Quick Takes (10-10-2016)

The U.S. Air Force put the launch of a tech demo satellite out to bid for SpaceX and ULA. The Air Force issued a request for proposals Sept. 29 for the Space Test Program 3 mission, which consists of the STPSat-6 and a payload adapter that could hold up to six secondary payloads. The competition is the third head-to-head battle between SpaceX and ULA since SpaceX won certification for military launches in 2015. SpaceX won a contract earlier this year for a GPS 3 satellite launch after ULA declined to submit a bid. Both companies submitted bids last month for a second GPS 3 launch.

Gogo says there’s plenty of satellite bandwidth to serve projected growth in its airline broadband business. The company said it believes there will be a surplus of Ku-band capacity over North America by 2020, allowing the company to serve 2,800 commercial aircraft at a time. The introduction of high-throughput satellites will also allow the company to increase the capacity available to each aircraft from 50 megabits per second today to 100 or more starting in late 2017.

Intelsat is moving ahead with plans to repurchase bonds after dismissing one bondholder’s concerns. Intelsat’s chief financial officer, speaking at an investor conference, said the company was now “very comfortable with our legal position” regarding its plans to repurchase bonds to lower its debt. One bondholder, Aurelius Capital Management, had warned the company in several letters that the repurchase plans could violate certain loan covenants. Intelsat officials also said that the company expects to gradually decrease the size of its satellite fleet from about 50 today to less than 40 by not replacing aging satellites that provide little revenue for the company.

S7 Group signed an agreement Sept. 27 with RSC Energia to buy the assets of Sea Launch, including its launch platform and command ship, for about $150 million. The companies said they expected the deal to close in six months, after obtaining regulatory approvals in Russia and the United States. S7 Group, which owns Russia’s S7 Airlines, plans to resume Sea Launch operations about 18 months after the agreement is finalized, and will keep the ships based in Long Beach, California, while also continuing to use the Zenit-3SL launch vehicle. Sea Launch’s headquarters, however, would move from Switzerland to Moscow.

Neumann Space has signed up to be the first customer of an external platform Airbus is developing for the International Space Station. The Australian company is reserving space on the Bartolomeo platform Airbus intends to install on the exterior of the Columbus module. Neumann Space plans to use the platform to test an electric thruster it is developing, and will resell excess capacity to other companies or educational organizations. Airbus hopes to have Bartolomeo in place on the station by the end of 2018.

vacationautBoldly Going

The state of Florida wants you to become a “vacationaut.”

A new ad campaign (shown above) by Space Florida, the state’s space-development agency, encourages people to visit the state’s various space attractions while in the state on vacation.

The ad campaign encourages people to check in at those locations on social media, earning points to become a “Vacationaut Captain.”


“You go to school, get your degrees and you learn there are certain laws of physics you have to follow. This is the only industry that spends millions and millions to build a launch vehicle and a satellite, then we convert the launch vehicle into a huge bomb, about a million pounds. Then we put a small bomb on the top, light a match. For all these millions to find a return, you have to violate the laws of gravity.”

— SSL President John Celli, after a successful Oct. 5 launch of Sky Muster 2 on an Ariane 5 rocket.

Washington Wrap-up

washington2Experts warned Congress that the U.S. is not doing enough to deal with threats to key military space systems. At a House Armed Services Committee hearing this week, retired Navy Adm. James Ellis Jr. said growing threats to space assets have “outpaced our creation of policy and strategy” to deal with them. Martin Faga, former director of the NRO, said the Defense Department is also not emphasizing resilience enough when acquiring space systems. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, said the hearing is part of a “major reform” to national security space he is seeking to implement in next year’s defense authorization bill.

U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten will take the helm of U.S. Strategic Command during a Nov. 3 change of command ceremony at Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base.

Hyten, who has led Air Force Space Command since 2014, is replacing Navy Adm. Cecil Haney, who will retire after more than 38 years of service.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Hyten as Haney’s replacement Sept. 28, capping a leadership shuffle that will send Lt. Gen. John “Jay” Raymond to Space Command, where he will pin on his fourth star.

Two dozen House members signed a letter supporting the current approach to the ongoing SpaceX Falcon 9 anomaly investigation. The members, in a letter sent to the FAA, NASA and the U.S. Air Force, said they backed the current approach of the SpaceX-led investigation into the Sept. 1 pad explosion, with FAA oversight and participation by NASA and the Air Force. The cautioned that “accident investigations should not be politicized,” a likely reference to a letter last week from 10 other House members calling on NASA and the Air Force to take over the investigation.

“We’ve done such a brilliant job building satellites in the military, we don’t think anybody else knows how to do that. I doubt anyone inside the military-DoD environment would figure out how to land a rocket booster tail-first back on the launch pad, but the private sector did. It seems to me, we need to break out of the tyranny of thinking we are the only people who know what they’re doing. There are a heck of a lot of people in the private sector now building sophisticated platforms,and we don’t pay attention to what they are doing. ”

— John Hamre, former U.S. deputy defense secretary, during a Sept. 27 House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing.