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01 Apr 10. The UK MoD has awarded Thales UK the initial three-year support contract for the Watchkeeper Unmanned Air System (UAS) programme, for which Thales UK is also prime systems integrator. The Watchkeeper support solution will be a performance-based Contractor Logistics
Support (CLS) service, providing spares and repairs, technical support and the availability of the Watchkeeper training facility. Thales will deliver this service with the support of its key partners and supply chain, established during the Watchkeeper development and production programme. The contract further secures Thales’s role as an expert provider of innovation and support surrounding UASs and other intelligence and surveillance systems. The contract covers the whole Watchkeeper system, comprised of over 160 entities (including
unmanned air vehicles, ground control stations and support vehicles), and includes operator/user training. It is the first step in Thales UK’s provision of cost-effective, through-life support to Watchkeeper.

08 Apr 10. The US Air Force will launch a robotic spacecraft this month to conduct technology tests in orbit. The X-37B is scheduled to take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 19 April, according to Associated Press. The 1,000lb spacecraft is 9.5ft tall and 29ft long, and has a wingspan of less than 15ft. It can operate autonomously in orbit, as well as on re-entry and landing. It will include technologies such as thermal protection systems, autonomous advanced guidance, navigation and control systems, high temperature structures, conformal reusable insulation and high temperature seals. Once fielded, the X-37B will be the only X-vehicle capable of conducting continuous on-orbit operations for up to 21 days. The spacecraft has been designed as a prototype of a vehicle that can carry small payloads into orbit, carry out a variety of military missions and then return to Earth. The X-37B, which will stay in orbit for 270 days, will land north-west of Los Angeles at the Vandenberg Air Force Base. The X-37B programme is controlled by the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office. In 1999, Nasa began the X-37 programme in cooperation with Boeing. (Source: airforce-technology.com)

02 Apr 10. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) will develop a next-generation, open-architecture ground control system (GCS) for its Predator and Reaper unmanned aircraft under a $26.6m U.S. Air Force contract. The Block 50 Advanced Cockpit will address issues with human factors and proprietary interfaces in the existing GCS and provide for future flexibility and growth, including multi-aircraft control.GA-ASI says development is to be completed in 2012, with new production to transition to the Advanced Cockpit and fielded units to be retrofitted to the Block 50 configuration. “We’re working with the Air Force on the production cut-in and retrofit plans,” the company says. “Since the original Predator GCS was designed in the early 1990s, we’ve continued to upgrade it over the years, with the most significant modifications beginning in 2004,” GA-ASI says. “Since then, we have spent more than $20m of company funds to design a more capable system.” The contract allows for “best of breed” hardware and software to be integrated into the GCS’s modular open architecture during development, and third-party vendors will be able to compete to provide system components, the company says. Raytheon mounted a concerted campaign to break General Atomics’ monopoly and persuade the Defense Department to open Predator/Reaper GCS modernization to competition. The Air Force, which has been funding an incremental upgrade by GA-ASI, appears to have prevailed. “We’re on our third version of the Advanced Cockpit structure since we started developing this in 2003,” GA-ASI says. (Source: Aviation Week)

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