Technical Gliches Keep Coast Guard Satellite Grounded

By Stew Magnuson and Breanne Wagner
An experimental Coast Guard surveillance payload that was scheduled for launch aboard a commercial satellite at the end of 2007 has been delayed twice because of several technical problems, the Coast Guard said.

The demonstration payload, which was built and scheduled to be launched aboard a Cosmos rocket by ORBCOMM Inc. of Fort Lee, N.J., was designed to collect ship data from space and transmit them to ground stations.

But two significant technical issues delayed the launch to April of this year and most recently to mid-August, said Cmdr. Keith Ingalsbe, project manager for the Coast Guard’s nationwide automatic identification system, or NAIS, which was created to improve the ability to track maritime traffic. The service’s surveillance payload is outfitted with a receiver that was intended to collect data for NAIS.

The first delay was a result of concerns about the satellite’s solar panel arrays that are used to provide power, Ingalsbe said in an interview. The problem was compounded by transporting the spacecraft back and forth between Germany, where it was undergoing manufacturing and testing, and Russia, where the satellite was set for launch. Strict import and export requirements caused further delays, he said.

The launch date was pushed back a second time because of troubles with electromagnetic interference. During tests, engineers found that the satellite’s reaction wheel, which is used to point the spacecraft in a specific direction, was emitting an unusually loud noise that was interfering with the Coast Guard’s receiver signal. The noise exceeded ORBCOMM’s acceptable threshold and had to be fixed, Ingalsbe said.

The good news, he said, is that the company completed final tests in late April. “The problems that were identified have been addressed.”

In light of all the technical issues, the Coast Guard rescheduled the launch for Aug. 15. But “ORBCOMM has plans to launch a month or two before that date,” Ingalsbe said. The company is under contract to deliver receiver data to the Coast Guard by Aug. 30, he said, so it wants ample time to collect information.

Topics: Space, Homeland Security

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