FIRST UP | DARPA satellites damaged ahead of SpaceX launch • Momentus delays first Vigoride launch
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Thursday, January 7, 2021

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Two DARPA satellites were damaged while being prepared for launch on a Falcon 9 later this month. The satellites, called Mandrake 1 and 2, were being installed Monday on a payload adapter when the payload separation system was accidentally released, causing unspecified damage. The spacecraft are technology demonstration satellites for DARPA's Blackjack program. DARPA said it is evaluating its next steps in cooperation with SpaceX. The satellites were to be part of a Falcon 9 dedicated rideshare mission called Transporter-1 scheduled for launch Jan. 14. [SpaceNews]

The first Momentus mission, which was also slated to fly on Transporter-1, is being delayed. Momentus said its Vigoride-1 mission will be postponed to a launch later this year because the FAA had not completed an interagency review of the mission. Vigoride-1, once deployed from the Falcon 9, would raise its orbit and then deploy several cubesat payloads. Momentus said the delay in the mission should not affect its revenue projections for the year, or delay its planned merger with a special-purpose acquisition corporation scheduled to close in the first quarter. [SpaceNews]

China is gearing up for launching in the coming months of its first space station module and cargo and crew missions to it. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) is finalizing work on rockets that will launch the first space station module, a cargo and refueling craft, and a crewed mission. Those launches include a Long March 5B launch of the roughly 22-metric-ton Tianhe space station core module this spring, which will then be followed by the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft and Shenzhou-12 crewed mission, China's first human spaceflight since 2016. The schedule for those two later missions is unclear, but reports on launch vehicle preparations suggest they will take place relatively quickly after the module launch. [SpaceNews]

A Space Force general says the service needs better tools to distinguish between weapons and benign objects in orbit. Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, U.S. Space Force director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said Wednesday that a major challenge for national security space is the ability to characterize threats to satellites, mentioning satellites with robotic arms as one of several Chinese capabilities the Space Force worries about. She said the Space Force needs improved sensors and "persistence on orbit" in order to identify potential threats. [SpaceNews]

Other News

A Falcon 9 launch remains on schedule for this evening. The Falcon 9 is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral at 8:28 p.m. Eastern, the beginning of a four-hour window, carrying the Turksat 5A communications satellite. Forecasts project a 70% chance of acceptable weather. The Airbus-built satellite will provide Ku-band services over portions of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. [Spaceflight Now]

SpaceX tested the Raptor engines of its newest Starship prototype Wednesday. The company performed a brief static-fire of the three Raptor engines on the SN9 Starship vehicle at Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX appeared to be preparing for a second static-fire test later in the day, but scrubbed it late in the day. SpaceX is preparing SN9 for a test flight, similar to the one flown by SN8 last month, which could take place as soon as Friday. [Teslarati]

Dynetics said Wednesday it performed a review with NASA of its lunar lander concept. The company announced it completed a "continuation review" with NASA as part of its Human Landing System (HLS) contract awarded last April. At that review, the company provided more information about the lander design and test activities. Dynetics confirmed it also submitted a proposal for Option A of the HLS program, which will fund full-scale development of a lander for missions starting as soon as 2024. NASA is expected to make decisions on Option A awards in the next few months. [Dynetics]

Virgin Galactic said it completed an investigation into an aborted SpaceShipTwo flight last month. In a pair of tweets early Thursday, Virgin said it carried out post-flight inspections and a root cause analysis of the abort during the Dec. 12 flight, when an onboard computer lost connection around the time the suborbital spaceplane ignited its hybrid rocket engine. Virgin didn't disclose details of that investigation, but said that corrective actions are underway and, once completed, it will announce a date for the next flight. [Twitter @virgingalactic]

Not Off to a Great Start

"I hope that 2021 will be better for you than 2020."

– Stéphane Israël, chief executive of Arianespace, welcoming media at a briefing early Thursday.

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