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Upcoming SpaceX mission a reusability milestone for national security launch

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The Space Force will allow SpaceX to fly future national security missions on Falcon 9 boosters that previously launched commercial or NASA payloads

WASHINGTON — The upcoming SpaceX launch of a GPS 3 satellite scheduled for June 17 will be the first national security space mission to use a refurbished Falcon 9 booster.  The U.S. Space Force initially ordered an expendable rocket but agreed to the switch with a caveat: the reused booster had to be the one that flew another GPS 3 satellite to orbit last November. 

A Space Force official told reporters June 14 that this requirement is just for this mission as the military gets more comfortable with reusability. In the future SpaceX will be able to bid for national security launch contracts “with no restrictions on reusability,” said Walter Lauderdale, deputy mission director of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise. 

This means the Space Force will allow SpaceX to fly future national security missions on Falcon 9 boosters that previously launched commercial or NASA payloads.

“Later this year we’ll work with them on what boosters are available. Not just those flown for national security launch, we’re open to using others,” Lauderdale said during a conference call with reporters.

Lauderdale said it’s taken SMC’s Launch Enterprise several years to get to this point after working with SpaceX and gaining a better understanding of how its fleet operates. 

SpaceX’s first mission under the National Security Space Launch program in December 2018 — GPS 3 SV-01 — flew on an expendable rocket. For the second and third GPS 3 launches in June and November 2020 (GPS 3 SV-03 and SV-04), the Space Force allowed SpaceX to recover the boosters. For the next two GPS 3 missions, GPS 3 SV-05 and SV-06, the company will be able to fly reused boosters and recover them. 

SpaceX received a bulk contract worth $290.5 million to launch GPS 3 SV-04, SV-05 and SV-06. After agreeing to booster recovery and reuse, the price was reduced by $64 million over the three missions, Lauderdale said. 

GPS 3 SV-06 is projected to launch in 2022. 

For the launch of SV-06 SpaceX will be allowed to offer a booster that has flown more than twice, said Lauderdale.

There are still four more GPS 3 launch contracts to be awarded under Phase 2 of the National Security Space Launch program. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance are the two launch providers selected for Phase 2 for a five-year period from 2022 to 2027.  Under the terms of the contract, the Space Force has to give ULA 60 percent of the missions over the five years and SpaceX 40 percent. 

Given SpaceX’s win streak with GPS missions, the company is likely to launch more GPS satellites in the coming years. SpaceX got five of the six GPS 3 launches awarded over the past four years. ULA in 2019 launched a GPS satellite on the final flight of the Delta 4 Medium rocket before it retired the vehicle.

Lauderdale said Phase 2 launch awards don’t set reusability limits. “We have to continue to look beyond two or three, he said. “Phase 2 doesn’t specify a count.” There are no restrictions on reused payload fairings either, he said.  

The next GPS contract up for award is the seventh GPS 3 satellite (SV-07), one of five missions funded in the Space Force’s $1.4 billion budget request for national security launch services for fiscal year 2022, a Space and Missile Systems Center spokesman confirmed. 

The other three — GPS 3 SV-08, SV-09 and SV-10 — “are currently being tracked as future launch service requirements, the spokesman said.

GPS 3 satellites are made by Lockheed Martin. The company in 2008 got a contract to develop and produce 10 satellites, four of which are in orbit. The last four that have not been awarded launches yet will be completed long before they’re expected to fly to orbit. Because of the lag time between delivery of the satellites and their projected launches, these last four will be kept in storage at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Colorado.

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Source: https://spacenews.com/upcoming-spacex-mission-a-reusability-milestone-for-national-security-launch/

Aerospace

Falcon Heavy to launch Europa Clipper

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WASHINGTON — NASA has selected SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to launch its Europa Clipper mission to a potentially habitable moon of Jupiter, a choice that appeared inevitable once NASA was no longer required to use the Space Launch System.

NASA announced July 23 that it awarded a launch services contract to SpaceX for the October 2024 launch of Europa Clipper on a Falcon Heavy rocket. The contract is valued at $178 million.

