The last two weeks have brought good news for Orbital Sciences Corp.
The Orbital-built and launched NuSTAR mission is off to a good start; a new satellite communications provider has signed a contract for two satellites; and NASA has opened its NASA Launch Services II to competition by the Antares rocket booster.
NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, was launched June 13 using the Orbital Pegasus rocket, carried aloft on the Orbital L-1011Stargazer. The launch was nominal and the performance measures from NuSTAR show the expected behavior.
One unique feature of NuSTAR has performed successfully. The 33-foot mast that connects the X-ray lenses to the detector had been extended and locked in place. This lengthy mast, gives it the ability to see the highest energy X-rays in our universe. The mission is one step closer to beginning its hunt for black holes hiding in our Milky Way and other galaxies.
NuSTAR’s mast is one of several innovations allowing the telescope to take crisp images of high-energy X-rays for the first time. It separates the telescope mirrors from the detectors, providing the distance needed to focus the X-rays. Built by ATK Aerospace Systems in Goleta, Calif., this is the first deployable mast ever used on a space telescope.
On June 21, nine days after launch, engineers at NuSTAR’s mission control at UC Berkeley sent a signal to the spacecraft to start extending the mast, which is a stable, rigid structure consisting of 56 cube-shaped units. Driven by a motor, the mast steadily inched out of a canister as each cube was assembled one by one. The process took about 26 minutes. Engineers and astronomers cheered seconds after they received word from the spacecraft that the mast was fully deployed and secure.
The NuSTAR team will now begin to verify the pointing and motion capabilities of the satellite, and fine-tune the alignment of the mast. In about five days, the team will instruct NuSTAR to take its “first light” pictures, which are used to calibrate the telescope.
“It’s a real pleasure to know that the mast, an accomplished feat of engineering, is now in its final position,” said Yunjin Kim, the NuSTAR project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Kim was also the project manager for the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which flew a similar mast on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2000 and made topographic maps of Earth.
NASA Launch Services II contract opened
NASA has modified its NASA Launch Services II contract with Orbital, to add the Antares launch vehicle, formerly known as Taurus II, for future missions.
The NLS II on-ramp provision provides an opportunity annually for launch service providers not presently under NLS II contract to compete for future missions, and allows launch service providers already under contract to introduce launch vehicles not currently on their NLS II contracts, such as Antares.
NLS II contracts are multiple award, indefinite delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts with ordering periods through June 2020. The contracts provide for a minimum capability of delivering agency payloads weighing approximately 550 pounds or more to a minimum 124-mile-high circular orbit with a launch inclination of 28.5 degrees. The launch service providers also may offer a range of vehicles to NASA to meet higher payload mass and orbit requirements.
These contracts support the goals and objectives of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and Office of the Chief Technologist. Under the contract, NASA also can provide launch services to other government agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
HISPASAT is a leader in the dissemination of content in Spanish and Portuguese.
It and Orbital signed a contract for the construction of two new satellites, Amazonas 4A and Amazonas 4B. These satellites will be located at orbital position 61 degrees west longitude to enhance the company’s presence in the Americas.
The Amazonas 4A and 4B satellites will allow HISPASAT to meet the growing demand for satellite capacity, mainly for satellite television platforms, in Latin America. This demand is expected to increase even more due to major sporting events taking place in Brazil in the coming years, including the World Cup 2014 and the 2016 Olympics.
Orbital’s highly successful communications satellites are based on the company’s GEOStar satellite platforms, which are able to accommodate all types of commercial communications payloads and are optimized for satellite missions requiring 2.5 to 7.5 kilowatts of payload power. In most instances, GEOStar satellites can be built and delivered in 24 months or less.
In the words of Chief Executive Officer Carlos EspinÃ›s, HISPASAT “is very pleased to have selected Orbital as the manufacturer of next satellites in the Amazonas series. Orbital’s GEOStar satellites are suited to our requirements in terms of performance, price, and development schedule. Their proven ability to deliver on deadlines will help us to meet the growing demand for additional capacity in Latin America.”
The Amazonas 4A satellite will carry a payload of 24 Ku-band transponders with coverage of South America, from Venezuela and Colombia in the north, to Argentina and Chile in the south. Satellite performance will be 46 to 48.5 dBW throughout the South American mainland. The launch of Amazonas 4A is scheduled for early 2014. The higher-power Amazonas 4B, whose final design will be determined later depending on market requirements, will be launched into orbit in 2015. Both GEOStar satellites will be designed, manufactured and tested at Orbital’s facility in Dulles, Virginia in the United States.
Commenting on the new contract award, Orbital Executive Vice President Mike Larkin, said, “We are delighted to welcome HISPASAT as a new customer for our GEOStar satellite product line. We continue to see excellent adoption of our small- and medium-class satellite platforms by regional operators around the world, with particular strength in Europe, Latin America and South Asia”.
Amazonas 4A and 4B are the 34th and 35th geosynchronous-Earth orbit communications satellites ordered by Orbital customers around the world, 26 of which are in orbit with nine others (including the two new Amazonas satellites) in design, production or pre-launch preparations.