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Local Firms Fly High With Satellite Deals

Two items related to the care, the transportation, and the use of satellites.

The Defense Department announced this month it had placed a $61 million order with Carlsbad-based ViaSat Inc. for what the Pentagon calls MIDS satellite terminals. Some terminals do their work in military aircraft; others go on the ground.

Two percent of the order is a foreign military sale to Japan; the balance is for U.S. forces. The airborne terminals will go in F/A-18 Hornet, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft, among others. Ground systems will go to Army and Air Force systems, as well as Japan’s defense agency.

The satellite gear, known as multifunctional information distribution system low volume terminals, provides secure, high-capacity, jam resistant, digital data and voice communications capability.

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The contract was handled through the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (Spawar) of San Diego.

ViaSat plans to produce and deliver its 500th MIDS terminal this summer.

Meanwhile, the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base has awarded Poway’s SpaceDev approximately $100,000 to begin developing a coffee-cup size rocket motor for small satellites known as “nanosats.”

A nano-class satellite is in the range of 10 kilograms, or 22 pounds, and may be the size of a basketball.

Specifically, SpaceDev is receiving a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contract. If the project makes it to Phase II, the design will be built and tested on the ground. At Phase III the design will be tested in space. “The Phase IIIs are difficult to get,” said SpaceDev chief Jim Benson.

Like the rocket motor that SpaceDev made for SpaceShipOne, which took its private pilots to the edge of space, the nanosat motor will be a hybrid motor, combining a solid material (synthetic rubber) and a liquid (nitrous oxide, or laughing gas).

SpaceDev trades over the counter as SPDV.

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Seacoast Sensor:

The advanced projects arm of the Pentagon, known as DARPA, probably has a higher profile, but the relatively new Department of Homeland Security is able to fund research as well, through an agency called HSARPA (Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency).

A Carlsbad company named Seacoast Science, Inc. has snared a follow-up grant from the Homeland Security office. The company is developing very small sensors to detect toxic industrial chemicals in minute concentrations. Ideally the company would like to create a small, rugged, low-cost sensor that consumes a minimum of power.

The company’s Phase II Small Business Innovation Research contract of $750,000 will last through May 2007.

Privately held Seacoast Science was founded in 2003.


Contact Brad Graves via e-mail at bradg@sdbj.com, or call him at (858) 277-6359, Ext. 3115.

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