Thursday, January 14, 2021

FIRST UP | Huntsville to host Space Command HQ • OneWeb slashes size of next-gen constellation
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Thursday, January 14, 2021

Top Stories

The Air Force has selected Huntsville, Alabama, as the future headquarters for U.S. Space Command. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett announced the decision Wednesday, one day before stepping down from her post. Huntsville won the competition, the Air Force stated, because it "compared favorably" to the other five finalists on several factors, including Redstone Arsenal's ability to offer a temporary site for the headquarters at no cost while a permanent facility is constructed. Alabama was considered a long shot and Colorado was the front-runner, given its status as interim home of Space Command and its concentration of military installations and space industry contractors. Colorado officials said they were "deeply disappointed" in the decision and asked the incoming Biden administration to review it, amid rumors Colorado was the Air Force's original choice. [SpaceNews]

A Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down off the Florida coast Wednesday night. The CRS-21 Dragon capsule splashed down west of Tampa at 8:27 p.m. Eastern, a day and a half after undocking from the International Space Station. The spacecraft returned about 2,000 kilograms of experiments and other equipment, completing the first mission of the new version of the cargo spacecraft. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX won contracts Wednesday for launches of a lunar lander and an environmental satellite. Intuitive Machines said it will launch its IM-2 lunar lander mission on a Falcon 9 as soon as 2022. That lander will carry several NASA payloads to the south polar regions of the moon as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. MethaneSAT, a subsidiary of the Environmental Defense Fund, said Wednesday it will launch its satellite on a Falcon 9 rideshare mission in October 2022. The 350-kilogram spacecraft will track methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX tested the engines on a Starship prototype three times in one day Wednesday. The company performed three brief static-fire tests of the Raptor engines on the SN9 vehicle at Boca Chica, Texas. "Today at SpaceX is about practicing Starship engine starts," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted about the tests. The tests suggest SpaceX is ready to attempt a high-altitude test flight of the vehicle as soon as Friday. [Ars Technica]

OneWeb has slashed the size of a proposed next-generation satellite constellation. In a filing with the FCC this week, OneWeb said it's requesting a modification to an application it filed in May, reducing the number of satellites in that "Phase Two" system from 47,844 to 6,372. The slimmed-down constellation, the company said, shows its commitment "to support the long-term use of space for all by preserving the orbital environment." While it was unclear how serious OneWeb was about that original proposal, larger than any other proposed constellation, the application raised concerns about orbital debris creation and impacts on astronomy. The proposal does not affect the company's original constellation of about 650 satellites it is currently launching. [SpaceNews]

Other News

A Russian committee is calling for a proposal to land cosmonauts on the moon by 2030. The Council for Space of the Russian Academy of Sciences said it's seeking a plan in six months on how to carry out such a mission. A lunar landing, it stated, could be achieved through several launches of a version of the Angara-5 rocket, rather than by developing a new heavy-lift vehicle. [TASS]

Virgin Orbit has rescheduled its next LauncherOne launch attempt for Sunday. The company said this week it had rescheduled the launch, previously set for Wednesday, to allow more time to complete final actions identified in a launch readiness review last Friday. The launch, carrying 10 NASA-sponsored cubesats, will take place between 1 and 5 p.m. Eastern. []

A scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center has pleaded guilty to charges he lied about his ties with China. Meyya Meyyappan had been at NASA since 1996 and served as chief scientist for exploration technology at Ames since 2006. In October, he was charged with concealing links to China, including participation in its Thousand Talents Program that offered him grants and a professorship. He faces up to six months in prison, with sentencing scheduled for June 16. [Reuters]

A new space-related fund is coming to Wall Street. Ark Invest said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that it plans to offer a "Space Exploration" exchange-traded fund, or ETF, which holds shares in companies but can be traded on a stock exchange. The fund will include companies involved with or benefiting from products and services "that occur beyond the surface of the Earth." The fund hasn't disclosed what companies will be included, but after the filing shares in Maxar Technologies and Virgin Galactic, two of the handful of publicly traded space companies, rose by 8%. [CNBC]

The longtime head of Virginia's spaceport announced his intent to retire. Dale Nash, CEO of Virginia Space, said this week he plans to retire as soon as this fall. He had led the organization, which runs the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, since 2012. The spaceport hosts launches of Antares and Minotaur rockets and will begin supporting Electron launches later this year. [Virginia Business]

Not a Direct Route

"I thought, 'What the hell are they doing?' To go to Mercury should be easy because it's just closer to the sun, so the direct path is very close. But, if you go that way you will end up in the sun."

– Jan Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency, discussing at a press conference Thursday why his agency's BepiColombo mission to Mercury had to first make a flyby of Venus in October in order to eventually go into orbit around Mercury.

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