In The News

By | March 10, 2008 | Satellite News Feed

Brass Don’t Say As Senators Ask Who Built Failed Satellite

Whodunit?

Senators asked at a hearing which company or firms built that U.S. intelligence satellite that failed completely just after launch, forcing the Navy to alter a missile defense system and shoot it down.

But high-ranking Pentagon officials testifying at the hearing said the senators should ask the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which ordered the intel bird and had it placed in orbit.

Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and John Thune (R-S.Dak.) asked who built the satellite, during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee strategic forces subcommittee, airing military space issues.

When Thune asked who built the satellite, however, no answer was forthcoming. Gary Payton, deputy under secretary of the Air Force for space programs, explained that the satellite was a creation of the NRO.

Nelson tried to clarify the situation.

"Okay, so, to get Sen. Thune’s question answered, are you saying that there’s nobody in your bailiwick including the secretary of the Air Force that can answer that question, that we’d have to go to the head of the NRO?" Nelson asked.

That, he was told, is correct.

"Would the director of national intelligence (DNI) be able to answer the question?" Nelson asked.

Not immediately, but the DNI could get the answer, Nelson was told.

Nelson, looking puzzled, asked, "Is there anybody in DOD who could get it? Could the secretary of defense get it?"

When one witness volunteered to try getting the answer, Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of the Air Force Space

Command, said, "Those of us at the [witness] table don’t have the answer."

What lawmakers both on the subcommittee and elsewhere in Congress have sought is a few facts:

  • Which company or companies built the failed satellite

 

  • How much it cost to develop and build

 

 

  • How much it cost to launch

 

 

  • How much it cost to shoot the satellite down

 

Just the shoot-down may have run into tens of millions of dollars.

First, software and other items had to be altered on a Navy cruiser Aegis weapon control system, and on the Standard Missile-3 that actually would demolish the satellite.

Then the ship had to wait on station in the Pacific until high seas abated and the satellite came into the correct position.

President Bush personally ordered the errant bird destroyed because the decaying orbit of the dead satellite meant it was about to plunge out of control into the atmosphere and land no one knew where on Earth, perhaps spewing 1,000 pounds of toxic hydrazine fuel in a tank through a populated area.

The Pentagon announced later that the SM-3 interceptor destroyed the fuel tank.

Critics disputed the reasons given for the shoot-down, alleging the shot actually was to prove U.S. anti-satellite capabilities; to respond to China obliterating one of its own aging weather satellites last year; or to knock down a U.S. satellite before any action might be taken on a treaty that China and Russia had just proposed barring violence to any spacecraft.

Avalanche Seen On Mars Near Its North Pole

A NASA spacecraft in orbit around Mars has taken the first-ever image of active avalanches near the Red Planet’s north pole. The image shows tan clouds billowing away from the foot of a towering slope, where ice and dust have just cascaded down.

The High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took the photograph Feb. 19. It is one of approximately 2,400 HiRISE images available for viewing.

Ingrid Daubar Spitale of the University of Arizona, Tucson, who works on targeting the camera and has studied hundreds of HiRISE images, was the first person to notice the avalanches. "It really surprised me," she said. "It’s great to see something so dynamic on Mars. A lot of what we see there hasn’t changed for millions of years."

The camera is looking repeatedly at selected places on Mars to track seasonal changes. However, the main target of the Feb. 19 image was not the steep slope.

"We were checking for springtime changes in the carbon-dioxide frost covering a dune field, and finding the avalanches was completely serendipitous," said Candice Hansen, deputy principal investigator for HiRISE, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The full image reveals features as small as a desk in a strip of terrain 3.7 miles wide and more than 10 times that long, at 84 degrees north latitude. Reddish layers known to be rich in water ice make up the face of a steep slope more than 2,300 feet tall, running the length of the image.

"We don’t know what set off these landslides," said Patrick Russell of the University of Berne, Switzerland, a HiRISE team collaborator.

"We plan to take more images of the site through the changing Martian seasons to see if this kind of avalanche happens all year or is restricted to early spring."

More ice than dust probably makes up the material that fell from the upper portion of the scarp. Imaging of the site during coming months will track any changes in the new deposit at the base of the slope.

That will help researchers estimate what proportion is ice.

"If blocks of ice broke loose and fell, we expect the water in them will be changing from solid to gas," Russell said. "We’ll be watching to see if blocks and other debris shrink in size. What we learn could give us a better understanding of one part of the water cycle on Mars."

Another HiRISE image shows a blue crescent Earth and its moon, as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The west coast of South America is visible in the photo. Still other images allow viewers to explore a wide variety of Martian terrains, such as dramatic canyons and rhythmic patterns of sand dunes.

The camera is one of six science instruments on the orbiter. The spacecraft reached Mars in March 2006 and has returned more data than all other current and past missions to Mars combined.

"Our Mars program is the envy of the world," said Alan Stern, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. "We plan to launch a total of five more missions in the next decade, beginning with the Mars Science Lab rover next year and a Mars Aeronomy Scout mission in 2011."

Northrop Delivers AEHF Satellite Payload Module

Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] delivered the payload module for the second Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) military communications satellite ahead of schedule.

The gear went to the Sunnyvale, Calif., facilities of Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT], prime contractor for the AEHF program.

Delivery of this second payload module follows one year after the first payload module delivery, which was also delivered ahead of schedule.

During the next few months, Lockheed Martin will begin integrating the payload module with its A2100 satellite bus and other space vehicle components, followed by environmental and acceptance testing of the fully integrated space vehicle in preparation for launch next year.

One AEHF Satellite will provide greater total capacity than the entire Milstar constellation currently on-orbit. Individual user data rates will be five times improved. The higher data rates will permit transmission of tactical military communication such as real-time video, battlefield maps and targeting data.

In addition to its critical tactical mission, AEHF will also provide survivable, protected, and endurable communications to National Command Authority including presidential conferencing in all levels of conflict.

The payload module consists of the complete set of processing, routing and control hardware and software that perform the satellite’s communications function, including critical features to protect the communications against interception or jamming threats.

Northrop Grumman is following a timely "stepped" schedule whereby the major payload components are delivered to Lockheed Martin as they are needed for integration and test, enhancing efficiency during assembly. The second payload’s antenna wings, for example, will be delivered later this year. Integration of the third payload module is also underway and on schedule for delivery next year.

Lockheed Martin is currently under contract to provide three Advanced EHF satellites and the Mission Control System to the Military Satellite Communications Systems Wing, located at the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif.

The program is in the early stages of adding a fourth spacecraft to the planned constellation.

Technologies and products developed for Advanced EHF are directly applicable to other military satellite communications programs, such as the Transformational Satellite Communications System and Enhanced Polar System, providing a substantial reduction in risk and cost to those programs, according to Northrop.

NRO Gains New Deputy Director

Brig. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski will become the new deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office, the Department of Defense announced.

She joins NRO as lawmakers are asking sharp questions about NRO and its satellite that failed and was shot down by a Navy Aegis ship using a Standard Missile-3 interceptor. (Please see separate story in this issue.)

Pawlikowski was vice commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center in the Air Force Space Command at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif.

She will become not only deputy NRO director but also program executive officer, and systems program director for space radar, in the office of the under secretary of the Air Force at Chantilly, Va.

Pawlikowski will be replaced in Los Angeles by Brig. Gen. Susan K. Mashiko, who will move over from her post as commander of the Military Satellite Communications Systems Wing in the Space and Missile Systems Center in the Air Force Space Command.

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