The latest COVID-19 news and event updates for the global space industry
A time line of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the global space industry. Scroll down for daily updates.
Space events delayed or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic
The annual Conference on Small Satellites at Utah State University this August will become a virtual event. Conference organizers announced Friday that they shifted to a virtual format because of health and safety concerns created by the pandemic. The virtual conference will include most elements of the regular conference, such as keynote and invited speakers, oral presentations, exhibitor and sponsor information, university exhibits, poster presentations, and the Frank J. Redd Student Competition, among other aspects. Registration, which will be free of charge, will open June 1. [www.smallsat.org]
Members of the European Parliament are asking for government support for Europe’s space industry because of the pandemic. Seven members of the parliament, the legislative branch of the European Union, wrote recently to Thierry Breton, a commissioner overseeing space in the European Commission, warning that the industry could lose a billion euros this year. The members of parliament are asking the commission to support a budget for EU space activities of 16 billion euros from 2021 through 2027, after earlier reports that the EU was considering a smaller budget that supports its work on the Galileo and Copernicus programs. [SpaceNews]
NASA is preparing to gradually reopen facilities closed for weeks because of the pandemic. In an online town hall meeting Wednesday, agency leadership said that they have created a framework for centers to use to gradually reopen, starting with those personnel who need to be on site to carry out their work. Those who have been teleworking will likely be asked to continue to do so for the foreseeable future, though. NASA’s planning is taking into account the possibility of a second wave of the coronavirus later this year, although NASA may respond in a more targeted fashion, closing individual buildings rather than entire centers if new cases are reported among its workforce. [SpaceNews]
An Russian space industry executive diagnosed with COVID-19 has died. Yevgeny Mikrin, chief designer for Energia, was diagnosed with the disease last month, shortly after attending a Soyuz launch of three people to the International Space Station. Roscosmos announced Tuesday that he died, but did not state the cause of death. Roscosmos said that, prior to Mikrin’s death, 173 people in the Russian space industry had been diagnosed with the disease and six had died. [Moscow Times]
Virgin Galactic said it is pressing ahead with operations amid the pandemic, but doesn’t yet know the full impact it will have on its business. Virgin executives said the vast majority of its employees who need to work on site are now able to do so as the company takes various measures to protect them from exposure to the coronavirus. The company, though, said it’s not yet clear how long the pandemic will affect the company, including its ability to complete its flight test program and begin commercial suborbital spaceflights. Virgin Galactic lost $60 million in its fiscal first quarter, and while having more than $400 million in cash on hand, is taking steps to reduce expenditures. The company also announced a Space Act Agreement with NASA to begin studies of technologies needed for future high-speed transport vehicles. [SpaceNews]
The pandemic has created an “unanticipated global experiment” in the use of satellite imagery and analytics. Using overhead satellite imagery and analytics software, geospatial data companies track the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, drawing attention to the importance of satellites to gather critical data that will guide policy decisions for years to come. Those applications range from tracking crowd sizes on beaches to monitoring economic activity. [SpaceNews]
NASA hopes to resume testing of the Space Launch System in the next few weeks. Work on the upcoming “Green Run” static-fire test of the first SLS core stage at the Stennis Space Center has been suspended since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. That work will resume, at a reduced pace, later this month. The first launch of SLS is now not expected until late next year. [Spaceflight Now]
Scientists are optimistic the pandemic will not delay several planetary missions in development. NASA’s Lucy mission, which will study Trojan asteroids in the same orbit around the sun as Jupiter, must launch during a narrow window in October 2021. Work on that mission is continuing with adjustments, like the use of shifts to reduce the number of people on site at one time. Work remains in progress on ESA’s JUICE mission to the moons of Jupiter, scheduled for launch in 2022, although project officials said some of the schedule margin that they had prior to the start of the pandemic has been lost. [Spaceflight Now]
NASA is joining forces with ESA and JAXA on a “hackathon” to develop solutions for the coronavirus pandemic. The agencies are sponsoring the Space Apps COVID-19 Challenge, where people will use Earth observation data from the three space agencies to propose solutions to challenges created by COVID-19. Registration for the virtual event, scheduled for May 30—31, opens later this month. [NASA]
The European spaceport in French Guiana will resume launches in June. The Guiana Space Centre suspended launch activities in mid-March as part of the French government response to the coronavirus pandemic, but Arianespace said Wednesday that launch preparations will resume once the government eases a nationwide lockdown May 11. The spaceport’s first missions will be a mid-June Vega launch previously scheduled for March, followed by an Ariane 5 launch in late July. While two Soyuz launches for OneWeb originally scheduled for this year from the spaceport are unlikely to take place now because of the company’s bankruptcy, the French space agency CNES, which operates the spaceport, expects to be able to carry out the rest of the launches projected for this year. [SpaceNews]
Euroconsult has postponed its annual World Satellite Business Week conference to mid-November from its normal September berth. The five-day conference, held every year at the Paris Westin, will be held this year Nov. 9-12, the consultancy announced this week. [Euroconsult]
Industry groups are petitioning the government to make changes in a coronavirus relief program that shuts out many space startups. In a letter Wednesday, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and SmallSat Alliance asked the government to revise rules for the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program, particularly how small businesses are defined. Under current rules, venture-backed startups are penalized because of an “affiliation” rule that counts the employees in all the companies backed by those investors, often pushing them beyond the 500-employee threshold for eligibility. Without a change in the rules, the organizations said, many startups may have to lay off employees since they cannot get aid. [SpaceNews]
The Defense Department wants to create a “unified message” on the relief needed for space companies because of the pandemic. Will Roper, the top acquisition official in the Air Force, said Wednesday that the Space Acquisition Council, in a meeting earlier this week, decided to survey the industry to see exactly what its needs are so can put forward a proposal to Congress for funding. However, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), said he was not in favor of putting money for the Defense Department in a future stimulus package, saying the Pentagon can use funding it already has to support those companies. [SpaceNews]
The Pentagon’s Space Acquisition Council wants to identify and help companies in “immediate distress” because of the pandemic. The council, in an emergency meeting Monday, directed a survey go out to space industrial base sectors, including both members and nonmembers of the Space Enterprise Consortium, federally funded research and development centers and think tanks. The survey seeks to identify those industry sectors in distress that could benefit from supplemental relief. While major suppliers have been affected by COVID-19, an immediate concern of the council are lower-tier suppliers and vendors as well as startups. [SpaceNews]
A decline in venture capital funding for space startups could become a problem for the military. The Pentagon has come to rely on private sector investment to fund space-related R&D activities, but the severe recession caused by the pandemic is likely to sharply decrease investment. Some of these companies are in the midst of developing innovative technologies with national security applications but could find themselves on the “wrong side of the fundraising cycle,” in the words of one analyst. Government contracts could provide a lifeline to some space companies but not all will make it through the crisis. [SpaceNews]
That downturn could force the Pentagon to step up its support for the industry. Since the pandemic hit, military contracts have been a lifeline for companies in the space industry, through its contracting practices and accelerated payment terms. The Pentagon has increased progress payments and offered “equitable adjustments” so companies are not penalized for poor performance caused by the pandemic. With many U.S. businesses facing financial distress, the influx of foreign capital to companies that develop technologies for national security is a major concern to some analysts. [SpaceNews]
United Launch Alliance is helping its suppliers get through the pandemic. ULA said it assisted suppliers by alerting them to Defense Department guidance that identified such companies as essential businesses that could remain open, and also training companies on how to follow federal health guidelines and implement protocols to keep employees from getting sick. ULA itself has had only one case of COVID-19 among its workforce so far. The company is moving ahead with preparations for its next launch, of the X-37B spaceplane, in mid-May. [SpaceNews]
