News of December 2000

Dates are those of the events (in UT) when available.
 
Commercial Launchers | Government Launchers | Small Launchers
Missile Systems | RLVs and Reentry Systems | Space Propulsion
Spaceports | Industry | Launch Market

 Commercial Launchers

December 25
Sea Launch's Odyssey launch platform is due to set off from the company's Homeport in Long Beach, California, on December 26. It will be followed on December 28 by the Sea Launch Commander mission control ship. The two ships are due meet on station by 154 degrees West on the Equator in order to conduct the first Zenit 3SL launch of the year, tetantatively set on January 9. The payload will be a 4,682-kg Boeing 702 satellite, XM Roll, designed to provide digital audio radio channels over the United States.
December 25
The Prime ministers of France and the Russian Federation have signed a series of aerospace-related documents including some agreements about the marketing of Soyuz launchers by the Starsem venture and the involvement of French industry in the upgrade of the Soyuz vehicle.
Editor's note: Starsem is currently involved in the development of the Soyuz/ST vehicle with a digital avionics and an Ariane 4-type payload fairing.
 



Ariane 5
(Arianespace)
December 21
According to French daily newspapers Libération and La Tribune, for the first time since its incorporation in 1980, Arianespace might report losses in 2000. These losses, estimated by unconfirmed sources at about FF1 billion (US$135 million), would be partly due to the company's major investments in production and launch processing facilities in Europe and French Guiana as well as to the high cost of the first production batch of Ariane 5 launchers. Production cost of future Ariane 5s will be reduced by 30% and later 50% compared to this first batch of 14 launchers, which was ordered in June 1995.
Arianespace does not confirm these reports but acknowledges that its results for 2000 will be below expectations.
Editor's note: The first batch of production Ariane 5 launchers (P1: L503 to L516) will be depleted in early 2002. The second batch of launchers (P2: L517 to L536) will be composed mostly of upgraded Ariane 5s with a production cost reduced by 30/35% and a payload capability to geostationary transfer orbit increased from the current 6.3 t to 7.5 and 10.5 t, depending on the version. A third production batch (P3) is planned to be introduced in 2005.
 
 
December 20
The first Proton M/Breeze M launch vehicle has been removed from its launch pad in Baykonur and rolled back to the processing facility after the completion of a 5-day campaign of ground equipment compatibility checks. A few anomalies were reported regarding "the programing system, instruments and other equipment." A second series of ground tsets is planned in January before the rocket is eventually deployed for its maiden flight, tentatively slated on February 2.
December 18
Starsem has signed a launch contract with Eumetsat, the European Meteorological Satellite organisation, to loft the Metop 1 and 2 meteorological satellites to Sun-synchronous orbit. The launches are due from 2005 on, atop Soyuz/ST vehicles flown from Baykonnur, Kazakhstan. The contract includes an option for the launch of Metop 3.
December 15
GKNPTs Khrunichev has begun ground testing of its newest Proton M/Breeze M launch vehicle in Baykonur. The vehicle has been erected on the launch pad for five days of compatibility tests with the ground equipment. Maiden flight of the modernized Proton vehicle is now due on February 2nd, 2001.
December 14
Belgium's Sabca was awarded a BEF 5-billion (US$111-million) contract by EADS Launch Vehicles to provide boattail and forward structures for the solid rocket booster stages of the second batch of Ariane 5 vehicles. These structures incorporate damping systems for the solid boosters' attachments to the core vehicle.
December 13
Arianespace will announce a new launch date for its upcoming Ariane 44P (V137) mission early next week pending results of an investigation on its payload, the Alcatel Space-built Eurasiasat 1 satellite. The satellite will be removed from the launch vehicle and brought back to the processing facility in Kourou for inspection. Arianespace's next launch will be an Ariane 5G, on December 20, which will take precedence.
December 11
Arianespace has again decided to postpone its upcoming Ariane 4 flight, due in the night from December 11 to 12, upon request from its customer Alcatel Space which will conduct complementary checks on the Eurasiasat 1 satellite. No new launch date has been set yet.
December 7
According to Andhra Pradesh's Deccan Chronicle newspaper, the Indian cabinet has decided to launch two more Insat 3 communications and meteorology satellites on Europe's Ariane vehicles. Two launch contracts, worth US$74 million for Insat 3A and US$70 million for Insat 3E will be signed shortly by Indian Space Research Organisation with Arianespace.
Editor's note: India plans to invest up to US$528 million in the five-satellite Insat 3 system. Insat 3B was launched on an Ariane 5G on March 22, 2000, and Insat 3C is currently manifested on another Ariane launch in 2001. No launch system has been selected yet for Insat 3D.
December 6
Arianespace has decided to postpone its upcoming Ariane 4 flight, due in the night from December 8 to 9, to December 11 at the earliest, in order to conduct complementary checks on the launch vehicle's payload fairing.
December 1st
The U.S. administration plans to let the quota system on Russian commercial space launches to expire on December 31 according to the Wall Street Journal. The decision was expected since the lift on similar quotas with Ukraine in June. On November 30, U.S. officials reportedly prepared the ground by briefing congressional aides on Russian progresses on non-proliferation issues.
Editor's note: The U.S. quotas on commercial launches from Russia, established in 1993 and renewed in 1996, as well as the uncertainty on their fate beyond December 31, 2000, are said to have hampered Lockheed Martin's effort to sell launches on GKNPTs Khrunichev Proton vehicles through their International Launch Services joint venture. Currently there are only three to four commercial launches on Proton planned in 2001.

