Canadian remote sensing company UrtheCast has sold two satellites of a planned constellation to an unnamed government.

The company said this week that “a confidential government customer” has purchased the first two satellites of its OptiSAR system, an agreement valued at $180 million that includes shared operation of the entire constellation.

UrtheCast is developing a constellation of 16 satellites that will provide high-resolution optical and synthetic aperture radar images.

The company plans to launch the first eight satellites in late 2021. [UrtheCast]

More News

The European Space Agency is investigating problems with the atomic clocks on its Galileo navigation satellites. The clock failures are spread across several satellites, and involve both traditional rubidium clocks and a more precise hydrogen maser version. All the Galileo spacecraft launched to date remain in service, but one has only two its original four atomic clocks still operating. It’s unclear yet if the problems will delay the next launch of four Galileo satellites planned for later this year. [BBC]

Mobile satellite operator Thuraya said it has not had any contact with the Chinese company that wants to acquire it. In a statement, Thuraya said that it has not had “any discussion of any kind” with China Trend Holding Ltd. of Hong Kong. China Trend said in filings with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that it was raising $195 million to acquire Thuraya, which operates two satellites in GEO and is planning a next-generation constellation called Futura. [SpaceNews]

Bigelow Aerospace is in discussions with NASA about potential extended use of the company’s experimental ISS module. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was installed on the station last year for a two-year test of its key technologies. Bigelow, in a tweet Wednesday, said the company and NASA “are in agreement to evolve BEAM into becoming an everyday asset aboard the ISS,” although both NASA and Bigelow said later no agreement has been reached yet. Bigelow, which has proposed installing a larger commercial module on the station as a step towards a standalone commercial station, previously indicated there were groups interested in flying experiments in BEAM. [SpaceNews]

An Atlas 5 is set to launch a missile warning satellite tonight. The Atlas 5, carrying the SBIRS GEO-3 satellite, is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 7:46 p.m. Eastern. The rocket rolled out to the pad Wednesday, and forecasts project an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather for the launch. The launch was delayed from October to investigate a potential issue with the satellite’s propulsion system, but engineers found no problems with the engine. [Florida Today]

NASA and NOAA announced Wednesday that 2016 was the hottest year on Earth since records were kept more than a century ago. The agencies performed independent analysis of data collected on Earth and from space to reach that finding, beating a record set in 2015. Scientists said they don’t expect 2017 to be another record-breaking year as the El Niño pattern fades, but that those global records will be broken again within a few years as a long-term warming trend continues. [Reuters]

The incoming Trump administration is considering a controversial computer scientist as science adviser. David Gelernter met with President-elect Trump earlier this week in New York, and those involved in the transition say he is being considered for the science adviser post held in the Obama administration by John Holdren. Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale University, is described as a “vehement critic of modern academia.” Gelernter would be the first computer scientist to hold the position of science adviser, but also the first not to be a member of the National Academy of Sciences. [Washington Post]

A Chinese satellite has started tests of “unhackable” quantum communications.The Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) satellite, launched in August, has completed its in-orbit tests and has been handed over to scientists. The satellite is designed to test a concept known as quantum entanglement that could enable the transmission of messages that cannot be decrypted by conventional techniques. [gbtimes]

India has delayed the next launch of its GSLV rocket. The Indian space agency ISRO says it is now planning the launch of its GSLV Mark 3 rocket, carrying the GSAT-19 communications satellite, for March or April, depending on the outcome of ongoing tests and the availability of a launch pad. The launch will be the first orbital flight of the Mark 3 version of the GSLV, which features an Indian-developed cryogenic engine with improved performance over earlier versions. [Deccan Chronicle]

A former astronaut has been selected to run a Texas A&M University campus.The university said Wednesday that Mike Fossum will be the chief operating officer of its Galveston campus, as well as a university vice president and executive professor. Fossum left the agency this month after a career that included flying on two shuttle missions and an ISS expedition. [Texas A&M]

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...