FIRST UP | Voyager taking majority Nanoracks stake • House set to override NDAA veto • Trump signs omnibus after signaling he wouldn't
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Monday, December 28, 2020

Top Stories

China launched a reconnaissance satellite on Sunday. A Long March 4C rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 10:44 a.m. Eastern and placed the Yaogan-33 satellite into orbit. Chinese media disclosed few details about the payload, but outside observers believe it has a synthetic aperture radar imaging payload. The rocket also carried a small scientific satellite. [NASASpaceFlight.com]

France will launch a reconnaissance satellite today on a Soyuz rocket. The CSO-2 optical imaging satellite, developed by Airbus for the French military, is scheduled to launch on a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana at 11:42 a.m. Eastern. It is similar to CSO-1, launched in 2018, but will operate in a slightly lower orbit to provide higher resolution images. [Spaceflight Now]

The House will vote today to override President Trump's veto of a defense authorization bill. Both the House and Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by veto-proof majorities earlier this month, but Trump vetoed the bill last week in part because it did not repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that provides legal protections for social media companies. The leadership of both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees called on their colleagues to override the veto. If the House does override the veto, the Senate could act as soon as Tuesday. [SpaceNews]

President Trump signed an omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2021 Sunday after earlier indicating he opposed it. Trump signed the spending bill, and accompanying coronavirus relief package, Sunday night, a little more than 24 hours before a stopgap spending bill funding the government would have lapsed. Trump said last week he wanted larger stimulus payments to taxpayers and cuts to foreign aid, but any changes were unlikely to get through Congress. Trump instead submitted a list of rescissions, or proposed cuts, to items in the bill, but House leadership said they will not act on that request. [New York Times]

Voyager Space Holdings is acquiring a majority stake in commercial space station company Nanoracks. Terms of the deal, announced Wednesday, were not disclosed, but Nanoracks said that Voyager will provide capital both in the acquisition and in the future to support its future plans. Nanoracks flies payloads to the International Space Station, including satellites for deployment there, and recently installed a commercial airlock on the station. The company has long-term plans to develop commercial space platforms using repurposed upper stages. The acquisition is the fourth by Voyager, a holding company that buys space companies to provide them with a long-term source of capital and shared services. [SpaceNews]

The United Kingdom will remain a part of the European Union's Copernicus Earth observation program after Brexit. One of the provisions of a trade and cooperation agreement between the UK and EU announced Thursday allows the UK to continue to participate in Copernicus after the UK exits the EU. The agreement avoids a potential headache for the European Space Agency, which cooperates with the EU on Copernicus, since Britain will remain a part of ESA after Brexit. The deal also allows the UK to use services from the EU's Space Surveillance and Tracking program, but does not include the Galileo satellite navigation program. [SpaceNews]

Other News

One of the biggest challenges for NASA's plans to return humans to the moon is dust. The Apollo missions of a half-century ago showed that the moon is a "Disneyland of dust" that can be kicked up by rocket engine plumes, making landings more difficult, and can damage equipment and spacesuits. A NASA workshop earlier this year on lunar dust concluded it "is an agency and industry concern affecting most mission subsystems and it must be addressed." Development of dust mitigation techniques and technologies is one of the areas of study of NASA's Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative. [SpaceNews]

Space entrepreneurs say the emergence of "patient capital" is a positive step for the industry. Holding companies and private equity firms like Voyager Space Holdings and Redwire have started to invest in or acquire space startups, giving them long-term capital. That's important because the development timelines of many space startups, particularly those working on hardware, can be longer than what traditional venture capital is comfortable with. The co-founder of Roccor, a satellite structures company acquired by Redwire this fall, said the deal was appealing because it allowed Roccor to continue to grow by leveraging products and services from other Redwire companies. [SpaceNews]

An Israeli smallsat had to maneuver earlier this month to avoid a potential collision with an aging NASA Earth science satellite. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which operates the French-Israeli Venus satellite, was notified by ESA in early December that the satellite would have a close approach to Terra, a NASA Earth science satellite launched more than 20 years ago. IAI coordinated with both NASA and the French space agency CNES and then performed a maneuver to adjust the orbit of the Venus satellite, avoiding the collision. [Calcalist]

Roscosmos will sue one of its subsidiaries over a failed satellite. Roscosmos said it filed suit against Progress Space and Rocket Center, alleging Progress produced a satellite that stopped working after launch. The announcement did not disclose the satellite in question or the cause of the failure. [TASS]

Scotty got beamed up to the ISS. James Doohan, the actor who played the Enterprise's chief engineer on Star Trek, passed away in 2005. After a rocket that was to place some of his ashes in orbit in 2008 failed, his son contacted Richard Garriott, who was preparing to fly to the ISS as a private astronaut. Garriott smuggled three cards, sprinkled with Doohan's ashes and then laminated, into documents he was flying on a Soyuz trip to the ISS since there wasn't time to go through regular channels for flying the ashes. One of the three cards came back with Garriott, while a second was released into space. The third was hidden in the station's Columbus module, where it remains to this day. [The Times of London]

Bad Sci-Fi Indeed

"It felt like the start of a really bad science-fiction movie. You know, suddenly the entire planet is wiped out by a meteor impact or something, and it cuts to the space station – the human species is gone and we're the only three remaining."

– NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, describing what it was like to learn about the coronavirus pandemic while on the ISS. [The Big Issue]

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Top Stories

The Space Development Agency is reevaluating proposals for missile tracking satellites following a series of protests. The agency said Tuesday it is "expeditiously implementing" a corrective action plan for the Tracking Tranche 0 competition after Airbus and Raytheon protested awards made in October to L3Harris and SpaceX. SDA said it would reevaluate those proposals in response to the protests, but Raytheon has since filed two additional protests challenging that plan. It's not clear how the protests will affect the schedule for the program, which had a goal of launching the satellites in late 2022. [SpaceNews]

With the fiscal year 2021 omnibus spending bill, the Space Force has its first dedicated budget. The bill includes $15.2 billion for Space Force operations and maintenance, procurement as well as research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E). Funding for Space Force military and civilian personnel remains in the Air Force budget. Compared to the Pentagon's budget request, Congress slightly reduced Space Force procurement from $2.4 billion to $2.3 billion but increased RDT&E from $10.3 billion to $10.5 billion. [SpaceNews]

Raytheon has completed its acquisition of smallsat manufacturer Blue Canyon Technologies. Boulder, Colorado-based Blue Canyon will now be part of Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a business unit of Raytheon Technologies based in Arlington, Virginia. Raytheon announced the acquisition in November, expected it to close by early 2021. Blue Canyon has a commercial satellite business but has been growing its defense sales, with more than 90 satellites in production for U.S. government agencies. [SpaceNews]

An upgraded upper stage for the Space Launch System has passed a key review. Boeing said this week that the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) completed its critical design review with NASA, allowing the company to start producing hardware. The EUS will be used on the Block 1B version of SLS, increasing its payload performance. The first SLS Block 1B launch is not likely before the mid-2020s. The omnibus spending bill passed this week directs NASA to spend at least $400 million on EUS development in 2021, even though the agency's budget proposal sought to defer final design work so that NASA could focus on completing the Block 1 version of SLS. [SpaceNews]

A Soyuz rocket is on schedule to launch Monday from French Guiana. Arianespace gave it approval to roll out the Soyuz-2 rocket to the pad Wednesday ahead of a launch scheduled for 11:42 a.m. Eastern time Monday. The Soyuz will place into orbit CSO-2, a French military reconnaissance satellite. [TASS]

Other News

A European Space Agency initiative is working to improve the safe disposal of satellites, one component at a time. The ESA Clean Space initiative was launched in 2012 to consider the environmental impact of the agency's missions across their entire life cycle, with a focus on developing satellite components that can safely break up on reentry. That has included lab testing of satellite components and even a complete cubesat, placing them in a plasma wind chamber to simulate reentry. In addition to promoting space debris mitigation, the ESA Clean Space initiative is also exploring green satellite design, in-orbit servicing and active debris removal solutions. [SpaceNews]

Astroscale has shipped a debris removal technology demonstration satellite for launch next year. The End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration (ELSA-d) satellite was shipped from the company's Tokyo headquarters to the Baikonur Cosmodrome for launch in March. Astroscale will use ELSA-d to test active debris removal technologies that the company plans to offer commercially. [Astroscale]

Axiom Space will build a new headquarters and production facility for its commercial space station at Spaceport Houston. Axiom announced Tuesday it reached an agreement with the Houston Airport System to build a 14-acre campus at the spaceport, also known as Ellington Airport. That will serve as the company's headquarters as well as where it produces components of its planned commercial space station and trains people who will fly there. Terms of the deal, including any financial support from the city, are still being worked out, but construction could begin in 2021 and the headquarters opened in 2023. [Houston Chronicle]

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, is not happy about a U.S. decision to effectively block exports of sensitive technologies to Russian companies. The Commerce Department said Monday it was placing 43 Russia companies, along with 58 Chinese ones, on a list of "military end users," requiring U.S. companies to get an export license before shipping technologies to them. Among the companies listed is Progress Rocket Space Center, which produces the Soyuz rocket. Rogozin criticized the move, sugesting it could threaten the ability of NASA to launch any astronauts on Soyuz vehicles in the future. [Ars Technica]

A former NASA deputy administrator will be the next director of the MIT Media Lab. The university said Tuesday it selected Dava Newman to be the next director of the center, effective in July. Newman served as NASA deputy administrator from 2015 to 2017, taking leave from her post as a professor in MIT's aeronautics and astronautics department. The Media Lab works on a wide range of projects, including some related to space, but has been mired in controversy because its former director had close ties with, and accepted donations from, Jeffrey Epstein. [Boston Globe]

Note: FIRST UP will not publish Thursday and Friday because of the Christmas holidays. We will be back on Monday.

Running Out of Things to Say

"I love him like a brother. We're very, very close. But still, it's one other person for six months."

– Bill McArthur, a former NASA astronaut who spent six months on the International Space Station with only one other person, Russian cosmonaut, Valeri Tokarev, on why he enjoyed using the ham radio on the station to talk to people on Earth. [Los Angeles Times]
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