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 Government Launchers

December 27
Japan's National Space Development Agency issues a new launch schedule for its H-2A rocket. Two test flights are planned in the second half of 2001, each carrying an instrumented Vehicle Evaluation Payload. The first operational flight is still set for early 2002 with the second Advanced Earth Observation Satellite (ADEOS-2).
December 21
NASA has exercised one option on its NASA Launch Services (NLS) contract with Boeing Expendable Launch Services to order a Delta 2/7425 launch between June 27 and July 18, 2003, to loft the second Mars Exploration Rover (MER-2). The first rover will fly the Delta 2/7425 vehicle previously ordered to launch the now-cancelled Mars 2001 Lander. Total cost of MER-2 launch operations will amount to US$68 million.
Editor's note: Boeing's announcement includes a mention of the first launch of Delta 4 in early 2002, i.e. another delay from the previously stated launch date in late 2001.
 



Delta 4H
(Boeing)
December 14
U.S. Air Force's Space & Missile Systems Center eventually awards a US$141-million increase to a its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) development contract with Boeing Expendable Launch Systems in order to pay for the maiden flight of the Delta 4H heavy-lift version of the Delta 4 family of launchers. The test flight is due before June 2003 in order to clear the Delta 4H for the launch of a Defense Support Program (DSP) early warning satellite in late 2003.
Editor's note: This award has been expected since the U.S. Air Force allowed Boeing's contender, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, not to complete the development of its own heavy-lift launcher, the Atlas 5 HLV.
 
 
December 7
The U.S. Department of Defense's comptroller office proposes to postpone the launches of the second, third and fourth satellites of the Space-Based Infrared System High (SBIRS-High) constellation by one year in order to shave short-term expenses. The move would actually result in an increase of the program's overall cost. The first SBIRS-High satellite would remain on schedule for launch in late 2004 or early 2005 on a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5. Two more launches are already manifested, one on an Atlas 5 and the other on a Boeing Delta 4. No vehicle has been selected yet for the last launch.
Editor's note: Lockheed Martin-built SBIRS-High satellites are due to replace the current TRW-built Defense Support Program early warning satellite system.
December 7
EADS CASA Space and Lockheed Martin Space Systems' Astronautics Operations have signed the first production contract for conical and cylindrical interstage adapters for the new Atlas 5 series of launchers.
December 5
Lockheed Martin Space Systems' Astronautics Operations has selected Alliant Techsystems (ATK) to provide composite structures for its Atlas 5 family of vehicles. The structures to be manufactured by ATK include interstage adapters, heatshields and boattails for the Centaur cryogenic upper stage. The first heat shield qualification unit was completed in June 2000 while the interstage adapter and boattail qualification units are scheduled for shipment in December.
 



Titan 4B
(LMA)
December 4
According to Defense Daily, the U.S. Air Force is about to extend its contracts with Lockheed Martin Space Systems' Astronautics Operations to launch its final Titan 4B vehicles beyond 2002, the target date for the costly heavy-lift launcher phase-out. Due to delays in the launches, the Titan 4B will remain in operations far beyond this date. Eight Titan 4Bs are still planned for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and two from Vandenberg AFB. These delays are not expected to affect the introduction of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs), namely Boeing's Delta 4 and Lockheed Martin's Atlas 5, which were designed to replace the Titans among other vintage launch systems.
Editor's note: Since there is only one launch pad left for this class of vehicles at each launch site and at least six months are required between two launches from the same pad, the last Titan 4B will not fly before mid-2004 at the earliest.
 