The award to SpaceX was expected after Congress, in the fiscal year 2021 omnibus spending bill passed in December 2020, gave the agency the flexibility to choose an alternative launch vehicle for the mission. Previous years’ spending bills required the use of the SLS for Europa Clipper, even as NASA requested the flexibility to acquire a commercial launch vehicle.

Congress relented because of potential hardware compatibility issues found last year between Europa Clipper and SLS. The 2021 spending bill directed NASA to use SLS for Europa Clipper only if “the SLS is available and if torsional loading analysis has confirmed Clipper’s appropriateness for SLS.”

A month after the passage of the bill, NASA directed the Europa Clipper project to halt all planning for launching the spacecraft on SLS and instead prepare to use a commercial vehicle. “We now have clarity on the launch vehicle path and launch date,” Robert Pappalardo, project scientist for Europa Clipper at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at a meeting in early February.

That decision made it likely NASA would select SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy given the technical requirements for the mission and the launch vehicles available to meet it. NASA placed Europa Clipper in its “Category 3” requirements for launch services, requiring that vehicles have performed at least three successful launches, including at least two successful consecutive launches.

Falcon Heavy has flown three times, all successfully, although it has not launched since June 2019. Alternative vehicles with the performance required for the mission, such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur, will not make their first launches until at least next year.

Launching Europa Clipper on Falcon Heavy, rather than SLS, results in trade-offs on both cost and schedule. NASA, in its fiscal year 2021 budget request, argued that a commercial launch could save the agency “over $1.5 billion compared to using a Space Launch System rocket.” By contrast, a NASA Office of Inspector General report in 2019 concluded the cost difference could be less than $300 million, although that study estimated the cost of a Falcon Heavy launch at $450 million, more than twice the value of the contract awarded to SpaceX.

What is not in doubt, though, is that SLS would have offered a faster ride for Europa Clipper. An SLS launch would have allowed the spacecraft to fly directly to Jupiter, arriving less than three years after launch. With Falcon Heavy, Europa Clipper will make gravity-assist flybys of Mars and Earth, arriving at Jupiter five and a half years after launch.

The Europa Clipper contract adds to a growing manifest of future Falcon Heavy missions for NASA, the Defense Department and commercial customers. That includes contracts awarded by NASA in February for the launch of the first two modules of the lunar Gateway and by Astrobotic in April for the launch of its Griffin lunar lander carrying a NASA lunar rover. The Gateway launch is currently scheduled for November 2024, just one month after the Europa Clipper launch.

Ironically, the hardware compatibility issue that finally gave NASA the flexibility to select a vehicle other than SLS to launch Europa Clipper may not have been as severe as once thought. While NASA disclosed few specifics about the problem, Steve Jurczyk, NASA acting administrator in March, said it involved higher lateral loads on the spacecraft during an SLS launch than what the spacecraft was designed for.

“Given that the design is done and some of the hardware is already manufactured, it was going to be very challenging from a cost and schedule standpoint to modify the spacecraft or develop an isolation system to handle the lateral load issue,” he said in a March interview.

However, Robert Stough of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, speaking at a meeting of the steering committee of the planetary science decadal survey July 7, argued that engineers had used “very conservative” limits when doing the initial analysis. “It really was a nonissue at the end of the day,” he argued.


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Source: https://spacenews.com/falcon-heavy-to-launch-europa-clipper/

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Judge denies Wisk Aero’s request for preliminary injunction against Archer Aviation

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Electric aviation startup Wisk Aero’s request for a preliminary injunction against rival Archer Aviation was denied by a federal judge Thursday, the latest in an ongoing legal battle over whether Archer stole trade secrets in developing its flagship Maker aircraft.

A full written opinion has not yet been published. In a tentative ruling filed earlier this week, Judge William Orrick said Wisk’s “evidence of misappropriation is too equivocal to warrant a preliminary injunction.” Wisk filed for the injunction in May; if it had been approved, it would have effectively put an immediate halt to Archer’s operations.

Wisk submitted to the court 52 trade secrets it alleges were stolen and used by Archer, and the injunction would have prevented Archer from using any of them until a final decision was issued in the suit. It’s an extraordinary request and it makes sense that Orrick would need to see more certain evidence of misappropriation.

