In Brief

In Brief: News & Notes

Aerospace Supports Iridium NEXT

First published Spring 2011, Crosslink® magazine.


Artist's rendition of an Iridium NEXT satellite

Artist’s rendition of an Iridium NEXT satellite. Courtesy of Iridium Satellite Communications Inc.

Iridium Satellite Communications Inc. is planning to field its next generation of communication satellites known as Iridium NEXT. Aerospace has been playing an important role in moving the project forward.

Iridium NEXT will be the largest constellation of its kind, said Karl Baker, senior project leader for Commercial, International, and Homeland Security Programs, with 81 satellites and nine launch vehicles. The Department of Defense will be one of Iridium’s primary customers. Baker explained that funding for the multibillion-dollar project was secured in the form of a loan arranged by Société Générale, a corporate and investment banking firm. The loan was guaranteed by the French government’s export credit agency, COFACE. Both the loan and the guarantee were predicated on the involvement of Aerospace, which was tasked to provide technical due diligence in advance of contractor selection. Following Aerospace’s assessment, Iridium named Thales Alenia as the prime contractor for the satellite and SpaceX as the primary launch provider.

Aerospace’s role will now be to monitor the overall program, taking direction from Société Générale. Specific Aerospace duties defined in the seven-year contract with Iridium and Société Générale include the preparation of quarterly reports summarizing progress, performance, and schedule. Aerospace will be responsible for verifying the health of the Iridium spacecraft; life expectancy and degradation patterns will be monitored and compared to various forecast models and evaluated in terms of the impact on customers.

Aerospace will assess the timing of various milestones for the entire program schedule, including signoff of tests relating to the on-orbit acceptance of each satellite. Aerospace oversight will encompass satellite construction, launch vehicle construction, launch operations, transition and operation of the satellite system, and development of new user equipment. If any significant delays or problems arise, Aerospace will analyze the causes, consequences, and potential remedies.



CIA Honors Aerospace Researchers

James LaPean, Bruce Nibbelink, Carol Thompson, Peter Sowa, and Marcus Shaw of the NRO/AS&T Advanced Materials Program were part of a team that received the John A. McCone Award from the Central Intelligence Agency in October 2010. The award was established in 2003 and annually recognizes individuals or teams whose accomplishments exemplify the essential attributes of the CIA Directorate of Science and Technology—deep technical expertise, disciplined program management, and responsiveness to missions that address the nation’s most pressing intelligence problems. The award acknowledges the importance of teamwork, creativity, initiative, persistence, and determination. LaPean, Nibbelink, Thompson, and Sowa also received the 2010 Aerospace Trustees’ Distinguished Achievement Award for their work on this project.



Specialized Satellites Considered for War Zones

The Department of Defense is considering a new family of satellites that would ensure communications with unmanned aerial vehicles. The Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Satellite (AISR-Sat) program would guarantee that ample bandwidth and antennas are available for unmanned aircraft in the middle of a conflict zone. The AISR-Sats would fly in geostationary orbit so that unmanned aircraft could beam video and other data to ground commanders.

Aerospace has been supporting the initial AISR-Sat effort. “We are working on a concept for a common spacecraft bus that could host a number of AISR supporting payloads,” said Charles Cornell of the Advanced Systems Directorate. “We are also working on an AISR support architecture and transition plans.”



Inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival

The inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival took place in Washington, DC, on October 23, 2010. Aerospace helped sponsor the event, which drew more than 500 exhibitors. “Aerospace’s theme was satellites and how they affect almost every aspect of our lives,” said Pamela Keeton, director of external communications. Mike Haas, assistant general manager for NOAA programs, brought models of NPOESS and DMSP satellites to the Aerospace booth. To demonstrate the use of infrared imaging onboard these meteorological satellites, an infrared camera was also set up. Visitors could have their pictures taken in infrared showing the variations in their body temperature. “Aerospace distributed 960 comic books that introduce children to aerospace science and technology and took approximately 1700 infrared photos,” Keeton said.



Opening of the A6 E-pod

A crowd gathers to commemorate the opening of the A6 E-pod in May 2010. The observatory dome, housing a Cassegrain telescope, can be seen on top of the building.

A6 E-Pod Opened

Aerospace opened the doors to the new A6 E-pod, part of the Physical Sciences Laboratories, in May 2010. “The E-pod hosts several laboratory elements of the Space Science Applications Laboratory and the Electronics and Photonics Laboratory, and has been tailored to the modern needs of the lab’s work,” said James Clemmons, principal director, Space Science Applications Laboratory. The pod includes a 20-foot-diameter motorized clamshell dome situated on a 28-foot-high concrete tower on the roof of the building. The sky dome is a flexible testbed for a wide range of applications, including those that project laser beams into the sky. These beams would be observed from space by orbiting assets. The overall building design specifications emphasize maintaining a clean environment that can satisfy increasingly stringent requirements for optical and space-science work.

“Alongside the clamshell dome,” Clemmons said, “is the newly installed observatory dome that will house a 1-meter classic Cassegrain telescope for infrared astronomy, satellite and debris studies, and sky observations in support of the Remote Sensing Department.” The custom-designed telescope will feed a variety of imaging and spectral instrumentation. The E-pod has also taken over development of innovative hyperspectral imaging infrared sensors designed, built, and tested by the Imaging Spectroscopy Department. The Space Sciences Department has established a state-of-the-art test and calibration laboratory within the E-pod for its space-based and ground-based sensors. This facility features rough vacuum distributed throughout and a special lead-lined room designed to protect researchers working with radioactive sources. The three departments also share a cleanroom that is being maintained at a Class 1000 level, but with the capability of achieving more stringent cleanliness standards when needed. Ultrashort-pulse laser diagnostic tools for evaluation and analysis of microelectronics are also developed using the state-of-the-art facilities within the E-pod.



Full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope at Goddard Space Flight Center.

Full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope at Goddard Space Flight Center. Courtesy of NASA.

Aerospace Assists in Telescope Cost Assessment

In June of 2010, NASA realized that cost growth and schedule risk for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) may have been underestimated. To address these concerns, NASA convened an independent comprehensive review panel. Aerospace was brought in to serve as the executive secretariat and to provide technical support for revised cost/schedule risk analysis.

Aerospace examined historical cost-growth trends for similar projects and compared them with the predicted cost of JWST. The analysis showed that the complexity of the mission may have been underestimated, resulting in an overly optimistic prediction of the final cost. Aerospace identified a number of higher-level strategic threats to the program and estimated their likelihood, potential cost, and schedule impacts. These impacts were then considered by the panel during its revised cost/schedule risk assessment of JWST.

Aerospace developed a tool to assist the panel in defining a realistic cost reserve posture based on the project’s planned budget and performed a preliminary risk-based cost analysis.

According to the panel’s report, Congress will need to increase NASA’s $444 million request for JWST by about $250 million in 2011 just to get to the projected launch date. In 2012, another $250 million will be necessary on top of NASA’s current $380 million projection in that year.

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