FIRST UP | Rocket Lab lofts secretive satellite for OHB • NASA: SLS test cut short by "intentionally conservative" limits
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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Breaking: A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 8:02 a.m. Eastern this morning. The rocket will deploy its payload of 60 Starlink satellites about an hour after liftoff.

Rocket Lab launched a secretive communications satellite for OHB Group early Wednesday. An Electron rocket lifted off from Rocket Lab's New Zealand launch site at 2:26 a.m. Eastern and deployed the GMS-T satellite into a polar orbit an hour and 10 minutes later. The satellite was built by OHB for an undisclosed customer, and is intended to "enable specific frequencies" for future services. OHB disclosed no other details about the satellite or the customer, but some analysts have linked it to a Chinese company, GMS Zhaopin, with ties to KLEO Connect, a German company planning a constellation for internet of things services. [SpaceNews]

NASA said Tuesday the Green Run static-fire test of the Space Launch System core stage was cut short by "intentionally conservative" limits on the vehicle. That test, slated to last more than eight minutes, ended Saturday after just over one minute. NASA and Boeing officials said that the hydraulic system used for gimbaling one of the four RS-25 engines dropped below limits, triggering the shutdown. Those limits were more conservative than would be used in flight, in part to protect the stage, which would later be flown on the Artemis 1 mission. NASA is still weighing whether to perform a second static-fire test, with one issue being the number of times the core stage can be loaded with cryogenic propellants. [SpaceNews]

Departing NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine hopes the new administration will preserve the Artemis program.Speaking at a briefing Tuesday on the Green Run test, and in an earlier interview, Bridenstine called for continuity in NASA's human space exploration programs, including returning humans to the moon "as quickly as possible." The SLS, he said, offered "the highest probability of success" of doing so. Bridenstine departs NASA today but has not disclosed his future plans. While the new Biden administration has not nominated his successor yet, Bridenstine said that person will have his full support. [SpaceNews]

The Biden administration's nominee for secretary of defense sees growing threats to U.S. national security in space. In a statement submitted for his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Lloyd Austin said he will "ensure the space domain is carefully considered across the range of upcoming strategic reviews" and noted threats posed by Chinese and Russian space activities. Space did not come up during the four-hour hearing other than a request by one senator that Austin investigate the decision announced last week to place the headquarters of U.S. Space Command in Alabama. [SpaceNews]

In the latest in a series of acquisitions, Redwire has purchased Oakman Aerospace. Terms of the deal, announced Tuesday, were not disclosed. Colorado-based Oakman is known for digital engineering and spacecraft development. Redwire, established last summer, has acquired several space companies, including Made In Space, Deep Space Systems, Adcole Space, Roccor and Loadpath. [SpaceNews]

Other News

China launched a satellite for mobile communications Tuesday. A Long March 3B lifted off at 11:25 a.m. Eastern from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center and placed the Tiantong-1 03 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit. The satellite is equipped with a large deployable antenna to provide mobile communications services in China and surrounding regions. [Xinhua]

Chinese launch startup iSpace is preparing for an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. In a recent filing, iSpace said it was working with advisory firms on an IPO on China's Science and Technology Innovation Board (STAR Market), a market established in 2019 to support tech companies. The company raised $173 million in a Series B round last year to fund development of its Hyperbola-2 rocket. The first stage of that rocket is intended to be reusable, and iSpace recently showed off progress in development of its landing legs. [SpaceNews]

Former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson has joined the board of Maxar Technologies. Wilson, currently president of the University of Texas El Paso, served as Air Force secretary from 2017 to 2019. Wilson will provide Maxar strategic advice as the Earth imaging company seeks to grow its national security and intelligence business. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX quietly purchased two oil rigs to convert into floating launch platforms. Using a shell company, SpaceX acquired the rigs, ENSCO 8500 and 8501, last year for $3.5 million each. The rigs, renamed Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars, will likely be converted into floating launch platforms for SpaceX's next-generation Starship/Super Heavy launch system, although the company has not officially confirmed those plans. [NASASpaceFlight.com]

NASA is scrapping a mobile launch platform at the Kennedy Space Center that dated back to the Apollo program. Mobile Launch Platform-2 was built in the 1960s and used for both Apollo and shuttle missions. With no plans to use the platform, NASA decided to scrap the platform to free up space where a new mobile launcher will be built for the SLS. NASA received no expressions of interest from museums or other organizations that wanted to preserve the platform. [collectSPACE]

Astronomers are on the lookout for a missing black hole that should weigh 10 billion times the mass of the sun. The galaxy, located in the cluster Abell 2261, should have a black hole of that size based on similar galaxies, but observations showed a dip in brightness at the center of the galaxy instead. Some astronomers speculate that the black hole is there but currently quiescent and therefore difficult to detect, while others think the black hole might have been ejected from the galaxy. All are counting on future observations by the James Webb Space Telescope to resolve the mystery. [New York Times]

Best of Luck, Jim

"This last couple of weeks has been very reflective. There's no doubt that being the NASA administrator is unlike any other job on the planet. Whatever I do next, it's going to be very difficult to match this experience, for anything I do for the rest of my life."

– Departing NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during a call with reporters Tuesday.

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