FIRST UP | Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab schedule first launches of 2021 • NASA to conduct SLS static-fire test in mid-January
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A SpaceNews daily newsletter | Wednesday, January 6, 2021

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NASA plans to conduct a static-fire test of the Space Launch System core stage later this month. The agency announced late Tuesday it scheduled the full-duration firing of the four RS-25 engines in the core stage for no earlier than Jan. 17 at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The test is the final one in the Green Run test campaign for the SLS core stage, after which it will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center for final preparations for the Artemis 1 launch, no earlier than late this year. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX is gearing up for its first launches of 2021. The company has scheduled a launch of a Falcon 9 carrying the Turksat-5A communications satellite for Thursday evening from Cape Canaveral. Forecasts predict a 60% chance of acceptable weather for the launch, improving to 80% of the launch slips to Friday. Meanwhile, airspace closure notices in Texas suggest SpaceX may attempt a test flight of the Starship SN9 prototype at the company's Boca Chica facility as soon as Friday. That schedule is pending a static-fire test of the vehicle, which may take place today. [Florida Today]

Virgin Orbit has scheduled its next LauncherOne mission for Sunday. The company said Tuesday it completed prelaunch preparations that had been delayed by "precautionary quarantines" of personnel last month because of COVID-19 contact tracing. This will be the second orbital launch attempt for LauncherOne, after an initial launch in May suffered an engine shutdown seconds after ignition. It will carry 10 NASA-sponsored cubesats. Separately, Rocket Lab announced Tuesday its first Electron launch of the year will take place no earlier than Jan. 16, carrying a communications satellite provided by German company OHB. [SpaceNews]

The head of U.S. Strategic Command said that a new intercontinental ballistic missile is required. Adm. Charles Richard said that the current Minuteman 3 ICBM's life cannot be extended, and that the Pentagon needs to continue with development of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). The Air Force in September awarded Northrop Grumman a $13.3 billion contract to develop the GBSD over the next seven years. The program will cost tens more billions of dollars over the next two decades. Richard's comments were in reaction to calls for the Biden administration to reconsider the GBSD program. [SpaceNews]

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft will depart from the International Space Station this morning. The station's robotic arm will release the Cygnus NG-14 spacecraft at about 10:10 a.m. Eastern, three months after it arrived at the station. The Cygnus will remain in orbit until Jan. 26 to perform a series of experiments, including a combustion study called Saffire. A Dragon cargo spacecraft that arrived at the station last month is scheduled to undock next week. [NASA]

Other News

A subsidiary of smallsat manufacturer AAC Clyde Space won a contract to fly a laser communications terminal on a Norwegian satellite. Hyperion Technologies will perform an in-orbit verification flight for CubeCAT, its laser communications terminal, on the NorSat-TD technology demonstration mission launching in 2022. AAC Clyde acquired Hyperion, a Dutch company, last October. [SpaceNews]

Delta Air Lines will use Viasat to provide free high-speed connectivity on some of its airliners. Delta said it will install Viasat Ka-band systems on more than 300 of its narrow-body airliners as part of a program to provide free in-flight Wi-Fi for passengers. Equipment installations will begin this summer, and be compatible with both existing Viasat spacecraft and the new ViaSat-3 constellation scheduled to begin launching this year. Delta has relied for years on Gogo, acquired last year by Intelsat, to provide passenger Wi-Fi. [SpaceNews]

Planetary scientists are weighing exploration of potential ice deposits at the lunar poles with the risk that they could be contaminated by such missions. That ice is the focus of a number of missions proposed and under development, and could be a resource for future human expeditions. Some researchers, though, caution that the ice could be contaminated by those spacecraft, hindering scientific analysis. One potential compromise is to allow exploration and utilization of water ice at one of the poles, while preserving ice at the other pole for scientific study. [Nature]

A NASA astrophysics mission is entering its next phase of development. The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer, or SPHEREx, is now moving into Phase C of development. The spacecraft, scheduled for launch between June 2024 and April 2025, will perform spectroscopic mapping of the sky at infrared wavelengths. Astronomers plan to use data from SPHEREx to study the early history of the universe, formation of galaxies, and dust disks that contain water ice and organic molecules around new stars. [NASA/JPL]

SpaceX is starting a beta test of Starlink in the United Kingdom. Several people in the UK have reported receiving invites to the beta test and even Starlink hardware, although SpaceX hasn't officially announced the start of service in the country. SpaceX will be charging £89 ($120) per month for the service there, compared to the $99 per month beta testers in the United States pay. [The Sun]

But, Other Than That…

"Unfortunately, it did prove to be infeasible. Basically their concept, the resources, the funding, the overall goals — all of it was a little too unrealistic."

Tyler Reyno, a former participant in the Mars One project that proposed using private funding for one-way human missions to Mars. Mars One filed for bankruptcy nearly two years ago. [CBC]

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