News of March 2001

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 | Miscellaneous

 Commercial Launchers

March 29 – Boeing Contracts for Ariane 5 Launch
Boeing Satellite Systems has contracted with Arianespace for the launch of the Astra 3A satellite atop an Ariane 5 vehicle in early 2002. The satellite, based on the vintage Boeing 376HP spin-stabilized bus, will be delivered in orbit on behalf of Luxembourg-based Société Européenne des Satellites. It will carry 20 Ku-band transponders for multimedia services and be located positioned at 23.5 degrees East.
March 29 – Alenia/Boeing Deal on Delta 2
Alenia Spazio and Boeing Expendable Launch Systems have signed a memorandum of agreement regarding production and use of Boeing’s Delta 2 launch vehicle. Boeing will order propellant tanks for the Delta 2’s upper stage to Alenia Spazio while Alenia will be able to purchase Delta launch services at very competitive prices to loft its customers’ satellites.
Editor’s note: A 1.13% shareholder in Arianespace, Alenia is not involved in the FiatAvio-led Vega small launcher program. As prime contractor, its current main satellite activities with no firm launch assignment include science and communication satellites for the Italian government, the proposed EuroSkyWay geostationary broadband communication system and the Cosmo-SkyMed remote sensing constellation of small satellites developed in cooperation by ASI and CNES, the Italian and French space agencies.

Zenit 3SL
(Sea Launch)
March 28
Boeing Assigns Payloads to Previously Contracted Sea Launch Flights
Boeing Satellite Systems has named payloads for three Zenit 3SL launches previously contracted (presumably in June 1999) with Sea Launch. The three spacecraft will be based on the high-power, high-capacity Boeing 702 bus. They are New Skies Satellites NV‘s NSS-8, to be lofted during the third quarter of 2003, and two Spaceway broadband communication satellites, the first one due for launch in late 2002. The 5,700-kg NSS-8, featuring 46 C-band and 42 Ku-band transponders, will be delivered in geostationary orbit at 105 degrees West under a US$500-million contract announced the same day between Boeing Satellite Systems and New Skies Satellites. The two Spaceway Ka-band satellites, each weighing about 6,000 kg, together with a ground-spare, were procured in 2000 by Hughes Network Systems for an estimated US$1.4 billion.
Editor’s note: Hughes Space & Communications (now Boeing Satellite Systems), contracted for ten launches with Sea Launch in December 1995, three more in October 1996 and an additional four in June 1999. Among these seventeen launches, five have been performed successfully (Demosat, DirecTV-1R, PAS-9, Thuraya 1A and XM-Rock), one was a launch failure (ICO-F1), two have been rescinded in 1998 (initially planned for ICO satellites), four are assigned (XM-Roll, NSS-8 and the two Spaceways) and five are still remaining with no firm payload assignment. Sea Launch’s backlog stands unchanged at 15 launches, seven of which have no assigned payload. Sea Launch plans to increase the Zenit 3SL’s acpacity to geostationary transfer orbit from 5,250 kg to 5,750 kg by the second quarter of 2002, and up to 6,000 kg (its structural limitation) by late 2002.

Delta 4M+ (5,4)
March 27 – First Commercial Customer for Delta 4
Boeing Delta Launch Services Inc. has signed its first commercial launch contract for its new Delta 4 series of launch vehicles with Indonesia’s PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN). PSN plans to launch its MultiMedia Asia (M2A) advanced communication spacecraft atop a Delta 4M+ (5,4) vehicle in mid-2003. M2A will be built by Space Systems/Loral based on its LS-1300 bus.
Editor’s note: Boeing’s Delta 4M+ (5,4), which features a 5-m wide payload fairing and four Alliant TechSystems GEM-60 strap-on boosters, has already been selected in December 1999 to loft four clusters of eight satellites each for the initial deployment of SkyBridge‘s 80-satellite constellation. Although a risk-partnership agreement was signed, it does not seem to have translated into any firm contract yet with Alcatel Space which is in charge of delivering the constellation in orbit. SkyBridge’s recent shift to the use of rented capacity onboard geostationary satellites has apparently put the low-Earth orbit constellation project in limbo.

Atlas 3A
March 27 – Boeing-built UFO on Atlas 3
Boeing Satellite Systems has contracted with International Launch Services for the launch of U.S. Navy‘s 11th UHF Follow-On (UFO-11) military communications satellite atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas 3 booster (presumably an Atlas 3A) in 2003. Boeing will deliver the satellite in orbit under a US$200-million contract.
Editor’s note: In support to the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force‘s Space & Missile Systems Center proposed in February to contract for one Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 or Boeing Delta 4 launch under its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) procurement to loft UFO-11. A US$75-million formal order to both launch providers was drafted but not issued.

March 23 – Intelsat APR-3 Launch Contract Signed
Astrium has officially signed the launch contract for Intelsat‘s Intelsat APR-3 satellite with China Great Wall Industry Corporation. The 3,440-kg satellite, a Eurostar 2000+ initially built as Intelsat KTV, will be lofted by a Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B "Long March") vehicle in the second quarter of 2002.
March 21 – China/U.S. Talks on Commercial Launches
The U.S. embassy in China reports that the first China/U.S. meeting on commercial satellite launches since 1997 was recently conducted in Beijing. U.S. and Chinese delegates reportedly discussed the world market outlook, China’s new space projects and the current commercial satellite launch agreement, which expires at the end of this year. No actual result from the talks was reported.
March 19 – ILS Will Launch ICO-F2 in June
International Launch Services announces that it will launch ICO Global Communications‘ ICO-F2 satellite on a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in early June.
Editor’s note: ILS reports that this launch will be the first of eight planned on its Atlas and Proton launch vehicles. However, contracts for only six launches have been officially announced in the past: four in 1995 (one Atlas 2AS and three Proton Ks), then two more in 1998 (one Atlas 2AS and one Proton K). The additional two launches may have been taken into account as ICO-Teledesic launch contracts signed in 2000 for which ILS declined to provide any information citing customer request for discretion.
March 15 – More Details on Aurora/Korvet
RKK Energiya‘s website provides additional data on the Aurora vehicle under study in partnership with TsSKB-Progress. The vehicle would feature a core stage powered by a NK-33 engine and five strap-on boosters, each powered by a 14D22 engine. The Aurora would be able to loft 11,860 kg of payload to low Earth orbit (200 km, 11.3 degrees inclination), and up to 4,350 kg to geostationary transfer orbit. The Korvet upper stage would be powered by a modified 11D58 engine (11D58MF) adapted to burn oxygen and naphtil.
Editor’s note: The Aurora is proposed for launches to be conducted from a new commercial launch site to be built under private funding in Australia’s Christmas Island, Indian Ocean.
March 13 – ATK to Build Adapters and Skirts for Ariane 5
EADS CASA Espacio has awarded two contracts to Alliant TechSystemsATK Aerospace Composite Structures Co. to provide composite structures for the Ariane 5 series of launchers. Under a US$1-million, 9-month contract, ATK will build a composite payload adapter. Another contract, signed in 1999 and initially worth US$4 million, have been extended by US$800,000 to cover the production of additional composite interstage skirts.
March 12 – Eutelsat Will Launch e-Bird on Ariane
Eutelsat has signed a contract with Arianespace for the launch of its e-Bird broadband communication satellite. Built by Boeing Satellite Systems and carrying 20 Ku-band transponders, e-Bird will ride atop an Ariane 5 vehicle during the second quarter of 2002. Arianespace’s backlog now includes 46 payloads (37 satellites and 9 Automated Transfer Vehicles) to loft to orbit.
March 7 – Sea Launch’s Fleet Moves to Launch Site
Sea Launch‘s Odyssey launch platform and Sea Launch Commander assembly & control ship have left the company’s homeport in Long Beach, California, and are cruising toward the equatorial launch area, at 154 degrees West. The Odyssey carries a new Zenit 3SL vehicle mated with XM Satellite Radio‘s XM-Rock satellite due to lift off on March 18.
Editor’s note: The Zenit launcher and the XM satellite are similar to those of the previous mission which had to be aborted 11 seconds before liftoff on January 8 after the payload reported anomalous sensor readings. The Zenit vehicle of this aborted launch had to be brought back to the Homeport where it has been mated with a new RD-171 engine. A second launch attempt, again with the XM-Roll satellite, is now due in early May.
March 1st – Ariane 5’s ESC-A Shipped to IABG for Testing
The dynamic model of Ariane 5‘s future ESC-A cryogenic upper stage has been shipped by Astrium from its Bremen plant to IABG facilities in Ottobrunn, near Munich, where it will undergo a series of dynamic and vibration tests. To move the 15-ton, 5.5-m diameter stage, Astrium hired an Airbus A-300/600ST "Beluga" high-capacity cargo aircraft.