 
December 4
The December 6 launch date has been confirmed for the Atlas 2AS vehicle due to loft a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. The cause for shifts in thrust levels that had been detected on a Pratt&Whitney RL10A-4 engine - similar to the pair flown on the Atlas' Centaur cryogenuc upper stage - during routine acceptance tests, has been identified as a faulty thrust control component.
December 2nd
The launch of an Atlas 2AS vehicle, carrying a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, has been postponed from December 5 to December 6 (GMT) at the earliest due to concerns regarding the RL10A-4 engines powering the Centaur 2 cryogenic upper stage following a routine firing test of a similar engine at Pratt&Whitney's facilities in West Palm Beach, Florida. Unexpected data were recorded during the test and further analysis are planned before the RL10A-4s are cleared for flight.
Editor's note: A hot firing test was due on a similar engine on December 1st but has not yet been confirmed. This launch has already been postponed from March 20 due to undisclosed problems related to its classifieds payload.

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 Small Launchers

December 29
Ukraine's NPO Yuzhnoye, designer and manufacturer of the Tsyklon series of launch vehicles, announces that the launch failure of a Tsyklon 3 on December 27 was caused by a computer mishap. According to early telemetry analysis, an order to shut down the engines was issued at 367 seconds into flight, preventing the vehicle from reaching orbital velocity. The mission was covered by a US$2.5-million insurance policy provided by the Megaruss insurance group.
December 28
Rosaviakosmos confirms the loss of six communications satellites, three belonging to the Ministry of Defense and the other three to the space agency, in the launch failure of a NPO Yuzhnoye Tsyklon 3 vehicle on December 27. According to unidentified Rosaviakosmos sources, the mishap was caused buy the failure of the vehicle's S-5M upper stage.
 



Vega
(ESA)
December 19
The European Space Agency announces that the developments of the Vega small launcher and of the P80 advanced solid rocket motor have been formally approved by its participating member states on December 15. Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland have decided to proceed with full development of the Vega and may later be joined by Spain. Belgium, France, Italy and the Netherlands have decided to finance the P80 advanced solid propulsion stage demonstrator. The P80 will be used as the first stage of the Vega and will demonstrate technologies, such as large composite booster casings, which could later be applied to future Ariane 5 upgrades. Maiden flight of Vega is now due by late 2005.
Editor's note: The Vega is intended to loft 1,500 kg of payload to Sun-synchronous orbit at 700 km of altitude. Its second stage will be based on FiatAvio's Zefiro motor which has completed three successful static firing tests and is due to perform another two to qualify its final configuration. A Zefiro-derived stage is planned as third stage.
 
 
December 19
The South Korean Ministry of Science & Technology (MOST) announces that a budget of 5.15 trillion won (US$4.26 billion) will be invested in the development of a national launch vehicle with the capability of lofting 1 ton of payload to (presumably Sun-synchronous) orbit by 2010. A further upgrade is planned with a payload capability increased to 1,500 kg by 2015. This new development is a strategical move from a previously reported plan to develop a smaller vehicle able to loft 100 kg of payload to low Earth orbit circa 2005.
Editor's note: Actually, South Korea had already presented such a plan in 1996. The 100-t, 30-m-long vehicle, to be developped by Hyundai Aerospace, was then designated HD-1L. It featured three liquid oxygen/kerosene stages and four solid strap-on boosters.
 



Athena 1
(LMA)
December 6
NASA's Kennedy Space Center confirms earlier information regarding the reassignement of the last Lockheed Martin Athena 1 launch to a new payload package, dubbed "Kodiak Star." The originally planned payload was the Vegetation Canopy Lidar (VCL) spacecraft, currently under review and likely to be cancelled shortly. This will be the first orbital launch from the Alaska Aerospace Development Corp.'s Kodiak Launch Complex in Narrow Cape, Kodiak Island, Alaska. The package will include NASA's 90-kg Starshine 3 student-built passive reflector satellite, U.S. Air Force's PICOsat - built by Great-Britain's Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. -, U.S. Naval Academy's Prototype Communications Satellite (PCSat) and Stanfort University's 19-kg Sapphire. Launch is due on August 31, 2001.
 