NASA showed off its projects to support coronavirus relief efforts at the White House Friday. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and other agency officials presented work on those projects to President Trump in a short briefing a day after NASA discussed them with the media. Those efforts include a simple, low-cost ventilator, a breathing helmet and a system designed to quickly disinfect vehicles and rooms. [SpaceNews]
Satellite services company Speedcast International filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Australian company, which ended 2019 with $669 million in debt, said customer struggles, amplified by the pandemic’s impact on the cruise sector, made it “impossible” to raise much-needed equity. The company has arranged for up to $90 million in debtor-in-possession financing to maintain operations during its restructuring. Speedcast leases capacity on more than 80 satellites to provide communications services for a variety of markets, some of which, like oil and cruise lines, have been hard-hit by the pandemic. [SpaceNews]
Several NASA projects are ready to help assist the response to the coronavirus pandemic. NASA said that a ventilator developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory passed tests at a New York hospital this week and is awaiting emergency approval by the FDA. A “positive pressure helmet” intended for those patients whose breathing difficulties aren’t severe enough to require a ventilator is also pending FDA approval. An internal NASA crowdsourcing platform collected more than 250 ideas for projects since the beginning of this month, including one that could lead to an instant “breathalyzer” coronavirus test. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that NASA’s top priorities remain commercial crew and Mars 2020, both scheduled for launch in the coming months, but he asked the public to watch the SpaceX commercial crew launch from home rather than travel to Florida to see it in person. [SpaceNews]
Roscosmos says it’s “impossible” that the crew that launched to the International Space Station last week were exposed to the coronavirus by a Russian executive. Evegeny Mikrin, deputy CEO and chief designer of RSC Energia, tested positive for COVID-19 recently, and was seen at the launch close to Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, who was in turn near the Soyuz MS-16 crew before launch. A Roscosmos spokesperson said it was “absolutely impossible” Mikrin could have infected the crew. NASA also was not concerned about any transmission, citing the quarantine the crew was in before launch, and said there were no plans to send coronavirus tests to the station to confirm the crew was not infected. [Space.com]
Japanese satellite operator Sky Perfect JSAT is delaying its annual financial report by seven weeks, citing the coronavirus. The company said it needs extra time for employees and auditors to finalize the results while working under emergency rules put in place by the Japanese government to curb the coronavirus pandemic. JSAT now anticipates releasing its earnings June 26. The earnings delay will have a one-month knock-on effect on JSAT’s annual securities report, which is now expected July 30. JSAT said it may see declines in television broadcasting because of the lack of live sporting events, and a decline in satellite broadband demand for aircraft and ships. [Sky Perfect JSAT]
Internet-of-things focused satellite operator Orbcomm says it is well positioned to weather coronavirus pandemic. The company is still manufacturing devices and shipping products with help from subcontractors. Most of Orbcomm’s 800 employees are working remotely. Orbcomm CEO Marc Eisenberg said the coronavirus pandemic and a reduction in travel has resulted in small revenue declines and a small drop in share price. “The business is not unaffected, but we are in a good position to ride out the storm and hit the ground running when markets recover,” he said. [Orbcomm]
The International Space University (ISU) will cancel its summer Space Studies Program (SSP) for the first time in the school’s history. ISU announced Tuesday that “the high uncertainty of international travel for this summer” because of the coronavirus pandemic made it infeasible to hold the session at the university’s campus in Strasbourg, France. ISU had originally scheduled this year’s SSP to take place in China, but moved it to France in January. ISU will instead offer a five-week online “Interactive Space Program” this summer, and will accept a larger class for the 2021 SSP that will be held in Granada, Spain. ISU’s full-year master’s degree program, also in Strasbourg, moved to virtual classes in March as the pandemic spread. This is the first year that the SSP, traditionally held in the summer at universities across the world, has been canceled since ISU was founded in the late 1980s. [ISU]
The smallsat industry is seeking government assistance to get through the pandemic. The SmallSat Alliance, in a white paper Tuesday, asked the Pentagon and Congress to increase investments in small satellite programs to shore up companies hit hard by the pandemic. Those investments, which the industry group said should be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, would support work on “hybrid space architectures” that combine commercial smallsats with traditional government satellites. The group, which represents about 45 companies, warned that the economic impact of the pandemic is making its members “particularly vulnerable to bankruptcy or foreign takeover.” [SpaceNews]
Lockheed Martin is starting to feel the effects of the pandemic. The company said the pandemic had no “material impact” on its first quarter financial results, released Tuesday, but company executives noted they are now starting to see effects, such as problems with its supply chain. The company lowered its net sales projection for 2020 by $375 million because of effects of the pandemic on its aeronautics division. The effects on its space business have been limited so far, they said, in part because of the long production cycles and low volumes of that unit. [SpaceNews]
Lunar rover startup Spacebit is adapting its plans because of the business disruptions created by the pandemic. The company, with operations in six companies, is continuing to hire employees as it works on a miniature rover concept it intends to fly next year as a payload on Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander. To prevent supply chain issues from halting progress, Spacebit is looking for ways to produce the rover with two sets of parts. Company founder Pavlo Tanasyuk said that, with the backing he and other investors have provided, Spacebit has enough money to continue its work for a year and a half. [SpaceNews]
The Pentagon has identified the small launch vehicle sector as one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Ellen Lord, the Defense Department’s top procurement official, said Monday that small launch, along with aviation and shipbuilding, are the sectors with the “greatest pain points” due to the economic fallout from the pandemic. The Pentagon’s concerns about the small launch sector are supported by market data pointing to an inevitable shakeout in the industry that would have happened regardless of the pandemic, analysts said. [SpaceNews]
The United Arab Emirates’ first Mars mission will ship to its launch site this week. The Hope orbiter was originally scheduled to go from Dubai to Japan in May for final launch preparations, but project officials moved up the shipment because of international travel restrictions instituted in response the pandemic. That means some tests of the spacecraft won’t be performed, although all those deemed critical for the spacecraft have been completed. Hope will launch on an H-2A rocket in mid-July. [SpaceNews]
Soyuz launches from French Guiana may not resume until September. Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, said Sunday that two Soyuz launches postponed when France closed the Kourou launch site in French Guiana in March because of the pandemic had been postponed until September. Twenty-one Russian technicians who remained in Kourou when the spaceport closed will return to Russia by the end of this month. [TASS]
Stratospheric ballooning company World View has delayed a new initiative and furloughed staff because of the pandemic. The company announced in March it would start flying later this year a series of its Stratollite high-altitude balloons in a “racetrack” that goes over parts of North and Central America, providing imagery at resolutions higher than those from satellites. But with the pandemic closing nonessential businesses, the company said this week it’s delaying those plans and has furloughed an unspecified number of employees so that it has a “cash runway” to survive until conditions improve. [SpaceNews]
An Air Force official said Thursday that the service needs to make “bold” moves to help space industry startups. Department of the Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper said he fears many startups will go out of business during the pandemic because of a decline in private investment, including those working on small launch vehicles and low Earth orbit constellations. Specific actions will be discussed at the next meeting of the Space Acquisition Council as early as two weeks from now, he said. [SpaceNews]
An ISS research conference has been canceled by the pandemic. The ISS National Lab, the nonprofit that runs the part of the ISS designated a national lab, said Thursday it was canceling its annual conference, which was to take place in early August in Seattle. The organization is considering “alternative avenues to feature content slated for the conference,” but has not yet announced specific plans for virtual sessions or other alternatives. [ISS National Lab]
An executive of Russian space company RSC Energia has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Yevgeny Mikrin, who is the chief designer and deputy CEO of Energia, tested positive for the disease but has not shown any symptoms. He is self-isolating at home. About 30 people in the Russian space industry have COVID-19, but Mikrin is the only high-ranking official diagnosed so far. [TASS]