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 Government Launchers

March 30 – GSLV to Try Again in May
The Indian Space Research Organisation may perform a second launch attempt of its new Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) "sometime in May," according to the Indian Minister for Science & Technology, Murli Manohar Joshi. Two to three weeks will reportedly be needed to refurbish the launcher after its aborted launch attempt on March 28.
Editor’s note: Indian newspapers report that one of the GSLV’s Vikas engine actually caught fire but this has not been confirmed yet by any official statement and may have only resulted from the on-pad abort procedure. Similar scorches were reported after the on-pad abort of Ariane 1 in December 1979 and required the launcher to be re-painted before its second launch attempt.
March 28 – Atlas 5 Prepared to Back-up Delta 4
International Launch Services and Lockheed Martin Astronautics are reportedly preparing plans and analyses in order to be ready to launch a U.S. Air Force Defense Satellite Communication System (DSCS-3-B6) satellite atop an Atlas 5 vehicle in May 2002 if Boeing‘s Delta 4, which is the primary launcher for the mission, cannot meet the schedule. Under the requirements of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), both vehicle should be ready to back-up each other if requested.
Editor’s note: The maiden flight for the Atlas 5 has already slipped to May 2002 while Boeing still claims to be able to launch its first Delta 4 in early 2002. A recent rumor stated that the U.S. Air Force was ready to move its satellite from the Delta to the Atlas considering that Boeing will not be able to meet its schedule for a demonstration flight. Both Boeing and the U.S. Air Force denied this rumor.

March 28 – GSLV Launch Abort
Indian Space Research Organisation‘s first Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) suffered a launch abort on its first launch attempt from Sriharikota Range, Andhra Pradesh, at 10:17 UT. Shortly after ignition, the Vikas engine on one the vehicle’s four liquid strap-on boosters lost thrust, triggering a launch abort one second before the ignition of the solid-fueled core stage. ISRO officials first claimed that a second launch attempt could be conducted before the closing of the 4-hour launch window. Eventually, the launch was postponed indefinitely in order to assess the cause of the mishap.
Editor’s note: The four L40 strap-on boosters are ignited 4.6 seconds before liftoff in order to reach their nominal thrust level before the core stage is ignited. A similar launch abort occurred on the maiden flight of Europe’s Ariane 1 on December 15, 1979. The Vikas engine is actually a derivative from the Viking engine which powers the first stage of the Ariane 1 to Ariane 4 launchers family. On Ariane 1, the launch abort translated into a 8-day postponement. In this case however, the delay may exceed one month according to foreign analysts. The GSLV development reportedly cost US$300 million.
March 17 – First Delta 4 CBC Stage Hot Firing
Boeing successfully conducted the first hot firing test of its RS-68-powered Common Booster Core stage, the building block of its new Delta 4 family of launchers, at NASA‘s Stennis Space Center. The initial test lasted 15 sec. and allowed to test the fully integrated stage. More firing tests are due with burning time extending to 330 sec. equivalent to the stage’s in flight operational burn time. According to Boeing, the test also validated several fixes on the Boeing Rocketdyne RS-68 engine following turbopump troubles identified in late 2000. More than 1,000 sec. of burn time have been logged on the modified engine design.
Watch the test firing movie (Quicktime, 7 Mb).
March 15 – First Atlas 5 Nearly Complete
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Astronautics Operations reports that its first Atlas 5 vehicle, dubbed AV-001, is nearing completion in its Denver, Colorado, facilities. The tankage of the vehicle’s new Common Core Booster was delivered on February 19 and mated two days later with its RD-180 engine. The AV-001 will be shipped to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by late April. There it will undergo pre-launch processing prior to its launch from the re-built SLC-41 pad in "early 2002."
Editor’s note: Lockheed Martin still claims it plans to launch the AV-001 with a paying customer’s satellite.
March 15 – Linux Supercomputer to Design Delta 4
Boeing has acquired a 96-processor Linux-based supercomputer which will be used to design the Delta 4H heavy-lift launcher.
March 13 – U.S. Air Force Keeps Faith in Delta 4
U.S. Air Force‘s Space & Missile Systems Center has denied a report by the Wall Street Journal about the possible transfer of the launch of its DSCS-3-B6 military communication satellite in May 2002 from Boeing‘s Delta 4M to a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 vehicle. U.S. Air Force officials said that recent testing of the RS-68 engine, due to power the Delta 4’s core booster stage, "has been positive" and that "all certified launch campaigns timelines are being aggressively managed." However, U.S. Air Force confirms that Boeing and Lockheed Martin has been asked to back each other up in case either was judged unable to perform a given launch within the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The RS-68 engine, which suffered development snags in November, has logged nearly 800 seconds of burn time in the past week, with its redesigned fuel turbopump.

