Friday, December 18, 2020

FIRST UP |  OneWeb launch underway • ESA's next chief outlines priorities • Cause of Vega failure confirmed
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A Soyuz rocket launched Friday morning carrying three dozen OneWeb satellites. The Soyuz-2.1b rocket lifted off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East at 7:26 a.m. Eastern. The 36 satellites on board will be released in groups of four over a four-hour period. The launch resumes the deployment of OneWeb's broadband constellation that was put on hold when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March. The company emerged from Chapter 11 this fall under a new ownership group led by the Bharti Global and the British government. [Arianespace]

SpaceX scrubbed a Falcon 9 launch of a National Reconnaissance Office payload to investigate an issue with the rocket's second stage. SpaceX halted the countdown of the Falcon 9 launch less than two minutes before its scheduled 9:45 a.m. Eastern liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center, eventually scrubbing the launch for the day. The company said it was investigating "slightly high" pressures in the second stage's liquid oxygen tank. The launch of the NROL-108 mission is now scheduled for Saturday between 9 a.m. and noon Eastern. [Spaceflight Now]

An independent investigation confirmed that improperly connected cables caused the failure of a Vega launch last month. The European Space Agency announced Friday that the investigation found two cables used in the thrust vector control system of the Vega's upper stage were inverted, causing the stage to tumble seconds after ignition on the Nov. 16 launch. The investigation found that "misleading" procedures contributed to the cables to be misconnected and that inspections failed to detect the problem. The investigation recommended both more detailed inspections of the next two Vega rockets, which have already been built, and changes in assembly and testing procedures for future Vega rockets. Arianespace estimates the Vega will be ready to return to flight by late March. [SpaceNews]

The head of the U.S. Space Force said that China's space program is "concerning." Gen. John Raymond, speaking at a conference Thursday, said China "has gone from zero to 60 really quick" in space and now has "a very robust program." Raymond said China is developing cutting-edge space systems in an effort to match the space capabilities of the United States, but is also pursuing technologies that could be used as weapons against American satellites. The Space Force is responding by taking steps to innovate faster, Raymond said. [SpaceNews]

China has rolled out a Long March 8 rocket for its first launch this weekend. Airspace closure notices indicate a launch time between 11 p.m. Eastern Saturday and 2 a.m. Sunday from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. The Long March 8 incorporates China's new generation of kerosene and cryogenic engines, and is designed to fill a gap in medium launch capabilities to sun-synchronous and geostationary orbits. China eventually plans to make the first stage of the Long March 8 reusable. [SpaceNews]

ESA's next director general says he will prioritize the agency's relationship with the EU and supporting commercial space development. At a news conference Thursday, Josef Aschbacher, selected by ESA to take over as director general in mid-2021, said shortly after taking office he will release a plan that outlines his vision and priorities. That will include working to improve ESA's relationship with the EU and its space efforts, as well as promoting the growth of the European space industry. The ESA Council, at the same meeting where member states selected Aschbacher, also approved additional funding for the Ariane 6 program to cover its latest launch delay, and agreed to hold a new astronaut selection round in 2021. [SpaceNews]
 

Other News


United Launch Alliance expects the first Vulcan launch to take place in no earlier than late 2021. ULA CEO Tory Bruno said Thursday that ULA is confident that both the launch vehicle and its first customer, Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander, will be on the launch pad "by the end of next year." The timeline for Vulcan's first flight has slipped over the past two years because ULA does not yet have flight-qualified BE-4 main engines for Vulcan's first stage, and those engines won't arrive until the summer of 2021. Bruno said testing is being done with pathfinder engines recently delivered to ULA to help ease the integration of the flight engines when they arrive. The Vulcan launch is one of 10 launches ULA plans to perform in 2021. [SpaceNews]

NASA has added Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket to a list of vehicles eligible to launch its spacecraft. The agency said this week that New Glenn is now part of the NASA Launch Services 2 contract vehicle, joining vehicles from Northrop Grumman, SpaceX and ULA that can compete to launch spacecraft for the agency. Blue Origin has said little recently about the status of New Glenn development or its first launch, which earlier this year was scheduled for late 2021. [SpaceNews]

A startup has raised a new round of funding to fuel its development of active phased array satellite antennas. CesiumAstro raised $15 million in an investment round in November led by Airbus Ventures and Kleiner Perkins. The company has raised $29.2 million to date to establish its business of selling phased array communications and radio frequency sensing payloads for government and commercial customers. With the latest funding, CesiumAstro plans to launch two cubesats to prove its technology in space and to expand the number of frequencies it offers customers. [SpaceNews]

The House passed two bills this week to protect lunar landing sites and rename a NASA facility. The House passed on a voice vote Wednesday the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act, which directs NASA to require companies that sign contracts or other agreements with the agency to follow NASA's guidelines for protecting Apollo and other landing sites on the moon. While the bill previously passed the Senate, changes to the bill since then require the Senate to again pass it. The House also approved a bill to rename NASA's Plum Brook Station in Ohio the Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility. [SpaceNews]

Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft returned 5.4 grams of asteroid samples to Earth. Science and technology minister Hagiuda Koichi said Friday that the estimated mass of samples from the asteroid Ryugu is far above the target of just a tenth of a gram. Those samples were returned to Earth earlier this month, six years after the spacecraft's launch. [NHK]

An enlisted member of the Space Force had a different concept of "call of duty." According to a letter posted on a Facebook group, the senior airman assigned to Space Delta 8 was late to a fitness lesson because the airman was busy going to stores trying to buy a PlayStation 5 console. When reminded of the fitness lesson, the airman reportedly responded, "Yolo [you only live once], PS5 > letters of discipline." The airman was demoted a rank as a result. [Task & Purpose]

 

Or Something Like That


"And how humble was it when he said, 'One step for man, and one giant step for mankind?'"

– Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives this week about a bill that would rename NASA's Plum Brook Station after Neil Armstrong.
 

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