Aerojet Rocketdyne announced two contracts with NASA and Boeing Monday valued at nearly $1.4 billion. 

The company signed a $1.16 billion contract with NASA to restart production of the RS-25 engines that will be used on future launches of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket.

The company also announced a $200 million contract with Boeing to provide the propulsion system for the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle.

Both awards were expected, as Aerojet Rocketdyne has been building RS-25 engines since the shuttle program and has been working with Boeing on the CST-100 since 2010. [Sacramento Business Journal]

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An H-2A rocket successfully launched a communications satellite for Telesat Tuesday. The upgraded H-2A lifted off at 1:50 a.m. Eastern time after a short delay due to a boat in restricted waters. The Telstar 12 Vantage satellite separated from the upper stage at 6:17 a.m. Eastern. The launch was a rare commercial mission for the H-2A. []

Planet Labs has hired three new executives, including one experienced in stock offerings and acquisitions. Among the new hires is David Oppenheimer, who will be chief financial officer. He is described as a “serial CFO” who has worked with several startups in initial public offerings of stock as well as mergers and acquisitions.  Also joining the company are Andy Wild as chief revenue officer and Karthik Govindhasamy as senior vice president for spacecraft engineering. [Planet Labs]

Sen. John McCain wants appropriators to keep an RD-180 engine ban in place. McCain said in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran that appropriators should not circumvent limits on the number of RD-180 engines established in defense authorization bills. Sen. Richard Shelby said last week that he would seek to allow the Air Force to acquire as many RD-180 engines as needed until a replacement is available. “Recent attempts by the incumbent contractor to manufacture a crisis by prematurely diminishing its stockpile of engines,” McCain said in a letter, referring to United Launch Alliance, “should be viewed with skepticism and scrutinized heavily.” [SpaceNews]

Blue Origin successfully flew its New Shepard vehicle on a suborbital test flight Monday. The uncrewed vehicle flew to a peak altitude of 100.5 kilometers and top speed of Mach 3.72 from the company’s West Texas test site. Its crew capsule parachuted to a landing while its propulsion module made a powered vertical landing. A hydraulics problem on an April test flight prevented the module from landing safely. [SpaceNews]

Vulcan Ale, a beer inspired by Star Trek, has made its way to the United States. Credit: Federation of Beers

To Explore Strange New Brews

“While brewing, distributing and consuming beer is not exactly the same thing as exploring the galaxy in a starship, [Federation of Beer co-founder Vern] Raincock still saw some similarities between the two. For both enterprises, you need courage, curiosity and good friends backing you up, he said.”

— From a article about “Vulcan Ale,” a Star Trek-themed beer recently released by Federation of Beer.

Three co-founders of XCOR Aerospace have left the company. XCOR said Monday that Jeff Greason and Dan DeLong, the chief technology officer and chief engineer of the company, respectively, were “stepping back” from the company; a third co-founder, Aleta Jackson, is also leaving. Greason will remain on the company’s board. XCOR is developing the Lynx suborbital spaceplane, the prototype for which is being assembled for test flights. The company has not released a schedule of when those flights will begin. [SpaceNews]

Changes in launch schedules are affecting crew rotations for the ISS. Three current ISS crewmembers will return to Earth Dec. 11, 11 days earlier than planned to accommodate the delayed launch of a Russian Progress cargo mission, now planned for Dec. 21. Their replacements, now scheduled to launch Dec. 15, said they will stay on the station for seven months instead of the previously scheduled six. [Kyodo / Sputnik]

NASA’s former deputy administrator says the agency should not try to compete with the private sector. At a recent panel, Lori Garver said some at NASA approached her after SpaceX announced its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, asking her to talk SpaceX out of it since it might compete with NASA’s plans. “NASA was a very symbol of capitalist ideals when we went to the Moon and beat the Russians,” she said. “Now what we’re working with is more of a socialist plan for space exploration.” [Ars Technica]

NSF is looking for partners to help run, and pay for, an iconic radio telescope. A recent “Dear Colleague” letter from the NSF sought proposals for managing the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. NSF pays two-thirds of the telescope’s annual budget of approximately $12 million, with NASA paying the rest, but the agency is seeking partners willing to cover some of those costs and lessen its financial burden. Arecibo did have discussions earlier this year with Breakthrough Listen, a privately funded SETI effort, but there was some controversy about whether taking any money from it might jeopardize its NSF funding. [SpaceNews]

Mars will one day become a ringed planet. A new study confirmed earlier analysis that one of the moons of Mars, Phobos, will break up because of the planet’s gravitational pull in about 20 to 40 million years. That breakup will create a ring of debris orbiting the planet that will gradually reenter over the next 100 million years, according to the new study. []

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...