Delta 4 and Atlas 5
March 12 – Boeing May Loose Early EELV Launch
The U.S. Air Force may decide to move an early Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) mission from Boeing‘s Delta 4 to Lockheed Martin‘s Atlas 5 as Boeing faces technical problems in the development of its new workhorse, according to the Wall Street Journal. In May 2002, a Delta 4M vehicle is scheduled to loft the DSCS-3-B6 military communications satellite to geostationary orbit, but the maiden flight of the Delta 4 has slipped from January 2001 to the first quarter of 2002. The Lockheed Martin team "is closer to meeting [U.S.] Air Force certification" than Boeing, said Gen. Eugene Tattini, head of U.S. Air Force’s Space & Missile Systems Center which handles the EELV procurement. Boeing is reportedly behind schedule and still experiencing development glitches with its brand new RS-68 cryogenic main engine while Lockheed Martin has logged 24,000 seconds of burn time with its RD-180 engine which is already flying on the Atlas 3 series of launchers.
Editor’s note: Boeing was considered as the big winner for the EELV procurement with 19 out of 28 launches awarded to its Delta 4 series (later extended to 22). However, Boeing still lacks the commercial base for its new series of the vehicles as uncertainties surround the future of its main final customers SkyBridge LLC and ICOTeledesic. The development cost of the Delta 4 has exceeded US$2 billion according to the WSJ.

March 7 – Next EELV Batch to Support Launch Industry
The next batch of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) to be procured by U.S. Air Force will be shared between Boeing‘s Delta 4 and Lockheed Martin‘s Atlas 5 series in order to ensure that both production lines are kept in operation according to Col. Bob Saxer, system program director for EELV at U.S. Air Force’s Space & Missile Systems Center.
Editor’s note: The first batch of EELVs was ordered in October 1998 and now includes 22 Delta 4s and 7 Atlas 5s, it is thus expected that the next procurement will favor Lockheed Martin in order to keep a balance between the two contractors. Boeing plans to fly its first Delta 4 in the first quarter of 2002 while maiden flight of Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 5 is now scheduled in May 2002.
March 6 – Proton M Payload Under Test
The Ekran M18 satellite, due to fly atop GKNPTs Khrunichev‘s first Proton M/Breeze M vehicle, is undergoing pre-launch testing in Baykonur, Kazakhstan. The launch was recently planned for March 16 but has been postponed to early April.
March 5 – Early Warning Satellite on Shuttle
Aviation Week & Space Technology reports that the U.S. Department of Defense is considering the possibility to launch a 2,350-kg Defense Support Program TRW-built early warning spacecraft onboard space shuttle Columbia in case of additional delay in the availability of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) while the Lockheed Martin Titan 4B booster would no longer be available.
Editor’s note: DSP-21 is due for launch atop a Titan 402B on June 28, 2001. DSP-22 is also slated for launch atop a Titan 402B, apparently not earlier than 2003. DSP-23, the last spacecraft in the series, is currently scheduled to fly atop the second Boeing Delta 4H vehicle in late 2003, provided that the vehicle’s maiden flight, in early 2003, is successful. Lockheed Martin has also proposed to launch the spacecraft on a commercial Atlas 5/551 vehicle if the Delta 4H is not ready in time. Launching DSP-23 on a space shuttle would require the procurement of an additional Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) from Boeing although the product line has reportedly been closed. Launching DSP-22 would require to adapt an existing IUS stage built as a Titan 4B upper stage to its use on the space shuttle.
March 2 – GSLV Maiden Flight in March
The Indian Space Research Organisation plans to conduct the first demonstration flight of its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) circa the third week of March. According to ISRO, the cost of a GSLV launch will be around US$35-40 million.

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 Small Launchers

March 29 – Pegasus XL to Loft C/NOFS Satellite
Spectrum Astro has selected Orbital Sciences Corp.‘s Pegasus XL airborne launch vehicle to loft the US$50.9-million Communication/Navigation Outage Forecasting System (C/NOFS) satellite that it is manufacturing on behalf of the U.S. Air Force Space Test Program. The spacecraft is planned for launch into a low inclination orbit (about 12 degrees) in 2003 to monitor ionospheric interference in space-based communications and navigation signals broadcasting. The launch site for the mission has not been selected yet.
March 29 – Argentinean Microsatellite on Brazil’s VLS
The National University of the Comahue, in Patagonia, AmSat Argentina and the Argentinean Association for Space Technology are developing the 40-kg PehuenSat science and education microsatellite which is planned to fly atop Brazil’s third VLS-1 launch vehicle (V03). The launch is tentatively due in late 2001 from Alcântara Launch Center (CLA).
Editor’s note: Following the failures of the first two VLS-1 launch attempts in November 1997 and December 1999, which caused the loss of two science payloads developed by INPE, the Brazilian space research institute, the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) has decided to fly only an instrumented payload on the third vehicle. VLS-1 is developed by the Institute of Aeronautics & Space (IAE) of the Aerospace Technical Center (CTA).
March 26 – QuickBird 2 Launch Contract Signed
Boeing confirms the signing of the contract with EarthWatch Inc. for the launch of its QuickBird 2 high-resolution remote sensing satellite onboard a Delta 2/7320 from Vandenberg AFB, California, in October.

Delta 2/7320
March 22 – QuickBird 2 on Delta 2
EarthWatch Inc. eventually selected Boeing‘s Delta 2/7320 vehicle to loft its QuickBird 2 high-resolution commercial remote sensing satellite from Vandenberg AFB, California, in October 2001. The Ball Aerospace-built satellite will be able to collect imagery with a 0.6-m resolution. EarthWatch reportedly chose the Delta 2 vehicle because of its proven reliability.
Editor’s note: Numerous sources from Russia recently announced that EarthWatch was about to sign with Eurockot Launch Services GmbH, to launch its QuickBird 2 satellite atop a Rokot KM vehicle from Plesetsk, Northern Russia, in August 2001. EarthWatch had already contracted with United Start to launch its satellite atop an AKO Polyot Kosmos 3M vehicle but it changed its mind after loosing its QuickBird 1 on November 20, 2000, in the launch failure of a similar Kosmos 3M booster. EarthWatch had already lost its previous EarlyBird 1 satellite in December 1997, shortly after launch on a Start 1 vehicle.

March 20 – South Korea’s Kompsat 2 on CZ-2C
South Korea’s Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) has selected China Great Wall Industry Corp.‘s CZ-2C for the launch of its second Korea Multipurpose Satellite (Kompsat 2, a.k.a. "Arirang 2") in April 2004. The US$16.85-million launch will reportedly be conducted from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The 228.2-billion won (US$176-million) Kompsat 2 is a remote sensing satellite to be built by Astrium and Electro-Optics Industries (El-Op) on behalf of the Korea Aerospace Industries Association and Daewoo Heavy Industries & Machinery.
Editor’s note: The CZ-2C was reportedly chosen among four bids. The three loosing bidders have not been identified by KARI.