 

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 Missile Systems

December 28
TRW System Engineering & Technology is awarded on US$78.3-million modification to an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract with U.S. Air Force's Space & Missile Systems Center for system engineering and technical assistance regarding the Rocket System Launch Program (RSLP) in support to Kirtland AFB's Launch Test Program office through December 2005. An initial US$4.85-million order was issued and the rest of the contract covers further optional deliveries.
Editor's note: The Rocket Systems Launch Program provides orbital and suborbital launch services to U.S. federal agencies using elements from decomissionned Minuteman ballistic missiles.
December 27
General Dynamics Defense Systems is awarded a US$19.6-million contract by U.S. Navy's Strategic Systems Programs to provide five Trident sea-launch ballistic missile weapons system simulators through September 2003. The contract includes options worth an additional US$7.8 million.
December 26
The third Russian Strategic Missile Forces regiment of Topol M intercontinental ballistic missiles is activated in Tatishchevo, in the Sverdlovsk oblast, with 10 operational missiles.
December 22
The U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Office's (BMDO) National Missile Defense Joint Program Office has awarded a contract potentially worth up to US$6 billion to Boeing Space & Communications Group to continue development and testing of the National Missile Defense (NMD) system through September 30, 2007. This contract, which includes options worth an additional US$7 billion, actually exercizes several options under Boeing's initial NMD Lead System Integrator contract and provides a flexible contract structure in order to allow continuing the development and testing phase while deferring the actual deployment decision. It also protects the capability to deploy the NMD as soon as possible while providing financing through already approved funds for FY 2001. Further decisions to fund the program and to eventually deploy the NMD will have to be taken bu the new U.S. administration.
Editor's note: Boeing initial developmenrt contract, awarded in 1998, was due to expire in April 2001.
December 22
The U.S. Department of Defense reports that China conducted another test flight of its new all-solid DF-31 intercontinental ballistic missile on December 16.
December 16
The U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Office (BMDO) reportedly plans to restructure the National Missile Defense (NMD) development program in order to focus on capabilities rather than threats, as well as to broaden the program's testing regime. The move answers widespread concerns that the threats to be contered by the NMD will have significantly evolved by the time the current system enters operational service. The BMDO now plans to incorporate the latest technologies in the NMD through block upgrades. Testing will also be expanded to involve a broader range of threat scenarios.
December 15
Russian Strategic Missile Forces plan to deploy a third regiment of 10 Topol M intercontinental ballistic missiles by December 25/26. The two previous regiments, also with 10 missiles each, were deployed in late 1998 and 1999.
December 14
The United States and Russia have signed an agreement to end inspections of missile assembly plants as planned under the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. Although the INF is of unlimited duration, inspections and monitoring will stop on May 31, 2001.
Editor's note: The INF treaty eliminated all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km, as well as their launch trailers and support equipment.
December 13
The U.S. Department of Defense reveals that China conducted a test flight of its DF-31 all-solid intercontinental ballistic missile on November 4. Another test could be in preparation for the upcoming weeks.
December 6
TRW ICBM Systems was awarded a US$5.7-million increase to a previously signed contract with U.S. Air Force's Ogden Air Logistics Center to provide 3 missile guidance set controls, 2 power distribution units, 4 missile guidance computers, 4 gyro-stabilized platforms and 4 gyrocompass assemblies under the Guidance Replacement Program for the Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles. Deliveries are due before December 2003.
December 5
Northrop Grumman Marine Systems was awarded a US$45,4-million contract by U.S. Navy's Strategic Systems Programs to support backfit production and operational launcher susbsytems for of U.S. Navy and British Royal Navy Trident 2 (D5) sea-launched ballistic missiles through April 2003.

