FIRST UP | Viasat asks FCC for environmental review of Starlink • House overrides Trump's NDAA veto • Weather postpones Arianespace Soyuz launch
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Top Stories

The House voted Monday to override President Trump's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. The 322-87 vote easily exceeded the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto, and was similar to the 335-78 vote earlier this month to pass the bill that authorizes $740 billion for national defense spending and sets policies affecting every aspect of military operations. Trump vetoed the bill last week because it did not comply with his demand that it include a provision to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields online companies from legal liability for content posted by users. The Senate is expected to vote later this week to override the veto. [SpaceNews]

Weather postponed a Soyuz launch of a French military reconnaissance satellite Monday. Arianespace said gusty upper-level winds forced the postponement of the Soyuz ST-A launch of the CSO-2 satellite from French Guiana. The launch has been rescheduled for today at 11:42 a.m. Eastern. [Arianespace]

Viasat is asking the FCC to perform an environmental review of SpaceX's Starlink constellation. In a petition filed last week, Viasat argued that a categorical exemption to federal environmental laws for satellite launches, put in place by the FCC more than three decades ago, should not apply to Starlink given the size of that broadband megaconstellation. Viasat argues that Starlink has environmental impacts from the creation of orbital debris, hazards from the launch and reentry of satellites, and light pollution, and thus should be subjected to an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement before the FCC grants SpaceX's request to modify its license. SpaceX's Elon Musk questioned Viasat's motives in a tweet early Tuesday, suggesting Starlink is a hazard "to Viasat's profits, more like it." [SpaceNews]

A Falcon 9 launch for the National Reconnaissance Office earlier this month placed two satellites into orbit. The Dec. 19 launch of the NROL-108 mission resulted in two satellites, USA 312 and USA 313, being cataloged by the U.S. Space Force. The satellites are in orbits between 519 and 539 kilometers high at an inclination 51.35 degrees. That orbit isn't associated with any known NRO missions, but is similar to one for USA 276, another NRO satellite launched on a Falcon 9 in 2017. The NRO has not disclosed details about the two satellites. [Spaceflight Now]

Other News

SpaceX is beginning testing of the next Starship prototype. The Starship SN9 vehicle, on the pad at SpaceX's Boca Chica, Texas, test site, started a series of pressurization tests Monday, to be followed by a static-fire test of the vehicle's three Raptor engines. If successful, the vehicle could perform a flight to 12.5 kilometers as soon as early January, similar to the one by the SN8 vehicle earlier this month. [NASASpaceFlight.com]

An Indian launch startup has tested a solid-fuel engine. Skyroot Aerospace said it test-fired the Kalam-5 motor, a demonstration version of motors that will be used on its Vikram-1 launch vehicle. The test keeps the company on track for a first launch of the Vikram-1 in late 2021. Skyroot is working to raise $15 million to fund development of the vehicle. [Business Standard]

A Japanese company is proposing to launch a satellite made of wood. Sumitomo Forestry is working with Kyoto University to study how wood products could be used in spacecraft, with a goal of launching a satellite made with wooden structures in 2023. Such satellites could burn up upon reentry without releasing harmful chemicals, proponents of the concept argue. [BBC]

Dmitry Rogozin is not only the head of Roscosmos, but a songwriter as well. An album released by Roscosmos last month includes three songs written by Rogozin, but performed by others. One song, "I Fly Above Russia," includes lyrics such as "And at night, intoxicated or dry/We dream of Russia," along with an accordion solo. The album is intended to tap into public interest in spaceflight in Russia, building support for the Russian government. [Washington Post]

Things Can Always Be Worse

"I'm happy to say it hasn't been as bad as I thought. Maybe that's just because the expectations were [that things were] going to be a lot worse."

– Andrew Kruczkiewicz, a Columbia University researcher, discussing the impact the Trump administration had on Earth science research at NASA and other federal agenices. [Technology Review]

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