FIRST UP | Your Wednesday Briefing

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OneWeb has a new CEO — Aerojet takes a loss — Putin OKs Vostochny slip — Pentagon may use more sole-sourced launch contracts

The former head of GeoEye is the new CEO of OneWeb. Matt O’Connell, who led commercial remote sensing company GeoEye for many years until it merged with DigitalGlobe, will be chief executive of OneWeb as it develops its constellation of low Earth orbit broadband communications satellites. O’Connell said his first priority is to finalize a joint venture with Airbus Defence and Space to build OneWeb’s fleet of up to 900 satellites at a new factory in the U.S., possibly in Florida. O’Connell also plans to make use of his contacts on Wall Street to line up financing for the company. [SpaceNews]

China is open to cooperating with other nations in the development of its space station. Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the China Manned Space Program at the China Manned Space Agency, said at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) that China is open to having other nations develop modules for the station and flying crews there for short stays. The station, which will be ready for “full operations” by 2022, is designed for a nominal crew of three with a maximum capacity of six people. [SpaceNews]

Russia’s president is willing to allow the first launch of a new spaceport to slip to 2016. Vladimir Putin said on a visit to the Vostochny Cosmodrome Wednesday that a first launch by Cosmonautics Day (April 12) “will be fine.” Russian officials had previously stated that the first launch was still planned for late this year, despite construction delays and other issues that made it unlikely that schedule will hold. [TASS]

Aerojet Rocketdyne reported a loss in its fiscal third quarter Tuesday because of its Antares settlement with Orbital ATK. The company said it had a net loss of $38.1 million on $440.5 million in net sales in the quarter that ended Aug. 31. Those totals included a $50 million payment to Orbital ATK to settle its dispute over the role Aerojet’s AJ-26 engine played in the loss of Orbital’s Antares rocket in a launch nearly one year ago. The company also said it has spent $24 million so far this fiscal year working on its AR-1 engine the company has proposed as a replacement for the RD-180. [Aerojet Rocketdyne]

NASA has promoted the deputy program manager for the Orion spacecraft to lead the program. Mark Kirasich, who had been the deputy program manager for Orion since 2006, will succeed Mark Geyer as Orion program manager, the agency announced Tuesday. Kirasich has been at NASA’s Johnson Space Center since 1983, working on the shuttle and space station programs before Orion. Geyer became deputy director of JSC in August. [NASA]

He’s Not Saying It’s Aliens, But…

“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

– Penn State Univ. astronomer Jason Wright, on an unusual pattern of light seen from a star that he thinks could be the signature of “megastructures” orbiting the star built by an extraterrestrial intelligence. He and others are seeking time on radio telescopes to listen for any signals that might be coming from the star. [The Atlantic]

An experimental NASA cubesat to test optical communications technology has an attitude control problem. NASA said Tuesday that the Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration satellite is communicating with the ground via radio, but problems with the attitude control system have prevented a test of its laser communications equipment. The satellite, developed jointly with the Aerospace Corp., launched last week as a secondary payload on an Atlas 5 mission. [NASA]

SpaceX expects to resume Falcon 9 launches by early December. A company vice president, speaking Tuesday at the IAC in Jerusalem, said the Falcon 9 would launch in six to eight weeks, carrying the SES-9 communications satellite. A secondary payload on the launch will be a small satellite for Israeli firm SpacePharma, whose exhibit at the conference included a countdown clock for a Dec. 1 launch. Last week, company officials at another conference were less specific, stating that launches would resume only in the next few months. [Reuters]

The Pentagon may use more sole sourcing to maintain launch competition. Allocating launch contracts through sole sourcing, Defense Department officials say, would likely allow United Launch Alliance to get around current limits on the number of RD-180 engines available for competed launches. That approach, a Pentagon spokeswoman said, would help “maintain two viable sources of launch services.” [SpaceNews]

NASA and the Israel Space Agency signed a cooperative agreement Tuesday. The agreement, signed on the sidelines of the IAC in Jerusalem, covers a broad range of future potential projects, although the agencies disclosed no specific efforts. The agreement is the first between the two agencies since a 1996 agreement that expired in 2005. [Jerusalem Post]

Colleagues of a controversial Univ. of California Berkeley astronomer are asking for his dismissal. A letter this week signed by nearly all of the members of the university’s astronomy department argued that Geoff Marcy “cannot perform the functions of a faculty member.” Marcy, one of the world’s leading discoverers of extrasolar planets, violated university sexual harassment policies, according to an internal investigation publicized late last week. University officials defended a decision not dismiss Marcy, saying that they had imposed “a zero-tolerance policy regarding future behavior.” [New York Times]

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