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By | November 6, 2006

      Space Shuttle Discovery Set For Rollout Toward Launch Pad

      Space Shuttle Discovery is set to roll out of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center at 7 a.m. ET tomorrow to begin its 4.2-mile trip to Launch Pad 39B.

      Once there, the shuttle will lift off no sooner than Dec. 7, the opening of the launch window, for the STS-116 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), which may be the first launch in darkness in years. Blastoff is set for 9:38 p.m. ET.

      The mission’s payload includes the next space station component — the P5 integrated truss segment — as well as the SPACEHAB module and other key components. During the mission, the crew not only will install the truss segment, but also rewire the station to use the new solar arrays deployed by the crew of STS-115 in September.

      In the September mission, Space Shuttle Atlantis lofted the P3/P4 truss to the ISS, and it took three extravehicular activities (EVAs), or spacewalks, to install the truss and its giant solar arrays that greatly expand the total electrical generating capacity of the space station.

      Lasting 11 days, the STS-116 Discovery mission will involve seven astronauts, in the 20th mission by that shuttle to the space station.

      Space shuttle flights are scheduled at a challenging average of about four per year, mainly to complete construction of the ISS by 2010, the year that the shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired. There also will be a shuttle flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope. (Please see full story on page 1.)

      Except for a delay caused by discovery of a small crack in a bracket, the latest Discovery preparations have gone smoothly.

      Sea Launch Lofts XM-4 Sat; Another Launch Is Planned

      Sea Launch Co. delivered the XM-4 broadcast satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit. Early data indicate the spacecraft is accurately positioned and in excellent condition.

      A Zenit-3SL vehicle lifted off at 3:49 pm PT (23:49 GMT) from the Odyssey Launch Platform, positioned at 154 degrees West Longitude in the equatorial Pacific. All systems performed nominally throughout the flight.

      The Block DM upper stage inserted the 5,193 kg (11,448 lbs.) spacecraft into geosynchronous transfer orbit, on its way to final orbital position of 115 degrees West Longitude.

      A ground station at Hartebeesthoek, near Pretoria, South Africa, acquired the first signal from the satellite in orbit.

      Built by The Boeing Co. [BA] Satellite Development Center, the Boeing 702 spacecraft carries a high-power S-band Digital Audio Radio Service (DARS) payload provided by Alcatel Alenia Space.

      Like the three XM satellites currently in orbit, XM-4 will support XM Radio’s direct broadcast of digital radio programming to cars, homes and portable radios throughout the continental United States and Canada.

      Following completion of the XM-4 mission, Rob Peckham, president and general manager of Sea Launch, congratulated XM Satellite Radio. “Successfully launching this fourth satellite for XM Radio is extremely satisfying for Sea Launch.

      The success of the XM-4 mission reconfirms a strong and valuable relationship between two goal-oriented companies. We are proud to be XM Satellite Radio’s launch service provider of choice.”

      “I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Sea Launch team for another outstanding mission. Without the team’s expertise and dedication to excellence, we could not have realized today’s significant accomplishment.”

      The XM-4 satellite will have 18 kilowatts of total power at the beginning of life on orbit. Specified for a 15-year lifespan, Sea Launch’s direct insertion into equatorial orbit is designed to yield additional years of service life. This is Sea Launch’s fourth successful launch for XM Satellite Radio, completing previous missions in March 2001, May 2001 and February 2005.

      GeoEye Prepares To Launch New Commercial Imaging Satellite In Spring

      RESTON, Va. — GeoEye [GEOY] is preparing to launch its new commercial imaging satellite, GeoEye-1, next spring, permitting the company to offer even higher- resolution satellite imagery to the military and commercial markets, a company official said.

      “It’s only going to get better,” said Mark E. Brender, GeoEye vice president of corporate communications and marketing. He spoke during a recent briefing and tour of the GeoEye headquarters operations that the company provided for Space & Missile Defense Report.

      According to Brender, the new asset will involve some of the biggest names in the space/defense industry.

      GeoEye-1 will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., atop a Delta II rocket made by The Boeing Co. [BA], Brender said.

      The satellite itself will be made by General Dynamics Corp. [GD].

      And the imaging cameras will be provided by ITT [ITT]. That is “the most important part of the satellite,” he noted. ITT two years ago bought the remote sensing systems portion of Kodak.

      Thus far, the project is on budget and on schedule, he said.

      Once aloft, GeoEye-1 will have a lifespan of more than seven years, according to Brender.

      The GeoEye company already has birds in space providing detailed imagery of a large portion of the planet, said Brender.

      They include OrbView-2 (color, spatial resolution to 1.1 kilometer), OrbView-3 (black and white, 4 meters), and Idonos (black and white, 1 meter resolution).

      GeoEye-1 will have resolution of .41 meter in black and white, and 1.65. meters in color.

      GeoEye offices have walls covered with high-definition satellite pictures of areas ranging from the Bushehr nuclear complex in Iran to Indonesia just after it was ravaged by the tsunami.

      When all air flights were banned in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) and Pentagon buildings, the company still was able to use its satellite fleet to obtain aerial pictures of the smoking remains of the WTC.

      “We’re free to overfly any nation,” Brender explained, so long as the company makes the imagery available to the surveilled nation at reasonable cost. Also, a nation may stipulate that any imagery of its territory that the firm obtains mustn’t have a resolution over a certain level, when the GeoEye company sells the images to others.

      Resolution on many photos is sufficiently sharp to recognize vehicles, Brender said.

      A nuclear complex in Pakistan is detailed on one picture, while another image shows damage in Beirut, and a picture of Hurricane Katrina swirling toward Louisiana is seen in another.

      If clouds obstruct the view of a camera, GeoEye satellites can revisit an area within one to three days for another attempt.

      Typically, a satellite may move at roughly 17,000 miles per hour (the speed that balances centrifugal forces tending to hurl a spacecraft outward from Earth, with the force of gravity pulling the craft down toward earth, resulting in the craft orbiting the planet.)

      That means it takes a satellite about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth.

      Travels of the GeoEye birds are tracked in a control room at the Virginia headquarters building near Dulles International Airport. The company also has operations facilities at Thorton, Colo., St. Louis, and Norman, Okla.

      Thus far, the GeoEye satellites have mapped millions of square miles, including the entire U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, and most of the Australian continent.

      GeoEye Names Retired General To Board

      GeoEye [GEOY] named retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper to its board of directors.

      He was the first civilian director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

      Clapper joins the GeoEye board chairman, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson.

      In his career, Clapper “was instrumental in innovating and transforming the NGA into a major proponent and end user of unclassified, commercial satellite imagery,” Abrahamson said. “Along with dramatically improving the range and cost-effectiveness of U.S. government intelligence and mapping products, his creative vision has increased the viability of a growing geospatial industry.”

      Five years ago, Clapper took the helm at NGA just two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, noted Matthew O’Connell, GeoEye CEO, president and director. “His strategic thinking will be invaluable as we address the rapidly increasing global demand for geospatial information.”

      Clapper served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in addition to a variety of intelligence-related positions including assistant chief of staff, intelligence; and at Air Force headquarters during Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

      He also served as director of intelligence for three war-fighting commands: U.S. Forces Korea; Pacific Command; and Strategic Air Command.

      He retired as a lieutenant general from the United States Air Force in 1995 after a 32-year career.

      Prior to his appointment as director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in September 2001 (later renamed NGA), he worked in the industry for six years in three successive professional services companies focusing on intelligence clients.

      He now is senior vice president and chief operating officer of DFI International Government Services and a professor of military intelligence at Georgetown University in Washington.

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