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Hello there, this is Uranus calling. It's me. A few desperate readers have over the past few days asked me where I've been. How am I supposed to know? I remember nothing! There are quite a few possible explanations why this so-called newsletter missed almost three weeks of exciting, throbbing hard-core satellite and media action. Choose one of the following excuses:
While on holiday in the Caribbean, I was abducted by Aliens. Their leader, who called himself Sasha Laka, told me he wasn't really happy with my coverage of UFOs in general and his boss, GOD, in particular. They released me after one week of futile attempts to brainwash me [because I've got no brain left to be washed anyway] but said they would sue me for 1,500,000 intergalactic credits in damages should I ever publish such bullshit again.
I was in Hollywood and almost got arrested for lewd behaviour in public. I escaped and had to hide for a few days. Frankly, I don't know what happened to the other guy. Looked somewhat familiar to me... haven't I seen him on TV?
Enraged Sat-ND readers finally found out where I buy my beer and, in a ploy to stop this so-called newsletter, managed to exchange all cans of Holsten in that shop with some disgusting alcohol-free fluid.
The German Office of Typos had temporarily banned Sat-ND for obvious reasons.
I simply went gaga when my spell-checker offered me "shamelessly" as the correct spelling of "seamlessly."
I'm just fed up with readers who just moan, moan, moan but never contribute anything of any significance. In one way or another, this is your last chance. Need I say more?
Sometimes, rockets roll in flight. Now we know why.
During the (otherwise quite successful) second test flight 502 of the new Ariane 5 rocket, the main stage began to rotate soon after booster separation and shut down prematurely. A dummy satellite payload was subsequently placed in a lower than expected orbit. Had it been a real-life commercial launch, the failure would not only have shortened the satellite's service life by up to 20 percent life but would also have instigated insurance claims.
At the end of the main stage flight, the roll rate had reached almost six revolutions per minute. The cause for the unexpected rotation was a torque of 900 Nm [Newton metre.] Such a torque is not unusual; but before the test flight it had been estimated at less than 300 Nm. The attitude control system of the main stage would have been able to compensate for that. It couldn't cope with the threefold value that actually occurred.
It's not a bug, it's a feature. Three test firings of the Vulcain engine were performed on a test stand equipped with a roll torque measurement device. Throughout engine running time on all three tests, roll values very similar to those encountered in flight 502 were recorded.
The excess roll torque phenomenon will now be countered by repositioning the turbine exhausts. As a precautionary measure and to obtain in-flight confirmation of the cause of the roll problem, an additional attitude control unit that has already been developed will be used on flight 503, the next and last test flight.
The studies and tests conducted since flight 502 have also shown that the premature main stage shutdown that occurred during that flight was caused by the excessive roll torque. Action to overcome the torque problem will therefore also prevent a recurrence of the premature shutdown.
Flight 503 is officially set for July, but specialists have said it would be delayed by several months, and no commercial operator has so far accepted the risk of putting a satellite on the flight.
Lockheed Martin announced that its newest family of launch vehicles will be called Atlas 3. This includes the Atlas 2AR now in development and on its way to initial launch capability in December, and the Atlas 2ARC, which is now being offered for launch opportunities beginning in mid-2000.
The fact that Boeing will soon come up with its Delta 3 may have contributed to the name change as well. At the same time, the Atlas rockets will become Russian -- at least as far as one of the most important parts, the engine, is concerned. The defining characteristic of Atlas 3 vehicles is the use of the Russian-designed RD-180 engine to power the Atlas booster. Atlas 3B extends the performance capability of the vehicle to carry 4,500 kg to geostationary transfer orbit, an increase 771 kg over the Atlas 2AS, the most powerful version of the Atlas II family presently flying.
Atlas 3A is proceeding through development on its way to initial launch capability (ILC) late this year. The first Atlas 3A began final assembly in mid-March. It makes use of the RD-180 engine to power the booster phase, and a single RL-10A engine to power the Centaur upper stage.
Atlas 3B incorporates two RL-10A engines to power a stretched version of the Centaur. The significant increase in performance of Atlas 3B is achieved with technically minimal modifications to the basic Atlas 3A.