“There are some arguable indications of misappropriation, but given how equivocal the evidence is, Wisk is not entitled to the extraordinary remedy of an injunction,” Orrick said in the tentative ruling. “Because the merits are so uncertain, Wisk has also not adequately shown irreparable injury based on misappropriation. And the balance of hardships favors Archer because, without solid evidence of misappropriation, an injunction would gravely threaten its business.”

Wisk says the judge’s decision on the injunction has no bearing on the outcome of the case “and does not exonerate Archer in the least.”

“We brought this lawsuit based on strong indications of theft and use of Wisk’s IP, and the initial limited evidence gathered through the court process to date only confirms our belief that Archer’s misappropriation of Wisk’s trade secrets is widespread and pervades Archer’s aircraft development,” Wisk continued. “Following today’s ruling, Wisk will be allowed to begin collecting evidence in earnest.”

Wisk was established in 2019 as a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, but its history with electric aviation stretches back much further. The company was originally founded in 2010 as Levt, which eventually merged with sister company Kitty Hawk. Wisk says it (as Kitty Hawk) zeroed in on a fixed-wing, 12-rotor design in 2016. It’s this design that’s the centerpiece of its debut aircraft, Cora.

Archer, by contrast, is newer to the field. Much of Wisk’s original complaint, filed in April, is predicated on the speed with which Archer is bringing its air taxi service to market. Archer also recruited many former Wisk engineers — including former employee Jing Xue, whom Wisk says downloaded nearly 5,000 files before his departure from the company, which it alleges he handed over to Archer.

When he was cross-examined, Xue pled the Fifth Amendment, invoking his right to not self-incriminate, citing an ongoing federal investigation.

Archer says Wisk has not brought forward any substantive evidence of the central claim of the lawsuit: that Archer received and used Wisk trade secrets. Wisk’s allegations are based on “conspiracy theories and outright misrepresentations,” Archer’s Deputy General Counsel Eric Lentell said.

“It is clear to us from Wisk’s actions in this case that after recognizing Archer’s momentum and pace of innovation, Wisk began abusing the judicial and criminal justice system in an attempt to slow us down to compensate for its own lack of success,” Archer co-founders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein said.

The court will hold a scheduling conference on August 11, where the judge will outline next steps for the case. A date for the trial has not been set.

The case is filed in the California Northern District Court under case no. 3:2021cv02450.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/23/judge-denies-wisk-aeros-request-for-preliminary-injunction-against-archer-aviation/

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Court denies Viasat attempt to halt Starlink launches pending legal action

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TAMPA, Fla. — A federal appeals court denied a motion from satellite operator Viasat to stop SpaceX from enlarging its Starlink megaconstellation.

Viasat had requested a stay on a SpaceX license modification that allows it to continue building out the low-Earth-orbit constellation, while legal action seeking to compel a thorough environmental review of the broadband network plays out through the court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled July 20 that Viasat, which operates broadband satellites in geostationary orbit, “has not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review.”

The court also granted a motion to expedite the appeal, setting dates that end with an Oct. 26 deadline for final briefs to clear the way for oral arguments.

We believe the decision will not impact the Court’s ultimate ruling, and we remain optimistic the Court will conclude that the FCC violated federal law by failing to analyze the environmental impacts of this historically unprecedented deployment of satellites into already crowded portions of space, a Viasat spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Viasat will continue to advocate for the future of a safe space environment. We believe it is important to further our engagements with industry, scientists, academics, as well as U.S. and international governments and regulators in order to develop the necessary tools and frameworks to ensure safe and equitable access to space is preserved for all.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

Satellite broadcaster Dish Network also objected to SpaceX’s license modification and its case is part of Viasat’s appeal.

Viasat first sought a stay from the Federal Communications Commission on SpaceX’s April 27 license modification, enabling it to continue expanding a constellation estimated to now exceed 1,600 satellites at an altitude of around 550-kilometers.

The company gave the FCC until the end of June 1 to grant the order, before submitting the motion to the same court that will decide whether the regulator was legally obligated to assess Starlink’s environmental impact before modifying its license.

The modification gives SpaceX permission to operate 4,408 satellites at 550-kilometers, instead of just 1,584 in this orbit and 2,825 at altitudes of 1,100 to 1,300-kilometers. 

