Ball Corp's WISE Spacecraft to Resume

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After a two year hiatus, Ball Corporation’s (BLL) Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (:WISE) spacecraft will resume its near-Earth object asteroid hunting mission in September.

The WISE spacecraft will be reactivated with the goal of discovering and characterizing near-Earth objects (NEOs) or space rocks that can be found orbiting within 28 million miles (45 million kilometers) from Earth's path around the sun.

The WISE BCP-300 spacecraft bus was built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., a subsidiary of Ball Corporation in Boulder, CO, as per its contract with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Construction of the WISE telescope was divided between Ball Aerospace & Technologies (spacecraft, operations support), Rockwell Collins Inc. (COL) (focal planes) and Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) among others.

It was launched in December 2009. During its course of 10-month operation, the spacecraft collected a vast storehouse of information with far greater sensitivity than previous missions. It performed an all-sky astronomical survey and collected more than 2.7 million images taken at four infrared wavelengths of light, capturing everything from nearby asteroids to distant galaxies.

After the successful completion of WISE's primary science mission, in Oct 2010, NASA extended the mission with a four-month program called Near-Earth Object WISE (:NEOWISE). The aim was to look for asteroids and comets close to Earth’s orbit. The mission's discoveries of previously unknown objects included 21 comets, more than 34,000 asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, and 135 near-Earth objects. The spacecraft was thereafter put into hibernation on Feb 1, 2011.

Ball Corporation is a manufacturer of metal and plastic packaging, primarily for beverages and foods. It also supplies aerospace and other technologies and services to government and commercial customers through its subsidiary Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

It supports critical missions for national agencies such as the Department of Defense, NASA, NOAA and other U.S. government and commercial entities. The company develops and manufactures spacecraft, advanced instruments and sensors, components, data exploitation systems and RF solutions for strategic, tactical and scientific applications.

The Aerospace and Technologies segment, accounted for 10% of total sales in 2012 and 11% of total sales in the first half of fiscal 2013. The segment had a backlog of more than $966 million at the end of the quarter.

Ball Corporation will continue to benefit from product launches, expansion into emerging markets and strong backlog in its aerospace and technologies segment. However, loss of a customer, weak economic condition in Europe and pricing pressure in China will continue to be the headwinds.     

During the second quarter, Ball Aerospace continued to diversify its contract mix with a contract win from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (:KARI) to build the Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer (GEMS) for the National Institute of Environmental Research in the Ministry of Environment of South Korea. These will act as growth drivers for Ball Corporation in the upcoming quarters.

Ball currently retains a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Sealed Air Corp. (SEE), with a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy), is a favorable option for investors.

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