The Russian-designed RD-180 engine, which powers the Atlas 3 vehicles and also the company's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle for the U.S. Air Force, is currently undergoing extensive testing at NPO Energomash facilities in Khimky, Russia, where nine engines have been successfully test fired for a total of more than 9,000 seconds. This is the equivalent of more than 48 Atlas 3A flights when compared to the 186 seconds the engine would operate during a typical Atlas mission.
In May, a prototype Atlas 3 booster stage, including an RD-180 engine, will be fired on a test stand at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. This will be the first Russian-built rocket engine to be test fired at a U.S. government facility.
It's not really news that the Russian space programme lacks financing. What's news, however, is that their U.S. counterparts are not exactly drowning in money and therefore try to cut the cost of space shuttle launches.
The facilities known as the 'Eastern Range' of Cape Canaveral Air Station and NASA's Kennedy Space Center are also used for commercial launches of unmanned rockets. That's why there also is a serious side-effect to U.S. Air Force plans to shut down some ageing monitoring stations, reported Florida Today quoting internal Air Force documents. The tracking stations are not needed for shuttle launches anymore as satellites have taken over the job. However, they are also used during commercial satellite launches. In case anything goes wrong, they send a self-destruct signal to the rocket which will in turn be more than happy to blow itself to smithereens in flight over the sea without causing any damage on the ground.
Missing that suicide signal, however, a malfunctioning rocket will behave quite differently. It would inevitably be ripped apart by aerodynamic forces, raining wreckage and debris over villages, towns and cities in Africa and South Atlantic islands, potentially threatening 200 million people.
The problem seems to be with the Bermuda tracking station that is to be shut down by September even though it serves as a backup for an similar station located at Antigua which is hopelessly out of date. Air Force officials reportedly have found serious shortcomings with at least seven subsystems in the Antigua equipment. The Air Force is trying to set up in time a US$4.6 million rocket-destruct system at a new operations centre that has been built but not outfitted at Antigua. The Air Force also plans to spend US$2 billion to modernise the whole network, but the work is so far behind schedule that it will at best be completed in 2006.
Florida Today reported that if the problems weren't solved, some in the Air Force say that part of a network that tracks the rockets in flight might have to be temporarily shut down Sept. 30. That move could ground 70 percent of all missions flown. "We would not in any way ever jeopardise the public at the expense of getting a satellite on orbit," said Col. Ronald Larivee, vice commander of the Air Force's 45th Space Wing, which operates the Eastern Range.
Japan's Space Communications Corporation (SCC) has selected the European launch service provider Arianespace to put its Superbird-4 satellite into orbit in early 2000.
This will be the 13th Japanese satellite to be launched by Ariane, and the fifth Superbird entrusted to the European launcher. It will be launched in early 2000 from the Guiana Space Centre, Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana (South America).
Superbird-4 will use a HS 601 HP platform built by Hughes Space & Communications in El Segundo, California. Equipped with 23 Ku-band and 6 Ka-band transponders, it is expected to operate for more than eleven years. Positioned at the 162 degrees East orbital location, Superbird-4 will allow SCC to meet increasing demand for business telecommunications services throughout Japan and the Asia-Pacific region. In Ku-band, it will have 23 active transponders, powered by travelling-wave tubes of more than 80 watts. The satellite will also carry broadband and high-speed data services, via six transponders in Ka-band, powered by 50-watt TWTAs.
The spacecraft will have two main antennas, one for Ku-band and one for Ka-band, using Hughes' innovative shaped-beam technology. It also will have a steerable spot beam for Ku-band to increase service where needed.
Superbird-4 will have 5 kilowatts of spacecraft power and use Hughes' high-efficiency xenon ion propulsion system (XIPS). It is the 13th HS 601HP model ordered from Hughes, and the ninth HS 601 with XIPS. Superbird-C, Hughes' first spacecraft for SCC, was a standard HS 601 model that was launched last July.
XIPS, which is an option on the HS 601HP models, uses the impulse generated by a thruster ejecting electrically charged xenon ions at very high velocities, resulting in a thrust efficiency 10 times greater than the chemical bipropellant systems currently in use.
