FIRST UP | Northrop Grumman test fires solid motor for ULA’s Vulcan rocket • ESA and EU mend relations • SpaceX rideshare delayed a day
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Friday, January 22, 2021

Top Stories

SpaceX has delayed the Falcon 9 launch of dozens of smallsats by a day. The Transporter-1 mission, which was to launch Friday morning from Cape Canaveral, is now scheduled for 9:40 a.m. Eastern Saturday. SpaceX did not disclose the reason for the delay, but weather does not appear to be a factor. The dedicated rideshare mission is carrying, by some estimates, more than 100 smallsats, including 48 Flock cubesats for Planet, deploying them into a polar orbit. [Florida Today]

Northrop Grumman successfully tested a booster it developed for ULA's Vulcan rocket. Northrop said Thursday it performed a static-fire test of the GEM 63XL solid-fuel booster at a facility in Utah. The test validated the performance of the booster, which generates 449,000 pounds-force of thrust, including how it operates at high temperatures. The GEM 63XL will be used as a strap-on booster for the Vulcan. [SpaceNews]

An industry executive called on the Biden administration to retain the National Space Council. Mandy Vaughn, chief executive of VOX Space, the government services arm of Virgin Orbit, said Thursday that the council had "demonstrable success" during the Trump administration in advancing space policy issues, including getting new policies through the interagency coordination process. The new administration has not announced its plans for the council, but many individuals and organizations have endorsed retaining it. Vaughn also serves on the council's Users' Advisory Group. [SpaceNews]

Officials with the European Union and the European Space Agency said they will seek to work more cooperatively. At a conference last week, EU commissioner Thierry Breton went out of his way to praise ESA, and said that the EU will continue to rely on ESA. Relations between the two organizations have frayed in recent years, particularly as the EU took steps that made it appear it was encroaching on ESA's turf. The two organizations are still in negotiations on a partnership agreement that will govern their roles and responsibilities on joint programs like Copernicus and Galileo. [SpaceNews]

The U.S. Air Force Academy will graduate more officers for the Space Force this year. Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, superintendent of the academy, said he expects 116 cadets to graduate this year and commission as Space Force officers, up from 86 last year. The academy has expanded the space curriculum to support the new branch of the military, including courses in space law, strategy and operations, and a program to build satellites. [SpaceNews]

Other News

A Google-backed venture to provide wireless communications using balloons is shutting down. Loon announced Thursday that it will wind down operations over the next few months after concluding its technology could not become commercially viable. Loon, which started in Google's "moonshot factory" and was later spun out as a separate company, developed technology to provide wireless connectivity using balloons flying in the stratosphere. It was seen as a potential competitor to satellites because of lower latency and potentially lower costs, although Loon also made use of satellites for backhaul services. [SpaceNews]

A NASA mission to demonstrate a new "green" propellant was a success. The Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM), launched in mid-2019 and operated for 15 months, tested a non-toxic propellant called AF-M315E intended to have performance similar to hydrazine but which is easier and safer to handle. The success of GPIM, those involved in the mission said at a recent conference, is allowing them to move ahead with commercial applications of the propellant, now known as ASCENT. [SpaceNews]

Virgin Galactic flew its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, without SpaceShipTwo, Thursday. The company said the flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico was designed to provide an opportunity for pilots to simulate SpaceShipTwo's glide and landing phases of flight. A second, similar flight of the aircraft is planned for today. SpaceShipTwo last flew in December on a powered test flight aborted just as its engine ignited because of a computer issue. The company hasn't announced a schedule for the next flight of the suborbital spaceplane. [KRQE-TV Albuquerque, N.M.]

China's Chang'e-5 orbiter is heading to the Earth-sun L-1 point. The spacecraft completed its primary mission last month when it released its sample return capsule, containing lunar rocks and regolith collected by the mission's lunar lander, as it flew by Earth. The China Lunar Exploration Program said this week the spacecraft will arrive at the L-1 Lagrange point, about 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth in the direction of the sun, in mid-March to perform observations of the sun and other spacecraft tests. The program said it will evaluate future plans for the spacecraft at that time based on its performance and remaining propellant. [Sky & Telescope]

Not Quite the Ninth Floor of NASA HQ

"I went from the home office to the dining room to the basement. So, I will be running NASA from the basement of my house in Virginia."

– Steve Jurczyk, NASA associate administrator and, as of Wednesday, acting administrator of the agency, during a panel discussion Thursday at the AIAA SciTech Forum.

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