A space industry consortium is concerned that the pandemic may be hurting small businesses that serve as suppliers for national security contracts. The Space Enterprise Consortium, run by the Space and Missile Systems Center, contacted its more than 350 member companies this week, seeking information from those who are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. That information, the consortium said, could be used for future funding opportunities to help those businesses. [SpaceNews]
Satellite imagery has identified the sources of air pollution that continued in China despite a slowdown in activity earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. A Finnish institute used images from Planet’s constellation of satellites to visually inspect factory plumes to see which continued to operate. They found that steel factories and power plants kept going even as other factories shut down, which can explain why pollution levels around Beijing did not drop as much as researchers expected. [SpaceNews]
The team that operates NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is continuing that work from home. That team, which normally works on-site at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, set up equipment in their homes to allow them to keep planning the rover’s travels during the pandemic. That shift also requires changes in communications, since the team is not in the same room discussing how the rover should proceed. “I probably monitor about 15 chat channels at all times,” said the chief of the science operations team. [NASA/JPL]
French researchers are using the pandemic as an experiment of sorts for long-duration spaceflight. Sixty students at a university in Toulouse, confined to their dorm rooms because of a lockdown in response to the pandemic, are keeping a journal and performing computer-based tests to see how the isolation is affecting them. Researchers said that while the comparison to an extended space mission is not perfect — the students can leave their dorm rooms for daily trips outside — it provides an opportunity to study the psychological effects isolation can have on people. [Reuters]
An industry group is asking the Pentagon to take action to aid space companies feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Disruptions to existing contracts and production lines as well as shrinking capital markets are imperiling those companies, the National Security Space Association said in a message to both its member companies and government officials over the weekend. The organization is seeking a mix to direct funding actions for space programs and regulatory changes to speed up contract awards. [SpaceNews]
A Pentagon group will hold an emergency meeting to discuss possible measures to assist the aerospace industry. The Space Acquisition Group, a senior-level group created by Congress to synchronize space procurements across the Defense Department, will meet in the next two weeks to focus on actions to shore up the aerospace industry during the pandemic. The council, established in last year’s defense authorization act, met for the first time last week to start what was intended to be a monthly series of meetings on national security space procurement activities. [SpaceNews]
The International Astronautical Federation (IAF) has postponed one of the biggest space conferences of the year. The IAF announced Friday it had postponed the International Astronautical Congress, which was scheduled for mid-October in Dubai. The IAF cited the “growing escalation” of COVID-19 worldwide as the reason for the postponement. The organization plans to announce a new date for the event, which attracts more than 6,000 people, in the coming weeks. The IAF also delayed the Global Space Exploration Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, which had already been postponed from June to September, to some time in 2021. [IAF]
The manufacturer of Soyuz rockets is putting production on hold during the coronavirus pandemic. Dmitry Baranov, general director of the Samara Space Center, said the production hold was intended to keep workers safe. The company has 52 Soyuz rockets already built, including 12 at spaceports awaiting launch. Baranov didn’t state what effect the bankruptcy of OneWeb, a major customer for the Soyuz, would have on the company. Separately, three Proton-M rockets have been returned to manufacturer Khrunichev to replace “low-quality” parts found in them during inspections by Roscosmos. The news came after the launch of two Russian communications satellites on a Proton was delayed by two months because of issues with the launch vehicle. [SpaceNews / Sputnik]
Astronauts on the International Space Station linked the coronavirus pandemic to the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13. In a press conference Friday, astronaut Drew Morgan noted that he and Jessica Meir will return to Earth on Friday, 50 years to the day after Apollo 13 splashed down to end its harrowing mission. Morgan said that “now, once again, there is a crisis, [but] the crisis is on Earth.” He praised those working in Mission Control for continuing to operate the station safely despite the pandemic. “Here they are persevering and, through their professionalism, they are going to return us to Earth safely — just like their predecessors did 50 years ago.” [collectSPACE]
The operator of the Eastern Range defended the decision to allow SpaceX to conduct a Starlink launch next week despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing, said that under the current health emergency, the decision to support a launch is considered on a case-by-case basis. The Starlink launch is less labor intensive than a national security mission like the launch of a GPS 3 satellite, which earlier this week was postponed from late April to the end of June. He added that allowing the launch to proceed helps the range to stay on schedule as much as possible. [SpaceNews]
The pandemic has put on hold events scheduled for this month to mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13. Events at the Kennedy Space Center and the Cosmosphere museum in Kansas, where the Apollo 13 capsule is on display, were postponed by the pandemic and have been rescheduled for the fall. Some online-only events, though, will take place this month. “My compatriot, Jim Lovell, says the curse of Apollo 13 continues,” said Fred Haise, who, with Lovell, are the two astronauts from that mission still alive today. [collectSPACE]
A Pentagon agency is helping companies demonstrate to local officials that their work is essential and should continue during the pandemic. The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is issuing letters to help contractors and their subcontractors inform local authorities their work is essential to national security. Space technology is one of five focus areas for DIU, an organization designed to give the U.S. military rapid access to innovative commercial technology, and has supported companies working on launch vehicles and space applications. [SpaceNews]
The launch of Indian remote sensing satellite remains indefinitely postponed. The GISAT-1 spacecraft was to launch in early March, but the Indian space agency ISRO postponed the launch because of an unidentified technical issue. With a nationwide lockdown in place in India because of the pandemic, launch operations remain on hold. ISRO has yet to state when the launch can take place, saying only that a new launch date will be identified “in due course.” [Defence Aviation Post (India)]
SpaceX is preparing for another Starlink launch next week. The Falcon 9 launch is scheduled for no earlier than April 16, carrying a seventh set of 60 Starlink satellites. The launch is proceeding despite restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic that led some other Falcon 9 customers to delay their launches. [Spaceflight Now]
The U.S. Space Force said Thursday it’s delaying a GPS satellite launch by two months because of the coronavirus pandemic.The Falcon 9 launch of the third GPS 3 satellite, which had been scheduled for late April, has been pushed back to no earlier than June 30. The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) decided that the current GPS constellation with 31 satellites in orbit is providing adequate services, so taking a pause in launches would not affect operations and allows the range to focus on the health of the workforce. SMC said it still plans to complete the next three GPS launches in 2020. [SpaceNews]
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee urged the Pentagon not to delay a launch services procurement. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Tuesday that the national security space launch procurement, involving Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, should not be delayed despite disruptions caused by the pandemic. SMC plans to select two companies in the middle of this year for five-year launch contracts. Smith warned that a delay would impact the finances of companies that are already hurting from the economic fallout of the coronavirus. [SpaceNews]
Launch of Russia’s Nauka module to the ISS has been delayed to 2021. The much-delayed multi-functional laboratory—construction of which began in 1995—had been slated for launch late this year. Dmitry Rogozin stated on Twitter that testing on the module is hoped to be completed in May. Tests are continuing despite an order for most Russians to stay home from work until the end of the month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rogozin added the launch was now scheduled for “early next year.” [TASS]
A NASA Langley employee diagnosed with COVID-19 has died. The center said Tuesday that the unnamed employee was the first there to be diagnosed with the disease. The center has been at Stage 3 of the agency’s pandemic response plan since mid-March, with only mission-essential personnel allowed to work there. • Six SpaceX employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to an internal memo. It was unclear how many of those six have been working at company facilities, and how many other employees might have been exposed. • Two more Blue Origin employees have tested positive for the disease, after one was diagnosed last week. One of the two had been working at a company building as recently as last Friday. [WAVY-TV/CNBC / The Verge]