A Proton rocket successfully carried seven Iridium satellites into orbit early from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, marking Iridium LLC's thirteenth successful launch in eleven months.
"We have 90 percent of the Iridium constellation in place and are just weeks away from complete deployment," said Motorola Chief Executive Officer Christopher Galvin. "We congratulate Krunichev Space Center for the important role they have played in lifting 21 Iridium satellites into orbit on three Proton launches during this intense launch campaign."
Two more launches are needed to fully deploy the Iridium constellation. Both launches, a Delta II and a Long March 2C/SD rocket, are set for late April.
The Philippine consortium ACeS Philippine Cellular Corp has postponed the launch of its US$750 million mobile communications satellite to early 1999 from this September.
The launch delay of the Asian Cellular Satellite (ACes) is reportedly caused by problems with the spacecraft's digital signal processor that simply gets too hot in operation. Additional tests by Lockheed Martin Corp were necessary to ensure that ansmissions will not be affected once the satellite is in orbit.
Aerospatiale, industrial architect and main stage contractor for the Ariane launch vehicles, has delivered the 100th solid booster (PAP- Propulseur d'Appoint à Poudre) to Arianespace for the Ariane 4 launcher.
Aerospatiale is prime contractor for the boosters, which are built in Colleffero (Italy) in the facilities of Fiat Avio-BPD Difesa e Spazio. Fiat assembles and loads the propellant for the boosters.
Out of the 77 flights of the Ariane 4 vehicle, 39 were versions equipped with solid boosters: either Ariane 42P or Ariane 44P vehicles with 2 or 4 solid boosters respectively, or Ariane 44LP vehicles with two liquid boosters and two solid boosters. To date, 11 Ariane 42P's, 10 44P's and 18 Ariane 44LP's have been launched.
This 100th solid booster will be one of those which will equip Ariane 4 flight 108, an Ariane 44P.
The U.S. Air Force has ordered the remaining six Delta II rockets in their launch services contract for the Global Positioning System (GPS) Block IIR constellation.
Previously the Air Force had secured 15 Delta II's to launch the 21 satellites in the Block IIR series, Boeing said in a press release. GPS IIR satellites will continue to be launched by a Delta II as needed through the year 2002.
India's national space research agency has told the government that it needs US$348 million to launch four satellites this year, reported the Asian Age daily.
The report quoting ISRO officials said top priority would be given to "development of rockets" during the current fiscal to March 1999.
It said the agency has also plans to "market its launch services and prospective foreign markets is on the agenda with Norwegian Space Agency already buying an Indian rocket."
The agency has also signed commercial agreements with the U.S. and some European nations, the daily added.
U.S. television abroad? It doesn't work out quite the way some companies had thought. Country Music Television and The Weather Channel have recently disappeared from European TV screens. Rumour has it that NBC's next.
Reportedly, the U.S. network will in a spectacular move close down all of its Asia programming as well as most of its European services and leave the channels to National Geographic Channels Worldwide, a joint venture between NBC and the U.S. National Geographic Society. None of the companies involved would comment the reports.
NBC's changes in Europe and Asia will take effect July 1. About 11 million subscribers who currently receive NBC Europe will be offered a blend of National Geographic programming and CNBC business news. NBC News will continue to air a few hours of programming a day, but it seems that entertainment programming either from the U.S. or locally produced by NBC Europe will be dumped.
It may be different in German cable networks, according to reports which claim that because of a clause in its contract NBC's 19 million German cable viewers will continue to receive existing programming. There are three reasons why I don't believe those reports:
in Germany, TV stations usually have to pay for distribution in the country's overcrowded cable networks and thus can get out any contracts swiftly, especially as there still are dozens of channels who'd be more than happy to replace them;
keeping up NBC Europe programming just for Germany would not only be quite costly but utter nonsense even when compared to any sum they'd have to pay for breach of contract ;
a separate satellite feed would have to be used to deliver NBC Europe to German cable customers -- yet another cost factor.
In Asia, all of NBC Asia's seven million subscribers will receive National Geographic programming once the changes take effect, though a small amount of NBC News programming will remain.
Eutelsat has announced it will order a satellite, call it Europesat 1 and place it close to one of its main rival's birds.
