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Year In Review... Comtech Aero Astro

comtechaa_sm1210_l Comtech AeroAstro (CAA) is excited about, and remains determined in its passion that small satellites and related technologies provide significant capability for effectively achieving military, civil, and commercial space mission goals. Now in its 22nd year, it is evident CAA’s patience is paying off — the time of high-utility and smaller, modular space systems has truly arrived.

Strategically, CAA continues to position itself with improved high-performance hardware and software designs for smaller satellites and with space situational awareness technologies. CAA is setting the standard for the future of this critical industry capability with rapid, responsive spacecraft development using its modular plug-and-play technologies.

Ashburn, Virginia-based Comtech AeroAstro, Inc., is a wholly owned subsidiary of Comtech Telecommunications Corporation (NASDAQ:CMTL) in Melville, New York. Comtech AeroAstro, Inc. is a leader in satellite systems, components and selected payload and mission domain expertise technologies. President Paul Lithgow, a 30-year aerospace veteran, led the organization through acquisition and transformation while maintaining CAA’s heritage as a premier small satellite, component and mission payload provider.

Under Mr. Lithgow, innovation and entrepreneurism continue to thrive, but with increased emphasis on expanding CAA’s customer base, ‘right size’ processes to satisfying government space systems programs requirements, and increasing mission-level expertise and modeling capability. Examples of this are CAA’s STPSat-1 and -2 Programs. Developed for the DoD Space Test Program (STP), these satellites are designed to capitalize on excess mass and volume margin as secondary missions on Atlas V and Minotaur IV launch vehicles instead of requiring their own expensive launch vehicle.

CAA developed and supported the launch of the STPSat-1 in March 2007 on an Atlas V. This satellite, designed for a one-year mission life, was decommissioned in October 2009 after successfully providing more than two years of valuable mission data.

In December 2008, CAA delivered the first STP Standard Interface Vehicle (SIV) satellite bus; that mission, STPSat-2, was launched in November on a Minotaur IV rocket. Once flight proven, the STP-SIV bus will be a workhorse platform for hosting a variety of missions and payloads to a wide range of low-Earth orbits. Moreover, CAA was honored by being recognized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) with the 2010 Space Systems Award. Mr. Lithgow accepted the award on behalf of the government and contractor team. The award read “in recognition of the STPSat-1 government-led, multi-contractor team for their successful design, development, integration, and on-orbit tests of technologies and mission operations supporting critical USAF and USN missions.”

CAA is currently developing the U.S. Navy’s microsatellite bus on the Joint Milli-Arcsecond Pathfinder Survey (JMAPS) Program, to provide highly accurate star position data for military and civil applications. Similar in size to the STPSat-1 and -2 vehicles, this satellite bus, called the Astro 200AS, is more stable, more agile and has better pointing accuracy than vehicles in the commercial imagery business at a fraction of the cost. This capability enables a range of new high-value mission and sensor options on an affordable platform that can be rapidly developed and deployed.

CAA offers star trackers, miniature imagers, Sun sensors and transceivers to the growing small satellite community. CAA is also expanding its expertise into unique mission areas, including payload and sensor development that support national security needs in ISR, space situational awareness and special communications.

During 2010, CAA continued to invest in significant upgrades to tools and facilities to be better equipped to support the broad national security space customer community. One ongoing, funded effort, PACS, CAA’s Payload Alert Communications System, is a novel, new and revolutionary approach supporting low-Earth orbit space traffic control while monitoring space situational awareness. PACS provides low cost, low size, weight and power position, velocity, time information along with low-data rate host vehicle health and status reporting utilizing a CAA patented waveform. The system uses a unique tagging, tracking and locating device along with existing navigation constellation infrastructure to provide PACS services to users. This data availability can be critical during post-launch initialization and anomaly resolution, since the availability or lack of information for extended periods can be the difference between rescue and loss of an orbiting asset.

comtechaasm1210_g1 Building on these successes and advancements, CAA is looking to the future. Specifically, the goals of rapid and reconfigurable spacecraft fit ideally with CAA’s commitment to the value of smaller, rapidly developed systems to execute critical missions. CAA has been operating in this area since 2000 and supported the Operationally Responsive Space Office’s (ORS) initial efforts, developing a detailed preliminary design for a Modular Multi-mission Space Vehicle for ORS in early 2009. This design was further refined and led to an award in September 2009 for a five-year IDIQ contract from AFRL for Advanced Plug-and-Play (PnP) development. CAA has been an advocate for spacecraft PnP since 2001 and believes it to be an enabling technology for spacecraft that can be configured and launched in days rather than months — a key goal for successful responsive space operations.

However, PnP’s utility does not stop there. CAA sees the technology as an enabler for a new way to develop spacecraft of all size classes, big and small, by shortening schedules and reducing costs without compromising delivered performance. With completion of AFRL’s Advanced Plug and Play Technologies Task Order (TO) 1, and TO2, CAA was also recently awarded TO3 which sets the stage for spacecraft providing support to not only AFRL, but also ORS, NRO and NASA.

In 2009, CAA unveiled its Coral CubeSat high-performance satellite; this satellite, about the size of a loaf of bread, is deployed as a secondary payload from almost any launch vehicle. CAA’s Coral satellite provides very high performance for a variety of mission sets in a small, compact, low cost package. Coral uses miniaturized but sophisticated components (many developed by CAA), and affords serious experimenters the opportunity to quickly launch and test their mission and payload ideas in space. CAA continues its advancements in miniaturization of electrical and mechanical systems; it is breaking paradigms and setting the industry standard.

During the past year, CAA has experienced tremendous growth. With increased revenue and projected sales, growth is at its highest ever.

comtechaa_sm1210_bio Continued contracts and bookings offer CAA what promises to be a successful FY2011 and beyond. Investments in training programs such as Earned Value Management System (EVMS), Cost Account Managers (CAM) software and Responsible Engineering Authority (REA) development has resulted in improved customer support for program coordination and execution. Upgrades continue to its Ashburn labs and clean rooms, and both Ashburn and Littleton expanded their secure file servers. CAA now has new firewalls and servers providing improved security and seamless sharing of data to include sharing and synchronizing CAD drawings between its two sites. During 2010, CAA’s organization had nearly doubled at its two locations. With concentration in support of the JMAPS and APT Programs, aggressive recruiting continues for key engineering staff.

Using IT tools developed for the social networking industry, CAA continues to promote a virtual working environment allowing its staff to support ongoing efforts from either of its two locations as well as remotely from other parts of the country. To learn more about Comtech AeroAstro, visit the Company at www.aeroastro.com.