FIRST UP | SDA taps SpaceX for pair of launches • National Space Council head steps down • White House outlines planetary protection strategy
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Monday, January 4, 2021

Top Stories

SpaceX won a $150.4 million contract from the Space Development Agency (SDA) to launch a series of missile warning and data relay satellites. The contract, announced Thursday, covers two Falcon 9 launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, with the first expected in late 2022. The launches will place up to 28 satellites into near-polar orbits. Those satellites will be provided by several vendors, including SpaceX, although the SDA has halted work on the missile tracking satellites because of protests from losing bidders. [SpaceNews]

The Senate voted Friday to override the president's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate voted 81-13 to override the veto, well above the two-thirds majority required. The House previously voted to override the veto, meaning the bill becomes law. The defense policy bill authorizes $740.5 billion for national defense spending and sets policies on military compensation, procurement of equipment, operations and training, including several provisions specific to the Space Force. [SpaceNews]

The White House released last week a new national strategy for planetary protection. The strategy, published Wednesday, outlines work to be done by various agencies over the next 9-12 months to address potential terrestrial contamination of other worlds by spacecraft, as well as potential contamination of the Earth by any extraterrestrial life. Planetary protection has traditionally been an issue primarily for NASA, but the new strategy reflects growing private sector capabilities and leverages expertise of other agencies. [SpaceNews]

The executive secretary of the National Space Council, which led development of that strategy and other space policies, has stepped down. Scott Pace announced Thursday he was leaving government to return to George Washington University, where he previously led its Space Policy Institute. Pace's departure, while expected, comes as the future of the council itself remains uncertain. The incoming Biden administration has not stated if it will retain the council, which the Trump administration reestablished in 2017 after a hiatus of nearly a quarter-century. Some in the space community recommend that the Biden administration keep the council to continue the work it did to coordinate national space policy. [SpaceNews]

India's space agency ISRO published a broad set of goals for the next decade. A New Year's message from the agency's chairman, K. Sivan, called on ISRO to work on heavy-lift launch vehicles, reusable launch vehicles and other technologies during the 2020s. Sivan said supporting the development of a commercial space industry in the country was also a priority, implementing policies announced last year. The Indian government last week extended Sivan's term as ISRO chairman, which was to expire this month, by a year. [SpaceNews]

Other News

Flat-panel antenna company Kymeta has raised an additional $30 million. The company secured the funding last week from Hanwha Systems, a South Korean technology company. The funding will support the rollout of Kymeta Connect, a service that can connect to both terrestrial cellular networks and satellites using an antenna called u8 the company developed. The new funding is in addition to an $85 million round the company closed in August. [GeekWire]

Ten companies bid on a NASA small launch vehicle contract, but half had their proposals dismissed for deficiencies. The Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) Demo 2 competition attracted proposals from 10 companies to launch clusters of cubesats for NASA. Four of the proposals were deemed deficient by NASA, though, for failing to demonstrate they could meet the terms of the statement of work, including "a lack of understanding of the complexity of a space launch service"; a fifth was not considered because it was submitted late. NASA last month awarded contracts to Astra, Firefly and Relativity for launches. [SpaceNews]

The Puerto Rican government signaled its support last week for rebuilding the Arecibo radio telescope. In an executive order signed in her final days in office, outgoing Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced declared the government's "conviction to the reconstruction of the Arecibo Radio Telescope," which collapsed last month after cables supporting an observing platform snapped. The National Science Foundation said in November it would demolish the telescope after concluding it could not be repaired safely. The executive order sets aside $8 million to start the reconstruction work, although the cost of rebuilding the telescope is likely to run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Congress, in a report accompanying the fiscal year 2021 spending bill last month, directed the NSF to provide a report in 60 days on the cause of the giant radio telescope's collapse and options to rebuild it. [SpaceNews]

Roscosmos has established a "special directorate" for future lunar missions. Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, said last week the directorate will be responsible for studying potential future human lunar missions, and that he will be in charge of that part of the agency. Luna-25, a long-delayed robotic lunar mission, is scheduled to launch later this year and will be the first Russian lunar mission in decades. [TASS]

A bill protecting Apollo-era lunar landing sites became law last week. President Trump signed into law Thursday the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act, which directs NASA to require lunar missions it is involved with, such as those in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, to follow agency guidelines for protecting the Apollo landing sites. Congress passed the bill last month. Trump also signed into law a separate bill renaming NASA's Plum Brook Station the Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility. [collectSPACE]

The Week Ahead

Tuesday-Wednesday: Wednesday: Thursday: Sunday:
  • Mojave, Calif.: No-earlier-than date for a Virgin Orbit LauncherOne launch of NASA cubesats off the California coast between 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

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