That's the latest about what even news agencies now call the "European satellite war." Europesat 1 will be built by Matra Marconi Space and will be available in orbit by mid-2000. Equipped with 36 transponders, Eutelsat plans to locate the satellite at 29°E.
At 28.2°E, however, there will be probably at least two Astra satellites in 2000, delivering digital TV to the UK. So, is this some kind of war or rather a clever trick by Eutelsat? Both positions can be received with a single satellite dish. A Eutelsat spokeswoman was quoted as saying that "We have made a proposal that would allow the sharing of frequencies in the 28.2-29 range between the two groups. There is enough space for two. Maybe, as Deutsche Telekom happens to be a major shareholder in both SES and Eutelsat.
The problem is that according to the rules for the allocation of orbital slots by the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union, this situation couldn't possibly have happened.
CyberStar has been known as one of the planned Ka-band satellite constellations for years. The service was launched recently, even though the system has no satellites of its own.
CyberStar, created and managed by Loral, uses existing satellites to provide high-speed transmission, applications and custom aggregation of data, audio and video content, which can be integrated into any existing network architecture. CyberStar provides a wide variety of affordable applications and content, using satellites to deliver information at up to 27Mbps to multiple locations simultaneously.
Because its system is based on open standards, including IP, DVB, HTML and MPEG, the CyberStar service integrates seamlessly with an organisation's existing network infrastructure to deliver multiple forms of electronic information to a variety of networked devices, including PCs, interactive kiosks, set-top boxes or terminals. "CyberStar is ideal for companies with multiple, remote international locations, or with a large mobile workforce, or with a need to routinely deliver large data files to numerous locations simultaneously," said Ronald C. Maehl, president of CyberStar. To protect the investments of its content partners, and to ensure maximum security for its users, CyberStar uses a conditional access system to prevent unauthorised reception of the service. The system encrypts the signal at transmission so that only a user with an authorised smart card installed into a matched satellite receiver card can receive the protected data.
Initially, CyberStar service will be available via existing geosynchronous Telstar Ku-band satellites such as Telstar 5. Later, CyberStar will launch its own Ka-band satellites. CyberStar's network architecture is designed to complement existing communications networks, whether satellite-based or terrestrial.
Intelsat has de-orbited the oldest satellite in its fleet, Intelsat 502, after a record 17 years of service.
When launched on 6 December 1980, the satellite was predicted to reach the end of its operational life by 1987. Instead, a decision was made in 1988 to scale back the 502's station-keeping operations to simple East-West manoeuvres, resulting in dramatic on-board fuel savings. Since the service life of a satellite depends largely upon the status of its fuel reserves, this saving effectively extended the spacecraft's life from seven to seventeen years.
Built by Ford Aerospace (now Space Systems/Loral), Intelsat 502 was launched from Cape Canaveral via a Martin Marietta-built Atlas Centaur rocket. From its initial location at 21.5°W, where it provided C- and Ku-band services, Intelsat 502 was moved to 41.5°W in 1994.
French Defence Minister Alain Richard announced that France was abandoning plans for an advanced Franco-German spy satellite for the 21st century and said it was "Germany's fault."
The Horus project, estimated at US$3 billion, 60 percent of which were to be paid by Germany, was aimed at freeing Paris and Bonn from dependency on U.S. satellites and would have given the two countries information in all types of weather conditions from 2005. Current European military satellites cannot pierce the heavy clouds which often cover much of northern Europe. Utilising radar, Horus would have overcome the problem.
Germany, like France, had yet to fully commit itself to the project which had strategic, diplomatic and employment implications for both countries and which French officials believed the USA was seeking to discourage Germany from joining.
The German government meanwhile indirectly rejected French accusations that Bonn had caused the collapse of the joint spy satellite project but said other common defence schemes were still on course.
PT Datakom Asia admitted that technical problems on its Cakrawarta-1 satellite, launched only last November, led to difficulties with its energy supply.
If not rectified, this would lead to two of the five transponders being out of commission whenever the satellite is eclipsed by the earth. While efforts were being made to correct the problems, it was possible that the life of the satellite might be reduced to seven years from a planned 14 years if the problems were not rectified.