Training of Indian astronaut candidates training in Russia has been affected by the pandemic. Russian space company Glavkosmos, which arranged the training for the four Indian pilots at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, said that the center is in “lockdown,” requiring them to remain at the center through the end of the month. Glavkosmos said the astronaut candidates are healthy, and have been training and exercising on their own during the lockdown. [The Hindu]
Officials with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center expect it will be several weeks before personnel can start working on site again. In a virtual town hall meeting last week, center leaders said the center would likely remain at Stage 4 of NASA’s pandemic response framework, limiting access only to the most essential personnel, through April, based on the social distancing guidance from the White House. Even if that guidance expires at the end of April as currently planned, the center will likely “not immediately” reopen for other personnel, taking cues from NASA Headquarters and local officials about when and how to do so. While that has halted progress on programs like the Space Launch System that require personnel at the center to work on hardware, projects that can be done via telework, like work on the Human Landing System lunar lander program for Artemis, are continuing. [SpaceNews]
United Launch Alliance reported Monday its first employee diagnosed with COVID-19, who had worked at a Denver facility. The company closed the floor of the building where that person worked and is “following stringent cleaning and disinfection protocols.” • NASA’s Langley Research Center reported its first case Monday. The center remains at Stage 3 of NASA’s response framework, allowing only mission-essential personnel on site. [ ULA / WTKR-TV]
The European Space Agency is resuming operations of four space science missions placed on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. ESA announced last week that the Cluster, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, Mars Express and Solar Orbiter missions would resume operations after being placed in a safe mode March 24. ESA said that one employee at the mission control center in Germany tested positive for COVID-19 and, as a precaution, about 20 other employees who had been in contact with that person were asked to self-quarantine. Those people had primarily been working on those four missions, hence the decision to suspend operations. None of those employees showed symptoms of the disease, and the person who was diagnosed with COVID-19 is recovering. [SpaceNews]
An employee at a Blue Origin factory has tested positive for COVID-19. The company said the employee, working at the factory in Kent, Washington, was last at the site March 26. An unspecified number of other employees who had close contact with the individual have been asked to self-quarantine for 14 days, and the company has done additional “deep cleanings” of the areas where that person worked. While many Blue Origin employees are teleworking, the company’s factory there remains open, as it is classified as an essential business. [GeekWire]
The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) has postponed its next meeting. The U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs said the 63rd COPUOS Meeting, which had been scheduled for Vienna June 17-26, will be delayed because of the pandemic. The U.N. is considering rescheduling the meeting for the latter half of August, but has not settled on a specific date. The office previously canceled a meeting of the COPUOS legal subcommittee, planned for late March in Vienna. The rescheduled full committee meeting could include a one-day meeting of the legal subcommittee “only to consider administrative matters.” The annual meeting brings together the committee’s 95 member states to discuss space activities and related issues. [U.N.]
The Space Foundation has rescheduled the 36th Space Symposium for this fall. The organization announced Thursday that the conference, which was originally scheduled for this week, will now take place from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3. That means the event, which normally runs Monday through Thursday, will instead start on a Saturday and end on a Tuesday. Moreover, the event will start on Halloween and end on Election Day. (Daylight Saving Time also ends during the conference.) The revised dates, the Space Foundation said, will result in “a revamped agenda from what was originally scheduled for this spring,” with updates on a continual basis. “We will continue to monitor all of the public health reports and adhere to all of the federal, state and local orders regarding public assemblies but we have confidence in planning ahead for a future that brings our community safely back together in Colorado Springs,” said Tom Zelibor, chief executive of the Space Foundation, in a statement. [Space Foundation]
Four ESA space missions have resumed science data gathering after a temporary halt. ESA has revealed that the disruption to the Cluster, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, Mars Express, and Solar Orbiter missions followed a member of the mission control workforce being diagnosed with the coronavirus. About twenty colleagues on site were put into quarantine and entire buildings were thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to prevent further spread of the infection. “We decided to preventatively suspend operations on these missions until the risk of a potential cascade of follow-on infections and quarantines disappeared,” said Paolo Ferri, Head of Mission Operations at ESA’s Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. “This person is thankfully fine, and recovering well.” [ESA]
Airbus has paused the majority of its production in Spain following new measures announced by the Spanish government March 29, though some key Defense and Space activities remain essential. An Airbus representative told SpaceNews that space activities are continuing where possible. “However, following the announcement…all non-essential space activities have been paused in Spain until 9 April. We have been talking to our suppliers about how we can best support each other and about how best to ensure a return to full production.” Airbus space activities in Spain include work related to Ariane launch vehicles and Copernicus Earth observation platforms. Affected programs have not been disclosed. [Airbus/SpaceNews]
ESA launches “Space in response to COVID-19 outbreak,” inviting companies to submit ideas for services in response to the coronavirus emergency, particularly in Italy. “We are keen to support European companies in developing and deploying their best ideas to respond to the current crisis, evidencing the contribution that space can bring in these circumstances,” said ESA’s Magali Vaissiere. The initiative, in collaboration with the Italian Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitalisation, will provide funding, with additional information available in an AO. [ESA]
The coronavirus pandemic has created uncertainty about the appropriations process for fiscal year 2021. Both the House and Senate are out until at least April 20, and could remain away from the Capitol for even longer if the pandemic worsens. House appropriators say they have no hearings or markups of bills scheduled currently, but remain “hard at work” both on future legislation to deal with the pandemic and the regular series of appropriations bills. Senate appropriators are considering virtual hearings, or none at all, but still hope to mark up spending bills by the July Fourth recess. [Roll Call]
The operator of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has furloughed most of its staff. Delaware North, which operates a number of attractions that, like the KSC visitor’s center, are closed because of the pandemic, said it placed on “temporary leave” more than two-thirds of its full-time staff, continuing benefits for eight weeks but only providing one week of pay. Part-time employees are no longer being scheduled for shifts or being paid. The company didn’t say how many employees at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex were affected, but a 2019 economic impact report said the center had nearly 1,000 employees. The visitor’s center has been closed since mid-March because of the pandemic. [Florida Today]
OneWeb Satellites, the joint venture of Airbus and OneWeb, said Monday it is furloughing employees, but didn’t blame OneWeb’s bankruptcy filing. The company said in a statement that the coronavirus pandemic led it to furlough an unspecified number of its approximately 200 employees working at a Florida factory that builds satellites for OneWeb. That announcement came after OneWeb announced Friday that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, putting on hold plans for future launches and thus the demand for new satellites. [Orlando Sentinel]
Virgin Orbit said it’s developed a ventilator design that could be mass produced in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The company said Monday a “bridge ventilator” developed as part of a consortium led by two universities could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration for production at Virgin Orbit’s factory by early April. The bridge ventilator is a simplified version of a ventilator intended for patients with moderate symptoms of the coronavirus disease, freeing up more advanced ventilators for patients in critical condition. [SpaceNews]
Engineering test campaigns on Galileo Batch 3 navigation satellites have been suspended at ESTEC Test Center as part of measures taken by ESA’s Directorate of Navigation to protect staff following the COVID-19 outbreak. The stored satellites will be monitored by staff visiting ESTEC every few days. The center is meanwhile continuing lifetime testing rubidium atomic clocks for future Galileo launches, while the Directorate team has also shifted to teleworking. ESA Director of Navigation Paul Verhoef said: “an impact assessment will only be possible when we see the end of the restrictions in the various European countries. For the time being, stay home, stay healthy, is the priority.”
