SN Commercial Drive | LauncherOne on deck • SDA turns to SpaceX for launch • Spacety shows off SAR
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A commercial space newsletter from SpaceNews. Delivered Wednesdays.
 January 6, 2021
Fasten your seatbelts. 2021 could be a wild ride for commercial space. Look for Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne to reach orbit, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic to start transporting passengers, United Launch Alliance to fly Vulcan Centaur, Boeing's Starliner to ferry astronauts and Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser to carry cargo to the International Space Station. Count on new rockets to make their orbital debuts, satellite constellations to expand and SpaceX to keep up the brisk pace.  

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  • LauncherOne on deck
  • SDA turns to SpaceX for launch
  • Space Force wants small rockets
  • Spacety shows off SAR
Virgin Orbit has scheduled its next LauncherOne mission for Sunday. This will be the second orbital launch attempt for LauncherOne, after an initial launch in May suffered an engine shutdown seconds after ignition. LauncherOne 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 U.S. Space Force plans to evaluate as many emerging commercial small launch providers as possible, while it figures out the best way to contract for launch services. For example, the Space Force wants to launch Space Test Program payloads using emerging small launch providers. Small satellite launches by the Space Force slowed considerably in 2020 due to the pandemic and technical setbacks. Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab and Space Vector were among the companies with launches expected in 2020 that are now scheduled for 2021. [SpaceNews]

The Pentagon's Space Development Agency awarded SpaceX a $150.4 million contract to launch as many as 28 satellites. Under the contract, SpaceX will launch a mix of small and medium spacecraft, including 20 data-relay satellites known as the Transport Layer and eight missile-warning satellites known as the Tracking Layer. The satellites are expected to launch in late 2022 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. [SpaceNews]

Momentus Space is moving its Vigoride last-mile delivery demonstration from a Falcon 9 flight this month to a flight later in 2021 as the in-space transportation startup awaits final Federal Aviation Administration approval for the payloads it plans to transport. "We will continue to work with the FAA, as we have done successfully with other regulatory agencies, to obtain approval in a timely manner," Momentus President Fred Kennedy said in a statement. "We anticipate that by launching our first Vigoride vehicle on a subsequent mission, we will still achieve our revenue expectations for 2021 while delivering our customers' payloads to orbit." Momentus currently holds the necessary licenses for the Vigoride vehicle, the company said in a Jan. 4 news release. [Momentus]

SpinLaunch is slated to perform the first suborbital test of a prototype centrifugal small satellite launcher later this year. The company, based in Long Beach, California, has raised $80 million to date for its efforts to develop a mass accelerator to serve as the first stage of a smallsat launch system, an approach designed to lower launch costs and increase their frequency. SpinLaunch has offered few details about its technology, but the company announced plans to expand its operations at Spaceport America in New Mexico and to hire 59 more people there to complete construction of its suborbital launch system. [SpaceNews]

Chinese startup Spacety released the first images from Hisea-1, a C-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR), launched Dec. 22 on the Chinese Long March 8 medium-lift rocket. In addition to being the first small C-band SAR satellite, Hisea-1 is China's first SAR satellite, the company said. Spacety released images with a resolution of three meters per pixel, but plans to conduct additional testing and calibration before delivering SAR imagery and data to customers. Ultimately, Spacety intends to establish a constellation of 56 small SAR satellites capable of obtaining 50-centimeters-per-pixel imagery. [SpaceNews]


  • Inmarsat to expand fleet 
  • Viasat connects Delta planes
  • 4G/LTE for the moon
  • Starlink in the UK
Fleet operator Inmarsat announced major expansion of its satellite constellation and ground network on the fifth anniversary of worldwide Global Xpress (GX) service.  Inmarsat plans to launch four GX payloads and three GX satellites by the end of 2023. In a statement, Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said the technology roadmap was the "most ambitious" in the company's history, and that it is "fully-funded." Inmarsat's next two GX Ka-band payloads will be hosted on the next generation Inmarsat-6 L-band satellites, scheduled for launch in 2021 and 2022. Inmarsat also plans to enhance the GX network's Arctic coverage. [Runway Girl]

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]

AAC Clyde Space subsidiary Hyperion Technologies plans to perform an in-orbit verification flight for CubeCAT, the company's small satellite laser communications terminal. Hyperion announced a 150,000 euro ($185,000) contract to launch CubeCAT in early 2022 onboard NorSat-TD, a Norwegian technology demonstration mission. Hyperion, a Dutch company acquired by AAC Clyde in October, developed the CubeCAT laser terminal with Dutch Independent Research Institute, TNO. The CubeCAT terminal, which fits in a single-unit cubesat, is designed to downlink satellite data at speeds as high as one gigabit per second and to uplink data at speeds of 200 kilobits per second. [SpaceNews]

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

Nokia Bell Labs is working to adapt commercial communications technologies for the space environment and for the lunar surface. The company is designed a self-configuring network to provide communication for different data transmission applications, including command and control functions, remote control of lunar rovers and streaming of high definition video, said Thierry Klein, head of Enterprise and Industrial Automation Research Lab at Nokia Bell Labs. Nokia of America Corp. won a $14.1 million NASA Tipping Point award in October to deploy LTE/4G communications on the moon. [Via Satellite]


Jan. 10
Launch window opens for Virgin Orbit LauncherOne 
Jan. 10-15
American Meteorological Society virtual annual meeting
Jan. 12-13
Newspace Industrialization with Rob Hoyt of Tethers Unlimited, Jim Cantrell of Phantom Space and Ray Johnson of Bessemer Venture Partners
Jan. 14
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch Transporter 1 small satellite rideshare mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida
Jan. 14
The Great Game of Economics Afoot in Space webinar from NewSpace New Mexico
Jan. 16
Rocket Lab to launch an OHB communications satellite
Jan. 18-19
AIxSpace conference with CNES President Jean-Yves LeGall, MDA CEO and President Mike Greenley, and Leap Biosystems CEO and President Dave Williams, a retired Canadian Space Agency astronaut
Feb. 8-11
SmallSat Symposium with Peter Beck of Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit's Dan Hart and Kevin O'Connell from the U.S. Commerce Department
Feb. 25
Soyuz rocket to launch 36 OneWeb broadband satellites from Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia
Thank you for reading this week's issue of SN Commercial Drive. For the latest commercial space news, visit SpaceNews.com and follow Debra Werner (@SpaceReportr) on Twitter.

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