Datakom announced in a statement that test transmissions from Cakrawarta-1 would begin on April 15 with full commercial services to start one month later. It said 30 channels would be available to subscribers during the test period with the number rising to 40 later.
Datakoms pay-television platform, Indovision, currently uses Palapa-C1 to offer local Indonesian channels as well as foreign programming.
Despite a failure with the first Russian banking satellite Kupon which went dead last March, the Bank of Russia plans to order another similar spacecraft at the Lavochkin company, reports Itar-Tass.
The news agency said that although an appropriate contract has not been signed as yet, approximately half of the new Kupon has been already manufactured and is to be launched in the second quarter of 1999. It will offer major improvements over its predecessor, such as twice the capacity and a prolonged service life.
The establishment of a three-satellite for telephone, fax and computer interbank communications called "Bankir" is somewhat delayed due to the failure of the first spacecraft, but the Central Bank has not given up the idea. Lavochkin reportedly is developing a new satellite dubbed Kupon-M (modernised) which will have an expected service life of twelve years while weighing less than the original Kupon. As a consequence, it can be launched aboard a Soyuz medium-class booster and does not have to rely upon the heavy (and more expensive) Proton rocket. Besides, Kupon-M could also used for several other purposes apart from the "Bankir" system.
Aerial Images, Inc. and Sovinformsputnik, a branch of the Russian space agency (RKA), announced the successful recovery of an imaging satellite the two companies launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan in February.
The satellite, known as Kosmos-2349 or Spin 2, circled the Earth for 45 days taking highly-detailed images of the Southeast United States and major population centres around the world. This landing represents the first successful recovery of a commercial 2-meter resolution Earth imaging satellite.
The satellite recovery, a co-operative effort between Aerial Images, Inc. and Sovinformsputnik, represents the conclusion of the first of a unique four part mission to collect detailed images of the world. The images that returned via the satellite will have 2-meter resolution, the most detailed satellite imagery ever made available for commercial and consumer use.
Aerial images and Sovinformsputnik are planning more commercial imaging. Its all pretty harmless, says Aerial Images President John Hoffman. For instance, you could see a car on the images. But you cant tell if its a hatchback or a station wagon, or a Ford or a Chevrolet. While the first mission was targeted at taking pictures of the Southeast of the U.S., three future missions planned for 1998 and 1999 will focus on Latin America.
Hoffman expects customers such as the real estate guys who want to show clients a map of the neighbourhood as well as anybody who wants photos of the family farm as a souvenir.
The TerraServer is a joint project of Aerial Images, Inc., Digital Equipment Company, Eastman Kodak Company, Microsoft Corp., and Sovinformsputnik.
The successful recovery of this satellite is a major milestone for everyone involved with the TerraServer project, said John Hoffman. Never before have U.S. and Russian teams come together to commercialise a formerly military space program. It is these types of relationships that will put valuable satellite information into the hands of scientists, business professionals and consumers world-wide and is a great step towards making the world a more familiar place.
Sovinformsputnik was founded by a number of enterprises in the defence branches of industry, responsible for development, manufacturing and operation of modern remote sensing systems, which until just recently were used only for defence purposes. The strategic direction of Sovinformsputniks activity is carrying out satellite surveys, commercial distribution of data acquired by the above mentioned systems and the creation of the different products, including digital topographic and thematic maps. As a part of its charter, Sovinformsputnik works with Russian agencies to organise satellite launches and in-orbit imaging in order to market and develop useful commercial applications for space information.
Orbcomm Global LP said an affiliate had gained approval from a U.S. federal commission to launch and operate more satellites above the Earth.
Orbcomm, a partnership among companies from three countries, said in a statement the Federal Communications Commission had accepted a request made by Orbital Communications Corp. to launch and operate 12 more satellites.
The increase will bring its total constellation to 48 satellites from 36, it said. Orbcomm, a satellite service provider, said the affiliate got the approval on March 31. It said the commission also approved a request to modify its license to improve downlinks from its satellites, as well as increase the orbital altitude for some them to 825 km from 775.
"These modifications will allow Orbcomm to improve availability in the higher latitudes, including Alaska, Northern Canada, Northern Europe and Russia, while increasing capacity in the temperate ones," it said.