Athena 2

Athena 1
March 19 – NASA Gives Athena 2 a Second Chance
NASA‘s Kennedy Space Center has added Lockheed Martin‘s Athena 2 launch vehicle to the range of vehicles it could procure under the NASA Launch Services (NLS) indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract signed with Boeing Delta Launch Services and Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services in June 2000.
Editor’s note: The NLS procurement, potentially worth up to a total of US$5 billion, calls for fixed-price delivery of launch services onboard a series of specific launch vehicles for up to 70 missions. In addition to the Athena 2, these are Boeing’s Delta 2, Delta 3 and Delta 4 as well as Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 2, Atlas 3 and Atlas 5. Four launches have already been awarded to the Delta 2. The Athena series of launchers was initially designed as the Lockheed Launch Vehicle (LLV) in 1991 and aimed at the short-notice replacement launches for the low-Earth orbit constellations and small military satellites markets. The family never fully recovered from the dramatic failure of its maiden launch in August 1995 and failed to provide a strong competition to Orbital SciencesPegasus and Taurus series. The Athena 2 (then LLV-2) had already missed its main market when NASA selected a Boeing/OSC team for its "Med-Lite" procurement in early 1995. Following Lockheed Martin’s decision not to compete for NASA’s 2nd Small Expendable Launch Vehicle Systems (SELVS-2) procurement in 1998 and the loss of Space Imaging‘s Ikonos 1 satellite in the launch failure of an Athena 2 vehicle in April 1999, the Athena family was given as "almost dead" with only a final Athena 1 launch due in August. In all, three Athena 1s and three Athena 2s have been launched to date, with one failure each.

Rokot KM
March 16 – Eurockot’s First Commercial Launch in August
GKNPTs Khrunichev officials have announced that Eurockot Launch Services GmbH, Khrunichev’s joint-venture with Astrium GmbH, will conduct the first commercial launch of its Rokot KM booster in August, from Plesetsk. The customer for this flight is suspected to be EarthWatch Inc., for the launch of its QuickBird 2 satellite.
Editor’s note: Eurockot’s launch manifest still lists the launch of two NASA/DLR Gravity Recovery & Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft in November as its next mission. Commercial negotiation with EarthWatch has been reported on numerous occasions. EarthWatch has lost its two previous satellites: EarlyBird 1 in December 1997, shortly after launch on a Start 1 vehicle, and QuickBird 1 on November 20, 2000, in the launch failure of a Kosmos 3M booster. Both launches had been contracted with Puskoviye Uslugi.
Update: QuickBird 2 launch contract was eventually signed with Boeing on March 22.

March 14 – Dnepr to Launch Unisat 2
Italy’s "La Sapienza" University, of Rome, has signed a contract with Russian-Ukrainian MKK Kosmotras for the launch of its second 10-kg Unisat microsatellite. Unisat 2 is due to fly as part of a multiple payload onboard a Dnepr 1 vehicle in November to 650-km-high orbit, inclined 65 degrees to the Equator. This flight will also carry a multiple payload carrier provided by One Stop Satellite Solutions and several other microsatellites for which contracts are still being negotiated.
March 10 – Pakistani Launch Vehicle
Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) is about to build the country’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV), according to Dawn, a local English language newspaper.

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 Missile Systems

March 29 – ATK/Thiokol to Provide Trident Propulsion
The ATK/Thiokol Propulsion Consolidated Joint Venture has been awarded two contracts totaling US$80 million by Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ Missiles & Space Operations, to provide solid rocket motors for all three stages of U.S. Navy‘s Trident 2 (D5) sea-launched ballistic missiles. An initial US$60-million contract covers continued production of Trident 2 motors through September 2004 while the second contract, worth US$17 million, calls for the re-qualification of production materials used in the propulsion systems. ATK Aerospace Propulsion is responsible for propellant casting and motor finishing, while Thiokol Propulsion manufactures the missile’s nozzles and igniters, as well as first-stage and second-stage insulators.
March 28 – Aerojet Tests GBI’s Attitude Control
GenCorp Aerojet reports that it has successfully completed a hot firing test of the attitude control system pack developed for the first stage of the U.S. National Missile DefenseGround-Based Interceptor (GBI) on March 8. The GBI is under development by Boeing to boost Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKVs) due to intercept incoming ballistic warheads. Under two successive contracts totaling US$54.1 million, Aerojet will develop and build 17 ACS shipsets (with two thruster packs each) over the next three years to support Boeing’s integrated flight test schedule for the NMD program.
Editor’s note: The GBI is based on an Alliant TechSystems GEM-40 (Graphite Epoxy Motor) solid rocket motor as first stage, with two Pratt&Whitney Orbus motors as second and third stages. Its maiden flight is currently expected in April or May.
March 23 – Lockheed Martin to Support British SLBMs
Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ Missiles & Space Operations was awarded a US$12.4-million contract by U.S. Navy‘s Strategic Systems Program to provide technical support to British Royal Navy‘s fleet of Trident 2 (D5) sea-launched ballistic missiles during FY2002.
March 12 – South Korea to Join MTCR
South Korea has applied in January to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an informal non-treaty based export control regime with the aim of limiting the spread of missiles and missile technology, and is waiting for approval at a MTCR meeting in Paris, on March 26.
Editor’s note: South Korea’s entry in the MTCR is the consequence of the recent withdrawal, in early January, of a moratorium issued in 1979 under U.S. pressure that prevented the country to develop missile systems with a range exceeding 300 km. As a member of the MTCR, South Korea will have access to international missile-related technology also applicable to its proposed national satellite launch system.
Read related column.
March 9 – Russia Still Opposes U.S. Missile Defense
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov denies any change in Russia’s opposition to U.S. anti-ballistic missile programs after the National Missile Defense (NMD) and Theater Missile Defense (TMD) were both re-christened U.S. Missile Defense. "Russia has no interest in playing ‘words game’," Ivanov said, "NMD and TMD will be inconsistent with the ABM treaty reached between Russia and the U.S. in 1972 and will bring about the collapse of the whole strategic stability system in the world."
March 8 – Just Call it "Missile Defense"
The U.S. Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, announces that the U.S. administration has decided to no longer differentiate between National Missile Defense (NMD) and Theater Missile Defense (TMD) programs. There will be only a "Missile Defense" effort.
Editor’s note: The NMD is aimed at intercepting a small number of intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting the United States while the TMD is designed to protect deployed U.S. military forces from short and medium-range ballistic missiles. This denomination change is obviously targeted at U.S. allies, mostly NATO members, who might have felt that the NMD would provide a shield over the United States while leaving the European allies uncovered and vulnerable to ballistic missile attacks from the so-called "rogue states," and to shorter range missile attacks as long as they don’t have U.S. military forces deployed on their territory. It is also a rather simplistic counter-attack against Russia’s own proposal for a joint missile defense system for Europe and Russia that would comply with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.
March 5 – NMD Testing Too Simple Says Expert
In-flight testing of the proposed U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) system is too simplistic to justify decisions to initiate operational deployment according to the U.S. Department of Defense‘s Testing and Evaluation Office. In its yearly report to the U.S. Congress, the office underlined that "the test content does not yet address important operational questions" such as decoy discrimination. According to the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the current testing is representative of "an unsophisticated threat” as expected from North Korea or Iran.
March 5 – Agni 2 Ready for Production
India’s Agni 2 intermediate-range ballistic missile is ready for "mass production" according to Indian Minister of Defense George Fernandes. The Agni 2 completed its second test flight on January 17. It can be launched from mobile platforms with a 2,500-km range.
Editor’s note: According to military experts, although India is still trying to develop a nuclear-capable sea-launched missile, the Agni 2 is the final platform in India’s doctrine of "minimum credible nuclear deterrent."