A Wuhan-based Chinese commercial launch service provider is preparing a next launch from Jiuquan launch center following the lifting of lockdown measures at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Expace Kuaizhou-1A rocket, Xingyun-2 (01, 02) narrowband IoT satellites and test teams have arrived at Jiuquan in the Gobi Desert for launch in mid to late April. Expace is situated in the Wuhan National Space Industry Base for commercial space activities. The firm is a spinoff from defense contractor CASIC and its subsidiary, China Sanjiang Space Group.
The Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX 2020) in St. Petersburg, Russia, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and ROSCOSMOS agreed to provisionally move the event, originally scheduled for June, to Sept. 1-3. The organizers will continue to monitor the situation closely and intend to re-confirm the date of 1 – 3 September 2020 around mid-June, or inform about any eventually necessary further postponement.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is the latest facility to go to Stage 4 of NASA’s pandemic response framework. In a statement Friday, center director Jody Singer cited the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the state as the reason for going from Stage 3 to Stage 4, as well as “recent guidance” from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who on Friday ordered all non-essential businesses in the state to close. The only personnel allowed on site will be those needed for the center’s safety and security, as well as those responsible for the “safety of our astronauts and critical hardware.” Previously, other “mission-essential” personnel were allowed at the center, with the rest teleworking. Marshall was the second center to go to Stage 3, on March 14, when an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Ten of NASA’s 18 facilities are now at Stage 4, with the rest at Stage 3.
U.S. Space Command units that operate communications satellites are providing additional bandwidth to the USNS Mercy hospital ship that arrived in Los Angeles March 27. The USNS Mercy, operated by the Military Sealift Command, will offer non-coronavirus medical care so local hospitals can focus on COVID-19 patients. The leader of U.S. Space Command, Gen. John Raymond, said units that routinely provide space-based services — satellite communications, weather data, missile warning and GPS navigation — are on the job stateside and at overseas locations, and continue to keep up with the demands despite restrictive health protection measures required during the pandemic.
One of the biggest space science conferences of the year has been postponed because of the pandemic. The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) announced its 43rd COSPAR Scientific Assembly, which had been scheduled for Aug. 15-22 in Sydney, Australia, has been rescheduled for Jan. 28-Feb. 4. COSPAR blamed the “worldwide pandemic and accompanying social and economic disruption” for the delay. The conference, held every two years, attracts thousands of scientists to discuss a wide range of space science research. The pandemic is not the first time a COSPAR Scientific Assembly has been disrupted by world events: COSPAR canceled its 2016 conference, which was to take place in Istanbul, after an attempted coup in Turkey weeks before the event. [COSPAR]
Military Space USA and MilSatCom USA have been canceled for 2020. The two conferences had been scheduled for June but London-based SMi Group Ltd. said Friday that the conferences have been rescheduled for June 2021. SMi’s small satellite and space situational conferences, two London events both previously planned for April, have been rescheduled for September. [SMi Group]
Italian launch vehicle company Avio has obtained an exemption to a nationwide lockdown that allows the company to remain in operation. Avio CEO Giulio Ranzo said in an earnings call Thursday that the current closure of the European spaceport in French Guiana shouldn’t impact revenues of Avio, which builds the Vega rocket, as long as it reopens within two to three months. He added he believed that French officials share Avio’s sense of urgency to restart spaceport operations, and that a Vega launch postponed by the shutdown could take place as soon as 10 days after the spaceport reopens. Avio, whose revenues fell 5% in 2019 but had a 5% increase in profits, did not issue financial guidance for 2020, saying the coronavirus pandemic has made forecasting futile for now. [SpaceNews]
The chairman of Virgin Galactic is worried that funding will dry up for startups because of the coronavirus pandemic. During an interview this week on the Recode Decode podcast, Chamath Palihapitiya, who is also chief executive of the investment firm Social Capital, warned that the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic will make it difficult for startups in any sector to raise additional funding. “The investing landscape is done,” he said. “I think that people need to make hard decisions to conserve at least 36 months of cash, and if you’re not doing that, you’re not giving yourself enough of a buffer for all of this to sort itself out.” In the hourlong interview, Palihapitiya didn’t discuss Virgin Galactic directly, including how the company is faring during the pandemic. In a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing March 19, the company said it decided to approve only 50% of earned bonuses for its executives “in light of recent COVID-19 (coronavirus) considerations.” [Vox / SEC]
The Satellite Industry Association called on U.S. lawmakers and regulators “to recognize the essential role satellites are playing during the coronavirus outbreak and to assist the satellite industry should issues arise that might impair its ability to provide vital services to government, defense, enterprise and consumer customers.” SIA’s statement, issued Thursday morning as the House of Representatives prepares to take up a $2 trillion relief package the Senate approved Wednesday night, does not include a list of specific demands for assistance. However, it says protecting jobs, supply chains and launch schedules should be priorities should assistance be necessary. [SIA]
The European Space Agency will host a multilingual show today where its astronauts will offer inspiration to those quarantined by the pandemic. The “#SpaceConnectsUs” broadcast, held in cooperation with Asteroid Day, features astronauts talking about their experiences in space and lessons learned for those dealing with isolation. The event spans five hours starting at 11 a.m. Eastern, with separate programs in Dutch, German, Italian, French and English. [ESA]
The Senate passed a massive coronavirus relief bill Wednesday night that includes more than $10 billion for the Defense Department. The bill, approved on a 96-0 vote, provides $10.5 billion for the Defense Department, with $2.4 billion of that intended to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on suppliers. Among the other agencies included in the bill is NASA, which will receive $60 million to cover costs related to the pandemic. The bill, with an overall cost of $2.2 trillion, is expected to win passage in the House later this week. [SpaceNews]
NASA is looking for ways to aid the federal government’s response to the pandemic. In an online town hall with employees Wednesday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and other officials said that NASA “will be more and more involved as days go on” as it coordinates potential roles with other federal, state and local agencies. NASA will be soliciting ideas for potential contributions from employees, and will be part of an interagency meeting today about how it can assist in the production of ventilators. Bridenstine said that while he is thinking about how to get the agency back to normal operations “in an orderly way,” he said the agency would take a cautious approach about reopening centers, taking into account conditions at each center. [SpaceNews]
The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) is finding ways to help its contractors during the pandemic. Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of SMC, the U.S. Space Force’s main procurement arm, said he had talked with local governments that issued stay-at-home orders to ensure that space companies are recognized as essential businesses and can remain open. SMC also intends to keep up the flow of contracts to small businesses during the crisis. Thompson said he was concerned foreign investors from nations considered adversaries of the United States will move in to rescue ailing space companies during this crisis and try to capture their technology. [SpaceNews]
SpaceX is producing hand sanitizer and face shields for hospitals. A team at the company that normally works on space suits and other equipment for crews is building face shields, donating 75 of them to a hospital in Los Angeles. The company, like many others, is producing its own hand sanitizer, and also plans to host a blood drive. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who earlier this month dismissed the coronavirus pandemic as “dumb,” recently purchased 1,000 surplus ventilators from China to provide for California hospitals. [The Verge]
Roscosmos says the pandemic will not postpone the return of the current crew on the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan, along with Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, are scheduled to return home April 17, a little more than a week after a new crew arrives at the station. While Kazakhstan, home to both Baikonur Cosmodrome as well as the landing site for Soyuz spacecraft, has imposed travel restrictions, Roscosmos said it is “interacting with partners and considering options” to allow launch and landing activities to continue as planned. [TASS]
A 35-50% decline in stock prices among several major satellite operators is likely indicative of deeper concerns than the coronavirus, according to Northern Sky Research. Smaller business backlogs, shorter capacity contracts and limited product differentiation are other factors that likely spooked investors, the research firm said. NSR estimates that negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, which have battered stocks in and outside of the satellite industry, will continue for at least two to three financial quarters. Businesses focused on satellite connectivity to aircraft, ships and oil and gas sites will feel greater financial stress from COVID-19, while satellite TV, consumer broadband and cellular backhaul are likely to see higher demand, NSR said.
