FIRST UP | Final planned launch of 2020 orbits French CSO-2 satellite • NASA picks two small heliophysics missions for development
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Wednesday, December 30, 2020

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A Soyuz rocket launched a French reconnaissance satellite Tuesday in what was likely the final launch of 2020. The Soyuz ST-A rocket lifted off from French Guiana at 11:42 a.m. Eastern and deployed the CSO-2 satellite nearly an hour later. The satellite is the second in a series of three spacecraft to provide high-resolution optical and infrared images for the French military. CSO-2 will operate in a lower orbit than CSO-1, launched two years ago, to improve its imagery resolution. The launch is the last scheduled orbital launch of 2020, with a total of 114 launches, including 10 failures, taking place this year. [SpaceNews]

Debate over increased pandemic relief payments could delay a Senate vote to override the veto of the defense authorization bill to this weekend. A vote to override the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) veto could take place as soon as late today, but some senators are pushing for consideration of a House bill that would increase stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000 per person. That could push back the vote to as late as Sunday morning, hours before the 116th Congress ends at noon. The Senate passed the NDAA earlier this month by more than the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto. [Roll Call]

The Space Force is looking into legal problems involving a contractor recently selected to run its Space Enterprise Consortium. The Space and Missile Systems Center awarded a contract earlier this month to the National Security Technology Accelerator, or NSTXL, to operate the Space Enterprise Consortium, established in 2017 to help attract startups and commercial companies from the space industry to bid on military projects. That award, though, came weeks after a Texas court found that NSTXL acted fraudulently to end a relationship with an events firm. The Space Force said it was not aware of the Texas case at the time of the award, and is delaying the start of the contract so it can evaluate the matter. [Washington Post]

NASA has selected two small heliophysics missions for development. The agency announced Tuesday it will fund $55 million in contributions to Japan's Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope Epsilon Mission, such as instruments and software. That mission, slated to launch in 2026, will study the formation of the solar wind in the sun's atmosphere. NASA is also funding the Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer, a set of three cubesats that will study auroral processes in the Earth's upper atmosphere. That mission, with a cost of $53.3 million, will launch in 2024. [NASA]

Other News

A Russian space station module scheduled for launch next year could be delayed, again. Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, said in a radio interview Tuesday that the Nauka module is currently scheduled to launch in May. However, he said that launch could be delayed to July if the module is not ready. He didn't identify any specific issues that could cause the launch to slip. Nauka, a multifunctional lab module that includes life support equipment, has suffered years of delays because of technical problems. [Tass]

China tested the country's largest solid rocket motor. The motor, 3.2 meters in diameter, completed a static-fire test Wednesday by the Academy of Aerospace Solid Propulsion Technology. The motor is able to produce up to 260 tons of thrust and will be used by future Chinese heavy-lift launch vehicles to support missions to the moon and beyond. [CGTN]

Blue Origin's booster recovery ship will be named after founder Jeff Bezos' mother. Bezos, in an Instagram post Tuesday, said that he and his siblings surprised his mother at a ceremony by revealing the ship will be named Jacklyn. Blue Origin acquired the ship, once known as Stena Freighter, in 2018, and has been refurbishing it into a landing platform for the first stage of the New Glenn launch vehicle. [GeekWire]

Sorry, Space Force personnel won't be wearing uniforms that look like those from Starship Troopers. An illustration making the rounds on social media this week showed a uniform concept featuring dark gray and blue colors and design features that reminded some of the uniforms from that famously bad 1990s sci-fi movie. A Space Force spokesman said that illustration is not official and that the real Space Force uniform designs are still in development. [Task & Purpose]

Note: FIRST UP will not publish Thursday and Friday. Happy New Year! We'll be back on Monday.

The Science Guy Is Staying Home

"You think you want to go to Venus? We'd be vaporized in a second, way less than a second. And then on Mars, there's nothing to breathe. There's nothing to breathe, people. It's not just there's nothing to eat, there's nothing to breathe. So, you know if you live in a dome and you go outside, you're going to put on a spacesuit and you're in another dome, like my good friend Sandy the squirrel."

– Bill Nye, explaining why he's not interested on living on another planet. [Florida Today]

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