FIRST UP | Congress shortchanges key programs with $23B NASA budget • Viasat to acquire RigNet in $222M all-stock deal
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Tuesday, December 22, 2020

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China successfully launched its first Long March 8 rocket Monday night. The medium-lift rocket launched from the Wenchang spaceport on the island of Hainan at 11:37 p.m. Eastern. It placed into sun-synchronous orbit the XJY-7 classified remote sensing technology demonstrator satellite and four smaller satellites, including the first commercial synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite for Chinese company Spacety. The Long March 8 is designed to fill a gap in launch capabilities for medium-class spacecraft and is part of a broader family of new launch vehicles intended to ultimately replace the Long March 2, 3 and 4 vehicles. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, which developed the Long March 8, eventually wants to recover and reuse the first stage. [SpaceNews]

An omnibus spending bill passed Monday will give NASA nearly $23.3 billion in fiscal year 2021, but cuts funding in some key programs. The spending bill, passed by the House and Senate late Monday, allocates $23.271 billion for NASA, $642 million above what it received in 2020 but nearly $2 billion less than its original request for 2021. The Human Landing System program to develop lunar landers for Artemis will get $850 million, about one-fourth its original request; NASA officials said earlier the agency needed full funding for that program to keep a 2024 lunar landing on track. NASA's commercial LEO development program received only $17 million, compared to a request of $150 million. The bill does fully fund other major NASA exploration and science programs, including restoring funding for several Earth science and astrophysics missions as well as NASA's education program. [SpaceNews]

That spending bill also provides funding for the Commerce Department's work on civil space traffic management (STM). The bill provides $10 million for the Office of Space Commerce and approves plans to combine it with the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs office. The Office of Space Commerce requested $15 million in 2021, primarily to start work on civil STM activities such as development of an open architecture data repository. Congress had rejected earlier requests for STM funding until a study released in August concluded Commerce is the best agency to handle that work. [SpaceNews]

Lockheed Martin's acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne could face scrutiny by the Biden administration. The $4.4 billion acquisition will require regulatory approvals and may be an early test of the new administration's views on aerospace and defense industry consolidation. Some industry analysts argue that Raytheon or Boeing could challenge the merger on grounds it will be anti-competitive, particularly in hypersonic weapons. Lockheed CEO Jim Taiclet said Monday his company views the acquisition as critical to the future of its missile defense, hypersonic weapons and space businesses. He expects it to be treated like Northrop Grumman's acquisition of Orbital ATK, a major producer of solid motors. [SpaceNews]

Viasat announced Monday it is acquiring communications services firm RigNet for $222 million in an all-stock deal. Houston-based RigNet has particular expertise in the energy sector, a vertical market of interest to Viasat. In addition to oil and gas communications, applications and cybersecurity, RigNet has expertise in technologies to gather and immediately analyze data. The deal comes a month after Viasat acquired the assets of a European joint venture it established with Eutelsat Communications, including the KA-SAT broadband satellite. [SpaceNews]


Other News

AGI doesn't expect its business to change much after its acquisition by Ansys. AGI announced in October it would be acquired by Ansys, a Pittsburgh-based engineering software company. The acquisition came after the two companies started working together, offering complementary services. Paul Graziani, founder and CEO of AGI, said the deal will result in few changes to his company, which will continue operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of Ansys. It will, though, allow it to grow faster than it could as an independent company. AGI did spin off its Commercial Space Operations Center as a standalone company, Comspoc Inc. [SpaceNews]

The Chang'e-5 orbiter is embarking on an extended mission after returning lunar samples to Earth. The orbiter, which flew by Earth last week and deployed a sample canister that landed in China, is now headed to the sun-Earth L-1 Lagrange point. The spacecraft will perform solar observations there and conduct operational tests, with the possibility of then heading to a new destination. Some previous Chinese lunar spacecraft have also carried out extended missions, such as the Chang'e-2 orbiter that later flew by the asteroid Toutatis. [SpaceNews]

Made In Space has produced a ceramic turbine part in space. The company manufactured the single-piece turbine "blisk", or bladed disk, using its Ceramic Manufacturing Module delivered to the International Space Station this fall. The module is designed to show how ceramic parts can be produced in microgravity using a process known as stereolithography that uses a resin and ultraviolet laser. [Space.com]

Botswana is the latest country to show an interest in developing satellites. The country's president announced last week that the Botswana International University of Science and Technology will construct a series of cubesats for Earth observation applications intended to support the country's agricultural and tourism industries. The satellites will be produced domestically, with unspecified regional and international partners. The project will take three years to complete. [The Monitor (Botswana)]

Den Mother vs. Drill Sergeant

"I want them to show up and be really on top of their game, whether that means they studied the system the night before, or they had a good night's sleep because they have to do something physical. Whatever the challenge is, I want to be the drill sergeant. At the same time, I want to be the den mother and coddle them, and be encouraging to them. So it's a little bit of playing both. But again, they're very bright, accomplished people, so I don't really think that's going to be too much of a challenge."

– Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut now working for Axiom Space, discussing the training for the three space tourists that will accompany him on a Crew Dragon flight to the ISS next year. [Business Insider]

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