The UK Space Agency and UKspace trade association are coordinating the UK’s space sector response to the COVID-19 pandemic, following a virtual meeting of the agency and trade body heads March 17. Actions agreed include ensuring the flow of information between the space sector and government, directing companies toward available support, identifying any further actions to minimize disruption and broadening engagement beyond members of UKspace. UKspace Chairman Graham Peters said: “We are working closely with the UK Space Agency and our members to ensure critical space enabled services remain operational…[and] to find ways our members can support the national effort to fight the virus.” The UK space sector employs 42,000 people and generates an income of £14.8 billion each year, while supporting £300 billion of wider economic activity, according to the agency. The UK government has made an initial £330 billion ($391 billion) of guaranteed bank loans — equivalent to 15% of GDP — available to support businesses.
The U.S. Space Force does not expect the pandemic to restrict launches from Cape Canaveral. The Space Force’s 45th Space Wing that operates the range is working with a reduced staff in an effort to practice social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, but said upcoming launches will continue as planned. That includes the Atlas 5 launch of the AEHF-6 satellite scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Military or contractor personnel who would typically attend launches for training or as observers are not being allowed to view upcoming launches. Public viewings have been closed, which eliminates the need to deploy security staff.
Rocket Lab is delaying its next launch because of the coronavirus pandemic. The company said Tuesday its next Electron launch from New Zealand, which had been scheduled for March 30, was postponed after the New Zealand government issued new orders closing all nonessential businesses. That mission, called “Don’t Stop Me Now” by the company, was to launch three NRO payloads and two university cubesats.
More NASA centers have moved to Stage 4, the highest level of response to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the agency’s coronavirus response website, half of its 18 facilities — which include field centers as well as NASA Headquarters and facilities run by field centers — are now at Stage 4, which requires all personnel to telework with the exception of those needed for safety and security of the sites. Among the latest centers to go to Stage 4 are the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Some centers have gone to Stage 4 after personnel were diagnosed with COVID-19, while others have done so because of growing spread of the disease in their communities or shelter-in-place directives from local or state governments. In a March 23 statement to center staff, David McBride, director of Armstrong, said the center would also allow personnel to go on site for “limited” oversight of the X-59 experimental aircraft program and Mars 2020 launch support.
Four ESA space missions have been temporarily halted due to on-site personnel reductions at its mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Instrument operation and data gathering has been suspended for the four-spacecraft Cluster solar wind mission, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, Mars Express, and Solar Orbiter, which launched last month. “It was a difficult decision, but the right one to take. Our greatest responsibility is the safety of people, and I know all of us in the science community understand why this is necessary,” said Günther Hasinger, ESA’s Director of Science. Turning off science instruments is expected to have a “negligible impact on…overall mission performance.” ESA operates a fleet of 21 spacecraft from the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt.
ACCESS.SPACE, a London-based nonprofit representing European small satellite manufacturers and operators, issued a news release March 24 calling for a pan-European effort to support the small satellite sector through tax measures, workforce supports, administrative workarounds, and other government actions “to support and accelerate the ongoing deployment of new ground-breaking satellite constellations and related ventures.” The nonprofit said that the disruptions created by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic puts startups and small and medium enterprises at disproportionate risk of business interruption and bankruptcy.
Bigelow Aerospace laid off its entire workforce Monday, blaming restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. The company said that it laid off its employees because of an order by the state government in Nevada, where the company is based, to close all nonessential businesses. Other sources claimed 68 employees were affected, and that while Bigelow said it would rehire employees after the state order was lifted, they expected the layoffs to be permanent. Bigelow Aerospace was established more than 20 years ago to develop commercial space habitats using an expandable module technology licensed from NASA. The company flew two prototype modules in 2006 and 2007 with a third, BEAM, currently installed on the International Space Station.
NASA is joining a consortium offering supercomputing resources for coronavirus researchers. The COVID-19 HPC Consortium will make supercomputer time available to those working to better understand the coronavirus and developing potential treatments and vaccines. NASA’s contribution will be its High-End Computing Capability (HECC) Portfolio, at the Ames Research Center. “We are pleased to lend NASA’s supercomputing expertise to assist in the global fight against this pandemic,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an Office of Science and Technology Policy statement March 22 announcing the consortium. Other members of the consortium include the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, universities and major cororporations.
A Kennedy Space Center employee has tested positive for the coronavirus disease COVID-19, but no changes in the center’s operations are planned.The employee had last been at the center more than 10 days prior, and apparently contracted the disease after starting telework. KSC remains on Stage 3 of NASA’s pandemic response framework, which requires telework for all employees other than those considered mission-essential.
Satellite imagery companies are seeing growing demand because of the pandemic. Companies that provide imagery or value-added services based on imagery say more customers are interested in those services to monitor changes in economic activity, from decreased industrial output to changes in oil reserves. Satellite data is also being used for remote monitoring of facilities to avoid exposing people to travel risks.
The UN’s International Telecommunication Union established an information platform Monday for countries and companies to share best practices on keeping networks running during the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasing numbers of people teleworking and relying on digital infrastructure is making it more important for nations and private companies to ensure communications networks are usable during the crisis, the ITU said. The agency’s Global Network Resiliency Platform initially serves as an information tool around the COVID-19 pandemic, but will be developed into a more expansive information sharing platform, the ITU said.
