An artist's concept of a Spaceflight Sherpa tug capable of carrying 87 small satellites into low Earth orbit. Credit: Spaceflight Industries

You may have seen some stellar shopping deals during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but nothing quite as high-flying at this. 

Spaceflight, a company that brokers launches of small satellites, said Monday it is offering flights of three-unit cubesats (roughly 10 by 10 by 30 centimeters) on the company’s “dedicated rideshare” mission in 2018 to sun-synchronous orbit for only $200,000, a discount of about one third the list price for such satellites.

The sale lasts until the end of December, or until the space set aside on that launch is filled. []

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A Vega rocket is cleared to launch an ESA science mission tonight. The Vega is scheduled to lift off at 11:15 p.m. Eastern tonight from Kourou, French Guiana, placing the LISA Pathfinder spacecraft into an elliptical Earth orbit. LISA Pathfinder will later maneuver to the Earth-sun L-1 Lagrange point, testing technologies required to detect gravitational waves. [Arianespace]

Chinese government officials said Monday they will launch satellites to monitor the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Two carbon-monitoring satellites are currently under development and will be completed by next May, although the government has not announced launch dates for the spacecraft. The announcement is tied to the COP21 climate change conference underway in Paris. [Reuters]

Did a young Hillary Clinton receive a letter from NASA in the 1960s saying “we don’t take girls”? Clinton has frequently said she received such a letter after writing to NASA about becoming an astronaut, but no copy of the letter exists in her records, or NASA’s. An investigation found other letters that told young women that NASA was not seeking female astronauts, but none with the blunt language that Clinton recalled. However, given the volume of mail NASA received in the 1960s, “it is plausible that some official had written an explicitly discouraging letter to a member of the public — perhaps to Clinton.” [Washington Post]

DARPA has scrapped plans to launch small satellites from a fighter jet. The Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, under a contract with Boeing, planned to develop a rocket deployed from an F-15 for launching small satellites. The rocket used a unique propellant, a mixture of nitrous oxide and acetylene, but that propellant exploded in ground tests earlier this year, raising questions about its safety. DARPA has now dropped plans to perform up to a dozen launches of the ALASA vehicle, and will instead continue tests of the propellant and other technologies. [SpaceNews]

Three co-founders of XCOR Aerospace have started a new company to address aerospace development challenges. Jeff Greason, Dan DeLong and Aleta Jackson established Agile Aero to develop “modern rapid prototyping” technologies for integrated launch vehicles and high-speed aircraft, something Greason said is lacking today. The three recently left XCOR, which experienced its own development delays on its Lynx suborbital spaceplane. [SpaceNews]

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A Hawaii agency involved in space research says it may close next year if it doesn’t receive an infusion of state funding. The director of the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), Rob Kelso, said that without $670,000 from the state it will have to close in June. PISCES was established to conduct research to support exploration of the moon and Mars, but Kelso said he is concerned that state officials, who want to emphasize economic development, may no longer support the agency. [Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription)]

NASA formally welcomed Monday the prototype of the European-built Orion service module. The service module prototype arrived earlier this month at the NASA Glenn-operated Plum Brook Station in Ohio, where it will undergo a series of tests to mimic launch conditions and the space environment. The service module used on Orion’s next flight in 2018 will also undergo similar tests at Plum Brook. [Toledo Blade]


The recent launch of a Chinese-built satellite for Laos underscores a number of recent trends in the industry. Laos joins a growing number of nations, particularly in Asia, that have sought their own communications satellite. The satellite, built and launched by China, is one of several such deals by China to get around U.S. export restrictions. The satellite was launched more than six months after a deadline set by the ITU, but regulators gave the country an extension after a lengthy discussion because Laos “is not just a developing country, but a least-developed country.” [SpaceNews]

Jacobs Engineering says up to 200 workers it employs at the Michoud Assembly Facility could lose their jobs after a contract loss. Jacobs informed Louisiana state workforce officials Monday that it will eliminate 195 jobs after Syncom Space Services won a contract previously held by Jacobs to handle maintenance at the New Orleans facility. Many of those workers, however, may be hired by Syncom when it takes over the contract at the end of January. [New Orleans Times-Picayune]

Russian plans for future human missions to the moon would require up to six Angara launches per mission. The launches, using the Angara-A5V rocket, would take place in pairs from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia and the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East. The launches would place in orbit a crewed spacecraft, lunar lander, and upper stages, along with the “first expeditionary unit” of a lunar base. Current plans call for such a mission no sooner than about 2030. [TASS]

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...