FIRST UP | Lockheed Martin to acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne in $4.4B deal • SpaceX lofts classified NRO satellite • NASA opts to fly Orion "as is"
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Monday, December 21, 2020

Top Stories

Lockheed Martin will acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne in a $4.4 billion deal announced Sunday evening. Lockheed said the acquisition gives the company a larger footprint in space and hypersonic technology, specifically substantial expertise in propulsion. Aerojet produces the RS-25 and RL10 engines, and does extensive work in missiles. The companies said the deal is expected to close in the second half of 2021, pending shareholder and regulatory approvals. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX launched a classified mission for the National Reconnaissance Office Saturday. The Falcon 9 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 9 a.m. Eastern on a mission designated NROL-108. An issue with the rocket's upper stage scrubbed a launch attempt Thursday. The Falcon 9 first stage landed back at Cape Canaveral, but the company ended its coverage of the launch without disclosing details about the second stage and payload deployment, at NRO's request. [SpaceNews]

Members of the U.S. Space Force will now be known as "Guardians." Vice President Mike Pence revealed the name Friday at an event marking the service's first anniversary. Space Force officials spent nearly a year crowdsourcing ideas and polling troops about possible names, and noted the name "guardians" has a long history in space operations, dating back to the Air Force Space Command's "'Guardians of the High Frontier" motto. Nonetheless, many on social media ridiculed the name. The Pentagon separately announced that Gen. John Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, had formally joined the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Space Force also held a swearing-in ceremony Friday on the International Space Station for NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who is transferring from the Air Force to the Space Force. [SpaceNews]

NASA will fly a faulty electronics box on the Orion spacecraft "as is" after concluding the risk of trying to repair it was too high. NASA said last week that one of eight power and data units (PDUs) has a problem in one of its two redundant data channels. The agency said it determined the "risk of collateral damage" to the spacecraft from any replacement of the PDU, which is located in a part of the spacecraft that is difficult to access, outweighed the risk of any loss of data from the unit. Earlier estimates projected it could take up to a year to replace the PDU since the spacecraft's crew and service modules would have to be separated to access the unit. That Orion spacecraft will fly on the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission scheduled for launch in late 2021. [SpaceNews]

OneWeb's latest set of satellites is in orbit after a successful launch Friday. The 36 satellites on the Soyuz rocket launched Friday from the Vostochny Cosmodrome separated from the Fregat upper stage over the course of nearly four hours, and OneWeb declared the launch a success. The launch is the first for OneWeb since it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy this fall under new ownership. A OneWeb executive said the company is confident it can raise a new round of funding in the near future as it works to line up customers for the broadband constellation. [SpaceNews]

A final fiscal year 2021 spending bill could be passed today after congressional leaders reached a deal Sunday. Lawmakers finalized a $900 billion coronavirus relief package that will accompany the omnibus spending bill. Congress passed a one-day continuing resolution (CR) Sunday night, after passing a two-day CR Friday, as they finalized the bill. The text of the omnibus appropriations bill had not been released as of early Monday morning. [Washington Post]

Other News

The Senate passed a NASA authorization bill Friday in a largely symbolic move. The Senate passed by unanimous consent a revised version of a NASA authorization bill approved by the Senate Commerce Committee more than a year ago. The bill supports the Artemis program, including NASA's approach for developing lunar landers, and extends the authorization of ISS operations to 2030. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), lead sponsor of the bill, acknowledged in a speech that the bill won't be passed by the House this year, but hoped the bill could serve as a starting point for a bill in the new Congress that could pass next year. [SpaceNews]

NASA's Mars Sample Return (MSR) program is moving into its next phase of development. NASA announced last week MSR would move into Phase A, supporting work on initial designs of the missions and key technologies. MSR will feature two spacecraft, a lander and an orbiter, currently scheduled for launch in 2026 to collect samples cached by the Mars 2020 rover and return those samples to Earth. An independent review board supported continuing with MSR in a report last month, but cautioned it will take longer and cost more than what NASA currently plans. Some in the planetary science community are concerned the cost of MSR will make it difficult to pursue other major planetary science missions in the coming decade. [SpaceNews]

NASA has selected Reid Wiseman as its new chief astronaut. Wiseman joined the astronaut corps in 2009 and flew a long-duration mission on the ISS in 2014. Wiseman will oversee the 46 currently active U.S. astronauts and coordinate activities with 18 additional astronauts from Canada, Europe and Japan. He succeeds Pat Forrester, who NASA said taking an extended leave of absence to pursue a personal opportunity outside the agency. [collectSPACE]

One scientist is warning the upcoming solar cycle may be far more active than the consensus view. Scientists on the Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel recently predicted that the new solar cycle, which formally started last year, will be similar in intensity to the previous 11-year cycle, which was relatively quiet. But Scott McIntosh of the National Center for Atmospheric Research argues that the cycle will be more intense, based on an alternative analysis that appears to be supported by a recent surge in activity. A more active solar cycle would be a higher number of solar storms with greater intensity, affecting systems ranging from the electrical grid to satellites. [Washington Post]

A curious signal recently detected from a nearby star doesn't appear to be natural, but probably isn't aliens, either. Astronomers with the Breakthrough Listen project detected a narrowband signal from Proxima Centauri at a frequency of 982 megahertz using an Australian radio telescope. Astronomers said they don't know of a natural phenomenon that could produce such a signal, but acknowledge that the most likely explanation is some kind of human-made interference, particularly since the signal shows no sign of modulation. [Scientific American]

Russian officials have identified a new suspected cause for an air leak on the ISS: FEDOR the robot. One Russian expert said that FEDOR, while being unloaded from and then being placed back into a Soyuz spacecraft, could have created a small fissure in the Zvezda module. The ISS has been experiencing a small air leak since September 2019, around the time FEDOR was flown to the station. The developer of FEDOR denied that the humanoid robot could be responsible, saying that FEDOR was designed to fit through Soyuz and other ISS hatches and that the process for transferring the robot had been carefully rehearsed. [Sputnik]

The Weeks Ahead

Monday: Monday Dec. 28:
  • Kourou, French Guiana: Scheduled launch of a Soyuz rocket carrying the CSO 2 French reconnaissance satellite at 11:42 a.m. Eastern.


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