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 RLVs and Reentry Systems

March 28 – NASA Opens Competition on Advanced Concepts
NASA‘s Marshall Space Flight Center has decided to open a competition before issuing a contract for the study of various advanced space transportation systems concepts regarding a Horizontal Take-Off and Landing (HTHL) Rocket-Based Combined Cycle (RBCC) Single Stage-to-Orbit (SSTO) Vehicle and a Two-Stage-to-Orbit (TSTO) Vehicle System using Turbine-Based Combined Cycle (TBCC) Propulsion Technology. The studies, worth US$20,000 to US$25,000 each, were previously planned to be procured uncompetitively from Space Works Engineering of Alphareta, Georgia, and McKinney Associates Inc., of Town & Country, Missouri, respectively.
March 14 – X-40A Drop Test Successful
The first free flight of Boeing‘s X-40A test vehicle on behalf of NASA‘s Marshall Space Flight Center was successfully conducted. The X-40A was released 4,575 m above Edwards AFB, California, and conducted an autonomous landing after a 74-sec. glide to validate technologies for NASA’s future X-37 technology demonstrator. Up to six more drop tests are planned, the next one is due in early April.
Watch the X-40A’s approach and landing movie (Quicktime, 4 Mb).

March 13 – NASA Plans X-40A Drop Tests
NASA‘s Marshall Space Flight Center plans to conduct the first of up to seven drop tests of the Boeing X-40A test vehicle shortly. A 85% scale model of NASA’s X-37 technology demonstrator, U.S. Air Force‘s X-40A will be released by a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter at an altitude of 5,000 m above Dryden Flight Research Center and perform a 75-sec. glide before landing. This free flight is intended to demonstrate the use of Computed Air Data Systems (CADS) as flight control system for the X-37, to evaluate in-flight performance of the Honeywell SIGI Space Integrated Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation System and test guidance, navigation and control software during an autonomous runway landing. The 1,200-kg X-40A has already performed six captive-carry flights to validate its guidance, navigation and control systems, air-data and telemetry.
Editor’s note: If it can survive its current evaluation, the X-37 is planned to fly two orbital missions onboard the space shuttle from 2003 on.

March 12 – Boeing to Study TSTO
NASA‘s Glenn Research Center has awarded a US$297,289 contract to Boeing‘s McDonnell Douglas division to study a Two-Stage-to-Orbit vehicle concept.
March 9 – China’s First Manned Space Flight in Late 2002
China is planning to launch its first manned space mission in the second half of 2002. According to Dai Zhing Liang, a senior official of Chinese General Company of Aeronautics Industry quoted by Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, three unmanned test flights of the Shenzhou vehicle are scheduled before this manned launch.
March 8 – OSC’s Head Blames X-34 Cost Overruns on NASA
According to J.R. Thompson, president of Orbital Sciences Corp., the cost of the X-34 hypersonic flight demonstrator, cancelled on March 2, was mainly due to NASA‘s changes in requirements late in the development process. Thompson complains that numerous redundant systems and review process were added in the wake of the loss of two NASA probes to Mars, in late 1999. These changes came some three years after the program’s inception. OSC’s contract to develop the X-34 was worth US$97 million. Actually, US$77 million had been paid before the program was terminated. OSC has invested US$40 million of in-house funds in the project and US$16.5 million to modify its "Stargazer" carrier aircraft, a L-1011 TriStar, in order to accommodate the X-34 vehicle. According to NASA, the overall cost of the X-34 program amounted to US$205 million. Two test vehicles have been built and a third one was being assembled when the program was stopped. Thomson says that OSC will try to find another buyer for its demonstrators.
March 7 – Palmdale Area Asks for Additional Shuttle Work
Following the cancellation of the X-33 single-stage-to-orbit technology demonstrator, two local legislators of the Palmdale area, in California, are pushing for more shuttle-related activities at U.S. Air Force’s Plant 42. Phil Wyman, an assemblyman of Tehachapi, has sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush, asking for the building of three more space shuttle orbiters by Boeing Reusable Space Systems. George Runner, an assemblyman of Lancaster, proposes to turn the plant into a regular landing site for the space shuttle fleet. A US$21-million investment would be needed to complete the necessary landing support infrastructure.
Editor’s note: The cancellation of the X-33 program will force Lockheed Martin to move or lay off its 174 employees (110 according to some sources) working on the program in Palmdale while Boeing has reduced its staff from 900 to 500 workers after the completion of Space Shuttle Columbia‘s refurbishment in February. The Palmdale area was also proposing to build up a commercial spaceport for future reusable launch vehicles, such as the VentureStar, which might have been developed after the X-33 test flights. The cost to build a new space shuttle orbiter is estimated at US$3 billion.
March 6 – Eight Firms Negotiating SLI Studies
NASA has reportedly selected seven aerospace companies to negotiate study contracts under the US$900-million first phase of the Space Launch Initiative (SLI) program. The selected bidders are Andrew Space & Technology, Boeing, Kistler Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Orbital Sciences Corp. and Universal Space Lines. In addition, Futron Corp. was selected to perform a comprehensive market research and analysis study. Unsuccessful bidders include Kelly Space & Technology (teaming with Vought Aircraft Industries), Pioneer Rocketplane and Space Access. A formal announcement is expected in April.
March 6 – NASA to Study Advanced Space Transportation Concepts
NASA‘s Marshall Space Flight Center plans to issue several RfQs for the development of various advanced space transportation systems. Space Works Engineering of Alphareta, Georgia, will study a Horizontal Take-Off and Landing (HTHL) Rocket-Based Combined Cycle (RBCC) Single Stage-to-Orbit (SSTO) Vehicle Concept while McKinney Associates Inc., of Town & Country, Missouri, will study a Two-Stage-to-Orbit (TSTO) Vehicle System using Turbine-Based Combined Cycle (TBCC) Propulsion Technology. These conceptual design studies, apparently conducted outside the new Space Launch Initiative (SLI) program, are not intended to lead to any actual development.
March 6 – X-38 Proceeds While CRV Likely to be Scrapped
Despite the announced cancellation of the future operational Crew Rescue Vehicle, work will continue on its demonstrator/prototype, the X-38, according to NASA‘s deputy associate administrator for space flight development, Mike Hawes. The X-38 (Vehicle 201), will be released in orbit from Space Shuttle Columbia‘s payload bay in 2002 to perform an unmanned reentry and automated parafoil landing.

