Spaceport Tucson construction underway despite opposition


Work is underway to build Arizona’s Spaceport Tucson.

The facility, located near Tucson International Airport, includes a new headquarters and manufacturing building for high-altitude balloon company World View Enterprises and a neighboring pad that will be used for balloon launches.

County supervisors agreed to spend $15 million earlier this year to build the spaceport as an economic incentive package to keep World View in the city.

Construction, slated to be completed in December, is in progress despite a lawsuit filed against county officials by a think tank that argues the agreement violates the “gift clause” in the state’s constitution. [Arizona Daily Star]

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Senators agreed to a compromise regarding use of the Russian-built RD-180 engine. The agreement, brokered by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), will allow the Air Force to award contracts through 2022 for up to 18 competitively procured launches using the RD-180 engine. The deal replaces earlier language in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act that would have restored a limit of nine RD-180 engines. The deal effectively ends a three-year debate about limits on the RD-180 engine that pit desires to end reliance on the Russian engine with concerns a premature cutoff could stifle competition. The full Senate passed the overall act Tuesday, although a conference bill reconciling the Senate and House versions may not be completed until late this year. [SpaceNews]

The first next-generation Iridium satellites are ready to launch, but launch site bottlenecks will delay their launch. Iridium unveiled the first two Iridium Next satellites at an Orbital ATK factory in Arizona Tuesday where the Thales Alenia-built satellites undergo final assembly and testing. Iridium said the first 10 satellites are now scheduled for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 no earlier than Sept. 12, rather than August as previously planned, because of a number of other launches at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in August and early September. Iridium still expects to launch 70 satellites on seven Falcon 9 rockets by the end of 2017. [SpaceNews]

China plans to send a lunar lander mission to the moon’s south pole. Chinese officials said they plan on launching the Chang’e-4 mission in late 2018, landing the spacecraft in the Aitken Basin in the farside region of the moon’s south pole. That mission will be preceded by the launch of a relay satellite in May or June 2018, going into a halo orbit at the Earth-moon L-2 Lagrange point to provide communications for the lander. The moon’s south pole is of scientific interest as well as for potential future human exploration, given the presence of permanently shadowed craters that may have water ice and peaks that are in nearly continuous sunlight. [Xinhua]

A company planning a low Earth orbit satellite constellation sees operators of geostationary satellites as partners, not competitors. LeoSat Enterprises Chief Executive Mark Rigolle said in a recent interview the company is looking for partnerships with major GEO satellite operators who see LeoSat’s constellation as complementary to their businesses. LeoSat is planning a 78-satellite system that will provide high-speed secure communications links for major corporations and governments. LeoSat is currently working to raise a $100 million Series A round, although the overall cost of the system is estimated to be $3.5 billion. [SpaceNews]

Members of the British parliament want the government to establish a full-scale national space program. A report by the House of Common’s science and technology committee warns that the UK runs the risk of falling behind other European nations, including France and Germany, that have their own national space programs in parallel with membership in the European Space Agency. The report seeks to build upon interest in space generated in the country over the last six months by the flight of astronaut Tim Peake to the International Space Station. [The Guardian]

The head of Space Florida believes Cape Canaveral should be run by an independent spaceport authority. In a speech Tuesday, Frank DiBello argued that NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the state of Florida should collaborate on creating an independent authority, modeled on those that operate airports and seaports, to manage the launch facilities at the Cape. Such a management structure, he said, would be better able to meet the needs of what he expects to be a growing number of commercial users of the spaceport. DiBello said Space Florida would soon create a “commercial industry task force” to study the best way to manage the spaceport facilities there. [Florida Today]

ESA has named a new director of Earth observation. The ESA Council Tuesday selected Josef Aschbacher to be the new Director of Earth Observation, succeeding Volker Liebig, who held the position since 2004. Aschbacher has spent 35 years in Earth observation at ESA and the European Commission, most recently working under Liebig as head of program planning and coordination in ESA’s Earth Observation Directorate. [ESA]

CACI won a contract worth up to $445 million to manage the Air Force’s satellite control network.The contract, known as Consolidated Air Force Satellite Control Network Modifications, Maintenance and Operations (CAMMO), is one of several efforts by Air Force Space Command to conslidate work and reduce costs. The award, announced Monday, includes a one-year base contract worth $43 million and options through 2023 that increase its total value by more than $400 million. [SpaceNews]

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will speak today at a aerospace museum, but not to talk about space. Clinton is scheduled to speak at the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Virginia, at 1:15 p.m. Eastern. The speech, according to a statement from the campaign, will focus on national security issues. The event will not be open to the public because of limited seating at the center, which serves as the official visitor center for nearby NASA Langley Research Center. [Daily PressA