Rocket Lab is proceeding with upcoming launches after being classified as an essential business. The company said in a March 21 statement that the majority of its workforce at its new Long Beach, California, headquarters is working from home, but that a “significantly reduced number of mission critical personnel will remain operating from our facilities.” Like Virgin Orbit, which is also headquartered in Long Beach, Rocket Lab said it could continue work despite a statewide “Safer At Home” order that closes non-essential businesses because aerospace manufacturing is considered a critical infrastructure sector by the federal government. The company said it is taking measures to protect the health of those workers who are continuing to work on site. The company’s next launch, from New Zealand, is scheduled for no earlier than March 30, and it said it is “working with our customers and local government authorities to minimize any potential disruption to our future missions planned in the months ahead.” It added that, with vehicles already complete, it could handle any pause in manufacturing “with minimal impact to our scheduled manifest.”
The Farnborough International Airshow 2020, one of the biggest events of the year for the aerospace industry, has been canceled. Event organizers said March 20 it reached the decision to cancel the event, scheduled for July 20–24, because of “the unprecedented impact” of the pandemic that “make it impossible for us to create and host the Airshow this July.” The air show, held every two years, has long been a major event for the aviation industry but has become a bigger event for space in recent years, particularly as the British government seeks to grow the country’s space industry and support the development of spaceports.
The next meeting of the National Space Council, already scaled back because of the coronavirus pandemic, has been postponed, the White House announced March 21. In a brief statement, the White House said that the March 24 meeting of the council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, had been postponed to a date yet to be determined.
Maxar Technologies has warned customers that spacecraft deliveries could be late due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a March 20 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Maxar said it’s “observing stress in its supplier base” and noted that its California workforce has been impacted by local orders closing many businesses and requiring residents to stay at home void unnecessary travel to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Maxar, the filing says, “has sent force majeure notices as appropriate to certain customers to protect its legal rights given the uncertain nature of the current pandemic and its near and long-term impacts on the cost and schedule of the numerous programs in the Company’s existing backlog.” Maxar builds government and commercial satellites in Palo Alto and San Jose, California.
Virgin Orbit announced March 20 that it will continue operations at its facility in Long Beach, California, after state officials categorized the work as an essential service that should not be completely shut down during the coronavirus pandemic. “In conversations with our representatives, we have learned that our work of developing and operating our flexible, responsive space launch system for our customers, including those at NASA and in the U.S. Department of Defense, has been deemed as one such essential service, and that therefore we have been exempted from many of the “Safer At Home” shelter in place restrictions,” Virgin Orbit Kendall Russell said in a statement.
NASA has suspended work on the James Webb Space Telescope as it prioritizes what agency missions require people to be on site during the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement March 20, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said NASA had completed an assessment of work across the agency, deciding which projects are essential enough to require people to go to NASA centers or other facilities to work on them.
NASA is suspending work on the Space Launch System and Orion at two NASA centers because of the coronavirus pandemic. NASA announced that it was elevating the Michoud Assembly Facility and Stennis Space Center to “Stage 4” of its pandemic response framework. The decision effectively shuts down both facilities, allowing only those personnel needed for safety and security to be on site. That puts a halt to work such as SLS core stage testing at Stennis and manufacturing of SLS core stages and Orion components at Michoud.
The space industry may not be as strongly affected by the pandemic as other parts of the economy, according to a report. The study by Quilty Analytics concluded that growing demand for broadband created by teleworking, and reduced cord-cutting of traditional TV services by people stuck at home, will bolster the satellite communications sector. Companies that do provide maritime and aviation connectivity will be hurt, the report noted, but continued government business may sustain others.
Virgin Orbit’s first launch may slip because of the pandemic. The company said Thursday that it is reassessing the schedule for the first LauncherOne mission, which was likely to take place in April, while “moving aggressively” to protect the health of its employees and families. Most employees are teleworking, although some are still working on site at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California to prepare the vehicle.
Viasat issued a letter to shareholders saying that it expects the coronavirus’ impact on air travel will hurt the company’s inflight connectivity business, but that it expects that impact to be limited. Commercial air revenues represent less than 10% of Viasat’s revenues, the company said. Viasat’s stock closed at $39.69 a share March 18, down more than 50% since the beginning of the year.
The U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation has canceled the GEOINT 2020 Symposium, which was to take place April 26-29 in Tampa.
The 2020 CubeSat Developers Workshop, which was scheduled for May 4-6 in San Luis Obispo, California, has been postponed. Conference organizers said they are still working to “determine the best way to move forward.”
The National Space Society has canceled its International Space Development Conference, scheduled for May 26-28 in Frisco, Texas. The organization said it will investigate “the possibility of ISDC activities of different kinds later in 2020.”
NASA says it’s targeting a launch of a Crew Dragon spacecraft with two NASA astronauts on board for the latter half of May. The agency said late Wednesday that it was scheduling the Demo-2 mission launch from the Kennedy Space Center for no earlier than mid-to-late May, and was starting the media accreditation process for that mission. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will fly on that spacecraft, the first crewed orbital launch from U.S. soil since the end of the shuttle program in 2011. The announcement didn’t disclose the length of the mission as NASA weighs whether to extend the mission to address a shortfall in the station’s crew. NASA acknowledged that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could affect both planning for the mission and media access for the launch.
Both the U.S. Air Force and Space Force say they are continuing essential activities during the pandemic. The Space Force continues to carry out key duties such as supporting space launches and monitoring potential threats in outer space, a spokesman said March 18, with no impacts due to the coronavirus. The launch of a critical U.S. military communications satellite, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) 6 spacecraft, remains scheduled for March 26 on an Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral. The chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein, said the service is still conducting its missions around the world.
German space company OHB is expecting delays to programs, but not a loss of revenue, because of the pandemic. OHB CEO Marco Fuchs said the company is standing by its forecast of generating $1.2 billion in revenue this year. Fuchs said the immediate risk to OHB from the coronavirus is delays with completing spacecraft and getting them launched. Programs may be delayed, he said, but he did not anticipate cancellations that would reduce revenue.
Explore Mars has rescheduled its Humans to Mars Summit, previously scheduled for May 12-14 in Washington, D.C., to Aug. 31-Sept. 1.
Space Tech Expo, previously scheduled for May 18-20 in Long Beach, California, has been rescheduled for Aug. 10-12.
The ILA Berlin air show scheduled for May 13-17 has been canceled because of restrictions on large gatherings recently established by local officials.
All of NASA’s centers have instituted mandatory telework for most personnel in response to the coronavirus pandemic. NASA announced late March 17 it was moving to “Stage 3” of its response framework, allowing only mission-essential personnel to access its centers. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that while only a “limited” number of NASA personnel had tested positive for COVID-19, the shift to mandatory telework was a “pre-emptive step to thwart further spreading of the virus among the workforce and our communities.” Several NASA centers had already gone to Stage 3, either because of cases among employees or concerns about community transmission of the disease.
The United Arab Emirates Space Agency says that Hope, its Mars orbiter mission, is still scheduled to launch in July despite travel disruptions caused by the pandemic. A spokesperson for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, whose H-2 rocket will launch the spacecraft, said the company expects only “minimal” impacts on its operations.
Norsat, a provider of signal amplifiers, filters and other equipment, said it is increasing production to keep inventory at “safety stock levels.” The company has also developed a emergency succession plans for key positions within the company, should employees die due to the coronavirus. Norsat said its employees are working remotely as much as possible during the outbreak.
The 16th International Conference on Space Operations, or SpaceOps, has been postponed because of the pandemic. The conference, which was scheduled for May 18-22 in Cape Town, South Africa, has been rescheduled for May 3-7, 2021.
