FIRST UP | Intelsat files for Chapter 11 • NASA refining Artemis architecture • Space Force’s 21st Space Wing commander dies unexpectedly

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Satellite operator Intelsat filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy overnight as part of a financial restructuring. The company said it had lined up $1 billion of new financing, along with existing cash, that will fund ongoing operations and allow it to make new investments. Intelsat said it doesn’t expect any changes to its day-to-day operations or its workforce. The company said the Chapter 11 filing and restructuring are intended to allow the company to participate in an accelerated clearing of satellite C-band spectrum by the FCC for 5G services. [Bloomberg]

Intelsat might be the customer of a multi-satellite order Maxar disclosed this week. Maxar said in its quarterly earnings call that it received a contract worth several hundred million dollars to build multiple GEO communications satellites for an undisclosed customer. While Maxar did not disclose the customer, analysts believe it is either Intelsat or SES, based on their need to deploy new satellites as part of efforts to clear C-band spectrum. If Intelsat is the customer, the company could convince creditors to keep the contract in order to receive $4.86 billion in accelerated clearing payments the company stands to receive from the FCC for rapidly exiting C-band. Maxar overall reported a $48 million loss for the quarter, which it blamed on the lingering effects of a sluggish GEO manufacturing market and productivity losses from the coronavirus pandemic. [SpaceNews]

NASA is refining elements of its Artemis architecture for getting humans to the moon by 2024 to reduce both cost and risk. In presentations Wednesday at a meeting of a NASA Advisory Council committee, agency officials confirmed plans to combine the first two elements of the lunar Gateway, launching them on a single rocket rather than launching them individually and then docking them in lunar orbit. Doing so, they said, can save significant money and simplify the design of those two modules. The Gateway won’t be used for the first lunar landing mission, Artemis 3, but NASA reiterated it will be vital to later, sustained missions. NASA is also considering adding a “rendezvous and proximity operations” demonstration on Artemis 2, the first crewed Orion flight, to reduce risks for the dockings needed for Artemis 3 and later missions. [SpaceNews]

Planet announced Wednesday it will launch six more SkySat satellites this year as secondary payloads on two SpaceX Starlink launches. Planet said three satellites will fly on a Falcon 9 Starlink mission in June, with three more on another Starlink launch later this summer. SpaceX has advertised rideshare opportunities on its Starlink missions as part of its smallsat rideshare program. While the previous SkySat satellites flew in sun-synchronous orbits, these six will go into mid-inclination orbits that Planet says will offer targeted coverage and rapid revisit times. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX tested Wednesday the Falcon 9 that will launch the next batch of Starlink satellites. The static-fire test at Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 confirmed that the rocket is ready to launch the eighth set of 60 Starlink satellites. That launch is scheduled for Sunday at 3:53 a.m. Eastern, assuming an Atlas 5 launch of the X-37B spaceplane takes place as scheduled Saturday morning. [Spaceflight Now]

Weather, though, is looking less favorable for that Atlas 5 launch. A forecast released Wednesday projected only a 40% chance of acceptable weather, increasing to 80% on Sunday. The Space Force has not announced a precise time for the launch, expected between 6:30 and 11 a.m. Eastern, citing national security. [Florida Today]

LeoLabs said Wednesday it is now offering satellite operators an automated collision warning service. The LeoLabs Collision Avoidance will identify potential close approaches and, when necessary, perform additional observations using its network of ground-based radars to refine the prediction, giving the operator more confidence about whether or not it should move its satellite. LeoLabs Collision Avoidance also promises to evaluate the merit of various maneuvers within seconds. [SpaceNews]

 

Other News

The Space Force will soon offer specialized training related to space activities for new officers. Starting this year, graduates of the Air Force undergraduate space training school who transition to the Space Force will have the option to pursue specialized career tracks such as orbital warfare, space electronic warfare, space battle management, and space access and sustainment. Officers in the Space Force will have their own career tracks focused on space missions, Brig. Gen. DeAnna Burt, director of Space Force operations and communications, said in a recent interview. [SpaceNews]

Colorado’s governor says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the headquarters for U.S. Space Command will remain in the state. Gov. Jared Polis said he briefly discussed the issue with President Trump during a White House meeting Wednesday devoted primarily to the pandemic. Space Command is temporarily headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in the state, but the Pentagon is considering several potential locations in Colorado and other states as the combatant command’s permanent home. Trump, Polis said, “spoke very highly of Colorado’s bid, and then mentioned that the generals think very highly of Colorado, as the site for Space Command.” [CBS Denver]

Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite company Capella will provide airborne radar imagery for the U.S. Navy. The contract, announced Wednesday, is intended to be a “steppingstone” toward later deals for SAR imagery from satellites. Capella is using airborne SAR campaigns to test its radar, data processing and delivery services. Capella had intended to launch seven SAR satellites this year but expects some launches to be delayed to 2021 because of the pandemic. [SpaceNews]

Debris from a Chinese rocket may have landed in Africa. The core stage of the Long March 5B satellite reentered over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of west Africa Monday, but there have been reports from Côte d’Ivoire of finding metallic debris that appears to have come from the rocket. The debris was found along the trajectory the rocket followed, suggesting it survived re-entry and made it to the ground. [The Verge]

The astronauts flying on the Demo-2 commercial crew mission have entered a prelaunch quarantine. NASA said Wednesday that astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley started what the agency calls “flight crew health stabilization,” restricting their access to other people to keep the astronauts from getting sick. While such quarantines are common, there will be enhanced protections because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the astronauts getting COVID-19 tests twice before launch and screening of anyone who does come into contact with them for fever or other symptoms. Demo-2 is scheduled for launch May 27. [Space.com]

Those astronauts will get a ride to the launchpad in a Tesla. NASA released pictures Wednesday of the Tesla Model X car that Behnken and Hurley will ride in from an operations building at the Kennedy Space Center to Launch Complex 39A. The white Tesla is adorned with both NASA’s “worm” and “meatball” logos. [collectSPACE]

The commander of the Space Force’s 21st Space Wing unexpectedly died Tuesday. Col. Thomas Falzarano had led the wing, based in Colorado, since July. He was found dead in his home Tuesday, apparently of natural causes. An Air Force statement said there was no sign his death was linked to the coronavirus. The wing is responsible for missile warning and other space control operations. [Stars and Stripes]