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 RLVs and Reentry Systems

December 29
Rotary Rocket was reportedly able to recover its Roton Atmospheric Test Vehicle (ATV) and other equipment after paying its due US$19,000 to Kern County's treasurer which seized the company's assets at its Mojave facility. This amount covers the unpaid taxes for FY2000. The planned January 10 sale of the company's assets is cancelled.
December 28
Kern County's treasurer eventually seized all equipment and facilities owned by Rotary Rocket in Mojave, including the Roton Atmospheric Test Vehicle (ATV), to recoup US$19,000 in unpaid taxes for FY2000. If the company fails to pay the amount, its seized assets will be sold off on January 10. Most of the sum was paid by Rotary Rocket on December 26, to late to stop the seizure.
December 22
Rotary Rocket, a controversial venture which proposed to develop the Roton commercial manned single-stage-to-orbit launcher has closed its doors and is prepared to auction off its assets lock, stock and barrel. The Kern County treasurer has placed a seizure on all the company''s assets at its Mojave facility, including the Roton Atmospheric Test Vehicle (ATV), after it failed to pay a US$19,000 tax bill in August.
December 20
NASA has decided to postpone to January 2 the rollout of Space Shuttle Atlantis from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the LC-39A launch complex of the Kennedy Space Center in order to replace a suspect ordnance wiring on the shuttle's left-hand solid rocket booster. A new launch date for the STS-98 mission to the International Space Station will be set shortly.
December 18
Launch of NASA's Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station on January 18 will be delayed after an eroded ordnance cable was discovered in the forward skirt of the shuttle's left-hand solid rocket booster (SRB). This new mishap forced to postpone again the shuttle's rollout from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the SLC-39A launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. The repair may need to demate the orbiter and the xetranl tank from the SRBs, which would mean 7 to 10 days of delay for the flight. If the repair can be conducted without demating the shuttle assembly, the delay could be of only 48 hours. Another eroded electrical cable has already been repaired on the same SRB. It was located in the reusable cable and connector assembly of lower separation system. On the STS-98 mission (ISS-5A), Atlantis will carry the 14.5-t U.S. Laboratory module "Destiny" to the station.
Editor's note: In 1999, similar wiring problems reported inside the orbiters forced NASA to delay all the flights of its shuttle fleet. These latter wiring problems are of particular concern because they could indicate an inherent fault in the overall shuttle design.
December 16
Rotary Rocket may lose its facility in Mojave, California, if it fails to pay about US$19,000 of property taxes by year end. The company which shelved its plan to develop the Roton single-stage-to-orbit vehicle in June and is currently restructuring its business has reportedly been late in paying taxes since August.
December 14
Orbital Sciences Corp. (OSC) and Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems Sector (ISS) have decided to join forces to compete for NASA's 2nd Generation Reusable Launch Vehicle program, to be initiated under the 5-year, US$4.5-billion Space Launch Initiative. If the team is selected, OSC would act as prime contractor and Northrop Grumman as its primary industrial partner. The two companies have already teamed for a US$6-million contract in support of NASA's Space Transportation Architecture Studies (STAS) and the follow-on risk reduction activities. The SLI is planned to start with a 10-month RLV architecture study contract with optional extensions through 2005, when NASA shall take a decision on a full-scale development.
December 11
NASA has delayed the rollout of Space Shutttle Atlantis from Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building to LC-39A launch complex in order to check a booster separation system that had a malfunction during the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour on the STS-97 mission on December 1st. A faulty connector prevented an explosive bolt connecting the left Solid Rocket Booster to the External Tank from receiving its detonation signal. A backup system fired simultaneously, enabling the separation. Had the backup system failed, the shuttle and its crew might have been lost, according to NASA. The rollout, due on December 11, could be performed on December 13 without causing any delay in the launch campaign. Atlantis is scheduled to lift off on mission STS-98 to the International Space Station on January 18.
December 8
NASA's ill-fated X-33 single-stage-to-orbit technology demonstrator might be hit by another unexpected delay as SR Technics, the heavy aircraft maintenance arm of SAirGroup (formerly Swissair), wants to recover the Air Force Plant 42 Site 9 hangar in Palmdale, California, where the vehicle is being assembled. SR Technics leased the 95,000- sq.m facility to Lockheed Martin for a reported US$225,000 yearly fee but the lease will up at the end of December. According to local press reports, SR Technics recently asked for an increase of the rent in order to force Lockheed Martin out or to pay for additional a modification of the hangar structure in order to separate the X-33 assembly area from the large aircraft maintenace area, as required to comply with U.S. safety standards. Moving the X-33 assembly line to another location would cause at least 7-month delay in the program according to engineers. However, since the vehicle's maiden flight has already been postponed to 2003, the schedule will remain unaffected according to Lockheed Martin officials.
December 7
Boeing Reusable Space Systems plans to lay off about 400 out of its 900 workers at the Palmdale Air Force Plant 42 facility in January and Februray. The layoffs are reportedly linked to the completion of the refurbishment of NASA's Space Shuttle Columbia which will be shipped back to the Kennedy Space Center on February 23. Boeing plans to rehire new workers about six months before another NASA shuttle is sent to Palmdale for upgrade. The shuttle will be Discovery but no firm date has been set yet for its next so-called Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (OMDP).
Editor's note: Two shuttle orbiters have been recently upgraded with new avionics, Atlantis in 1998 and Columbia in 2000. Discovery and Endeavour were also planned to receive their new avionics, including improved computer displays in the cockpit, before the end of 2002. However, as the assembly of the International Space Station has slipped by two years, these upgrades are likely to be postponed unless the shuttle launch rate decreases after the ISS becomes operational.

