Layoffs at DigitalGlobe — OneWeb makes orbital debris promise — SpaceX, Qualcomm reach agreement — Remembering George Mueller

Commercial remote sensing company DigitalGlobe laid off 40 employees Thursday. The company said that the layoffs, which account for about two percent of the company’s workforce, were spread across various departments. A company official said that the layoffs are part of an effort to “tighten our costs” while the company continues to grow in other areas. DigitalGlobe laid off 155 people earlier this year. [Denver Post]

OneWeb promises to be a good citizen when it comes to mitigating orbital debris. A company official, speaking at an orbital debris forum during the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Jerusalem this week, said the company’s fleet of hundreds of satellites will carry enough fuel so that, at the end of their lives, they can lower their perigee enough to allow for a reentry within five years. OneWeb plans to minimize the use of materials like tungsten and titanium that can survive reentry. OneWeb also plans to add a mechanical grapple fixture to its satellites to make it easier for any future debris removal systems to grapple them. [SpaceNews]

An upcoming report is expected to describe Chinese developments in space weapons systems. A draft of a report to be released next month by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission argues that China has been developing “a broad and robust array of counterspace capabilities,” including both jammers and kinetic weapons. Those weapons include a missile designated DN-2 that capable of reaching GPS satellites. [Washington Times]

Launch Doubleheader | A Long March 3B rocket is scheduled to launch a communications satellite today. The launch of the Apstar-9 satellite for the APT Satellite Company is scheduled for 12:13 p.m. Eastern time today from China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center. A Proton M rocket plans to lift off at 4:40 p.m. Eastern time today carrying the Turksat 4B communications satellite, built by Mitsubishi Electric for Turksat. [ / TASS]

Qualcomm and SpaceX have reached an agreement regarding a spectrum band SpaceX may use for its future satellite system. The agreement clears the way for Qualcomm to proceed with use of spectrum from 14.0 to 14.5 gigahertz to provide broadband communications for airliners. SpaceX had raised concerns that the system would interfere with signals in the same frequency range it has proposed using for a low Earth orbit satellite constellation. The companies agreed that Qualcomm’s plans would sufficiently limit any interference with SpaceX’s satellites. [FierceWireless]

Cracked Moon

cracked moon

NASA released Thursday images of the north polar region of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, taken earlier this week by the Cassini spacecraft during a flyby. The images reveal a “landscape of stark contrasts,” with craters crisscrossed by cracks seen elsewhere on the moon’s surface. “These thin cracks are ubiquitous on Enceladus, and now we see that they extend across the northern terrains as well,” said Cassini team member Paul Helfenstein in a statement. [NASA/JPL]

Pluto’s geology is a unique combination of several other worlds in the solar system, scientists concluded in a new paper. The paper, published in the journal Science this week, provides the first formal scientific results from the New Horizons flyby of the dwarf planet three months ago. Pluto has volatile compounds that freeze onto and sublimate from its surface like Mars, has contrasting areas of dark and light materials like Saturn’s moon Iapetus, and streaks of material like those seen on Neptune’s moon Triton. “It’s like a little bit of everything,” said one scientist involved with the mission. [Nature News]

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is making a stronger effort to sell its satellites to customers outside of Israel. IAI’s first satellite export contract is for a high-resolution imaging satellite, sold to an unnamed government. The company is also looking for customers for an all-electric version of its Amos communications satellite currently under development. [SpaceNews]

A Spanish company hopes to break into the small satellite launch market with a balloon-launched rocket. Bloostar is developing a rocket that would be carried aloft by a balloon from a boat near the Canary Islands, then ignite its engines at an altitude of about 20 kilometers. Bloostar’s rocket would be able to carry up to 150 kilograms into low Earth orbit for a projected price of $4 million. The company said at a press conference during the IAC that it has several letters of intent, but no contracts, with potential customers. [SpaceRef]

A Chinese company, meanwhile, wants to export a small launch vehicle it’s developing to get around U.S. export restrictions. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology said at the IAC that it is in discussions with Indonesia, Sweden and Tanzania about hosting launches of its Naga-L rocket. The rocket is designed to place a 600-kilogram satellite into sun-synchronous orbit for $10 million. Exporting the rocket to another country, Chinese officials claim, would allow the rocket to launch satellites with U.S.-built components that cannot be exported to China because of current export control regulations. [SpaceNews]

A key NASA manager during the Apollo program has passed away. George Mueller ran NASA’s Office of Manned Space Flight between 1963 and 1969, overseeing development of the vehicles that would send humans to the moon. He also advocated for the development of a reusable launch vehicle that became the space shuttle. He later ran Kister Aerospace, a company in the 1990s and early 2000s was developing its own reusable launch vehicle. Mueller passed away Monday after a brief illness at the age of 97. [collectSPACE]

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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...