SABRE Reaction Engines
Reaction Engines' SABRE. Credit: Reaction Engines

The European Space Agency is providing funds to support development of a British air-breathing rocket engine.

ESA signed an agreement Tuesday with Reaction Engines Ltd. to provide the company more than $10 million to continue work on the SABRE engine, with ESA serving as the project’s technical auditor.

That funding is in addition to the $80 million pledged by the British government for the engine.

SABRE is designed to collect oxygen from the air, even at high speeds, to combust with hydrogen fuel. Reaction Engines says the new contract will support development of a ground demonstrator engine ready that will be ready to begin tests in 2020. [BBC]

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A company developing commercial lunar landers is taking over the former Delta 2 launch site at Cape Canaveral. Moon Express announced Tuesday an agreement with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing to use several buildings at Launch Complex 17, the former Delta 2 site, as well as the neighboring Launch Complex 18. Moon Express will refurbish the buildings, using funding provided in part by Space Florida, to serve as a research and development facility for its lunar landers. Moon Express doesn’t plan to perform launches from the site, and the agreement does not extend to the launch towers themselves, which the Air Force is in the process of soliciting bids for their demolition. [SpaceNews]

The UK Space Agency announced plans to develop a propulsion test lab for rocket engines. The UK National Space Propulsion Facility, to be established at the site of the country’s former Rocket Propulsion Establishment, will host facilities for testing spacecraft and rocket engines of up to 450 pounds-force of thrust. The UK Space Agency will invest more than $5 million in the center, with industry providing some of the test facilities. [Engineering and Technology]

Rocket Lab has won a contract for three launches from Earth imaging company Planet. Under the deal, Planet (formerly known as Planet Labs) will buy three Electron launches for its fleet of Dove imaging satellites, with the first launch taking place as soon as the second quarter of 2017. Each launch will carry 20-25 satellites. Rocket Lab, headquartered in the U.S. but with engineering facilities in New Zealand, says it plans to carry out the first Electron launch later this year from its launch site in New Zealand. [SpaceNews]

Lockheed Martin is expanding its Astrotech Space Operations payload processing business in Florida. The company said Tuesday it is planning to expand Astrotech’s work in Titusville to include production of aerospace components and subsystems, pending the outcome of business case analyses. That expansion could create up to 300 new jobs. Lockheed Martin acquired Astrotech Space Operations in 2014. [Lockheed Martin]

The British government awarded five contracts Tuesday to study the feasibility of performing orbital or suborbital launches from UK territory. The study awards, with a total value of about $2 million, went to Airbus Safran Launchers, Deimos Space UK/Firefly Space Systems, Lockheed Martin, Orbital Access Ltd. and Virgin Galactic. The studies will focus on regulatory and legal issues involving launches of those companies’ vehicles. Separately, Glasgow Preswick Airport, which is seeking to become a spaceport, announced memorandums of understanding with Orbital Access and XCOR Aerospace that could lead those companies launching from the airport, although work on XCOR’s Lynx vehicle is largely on hold after the company laid off employees in May. [SpaceNews]

The next to last Delta 2 rocket is being assembled on the pad in California. The rocket will launch the first Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base in early 2017. One more Delta 2 launch, of NASA’s ICESat 2 spacecraft, is planned for later in 2017 from Vandenberg before the vehicle is formally retired. [Spaceflight Now]

Weather satellite operators are concerned about communications interference from broadband systems. Ligado Networks, formerly known as LightSquared, is seeking spectrum between 1,675 and 1,680 megahertz for its broadband system, overlapping with transmissions of data from weather satellites. There have already been cases of interference caused by transmissions from mobile phone systems at neighboring frequencies. An FCC comment period for the proposal is open through July 21. [Nature]

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. is working with a British ground station on a proposal for a lunar mission. The Lunar Pathfinder mission would feature a spacecraft developed by SSTL that carries seven cubesats and places them into lunar orbit. The Goonhilly Earth Station will provide communications with a 26-meter antenna recently taken out of retirement and restored. SSTL hopes to launch the first Lunar Pathfinder mission by 2020, with subsequent missions every two years. [New Scientist]

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has returned its first image taken since it entered orbit around Jupiter. The image, released by NASA Tuesday, shows Jupiter and three of its largest moons. It was taken July 10 at a distance of 4.3 million kilometers from the planet. The JunoCam camera and the spacecraft’s other instruments were turned off during the July 4 orbit insertion maneuver, but were turned back on a few days later. The first close-up images of Jupiter from the spacecraft will come in August. []

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...