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 Space Propulsion

December 14
Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control was awarded a US$2.2-million contract by the U.S. Navy to demonstrate a solid fuel ramjet missile under a 18-month program also including advanced carbon-carbon materials evaluation for hypersonic weapons.

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 Spaceports

December 13
China has signed an agreement with Namibia to build a tracking, telemetry and space research station (TTST) in Namibia to support China's manned space program. The station will be completed by mid-2001 in order to enter operations by the end of the year.
Editor's note: China currently uses a fleet of tracking ships to keep in contact with its Shenzhou spacecraft while in orbit.

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 Industry

December 18
Italy's Finmeccanica group has suspended talks with Astrium regarding the possible merger of its Alenia Aerospazio unit with the European consortium. Finmeccanica is reportdely worried that with sales equivalent to 25% of that of Astrium, Alenia Aerospazio would play only a very limited role in the venture which, due to the recent consolidation of the aerospace inddustry, is now 75% owned by EADS and 25% by BAe. The Italian industrial group, still 38% state-owned, might instead consider a partnership with Astrium's rival Alcatel Space or with a U.S. company.
Editor's note: Alenia Aerospazio is involved in satellite manufacturing as well as communication and remote sensing payloads. It is also Europe's center of excellence regrading pressurized modules. As such, it plays a prominent role in the development of ESA's Columbus laboratory module and Automated Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned cargo ship to resupply the International Space Station, as well as the Node 2 and 3 modules and the Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLMs) built for NASA on behalf of the Italian Space Agency.
December 18
Snecma and Groupe SNPE have confirmed their rumored plan to merge their solid rocket propulsion activities into a 50-50 owned joint-venture. This new venture, to be incorporated in 2001, would take over the two partners' activities in solid propulsion and solid propellants, pyromechanisms and related advanced composite materials for booster casing and nozzles.
December 13
Japan's two main satellite manufacturers, NEC and Toshiba, plan to join forces with the incorporation of a new join-venture in April 2001 to develop commercial satellites for the worldwide telecommunications market. The US$63-million venture will be held 60% by NEC and 40% by Toshiba.
December 13
According to French daily trade newspaper Les Echos, Snecma and Groupe SNPE are studying the merger of their solid rocket propulsion activities into a joint-venture, tentatively dubbed "Herakles." The new venture would incorporate the existing G2P consortium (75% Snecma and 25% Groupe SNPE), currently in charge of French ballistic missiles' propulsion and take over Groupe SNPE's 50% share in Celerg a joint-venture with EADS for ramjet and tactical missile production. According to both Snecma and Groupe SNPE, Herakles is still in the study phase and it is too early to comment the project which was unveiled by trade unions opposing such a consolidation.
Editor's note: Both Snecma and Groupe SNPE are 100% state-owned and the inception of "Herakles" will have to be approved by the French government.
December 2nd
According to Russian trade newspaper Kommersant Daily, GKNPTs Khrunichev is about to lay-off 25% of its workers on January 1st due to the decline in the number of commercial Proton launches scheduled in 2001.
December 1st
The French minister of Finances, Laurent Fabius, announces that he would support any project to consolidate the European industry of aerospace propulsion around Snecma. The French government is ready to sell part of its 97% stake in Snecma in order to foster a partnership with other major European aerospace motorists such as Italy's FiatAvio and Sweden's Volvo Aero, which are both strongly involved in space propulsion, as well as Germany's MTU or Great-Britain's Rolls-Royce (no activity in space).

