FIRST UP |  Intelsat orders satellite pair from Airbus • FCC OKs polar launch of Starlink satellites • ESA director general to retire early
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Monday, January 11, 2021

Top Stories

Intelsat announced Friday it is ordering two satellites from Airbus Defence and Space. The two satellites, part of the OneSat line of fully reconfigurable satellites by Airbus, will be delivered in 2023. Intelsat offered few details about the satellites, such as their orbital locations and frequency bands, but in a bankruptcy court filing said they will be used to provide coverage over the U.S., North Atlantic, and other parts of the Western Hemisphere to support its Gogo Commercial Aviation business. [SpaceNews]

The FCC will allow SpaceX to launch 10 Starlink satellites into a polar orbit later this month. The FCC announced Friday it was approving a request by SpaceX to include the 10 Starlink satellites on its Transporter-1 rideshare mission launching later this month. SpaceX lobbied the FCC for weeks to modify its license to allow the polar satellite launch, arguing that they can be used to demonstrate the ability to provide broadband services in Alaska. Several current and future satellite operators opposed SpaceX's request, raising concerns about interference and creation of orbital debris, but the FCC concluded that the 10 satellites alone would pose little risk. The FCC deferred a decision on SpaceX's broader request to modify its license by lowering the orbits of thousands of satellites. [SpaceNews]

The U.S. Space Force formally joined the U.S. intelligence community Friday. The addition of the Space Force to the intelligence community, announced at a National Space Council meeting last month, was formalized at a ceremony Friday afternoon. Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond said the service stood up the U.S. Space Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Enterprise to support the intelligence community. The new office will focus on providing technical intelligence to defend space systems from anti-satellite weapons such as those being developed by China and Russia. [SpaceNews]

ESA Director General Jan Wörner will step down four months ahead of schedule. Wörner announced Friday that he and the ESA Council reached an agreement where he will resign at the end of February, rather than serve out a term that expires at the end of June. He gave several reasons for his early departure, including the fact that his successor, Josef Aschbacher, has been an ESA director for several years and is thus already familiar with the agency. He also cited ongoing negotiations with the European Union on a financial agreement as well as "duration of the transition and its consequences internally and externally." [SpaceNews]

A Dragon cargo spacecraft will be returning to Earth today. The CRS-21 Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to undock from the station at 9:25 a.m. Eastern, then reenter and splash down off the Florida coast at about 9 p.m. Eastern. The spacecraft, launched last month, is the first in a new generation of cargo spacecraft based on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft. It will also be the first cargo spacecraft to splash down in the Atlantic, as earlier Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean southwest of the California coast. [Florida Today]

Other News

NASA selected last week four small astrophysics missions for further study. The four missions, three smallsats and one high-altitude balloon, are the first in the Astrophysics Pioneer program of small missions, with a cost cap of $20 million each. The four missions will conduct six-month concept studies followed by a NASA review before the agency decides whether to proceed with them. NASA officials note that the missions are not in competition with each other, but the agency expects that one or more will not be able to fit into the cost cap after the concept study and thus will not be funded for flight. [SpaceNews]

NASA is extending two planetary science missions at Mars and Jupiter. The agency announced Friday that it approved extensions of the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter through September 2025 and the InSight Mars lander through the end of 2022. The extension will allow Juno to shift its orbit, enabling flybys of Jupiter's moons Ganymede, Europa and Io. InSight will continue its measurements of Martian seismic activity while, at a lower priority, try again to deploy a heat flow probe that has been stuck just below the surface since early 2019. [NASA/JPL]

NASA and the FAA signed an agreement to cooperate on aspects of commercial spaceflight. The two agencies agreed to develop "a stable launch and reentry framework" to avoid conflicting requirements between the agencies. The FAA will also support a NASA program, Suborbital Crew, to fly NASA astronauts on commercial suborbital vehicles, and the agencies will cooperate on long-term planning for point-to-point suborbital spaceflight. [FAA]

One of the finalists in the competition to host U.S. Space Command is sweetening its bid to the tune of $107 million. Nebraska officials are offering the funding, including $50 million from the state and $50 million from an unidentified philanthropist, to convince the Air Force to select Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha as the headquarters for the command. The funding would go towards the estimated $1 billion in costs of new buildings and other infrastructure at the base. Offutt is one of six finalists to be Space Command's headquarters, with the Air Force expected to make a decision by Jan. 20. [Omaha World-Herald]

Small launch vehicle startup ABL Space says it could attempt its first launch as soon as March. The company said its first RS1 rocket should be ready by March, but timing of the launch itself will depend on scheduling at Vandenberg Air Force Base, which could delay it to as late as June. The company, which has raised $49 million in venture capital funding and $44.5 million in government contracts, says it's fully funded "well beyond" its first launch. [CNBC]

The Week Ahead

  • International Space Station: The SpaceX CRS-21 Dragon cargo spacecraft undocks from the station at 9:25 a.m. Eastern, and will splash down off the Florida coast at about 9 p.m. Eastern.
Monday-Friday: Tuesday: Tuesday-Wednesday: Wednesday: Wednesday-Thursday: Thursday: Saturday:
  • Mahia Peninsula, N.Z.: Scheduled launch of an Electron rocket carrying an OHB communications smallsat at 2:38 a.m. Eastern.
  • Kennedy Space Center, Fla.: Scheduled launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying 60 Starlink satellites at 1:23 p.m. Eastern.
  • Stennis Space Center, Miss.: Scheduled hotfire test of the Space Launch System core stage as part of the Green Run test campaign.

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