Atlantis and Columbia
March 5 – Atlantis and Columbia Land in Florida
After a series of delays related to weather conditions over California and Florida, NASA‘s two Boeing 747 shuttle carrier aircraft, each carrying a space shuttle orbiter on its back, eventually landed in the Cape Canaveral area. The SCA carrying orbiter vehicle Atlantis landed on Kennedy Space Center‘s landing strip. Due to the lack of parking space for a second SCA, the aircraft carrying orbiter vehicle Columbia had to land at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This was the first time that two of NASA’s orbiter vehicles were being ferried simultaneously from California to Florida. Columbia’s and Atlantis’ SCAs respectively took off from Palmdale and Edwards AFB, on March 1st. Due to bad weather conditions over Florida, the two ferry flights were stopped halfway, in Dyess AFB, Texas, for Columbia, and Altus AFB, Oklahoma, for Atlantis. To monitor weather conditions, two U.S. Air Force aircraft, a KC-135 and a C-141, flew some 150 km ahead of the SCAs while forecasters from the 45th Weather Squadron were added to the NASA ferry flight crews.
Editor’s note: Columbia has spent 17 months in California to undergo a major refurbishment effort. Atlantis landed in Edwards on February 20, at the end of the STS-98 flight, after bad weather conditions prevented it from landing directly in Cape Canaveral.

March 2
X-37 and X-40 to Compete for SLI Funding
Following the cancellation of the Lockheed Martin X-33 and Orbital Sciences X-34 demonstrators, two other NASA test-vehicles, the Boeing X-37 space maneuvering vehicle and its smaller lookalike the Boeing X-40A will also have to earn their funding through the new Space Launch Initiative. Their fate will be decided in April as a series of contracts will be awarded for the US$900-million first phase of the SLI. "We’re only going forward with the X-37 and X-40 if they make sense under the SLI program. They have to be validated" said NASA’s associate administrator for aerospace development Sam Venneri.

X-33 (Lockheed Martin)


March 1st
NASA Terminates X-33 and X-34
NASA announces that no Space Launch Initiative funds will be awarded to the X-33 single-stage-to-orbit technology demonstrator and X-34 hypersonic flight demonstrator programs. This actually means that the current X-33 program will end on March 31, when the cooperative agreement between NASA and Lockheed Martin expires. According to NASA, Lockheed Martin can go forward with the X-33 on its own funds but such a move is considered highly unlikely. NASA’s X-34 contract with Orbital Sciences Corp. will be terminated on March 2. According to NASA’s release "the benefits to be derived from flight testing these X-vehicles did not warrant the magnitude of government investment required and SLI funds should be applied to higher priority needs." NASA has selected several companies to negotiate SLI study contracts under a US$900-million budget covering the first 2.5 years of the program.
Editor’s note: NASA has spent its whole US$912-million budget in the X-33 program. Lockheed Martin exceeded its initial US$212-million commitment in the project and eventually spent US$357 million. NASA spent US$205 million on the X-34.

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 Space Propulsion

March 30 – Thiokol Studies Solid Motor Nozzles for Aircraft
Thiokol Propulsion was awarded a US$5.3-million contract by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory for R&D in the area of solid propellant rocket motor nozzles in support of commercial and military aircraft.
March 19 – Airbreathing Rocket Engine Demonstrator
The Advanced Space Transportation Program Office at NASA‘s Marshall Space Flight Center plans to award a study contract Rocket-Based Combined-Cycle Consortium (RBC3) consortium, composed of Boeing Rocketdyne, GenCorp Aerojet and Pratt&Whitney, for the Integrated System Test of an Airbreathing Rocket (ISTAR) Engine Demonstrator. This flight-weight, rocket-based combined-cycle (RBCC) engine system ground demonstrator would be test-fired at the Stennis Space Center in 2006 to demonstrate RBCC engine system operation for the air-augmented rocket, ramjet, and scramjet modes.
Editor’s note: The ISTAR is one of several airbreathing engine testbeds currently planned by NASA to pave the way for a full-scale development of an operational engine circa 2015. NASA’s investment in these research efforts total about US$25 million.
March 13 – Astrium Gets Contract for Vulcain 2 Chambers
Snecma Moteurs has awarded a ¤56.2-million contract to Astrium GmbH to provide 20 combustion chambers for the new Vulcain 2 engine, as well as 20 shipsets of cryogenic valves. The Vulcain 2, with 30% more thrust than the current Vulcain, will power Arianespace‘s new Ariane 5E series of launchers which will replace the current Ariane 5G from 2002 on.
Editor’s note: Astrium has reportedly invested ¤17.9 million of in-house funds to improve its facilities on its Ottobrunn plant, near Munich, where it produces propulsion systems.
March 6 – XRS-2200 Testing Stopped
NASA has cancelled the eight remaining firing tests of the dual Boeing Rocketdyne XRS-2200 aerospike engines planned at its Stennis Space Center facilities following the cancellation of the X-33 single-stage-to-orbit technology demonstrator program. However, the two engines will remain mounted on their test bench until further notice. Only one test of the two-engine composite was conducted.
Editor’s note: As the most promising of X-33’s technologies, aerospike propulsion development is likely to continue on behalf of the Space Launch Initiative effort.
March 6 – New RS-68 Turbopump Tested
Boeing Rocketdyne has successfully test-fired a RS-68 engine with a modified fuel turbopump. The redesigned turbopump incorporates fixes for all the development glitches recorded during the early test phase in 2000. Boeing still claims that the engine will be ready to power the first Delta 4 vehicle in early 2002.
Editor’s note: The RS-68 suffered a major test failure in early November 2000.
March 5 – Aerojet Studies J-1U Engine
GenCorp Aerojet announces that it was awarded a six-month contract extension, worth US$480,000, by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) to support configuration trade studies of the first stage engine for Japan’s J-1U launch vehicle. The Japanese medium-lift launcher will be based on a Lockheed Martin Atlas stage tankage with a modified NK-33 engine for propulsion. Aerojet’s initial study contract is now worth US$2.9 million. After its completion in mid-2001, it should be followed by a US$31-million, 14-month full development contract. Through 2010, Aerojet expects to earn US$163 million with the engine operational production.