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 Launch Market

December 31
Shanghai Aerospace Administration officials report that work has been initiated on China's Feng Yun 3 next-generation Sun-synchronous meteorology satellites. The 2,200-kg satellite series, with an operational; lifetime of more than 2 years, is due to be introduced in 2005 to replace the current Feng Yun 1s. Meanwhile, Feng Yun 1D is scheduled for launch by a CZ-4B in 2001 and the geostationary Feng Yun 2C is planned for launch in 2003, presumably atop a CZ-3A.
December 31
Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po newspaper confirms the rumor regarding the launch of the second Shenzhou man-rated spacecraft in early January, atop a CZ-2F launch vehicle. According to Go Taikonauts, the newspaper had already announced the launch of Shenzhou 1 in November 1999 about one week before it eventually occured.
December 29
According to Go Taikonauts, four satellite manufacturers from France (presumably Alcatel Space), Russia, China and India are in competition to provide Iran's Telecommunications Corp. Zohreh ("Venus") domestic communication satellite, due for launch in 2002.
Editor's note: Procurement of one or two Zohreh satellites has been announced and postponed almost every year since 1987. The initial project was actually drafted by the Shah's regime in the 1970s. A US$500-million budget was quoted for a single satellite procurement in 1999.
December 27
Due to the delays in the replenishment of U.S. Air Force's Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation, as the current operational Navstar satellites are performing flawlessly and often exceed their nominal lifetime, Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space, prime contractor for the Block 2R batch, was awarded a US$25.1-million adjustment to a previously signed contract with U.S. Air Force's Space & Missile Systems Center for launch operations support, on-orbit operations, and ground storage of completed Navstar satellite through December 2001.
December 22
NASA's Office of Space Science is soliciting proposals to develop a mission to Pluto under a budget limited to US$500 million including launch. Proposals are due by March 19, 2001, with the selection of a winning concept in August 2001. Currently, no launch date is set for the mission but the main objective is a flyby of the Pluto-Charon, system before 2015.
Editor's note: On September 12, NASA asked the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to stop all works on the proposed Pluto-Kuiper Express mission due to cost overruns. The mission cancellation was criticized by the scientific community since any adelay would prevent the flyby of Pluto before its atmosphere freezes over as the planet is getting farther from the Sun on its 248-year orbit.
December 21
The European Union, through its council of Transport ministers, has decided to postpone the kick-off decision regarding the funding and development of the Galileo European Global Navigation Satellite System although the ESA council had decided one day earlier to fund its own share. The program will be discussed again in April. ESA and the EU were supposed to fund each half of a 1.1 billion euro budget for the 2001-2005 period.
Editor's note: Germany and Italy, followed by Great-Britain and The Netherlands, were reluctant to endorse the program, mainly supported by France, amid concerns regarding possible cost overruns.
December 21
The European Space Agency's council approves the decision to contract with Arianespace for the launch of its 3,100-kg Artemis (Advanced Technology & Research Mission) spacecaft. The launch is due in the second quarter of 2001 atop an Ariane 5G vehicle. The 80-million-euro contract will be paid by operators using the satellite's experimental capacity.
Editor's note: Artemis was initially planned for launch in 1995, on the maiden flight of Ariane 5. Due to numerous development delays, it slipped to the second qualification flight and then, in September 1996, to the maiden flight of Japan's H-2A, in exchange for utilisation time of its payload by Japan's National Space Development Agency. Due to delays in the development of the new launcher and a decision to fly an instrumented payload on its maiden flight, Artemis was removed from the H-2A in September 2000. ESA issued a RfP in October to select a launch service for Artemis. In May 2000, ESA had refused a proposal by Alenia Aerospazio, prime contractor of the satellite, to fly it almost for free atop the third Boeing Delta 3 vehicle which eventually in August 2000 flew with a dummy satellite.
December 19
The U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issues two licenses for the marketing of 50-cm resolution space imagery. The two licensees are Space Imaging Corp. and EarthWatch Inc., both of Longmont, Colorado. Space Imaging plans to launch its own high-resolution satellite before 2004 while EarthWatch is considering the possibility to modify its QuickBird 2 satellite, tentatively due for launch by mid-2001, in order to improve its resolution from 1 meter to 50 cm.
December 19
