Wednesday, January 13, 2021

FIRST UP | Cape Canaveral forecasts more than 50 launches in 2021 • NASA and Japan finalize Gateway agreement
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Top Stories

Cape Canaveral could host more than 50 launches this year, a sharp increase from 2020. Col. Brande Walton, vice commander of the 45th Space Wing, said Tuesday that 53 launches from the spaceport are currently scheduled for 2020, with one, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch, already completed. The Cape hosted 31 launches in 2020, and Walton noted that the 2021 projection is subject to change as companies shift their launch schedules. [SpaceNews]

Government intelligence agencies say commercial geospatial intelligence products are emerging faster than they can figure out how to use them. David Gauthier, director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency's commercial and business operations group, said Tuesday that the intelligence community slowly is pivoting to a "commercial first" mindset, and that both his agency and the National Reconnaissance Office are stepping up market research to better understand what's available. Most of the demand is for photographic imagery captured by electrooptical sensors in space, but analysts are increasingly seeing the value of other sources of intelligence, such as radar imagery and radio-frequency signals. [SpaceNews]

NASA has signed an agreement with Japan regarding cooperation on the lunar Gateway. Under the agreement, Japan will provide batteries for NASA's HALO module and other components for the European-lead I-Hab habitation module. Japan will also study providing cargo resupply services using a version of its HTV-X cargo spacecraft. NASA previously announced agreements with Europe and Canada regarding their contributions to the lunar Gateway. [SpaceNews]

Aerojet Rocketdyne has completed its first AR1 engine as it looks for customers for it. The AR1 was assembled at Aerojet Rocketdyne's large engine assembly facility at NASA's Stennis Space Center. The company is looking at options to test it at Stennis, which may require modifications to existing test stands there to accommodate the engine since it uses kerosene rather than liquid hydrogen fuel. Aerojet developed the AR1 for potential use by United Launch Alliance, which instead opted for Blue Origin's BE-4 on its Vulcan rocket. Aerojet is now offering the engine for use on medium-class rockets, and signed an agreement with Firefly Aerospace in 2019 to study its use on that company's future vehicles. [SpaceNews]

A White House executive order Tuesday directs NASA and other agencies to pursue use of small nuclear reactors in space. The order instructs NASA to identify its requirements for nuclear power systems in space through 2040. It also calls on NASA to work with the Defense Department and other agencies on potential national security space applications of nuclear power systems. The order is intended to build upon Space Policy Directive 6, published last month, which set a general road map for space nuclear power and propulsion. [SpaceNews]

Other News

Blue Origin appears to be gearing up for another New Shepard suborbital test flight. The FAA published Tuesday airspace restrictions above the company's West Texas test site for Thursday through Sunday, similar to airspace restrictions for previous test flights. The company has yet to announce plans for a flight of the vehicle. New Shepard last flew three months ago. [SpaceNews]

French startup Exotrail says it has tested an electric propulsion system in space. The Hall effect thruster, installed on the NanoAvionics R2 cubesat, changed the satellite's orbit during a test in late December. Over the next few months, Exotrail plans to fire the thruster to demonstrate collision avoidance maneuvers, decrease the satellite's altitude and change its inclination. Exotrail says its ExoMG thruster is the smallest Hall effect thruster ever flown, and the first to be used on a satellite weighing less than 100 kilograms. [SpaceNews]

L3Harris said Tuesday it completed development of an electronic phased array ground antenna for the U.S. Space Force. The prototype "multi-band multi-mission" antenna is one three developed under a Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) 2019 contract for use at ground stations. The antenna was integrated with the Space Force's Satellite Control Network to demonstrate multiple simultaneous satellite contacts. Atlas Space Operations and Lockheed Martin also received DIU contracts for similar prototype antennas. [SpaceNews]

Attempting to use SpaceX's Starlink system in Russia could cost you. A law being considered by the Duma would fine individuals from $135 to $405 if they were caught using Western satellite communications systems. Russian law requires internet service providers to route their traffic through Russian entities so they can be monitored. It's unclear if Starlink or other satellite broadband companies are currently seeking landing rights in Russia. [Ars Technica]

Astronomers are using pulsars to help detect gravitational waves. At a conference this week, astronomers said they have created a "galaxy-size detector" of gravitational waves by closely monitoring the timing of a set of pulsars scattered across the Milky Way. Those observations have revealed a low-frequency signal that astronomers believe is a background of gravitational waves created by mergers of supermassive black holes. They said more data analysis is needed, though, to confirm the signal they're seeing is from gravitational waves. [Sky & Telescope]

Not-So-Ordinary Matter

"The reality that space infrastructure is such a small part of commercial space economic activity comes as a bit of a surprise. It's a bit like learning that ordinary matter makes up only 5% of the matter-energy density of the universe. Nevertheless, being made up of ordinary matter myself, I still think this is important."

– David Thompson, the retired president and CEO of Orbital ATK, discussing how launch vehicle and satellite manufacturing accounts for only a small fraction of overall commercial space revenues, which are dominated by services and ground equipment, during a talk Tuesday at the AIAA SciTech Forum.

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