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March 12 – Russia Approves Work on Christmas Launch Site
Russian Prime Minister Mikhayil Kasyanov has approved the participation of Russian space industry in the development of a commercial satellite launch center in Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. A Russian consortium including RKK Energiya, TsSKB-Progress and KB Obschego Mashinostroeniya (KBOM) will reportedly provide Aurora launchers, a derivative of TsSKB-Progress’ Soyuz vehicle with a Korvet upper stage designed by RKK Energiya. KBOM will design and build the launch facilities. Under a technology safeguard agreement, all launch systems will be operated by Russian technicians to prevent unwanted technology transfers. No Russian government fund will be invested in the project.
Editor’s note: This announcement comes shortly after the Asia Pacific Space Centre, which backs the US$390-million project, announced that it may invest in Brazil’s Alcântara Launch Center (CLA) instead. Under existing agreements, no Soyuz-derived vehicle could be marketed without involving Starsem.

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March 27 – Lockheed Martin Astronautics Cuts 600 Jobs
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Astronautics Operations plans to reduce its workforce in the Denver area, Colorado, by 12% to about 5,000. Most of the 600 planned cuts, which were decided in February as part of a US$2.8-billion cost reduction plan, will come from attrition according to Lockheed Martin officials. Since 1998, Lockheed Martin’s space earnings have reportedly dropped by 60%.
Editor’s note: Martin Marietta employed up to 12,000 workers in the area in 1988, the workforce had dropped to 5,800 in 1994. After the merger with Lockheed, the number increased again to 7,500 in 1997 and has been decreasing since then. The Denver plants produce the Titan and Atlas series of launchers. The Titan line is currently closing and the assets will be converted for the production of the new Atlas 5 booster.
March 19 – Arch Chemicals Supports Various Launch Systems
Arch Chemicals Inc. has been awarded a US$102.2-million, 3-year contract by U.S. Air Force‘s Warner-Robbins Air Logistics Center for support of a range of U.S. Air Force and NASA systems including the Titan and Delta launch vehicles, the MX Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles and the Space Shuttle, as well as the F-16 aircraft. Arch Chemicals will provide 254,000 kg of anhydrous hydrazine propellant, 62,106 kg of monopropellant hydrazine, 16,989 kg of propellant hydrazine water, 273,000 kg of UDMH, and 463,000 kg of MMH through March 2004.
March 14 – Lockheed Martin Demonstrates Vacuum Curing
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Missiles & Space Operations‘ Advanced Technology Center has demonstrated a new technology for ‘out-of-the-autoclave’ curing of large composite structures with its low-cost, vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) process. For its demonstration, Lockheed Martin manufactured a one-quarter section of the Trident 2 (D5) sea-launched ballistic missile’s equipment section. This complex structure, with multiple major graphite/epoxy composite parts and forged metal fittings, accounts for more than 50% of the structural cost of the missile.
March 5 – Russian-Belgian Space Cooperation Agreement
The Russian government has approved a draft agreement with Belgium on the peaceful use of space that would facilitate future cooperations. Among the topics covered by the draft document are "research and technology work, the work related to the launch of automatic and pilot- controlled space systems, designing of booster rockets and other space systems, and launching cooperation."

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 Launch Market

March 28 – SES Confirms GE Americom Purchase
Société Européenne des Satellites (SES Global), the Luxembourg-based operator of the Astra direct broadcasting satellites, confirms its rumored plan to acquire GE Americom, the world’s 4th largest satellite operator, for about US$5 billion, of which US$2,683 million will be paid in cash and the remainder in SES Global stocks. The resulting operator will operate the world’s largest geostationary satellite fleet with 28 operational satellites.
Editor’s note: SES and GE Americom currently operate 11 and 17 satellites in orbit respectively and have 3 and 6 more on order. SES holds four launch contracts: two with Arianespace and two with International Launch Services for two Proton launches. GE Americom holds five launch contracts: one with Arianespace and four with ILS (three Protons and one Atlas). SES already owns 50% of Sweden’s Nordiska Satelit AB, 34% of Asiasat in China and 20% of Star One (formerly Embratel‘s satellite division) in Brazil.
March 27 – NASA Chooses GLAST Contractors
NASA‘s Goddard Space Flight Center has awarded two US$600,000 six-month contracts to Lockheed Martin and TRW to develop an optimal design for the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) observatory due for launch in 2006.
March 22 – ICO-Teledesic Teams with CCI Too
One week after it signed a teaming agreement with Ellipso Inc., ICO-Teledesic Global Ltd. signed a similar deal with CCI International NV, another venture devoted to the development of a low-Earth orbit communication satellite constellation, to collaborate on technical, financial, business and regulatory issues to build a "spectrum-efficient satellite communications system." As with Ellipso, this agreement could lead to a merger of the two ventures.
Editor’s note: CCI International was incorporated in 1998 to take over the development of a 12-satellite system in equatorial orbit initially developed by Constellation Communications Inc. to provide mobile telephony services to the equatorial and tropical regions. Bell Atlantic Global Wireless, Raytheon E-Systems and SpaceVest were identified as the major partners in the project. CCI also owns an operating license issued by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to operate an additional 42 satellites on seven inclined orbital planes. In August 1998, CCI had selected Orbital Sciences Corp. to develop, build and launch its satellites under a US$450-million contract. Initial deployment was due in 2001. With this latest agreement, the ICO-Teledesic holding is involved with four constellation systems (New ICO, Teledesic, Ellipso and Constellation) with complementary orbits and operating licenses.
March 21 – China’s DoubleStar in 2002/2003
The China National Space Administration plans to launch its two 270-kg Doublestar solar science and space environment monitoring satellites in late 2002 and mid-2003. One of the satellite will be launched to a low-inclination orbit and the other to a polar orbit order to provide multidimensional data on the Earth’s magnetosphere. Launches are due atop an unspecified Chang Zheng ("Long March") booster. The European Space Agency may join the mission, providing science instruments from its previous Cluster 2 mission.
March 19 – OSC to Build PanAmSat’s Next Galaxy
Orbital Sciences Corp. was awarded a US$160-million contract by PanAmSat Corp. to provide one Galaxy geostationary communication satellite with options for two more satellites. The satellite, carrying 24 C-band transponders, will be based on OSC’s Star bus (formerly Novastar or Geostar) and launched in late 2002 or early 2003 to an orbital slot at 74 degrees West currently occupied by Galaxy 6. The optional satellites, also carrying 24 C-band transponders each, are planned to replace the existing Galaxy 5 and Galaxy 1R2 satellites at the end of their useful lifetime due in 2005 and 2006 respectively. A launch service for the new Galaxy satellite will be procured later by PanAmSat.