Arianespace has suspended upcoming launches because of the closure of its French Guiana launch site. The spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, is closed following guidance from the French government to suspend all nonessential activities during the coronavirus pandemic. That decision will delay a Vega launch scheduled for March 24 as well as a Soyuz launch that had been rescheduled for early April.
Blue Origin is continuing work on its launch vehicles and engines despite the pandemic. The company, headquartered near Seattle, a hotspot for the disease in the United States, set up a task force weeks ago on the issue, and many employees are now teleworking. Company CEO Bob Smith said that Blue Origin continues to work on its New Shepard and New Glenn launch vehicles and testing of the BE-4 engine that will be used by New Glenn and ULA’s Vulcan rocket. He added the company still expected to start flying people on the New Shepard suborbital vehicle before the end of this year.
Inflight connectivity company Gogo is seeking relief on its satellite capacity contracts as demand for air travel plummets. Gogo CEO Oakleigh Thorne said decreased airline traffic has had a knock-on effect on demand for passenger wi-fi. Because the coronavirus pandemic is driving airlines to remove planes from service, Gogo is not issuing financial guidance for 2020. Gogo plans to use its heft as a large buyer of satellite capacity from companies like Intelsat and SES to get more favorable terms for capacity leases.
NASA Ames has revised its guidance to employees after local officials instituted a “shelter in place” order that takes effect at 12:01 a.m. local time March 17. With that order, all previously approved exceptions for work on-site have been rescinded, with only personnel required to maintain safety and security allowed at the center.
The U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation said it is “exploring all options to cancel or postpone” the GEOINT 2020 Symposium scheduled for late April in Tampa. Organizers are suspending registration for the event and asking vendors to halt preparations.
The Rotary National Award for Space Achievement (RNASA) Foundation said it is postponing its annual award gala in Houston that had been scheduled for April 17. Former astronaut and Johnson Space Center director Ellen Ochoa will receive the organization’s annual National Space Trophy at the event.
A second NASA center has moved to mandatory telework because of the coronavirus pandemic. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama said that one of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19 and, as a result, the center was closed to all but mission-essential personnel. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley moved to mandatory telework a week ago after one of its employees was diagnosed with the disease. In a statement late Saturday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said other NASA centers were open, but that employees were “strongly encouraged” to telework. Separately, the European Space Agency said it was asking its employees to work remotely “wherever possible” until further notice.
One of the biggest space conferences of the year has been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Space Foundation notified key stakeholders Thursday night that the 36th Space Symposium will not be held March 30 to April 2 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Conference organizers are working to identify a new date for the conference, which regularly attracts thousands of registrants and hundreds of exhibitors from around the world.
A major amateur astronomy conference near New York City, the Northeast Astronomy Forum, has canceled plans for an in-person event in April after its host college banned gatherings of more than 50 people. Organizers will instead offer virtual presentations April 4.
The American Physical Society (APS), which already canceled its major annual conference in March, said it will not hold a smaller conference in April in Washington, D.C. Instead, the organization will attempt to offer an online meeting.
The Satellite 2020 conference ended a day early amid a growing wave of coronavirus-related cancellations. Conference organizers said March 12’s scheduled sessions were canceled, and the exhibit hall closed, after Washington, D.C., officials announced it would close the convention center in response to a recommendation limiting mass gatherings of more than 1,000 people. Many other space-related conferences and meetings have also been cancelled or postponed in the last few days, although organizers of both the Space Symposium at the end of the month and next month’s GEOINT 2020 Symposium say their events, for now, are still scheduled to take place.
The coronavirus epidemic has so far not affected any missions being prepared for launch. United Launch Alliance says it is implementing measures like reducing nonessential travel in response to the growing outbreak, but has not delayed work on its next launch, an Atlas 5 launch of a military communications satellite scheduled for March 21. Blue Origin, whose headquarters near Seattle is in the heart of the biggest outbreak in the United States so far, has set up an internal task force to cope with the coronavirus, including increased telework and decreased travel
Meanwhile, the American Astronautical Society (AAS) announced it was postponing its Goddard Memorial Symposium next week because of recent cases found in the Washington metropolitan region, while the National Space Club is postponing the Goddard Memorial Dinner scheduled for next Friday. No new dates have been announced for either event yet.
The Satellite 2020 conference is starting today in Washington as scheduled, with organizers estimating 12% of exhibitors and about 10% of attendees having canceled so far. The Satellite Industry Association, though, has postponed its annual leadership dinner, normally held in conjunction with the conference, until September
Space companies will feel the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak, but may not be as hard hit as other industries. Analysts and executives said Monday that they saw the outbreak as having only a “transitory” effect on most of the industry, with those involved in transportation and related markets hardest hit. Drop in demand for travel, and services like satellite-based inflight connectivity, might trigger consolidation among service providers in that sector. Raising new investment may also be more difficult, with startups encouraged to reconsider hiring and capital investment plans.
The Space Foundation says it is still planning to hold its annual Space Symposium event at the end of this month in Colorado Springs despite the outbreak, although some members of the city council there are raising concerns about those plans, with one suggesting it be delayed to protect the health of local residents.
AIAA and the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute have canceled a hypersonic technologies and spaceplane conference scheduled for this week in Montreal because of the coronavirus outbreak.
NASA’s Ames Research Center announced Sunday night it was instituting mandatory telework, effective immediately and until further notice. The center said an employee tested positive for COVID-19 Sunday and that, while exposure to others there was limited, it was shifting to telework “out of an abundance of caution.”
The city of Austin, Texas, canceled South by Southwest (SXSW), the sprawling cultural festival set to take place this month. SXSW had scheduled a series of space-related sessions for this year’s event, including one with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Organizers of the Global Aerospace Summit scheduled for mid-March in Abu Dhabi have postponed the conference until June, according to an email sent to participants, citing travel restrictions caused by the disease.
The MIT Space Week series of events at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology next week, including the “Beyond the Cradle” and “New Space Age” conferences, have been canceled because of a university policy prohibiting in-person events on campus of more than 150 people. Some online events may take place instead.
The American Astronautical Society (AAS) says its Goddard Memorial Symposium in the Washington DC area will continue as scheduled in mid-March, as the event is at a “fairly low risk” of being disrupted. The Goddard Memorial Dinner by the National Space Club March 20 is also proceeding.
SES announced it will not participate in the Satellite 2020 conference next week in Washington because of “deepening concerns” about the disease, but will have CEO Steve Collar in attendance to speak on conference panels.
The Lunar and Planetary Science Institute announced it is canceling the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, the largest planetary science conference of the year, later this month because of coronavirus concerns. Some peripheral events, like a NASA town hall, will instead be held virtually, but not individual sessions.
The International Astronautical Federation is canceling its spring meeting later this month in Paris, and will instead hold teleconferences to conduct planning for this fall’s International Astronautical Congress. • NASA and some Air Force personnel will be asked to work remotely Friday as a test of wide-scale telework procedures should that be required as the outbreak grows.
The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has so far had a limited effect on the space industry. The spread of the disease, formally known as COVID-19, has led to the cancellation of a number of major conferences in various industries. The American Physical Society, for example, canceled its major annual conference that was to take place this week in Denver on less than 36 hours’ notice. However, several big space industry events in the coming weeks, including next week’s Satellite 2020 conference, are still scheduled to take place. NASA said it’s taking a “day-by-day” approach to the epidemic, and may tailor any responses on a center-by-center basis depending on where the outbreaks are located.