The U.S. Air Force awarded a contract in May to Lockheed Martin to develop the GPS 3 constellation. The system, which will be acquired in three blocks, will improve upon the existing GPS constellation by introducing a new civil signal as well as providing increased system security, accuracy and reliability for civilian and military users. Under the $1.5 billion development and production contract, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., ITT Corp. and General Dynamics will produce eight GPS 3A satellites, with the first launch projected for 2014. Eight GPS 3B and 16 GPS 3C satellites are planned for later increments, with each increment including additional capabilities based on technical maturity.
Europe made moves to put its planned satellite navigation system, Galileo, back on track, as the European Space Agency and European Union in September selected Astrium as a prime candidate for the Galileo space and ground control segment. The process for developing the Galileo system was reopened in July after a consortium of eight private companies charged with developing Galileo failed to agree on a funding plan. The system is scheduled to be operational by 2013.
The U.K. Ministry of Defence completed its next-generation military satellite communications system when Skynet 5C joined Skynet 5A and Skynet 5B in orbit in June. The unique aspect of Skynet is the management of the system. Paradigm Secure Communications, a subsidiary of EADS Astrium, will operate the satellites. While the U.K. military will be the primary customer for the satellites, third-party deals will be vital to justifying the investment in the spacecraft, says Paul Millington, vice president of business development, Astrium Services. "More than half of the capacity is available to third-party providers," he says.
The military developments come against the backdrop of the French government calling for greater use of space in France’s military objectives. France "will actively support the rationalization of the European space industry, with a focus on intelligence-gathering, navigational and communications satellites," the government said in a June white paper. There also are calls for the U.K. government to increase its use of satellites in security initiatives. UKspace, a trade association representing the British space industry, called for the government to "reinstate a robust national space program" in order to "guarantee national security in an increasingly complex international environment." The U.K. government in March published its first "National Security Strategy," identifying nine Critical National Infrastructure sectors that rely on space-based assets.
Arianespace continued to build on its strong position, and Sea Launch returned to service in 2008 after more than a year off, but International Launch Services (ILS) and the Russian Proton rocket seemed to make the most headlines in 2008.
In May, Proton manufacturer Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center acquired a majority interest in ILS, buying the stake held by Space Transport Inc. The move came after a March Proton Breeze M mission left SES Americom’s AMC-14 short of its intended orbit, the second Proton failure in a six-month period. "For ILS employees and customers, there will be no change in operations or management, and we will continue our focus on performance," says Frank McKenna, ILS CEO.
Sea Launch returned to flight in January with the launch of the Thuraya-3 satellite, and performed two more missions before General Manager Robert Peckham was replaced in July by Kjell Karlsen, who was named president of Sea Launch.
Arianespace maintained a steady rate with its Ariane 5 and also continued preparations for Soyuz missions, which are scheduled to begin in the second half of 2009. Arianespace in September ordered 10 Soyuz launch vehicles from the Russian Space Agency, Roskosmos. The contract provides for the supply of Soyuz ST launchers (three stages, fairing and Fregat upper stage), along with the preparation and launch operations. It follows a contract signed in June 2007 covering the first four Soyuz rockets to be launched from the Guiana Space Center. The vehicles in the most recent order will be launched from either the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana or Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Outside of the big three launch operators, the biggest news of 2008 was made by Space Exploration Technology Corp. (SpaceX), which in September launched the first privately funded, liquid-fuelled rocket. After six years and three failed attempts, the Falcon 1 rocket, which carried a dummy payload with a mass of about 165 kilograms, reached orbit. SpaceX’s next Falcon 1 launch is scheduled for early 2009 and will carry a Malaysian remote sensing satellite, Razaksat, but the real test for SpaceX will be the much larger Falcon 9 rocket, the company’s planned entry into the geostationary launch market "The Falcon 1 is a smaller launch vehicle that competes in a different market — against primarily Russian vehicles for smaller payloads. The success of Falcon 1 will probably not see immediate reaction from larger companies. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has the potential to become a major player in the launch business. If it successful, I believe we will see more of a market shift and readjustment from competitors once SpaceX starts going after some of the larger [geostationary] satellites," says Jeff Foust, an analyst with Futron Corp.
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