. 8 in preparation for a late-October launch aboard a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket, the European Space Agency announced. The spacecraft will spend five months en route to Venus orbit once launched.

The satellite was packed into a container at the Toulouse, France, facility of prime contractor EADS Astrium for its flight to Baikonur, via Moscow, aboard an Antonov 124 cargo jet.

Built in three years, Venus Express features equipment already in use on Europe’s Mars Express satellite, with modifications to account for the operating environment of Venus orbit. The total mission budget, including satellite construction, seven observing instruments and two years of operations in elliptical Venus orbit, is 220 million euros ($266 million).

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Chandra Star Observations Raise Questions About Sun

Scientists using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have determined there is three times as much neon in Sun-like stars as is estimated to be in the Sun, which may indicate that those estimates are off the mark.

It is difficult to take precise measurements of neon because its atoms do not emit signatures in visible light. While Chandra is capable of taking X-ray readings of neon in distant stars, the Sun is too close for such observations, said Jeremy Drake of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. The spacecraft’s sensors have too narrow a field of view to capture the entire Sun and also could be destroyed by the intensity of the Sun’s rays, he said.

Neon, along with carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, is vital to the energy flow from nuclear reactions in the Sun’s core to its edge. Obtaining a more accurate estimate of neon in the Sun would help scientists build new theoretical models of the Sun to better understand its workings.

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Cloud on Saturn Moon Indicates Ice Volcanism

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has discovered a large cloud of water vapor over the south pole of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, indicating ice volcanism on a body that scientists say should be cold and dead.

In its July 14 flyby of Enceladus, Cassini also found warm fractures where evaporating ice likely supplies the water vapor cloud, NASA said in a July 29 press release.

“Enceladus is the smallest body so far found that seems to have active volcanism,” Torrence Johnson, Cassini imaging team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. “Enceladus’ localized water vapor atmosphere is reminiscent of comets. Warm spots in its icy and cracked surface probably are the result of heat from tidal energy like the volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io.”

Cassini’s spectrometer found water vapor comprises about 65 percent of Enceladus’ atmosphere, with molecular hydrogen accounting for about 20 percent and the rest a mix of carbon dioxide, molecular nitrogen and carbon monoxide. Readings indicate the south pole also is warmer than the rest of the moon, especially near the tiger stripe-like fractures that characterize the south pole terrain.

Scientists speculate the moon is geologically active enough to replenish the water vapor at a slow continuous rate, as it does not instantly escape into space.

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Iridium Subscriber Rolls Increased In Past Year

Mobile satellite communications provider Iridium Satellite LLC of Bethesda, Md., has seen a 20 percent increase in subscribers since mid-2004, with 127,000 subscribers as of June 30, the company announced Aug. 1 in its mid-year report.

The new total also represents an 11 percent increase in subscriptions since December 2004, when the company had about 114,000 customers.

Iridum’s revenue for the first half of 2005 increased about 27 percent over total revenue for the same period last year. Iridium spokeswoman Liz DeCastro would not provide exact figures.

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Organizers Ratchet up Student Rocket Contest

The Team America Rocketry Challenge has decided to make next year’s rocket contest for middle and high school students a lot more difficult, requiring competitors to shoot their rockets to altitudes as close to 240 meters as possible in flights lasting about 45 seconds.

The event, cosponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Association of Rocketry, still will require the rockets to carry a raw egg as a payload that must be returned to the ground unbroken.

The AIA estimates about 10,000 students participated in this year’s contest, with a team from Dakota County, Minn., taking the top prize. Next year’s event is scheduled to take place May 20 at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va.

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Boeing Connexion Service Wins Intel Certification

Connexion by Boeing is the first provider of high-speed Internet services to commercial airline passengers to get the seal of approval from chip maker Intel Corp., Connexion announced Aug. 1.

The Wireless Verification Program tests Intel’s Centrino mobile technology with various access point devices and providers to figure out whether the two are compatible. If the hotspots are found to work with laptops built with the Centrino technology, Intel awards certification.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel has recognized 103 companies through its Wireless Verification Program for Internet services in hotel rooms, lobbies and other areas. Seattle-based Connexion is the first to get the nod for airline service, Connexion spokesman Terrance Scott said. The Intel verification program’s purpose is to minimize service problems such as downtime and poor site coverage.

Scott said the Intel certification will award instant recognition for Connexion.

“In the mind of the consumer, they know Boeing already as an aircraft manufacturer, and this partnership really puts an additional stamp of approval on the services customers want and need,” Scott said.

Connexion has been delivering high-speed Internet services to airborne customers for 14 months now, Scott said. The venture has 600 agreements with corporations to provide wireless services through either a flat rate or a per-minute fee structure.

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