RoCSat 3
March 16 – OSC to Build Taiwan’s RoCSat 3 Constellation
Orbital Sciences Corp. was awarded a US$56-million contract by Taiwan’s National Space Program Office (NSPO) to develop the RoCSat 3 Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC). The 6-microsatellite remote sensing constellation is scheduled for launch in early 2005. The microsatellites will be based on OSC’s flight-proven MicroStar bus.
Editor’s note: Although no information is given on the planned launch system due to loft the constellation, the selection of the MicroStar bus design suggests a launch on either OSC’s Pegasus or Taurus vehicles. The MicroStar was flown as Orbcomm‘s 35 Orbcomm satellites, Teledesic‘s T1 and Orbimage‘s Orbview 1.

March 15 – Télésat Proposes Two Broadband Satellites
Télésat Canada has proposed to the Canadian federal government to launch two co-located high power broadband communication satellites at 118.7 degrees West before 2003 and 2005. One satellite would provide additional capacity for telecommunications and broadcasting while the other would provide advanced multimedia services. Télésat claims that these two satellites would help to achieve the government’s goal of making Canada the world’s most connected nation.
March 15 – … So Does Bird Satellite
Bird Satellite Communications Inc., a new Canadian satellite company recently incorporated by former Canadian Satellite Communications Inc. (Cancom) executives and National Bank Capital Partners Inc., plans to invest about C$1 billion (US$650 million) to launch two broadband communication satellites to end Télésat Canada‘s current de facto monopoly on satellite communications over Canada. Canada’s federal government is expected to issue a decision on Bird’s proposal within 3 months. If its plans are approved, Bird plans to launch its first satellite in December 2003 and the second one in May 2005.
Editor’s note: Loral Space & Communications is quoted as a minority partner in Bird Satellite. Thus Space Systems/Loral might be the planned prime contractor for the two satellites.
March 14 – Ellipso Teams with ICO-Teledesic
Ellipso Inc. has signed a teaming agreement with ICO-Teledesic Global Ltd. to jointly develop a ‘successful mobile satellite system‘ for telephony and data transmissions. Launch of the proposed system is due circa 2003. The agreement could lead to a merger of the two ventures.
Editor’s note: Ellipso (formerly Mobile Communications Holdings, Inc.) had planned to launch two constellations of satellites into medium Earth orbits, the 7-satellite Concordia and the 10-satellite Borealis, to provide mobile satellite telephony worldwide. Ellipso’s main partners include Boeing, which was selected in May 1998 to build the Ellipso satellites (based on the same satellite bus as U.S. Air Force‘s Navstar Block 2F satellites) , Harris Corp. and L-3 Communications. An agreement was also signed in June 1999 with Arianespace for the possible launch of four-satellite clusters on four Ariane 5 vehicles. ICO-Teledesic still plans to deploy a 12-satellite constellation of Boeing-built satellites, also in medium Earth orbits.
March 12 – A Bill to Ease U.S. Satellite Export Rules
U.S. representative Howard L. Berman is drafting a bill which, if voted, would give back commercial satellite export licensing responsibility to the U.S. Department of Commerce while keeping the U.S. State and Defense Departments in charge of reviewing satellite exports to China. No firm date has been set to issue the bill.
Editor’s note: Commercial satellite export licensing was transferred from the Department of Commerce to the State Department in April 1999. Since then, no U.S.-built geostationary satellites could be exported to China for a launch atop a Chinese vehicle. Tight licensing regulation also has dramatically hampered U.S. satellite manufacturers export capabilities. In 2000, for the first time, European satellite manufacturers won more than 50% of the international RfPs for commercial satellites.
March 9 – Orbcomm Sold to Advanced Communications
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Delaware has approved the sale of Orbcomm Global LP to Advanced Communications Technologies Inc., an Australian voice and data network services provider. The US$14.25-million transaction, which combines cash and equity, should be completed on March 16.
Editor’s note: Total cost of developing and building the Orbcomm system so far has been estimated to US$800 million, with 35 satellites in orbit. At least another US$50 million are reportedly needed to break even. Other bidders for Orbcomm included Echostar Communications Corp. and Final Analysis Inc.
March 5 – Enterprise Module Baseline design Completed
RKK Energiya and Spacehab Inc. have completed the baseline design for their Enterprise commercial space station module and its endorsement by Rosaviakosmos. Work has begun on detailed design and long-lead-time materials and components procurement. The 12-ton Enterprise module is planned for launch atop a Proton vehicle in 2003. Under an agreement signed on February 16 by Rosaviakosmos, Energiya and Spacehab, Enterprise will be part of the Russian segment of the International Space Station and will earn its docking rights by providing functions previously planned for a Russian Docking and Stowage Module (SSM).
Editor’s note: Enterprise launch was initially planned on a Zenit 2 vehicle.
March 5 – SES Likely to Take Over GE Americom
Société Européenne des Satellites (SES), the Luxembourg-based operator of the Astra direct broadcasting satellites, is close to acquiring GE Americom, the world’s 4th largest satellite operator, according to the Wall Street Journal. The resulting operator would be a world leader with an operating fleet of 26 satellites. The transaction, estimated worth US$4.5-5.5 billion, would presumably combine stocks and cash, with GE Capital keeping a "significant minority stake" (presumably about 25%) in the merged company. A formal announcement could be expected by late March.
March 3 – Pluto Mission Concepts Still Welcome
With support from the U.S. Congress, NASA will continue to accept mission proposals for its Pluto-Kuiper Express probe although the new U.S. administration‘s removed all of the mission’s funding from its proposed FY2002 budget. An announcement of opportunity for the mission was released in January, requiring missions to reach Pluto by 2015 and cost no more than US$500 million.
March 2 – SBIRS-Low to Exceed Budget and Schedule
According to the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), U.S. Air Force‘s Spaced-Based Infrared System low-Earth orbit segment (SBIRS-low) satellite program will likely exceed its budget and schedule. In a report, the GAO criticizes U.S. Air Force’s plan to procure the 24-satellite system (plus 6 spares) before in-orbit validation of its technologies and design. According to the GAO "the current SBIRS-low acquisition schedule is at a high risk of not delivering the system on time or at cost or with expected performance."
Editor’s note: The SBIRS-low constellation is intended to detect missile launches and track the missiles in flight to support the U.S. National Missile Defense program.
Download the GAO Report (PDF, 628 kb).

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March 5 – China Unveils Space Debris Control Program
China has officially announced a plan to control the emission of space debris as part of a larger project on space debris monitoring and control. Among the 5-year plan directives are the inception of better upper stage propellant control technologies.

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