Space 

Pentagon budget funds ‘small launch services’ to gain greater access to space

Defense budget establishes a “small launch” program with a dedicated funding line of $192.5 million over five years WASHINGTON — It’s been widely reported that the U.S. military views its satellites in space as prime targets of enemy aggression. But opinions diverge over how to deter and defeat potential attacks. One school of thought is that satellites could be made less attractive targets if the military were able to launch new ones into orbit at will, within minutes or hours of an attack. This approach appears to be gaining traction…

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Space 

FCC chairman urges approval for SpaceX’s satellite internet constellation

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai wants his agency approve SpaceX’s 15-month-old application to serve the U.S. with its proposed megaconstellation. In a statement released just days before SpaceX launches its first two prototype satellites, Pai urged support of the company’s application within the FCC, saying Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX can help reach rural and isolated parts of the country with high-speed Internet. “To bridge America’s digital divide, we’ll have to use innovative technologies. SpaceX’s application — along with those of other satellite companies seeking licenses or access to the U.S.…

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Space 

Largest cubesat operators say 25-year deorbit guideline a priority

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — Planet and Spire, operators of the two largest commercial cubesat constellations in orbit, say they manage their fleets to prevent retired spacecraft from lingering in space beyond internationally accepted guidelines. Speaking at the SmallSat Symposium here Feb. 7, officials from Planet and Spire said the companies have self-imposed rules to ensure their satellites burn up in Earth’s atmosphere within 25 years of shutting down, as suggested by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination (IADC) committee. Earth-observation company Planet has 200 satellites in low Earth orbit, making its…

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Space 

ESA awards five smallsat launcher study contracts

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — The European Space Agency on Feb. 8 announced five companies will study potential small launch vehicles for the agency’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP). ArianeGroup, MT Aerospace, European Launch Vehicle, Deimos and PLD Space are all proposing “microlaunchers” for dedicated missions to low-Earth orbit that can be “economically viable,” and “commercially self-sustaining” but “without public funding,” ESA said. “A European commercial microlauncher can meet the growing need for dedicated launch services to companies with small satellites,” Jerome Breteau, manager of ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme,” said…

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Space 

Foust Forward | Riding a big wave of small rockets

“Foust Forward” appears in every issue of SpaceNews magazine. This column ran in the Jan. 15, 2018 issue. On Jan. 11, Rocket Lab announced it plans to carry out another launch attempt for its Electron vehicle in a nine-day window that opens Jan. 19. The company had tried in December to launch the small rocket for the first time, after a partially successful first launch in May, but was stymied by poor weather and technical glitches. If successful, though, Rocket Lab says they’ll be ready to begin commercial missions immediately thereafter. That development is…

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Space 

Getting the cloud above the clouds (and surviving a dry spell)

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 4, 2017 issue of SpaceNews magazine. Sending data to and from different spots on Earth is big business for satellite operators, but Cloud Constellation sees a lucrative opportunity to offer satellites as the ultimate cloud storage solution for sensitive data. The Los Angeles-based startup, now approaching the third anniversary of its founding, has a way to go to fulfill that dream. In September, Cloud Constellation signed a launch agreement with Virgin Orbit for 12 LauncherOne missions, and has a memorandum of understanding with…

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Space 

GomSpace taps Virgin Orbit to launch nanosatellites for tracking ships and planes

WASHINGTON — Virgin Orbit, which expects to debut the air-launched LauncherOne rocket by summer, signed a contract Jan. 16 with GomSpace to send eight nanosatellites into orbit  next year to track airplanes and ships. GomSpace, a Danish cubesat manufacturer, bought the launch on behalf of Aerial & Maritime Ltd. (A&M), a Mauritius-based startup GomSpace spun off to operate a constellation of 80 ship-and-plane-tracking satellites by 2021. In a joint statement, Virgin Orbit and GomSpace said the early 2019 launch will put the satellites into a low-inclination orbit. GomSpace CEO Niels…

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Space 

Avio expanding Vega launch abilities, mulls “light” mini-variant

Vega Light While Vega C and the P120 engine it shares with the Ariane 6 strap-on boosters are Avio’s core focus today, the company is actively weighing a scaled-down version of Vega that would compete directly with launchers in development at Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab and other commercial ventures focused on dedicated missions for payloads weighing a few hundred kilograms or less. Ettore Scardecchia, Avio’s head of engineering and product development, said Avio has an advantage over newcomers in that the company already has the essential components for a “Vega C…

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Science 

Boeing and Lockheed Have a New Rival in Space

No one sells more goods and services to the government than Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) and Boeing (NYSE: BA). These two aerospace giants are the Nos. 1 and 2 biggest contractors to the federal government, respectively — and to the Pentagon and NASA — according to a 2016 report by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). And yet, when it comes to space contracting, these two behemoths now have a new rival. No, I’m not talking about SpaceX. I’m talking about Virgin Orbit. Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 carrying a LauncherOne rocket. More VOX…

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Space 

Virgin Galactic signs SpaceShipTwo research flight deal with Italian space agency

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Virgin Galactic will carry out a dedicated research flight of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane for the Italian space agency ASI, with an Italian payload specialist on board, under an agreement announced Dec. 18. Speaking at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference here, George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said the letter of intent with ASI covered a flight of SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America in New Mexico in 2019. The agreement includes training of the Italian payload specialist who would fly on the mission. “I think this is…

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