The communications services that the satellites provide help companies monitor pipelines, storage tanks and other fixed assets, as well as track mobile assets like commercial vehicles and shipping containers.
Orbcomm is a partnership owned by Orbital Sciences Corp of the United States, Teleglobe Inc (of Canada, and Technology Resources Industries Bhd. of Malaysia.
Orbital makes space equipment and offers satellite services, Teleglobe specialises in telecommunications, while Technology is a holding company that controls cellular operations.
PanAmSat Corporation announced that its Galaxy VIII-i satellite, which was launched in December 1997, has commenced commercial transmissions of the Galaxy Latin America (GLA) direct-to-home television service called DirecTV.
Galaxy VIII-i now serves as the dedicated satellite platform for the Directv service in Latin America, taking over and expanding upon services previously offered on PanAmSat's Galaxy III-R satellite. As a result, PanAmSat will now make available transmissions capacity on Galaxy III-R for special interest television services in the United States recently announced by Directv, Inc.
Galaxy VIII-i, an HS 601 HP satellite built by Hughes Space and Communications Co., was launched on an Atlas IIAS rocket on December 8, 1997. The spacecraft became operational in late February 1998 at its orbital slot of 95 degrees West Longitude.
Galaxy VIII-i is co-located with the Galaxy III-R satellite, on which GLA used 24 Ku-band transponders as its interim transmission platform. GLA has migrated its transmission signals from Galaxy III-R to the Galaxy VIII-i satellite. GLA is the exclusive customer for all 32 Ku-band transponders on Galaxy VIII-i.
Galaxy VIII-i provides DirecTV with the capability to offer more than 300 channels to subscribers in Latin America and the Caribbean. DirecTV will also be able to offer data services currently being developed, expanded coverage to more remote areas and improved signal reception.
As a result of GLA's migration effort, PanAmSat will start providing Ku-band capacity on the Galaxy III-R satellite for DirecTV in the United States. Galaxy III-R, also built by Hughes, was launched in December 1995 and contains 24 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders. DirecTV plans to use multiple Ku-band transponders to expand its programming line-up further in the United States with special interest programming that will include ethnic programming, niche programs, future business-to-business applications and high definition television programming.
Teledesic LLC announced that His Royal Highness Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia has invested US$200 million in the telecommunications company through family trusts.
"Prince Al Waleed's ability to foresee coming trends in a host of fields, including technology, makes him an ideal partner for Teledesic. People worldwide have begun to understand that where the prince goes, opportunity follows," said McCaw. McCaw and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates are the two primary investors in the US$9 billion project Teledesic.
His Royal Highness Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud said he decided to invest in Teledesic because he shares McCaw's vision of an advanced telecommunications network that will provide high-speed data connections to businesses, institutions and individuals everywhere on Earth -- regardless of location.
His Royal Highness Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud's major investments, as far as the scope of this so-called newsletter is concerned, include Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., Apple Computer Inc., Motorola Inc., Netscape, Silvio Berlusconi's TV holding Mediaset and of course Arab Radio & Television.
As expected, Luxembourg's satellite operator SES said it was going to float shares on the Luxembourg stock exchange later in 1998. The flotation would be for less than half of the existing stock.
The Initial Public Offer would consist of "Fiduciary Depository Receipts" to be traded at the Luxembourg stock exchange. All current shareholders would participate by offering parts of their stakes.
By the way: SES turnover in 1997 was LUF17.9 billion, 27 percent up from the year before. Profits skyrocketed to LUF6.4 billion, an increase of 34 percent. From their press release, which unfortunately reached me only in German language, I have the impression that this is profit after taxes. As already mentioned in this so-called newsletter, SES is also one of the Grand Duchy's largest taxpayers (LUF2.7 billion in 1997.)
Sky Latin America claims victory over its competitor DirecTV, reported El Financiero.
Sky closed the year with 102.000 subscribers while its competitor DirecTV attracted just 86.000. Additionally, Sky reported that it had two thousand points of sale, and a churn rate of just one percent. DirecTV still has not been able to fulfil its promise of transmitting all of Mexico's national channels because it has not, and will probably not be able to buy, the rights for Televisa's channels.
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