Wednesday, January 27, 2021

FIRST UP | Axiom announces crew for first private ISS mission • Speedcast cleared to exit Chapter 11 under new owner
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Top Stories

Two NASA astronauts have started a spacewalk outside the International Space Station this morning. Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover started the spacewalk, expected to last 6.5 hours, at 6:28 a.m. Eastern. The two will perform work on the exterior of the Columbus module, configuring a new Ka-band antenna there and completing the installation of the Bartolomeo external payload platform. They will also remove a fixture on the station's truss in preparation for future upgrades of the ISS power system. [NASA]

The U.S. Space Force has formally ended launch partnerships with Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman after those companies lost a competition last year. The Space Force terminated the Launch Service Agreements with the two companies last month after spending $255.5 million with Blue Origin and $531.7 million with Northrop Grumman. The two companies, and United Launch Alliance, won the agreements in 2018 to support development of their new launch vehicles. Last year, ULA and SpaceX won National Security Space Launch contracts, beating out Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman. While Blue Origin is continuing development of its New Glenn rocket, Northrop said last year it was ending work on its OmegA vehicle. [SpaceNews]

Axiom Space announced on Tuesday the crew of its first private mission to the ISS next year. The Ax-1 mission, scheduled for launch no earlier than next January on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft will fly three customers to the station: Larry Connor, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe. Former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, now working for Axiom, will command the mission. The three passengers are paying an estimated $55 million each for the mission, which will spend eight days at the station. Notably absent from the announcement was actor Tom Cruise, who was long rumored to be flying to the station with director Doug Limon to shoot a movie there. [SpaceNews]

The head of U.S. Space Command says he supports giving the Commerce Department responsibility for civil space traffic management (STM). U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson said allowing the Commerce Department to handle civil STM is similar to having the FAA manage civilian air traffic management, while the military manages its own airspace. The Defense Department is working with the Commerce Department on how to handle STM, a process that started with Space Policy Directive 3 in 2018. [SpaceNews]

Satellite communications provider Speedcast has won approval to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A federal bankruptcy court approved a plan for Speedcast to reorganize under a new owner, private equity firm Centerbridge Partners, a process that will be completed by the end of March. Centerbridge, one of SpeedCast's largest creditors prior to filing for bankruptcy protection, is making an additional investment of $500 million in the company, which will be used to repay its debtor-in-possession financing and make payments to vendors. Speedcast filed for Chapter 11 last April after the pandemic weakened demand for its connectivity services to cruise lines, oil rigs and other customer platforms. [SpaceNews]

Lockheed Martin missed earnings projections for its fiscal fourth quarter. The company said Tuesday that the pandemic slowed down deliveries of F-35 fighters and disrupted its supply chain. Lockheed's space business unit reported net sales of nearly $11.9 billion for 2020, a 9% increase over 2019, but its operating profit of $1.15 billion fell 4% from 2019. [Reuters]

Other News

Colorado's congressional delegation is asking the Biden administration to reconsider the Air Force's decision to move the headquarters of U.S. Space Command to Alabama. In a letter Tuesday, the entire nine-member delegation asked President Biden to reconsider that decision, announced in the final days of the Trump administration. Their letter cited, among other issues, claims of political influence in the selection process. Gen. James Dickinson, head of Space Command, said Tuesday any move of the command's headquarters would take five to six years since new facilities will have to be built first at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama to host the command. []

A SpaceX rideshare mission included several technology demonstrations and payloads of interest to the U.S. military. Blue Canyon Technologies deployed new satellite components it plans to incorporate in DARPA satellites, while other smallsats carried laser communications payloads that allow satellites to pass massive amounts of data to other satellites and to ground stations. DARPA and the Space Development Agency had hoped to fly two satellites of their own to test laser intersatellite links, but the spacecraft were damaged in prelaunch processing. [SpaceNews]

The first stage of the first H3 rocket is heading to its Japanese launch site. The stage, unveiled earlier this week, is being shipped to the Tanegashima Space Center for a series of tests scheduled to start next month. The Japanese space agency JAXA has not set a date for the first H3 launch other than stating that it will take place during the fiscal year that begins April 1. [SpaceNews]

Electric propulsion company Apollo Fusion has won an order from York Space Systems. Apollo Fusion will provide its Apollo Constellation Engine electric thrusters for a constellation of at least 10 satellites York is building. The order is the fourth for Apollo Fusion, accounting for more than 20 thrusters and with options for up to 200 more. The company says its ability to scale up production of the thrusters is a major reason why it has secured those orders. [SpaceNews]

Another war of words has broken out between Amazon and SpaceX about their satellite constellations. SpaceX is seeking FCC permission to revise the license of its Starlink satellites to lower their orbits. In one recent filing with the FCC, SpaceX dismissed criticism from Amazon and its "still nascent" plans for the Project Kuiper constellation. "It does not serve the public to hamstring Starlink today for an Amazon satellite system that is at best several years away from operation," SpaceX's Elon Musk tweeted about the filing, prompting a response from Amazon that SpaceX wanted to "smother competition in the cradle if they can." The filing is just the latest in a long-running debate that also involves several other operators who oppose SpaceX's proposed license modification. [CNBC]

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will make one more flyby of the asteroid Bennu before departing for Earth. The spacecraft touched down on the surface of the asteroid in October to collect samples, and original plans did not call for the spacecraft to return to the vicinity of the asteroid before maneuvering to return the samples to Earth. NASA said Tuesday that the spacecraft will make one final flyby in April, approaching to within about three kilometers of the landing spot on Bennu. The flyby will allow scientists to observe the touchdown location and also check if the spacecraft's instruments were impaired in any way by dust kicked up from the sample collection campaign. OSIRIS-REx will start its journey back to Earth in May, arriving in September 2023. [NASA]

Unless It's Really Funny, Maybe

"What shouldn't I do?"

"You should do whatever your impulse calls you to do. The crew won't let you do anything stupid."

– Eytan Stibbe, one of the private astronauts who will fly on Axiom Space's Ax-1 mission next year, and former NASA astronaut Charlie Bolden, during a panel discussion at the 16th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference Tuesday where Stibbe asked for advice for his upcoming trip.

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