Eutelsat's board of signatories, has approved the procurement of the first spacecraft in a new series of satellites, dubbed e-Bird, dedicated to broadband communications and optimized for IP access networks with satellite return link capabilities. Positioned at 25.5 degrees East, e-Bird 1 will feature 20 transponders, including 16 with a 36-MHz bandwidth for the forward links and 4 with a 108-MHz for the return link. The board also gave its green light for the release of a RfP regarding the procurement of two more Hot Bird direct broadcasting satellites, Hot Bird 8 and 9, totalling nearly 100 transponders in Ku and Ka bands to replace existing capacity reaching end of life.
December 13
China announces that it plans to launch men into space "before 2005." A second unmanned test flight of the Shenzhou man-rated spacecraft is expected shortly. In addition China has 30 unmanned launches on schedule for the upcoming five years.
December 13
Satmex (Satelites de Mexico SA de CV), part of the Loral Global Alliance, plans to invest US$600 million to order and launch two new satellites, SatMex 6 and 7. Space Systems/Loral is expected to build both spacecraft while a launch provider for Satmex 6 should be selected before the end of the year. talks are reportedly underway with Arianespace, International Launch Services and Sea Launch. Satmex 6 is due for launch in early 2003.
Editor's note: Space Systems/Loral already has firm launch contracts for unassigned payloads with Arianespace (one launch), ILS (two launches on Atlas 3), and Sea Launch (two launches), as well as Boeing (five launches on Delta 3) and Rocket System (ten launches on H-2A). The US$300-million Satmex 6 will be mostly paid by the US$250-million insurance claim after Solidaridad 1's failure in orbit in August.
December 12
Iridium Satellite LLC takes control of the Iridium constellation. The new venture, which did not inherit its predecessor's debt, plans to launch five additional spare satellites atop a Boeing Delta 2 vehicle in June 2001 and another pair, atop a "Russian launcher", presumably a Eurockot Rokot KM, circa March 2002. Iridium Satellite plans to evaluate the need for a second generation Iridium system circa 2003/2004.
Editor's note: Delta and Rokot launches had been booked by Iridium LLC long before it went to bankruptcy. Other launches had also been scheduled on China Great Wall Industry Corp.'s CZ-2-3 launchers. However, as the original Iridium venture collapsed, the deals were considered void. It is still unclear whether these are new launch contracts or a resurrection of the previous ones. In both case, it is likely that almost no payment was provided by the original Iridium venture and that these launches will have to be almost 100% funded by Iridium Satellite LLC. Boeing is Iridium Satellite's contractor to operate and maintain the constellation.
December 12
MirCorp has cancelled its plans to send paying astronauts to the Mir space station, which is planned to be deorbited in late February 2001, and proposes to fly them to the International Space Station instead. According to the Wall Street Journal, MirCorp plans to finance the construction of a US$100-million man-tended module by RKK Energiya. The module would be docked with the ISS in late 2002 or early 2003, and two provide two Soyuz and two Progress flights.
December 11
Intelsat's board has approved a plan to deploy a new generation of high-power multibeam satellites dedicated to broadband communications for multimedia applications and mostly Internet access A sollicitation to the satellite industry will be issued shortly with the prospect of a contract award by mid-2001 for launches in 2004. This new series of satellites will be deployed at first over Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Europe and later expanded to other parts of the world. Intelsat plans to invest more than US$1.5 billion in this new system.
December 5
The U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency has awarded a 3-month letter contract to Iridium Satellite LLC for unlimited access to mobile communications for up to 20,000 users with a base monthly fee of US$3 million. The final contract could last about 24 months for US$72 million with options to extend it through December 2007 with a total value of up to US$252 million. To award this contract, DISA had to refer to the "National Security exception" of the Competition in Contracting Act.
Editor's note: Iridium Satellite LLC is in the process of taking over the ill-fated US$5-billion Iridium constellation for a reported US$25 million amount after it received clearnce from a Bankruptcy Court on November 22. Iridium Satellite has hired Boeing to operate the system.
December 4
According to the Financial Times, Eutelsat's board will shortly decide whether to invest about 1 million euros to procure five broadband communication satellites.
December 3
Boeing Satellite Systems confirms the previously announced contract awarded by Luxembourg-based Société Européenne des Satellites for the in-orbit delivery of the Astra 3A direct broadcasting satellite. A Boeing 376HP with 20 active Ku-band transponders, Astra 3A is due for launch in 2002 on a yet-to-be-selected launch vehicle.
 


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