Decreasing the distance between a satellite and Earth reduces signal lag for latency-critical applications including video calls and gaming. 

However, Viasat said the rapidly expanding megaconstellation poses orbital debris, light pollution and other environmental risks.

SpaceX has continued to deploy Starlink satellites amid the legal action, although the cadence has slowed as it works through launch missions for other customers.

Viasat is also calling on the FCC to review nearly $900 million of rural broadband subsidies that SpaceX won in December for Starlink.

In an application filed June 1, Viasat asked the FCC to review why it was not permitted to bid for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

This article was updated July 23 with a comment from Viasat.


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Source: https://spacenews.com/court-denies-viasat-attempt-to-halt-starlink-launches-pending-legal-action/

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Senators push for action on space traffic management

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WASHINGTON — Members of a Senate space subcommittee argued that the Commerce Department was not doing enough to implement policies on space traffic management (STM) or staffing the office responsible for it.

At the July 22 hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, senators said they were worried that slow action by the Commerce Department to set up a civil STM system as outlined in Space Policy Directive (SPD) 3 in 2018 threatened U.S. leadership in space.

“I’m concerned that we’re now three years past SPD-3 was published and the Commerce Department has been slow to develop the open architecture repository that is desperately needed,” said Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), ranking member of the subcommittee. “Instead, it has commissioned more studies to reexamine the already-answered question of which U.S. government agency is best suited to take on the task.”

That open architecture data repository, or OADR, would combine space situational awareness (SSA) data from government and commercial sources that could then be used for STM applications such as warnings of potential collisions. Congress provided funding to the Office of Space Commerce in its fiscal year 2021 spending bill to begin work on OADR pilot projects.

A lack of funding had hindered work on the OADR and other aspects of SPD-3, a former director of the Office of Space Commerce said. “One aspect of this was that we needed to get our heads around the different partnerships and some of the technical opportunities that were available in the commercial industry,” said Kevin O’Connell, who led the office from 2018 until the end of the Trump administration in January. “But, secondly, it really was a resource question: the extent to which we had a very, very small budget in the office.”

Another issue is the lack of leadership at the Office of Space Commerce, which has been without a full-time director since O’Connell’s departure. The office is currently led on an acting basis by Mark Pease, deputy assistant administrator for satellite and information services at NOAA, which hosts the office. “I am also concerned that the administration has not announced a director to take over the Office of Space Commerce,” Lummis said.

O’Connell noted that the office had been without a director for nearly 10 years when he was selected in 2018. “It had an accordingly very tiny budget and a very, very small staff,” he said. That’s not tenable, he suggested, with its assignment of leading civil STM. “This is absolutely the most important mission at this point in time, given what is at stake and given the need to make very rapid progress.”

A provision of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act passed by the Senate in June is the Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency (SPACE) Act, legislation that would codify elements of SPD-3, including giving the Commerce Department the lead for civil STM and establishing an OADR. While the House is not planning to take up the overall bill, senators urged passage of the SPACE Act in some form.

“We need swift action,” said Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), chair of the subcommittee, calling for enactment of the bill.

The Commerce Department was not represented at the hearing, but in a SpaceNews op-ed July 21, Don Graves, deputy commerce secretary, and Rick Spinrad, NOAA administrator, said that the department was working on an OADR prototype that will be ready for initial demonstrations this fall.

They also wrote that, by the fall, they will have results of studies on “procurement strategies, organizational framework, and governance approach” for civil STM services. “With this information, the Commerce Department will propose a strategy for SSA/STM based on the results of our detailed analyses, the results from the prototype demonstrations and community feedback.”

At the hearing, witnesses warned that delays in setting up the system, as well as establishing norms of behavior for safe space operations, not only posed a risk to space safety but also to U.S. leadership. “Ensuring a global commitment to space safety and space sustainability has never been more important,” said Karina Drees, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “Space situational awareness represents the most pressing issue to address today.”

“It is imperative that the United States lead the endeavor of setting these rules,” said Marcus Holzinger, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado. “If other nations lead these efforts, then they are going to be making the rules and regulations and, quite frankly, those will not be to the benefit of our own industry and national enterprises.”


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Source: https://spacenews.com/senators-push-for-action-on-space-traffic-management/

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