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The maiden flight of Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket is likely to slip to 2021. ArianeGroup, the rocket’s prime contractor, and the European Space Agency, which is funding the majority of the rocket’s development, said the coronavirus pandemic has slowed progress on the rocket. Arianespace said in January that it hoped to launch Ariane 6 for the first time between October and December, but that was before the pandemic slowed construction of the rocket’s launch pad. Supplier delays and a postponed engine test are also making a launch this year more difficult. ArianeGroup and ESA declined to say exactly when they expect the launch to happen. [SpaceNews]
The longtime chief executive of Ruag Space, Peter Guggenbach, is leaving to “take on a new challenge outside the company,” Ruag announced May 19. Guggenbach was CEO of Ruag Space, a supplier of rocket and satellite parts, for 11 years, according to LinkedIn. While at Ruag, he helped the Swiss company expand into the U.S. market, which now counts for a third of Ruag Space’s revenue. Luis De León Chardel, the deputy head of Ruag Space, is taking over management on an interim basis. [Ruag]
Viasat and Data Link Solutions each received $1 billion indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts May 19 to provide the U.S. Defense Department with Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) Joint Tactical Radio Systems (JTRS) terminals until mid-2025. The MIDS JTRS terminals provide jam-resistant line-of-sight broadband to air, sea and ground platforms. The contracts combine terminal purchases for the U.S. Navy, Air Force and MIDS Program Office, as well as purchases for NATO and NATO countries. [Defense.gov]
The German space agency DLR is starting construction of an observatory to monitor space debris. The Multi-Spectral Large Aperture Receiver Telescope will use a 1.75-meter diameter mirror housed in a 15-meter-high tower with a rotating dome. The telescope’s primary focus will be space debris in low Earth orbit between 400 and 2,000 kilometers above the Earth. DLR and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, BMWi, are investing 2.5 million euros into the telescope, which DLR says will be the largest of its kind in Europe. DLR said the telescope itself is already built by ASA Astrosysteme GmbH. DLR expects to inaugurate the site in the spring of 2021 once the telescope’s building is completed. [DLR]
OneWeb is seeking court permission to provide retention bonuses to its remaining staff. The satellite operator, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March, said it needs to provide incentive payments to its “skeletal team” of employees to prevent them from leaving. OneWeb laid off about 85% of its staff when it filed for Chapter 11. The exact size of the incentive payments would be based on the proceeds of OneWeb’s spectrum sale, for which an auction is scheduled for July 2. [SpaceNews]
U.K. companies Inmarsat and Serco have joined forces with the British divisions of Lockheed Martin and CGI Inc. to create a “national team in space.” The team, called Athena, will collaborate to jointly pursue space-related business opportunities in the U.K. The companies’ expertise spans space, telecommunications, defense and information technology. [Inmarsat]
British launch startup Skyrora completed a full-duration static fire of its Skylark-L suborbital rocket, the company said May 20. Skylark-L is designed to carry 60 kilograms up to 100 kilometers and back. Skyrora says the rocket will be ready to launch from a British spaceport by spring 2021, followed by its larger orbital-class Skyrora XL rocket by 2023. Skylark-L uses hydrogen peroxide and kerosene as propellant. Skyrora plans to eventually introduce its own fuel, called Ecosene, which the company describes as a kerosene equivalent made from un-recyclable plastic waste. [Skyrora]
Avio hopes to compress schedules enough to allow three Vega launches to take place by the end of the year. The company is planning a return-to-flight mission for the small launch vehicle in June, followed by a second launch in August. The company then expects to perform a third launch by the end of the year. The closure of Vega’s spaceport in French Guiana by the pandemic delayed that return-to-flight mission of dozens of smallsats, which had been scheduled for March. As part of efforts to tighten launch timelines, Avio will keep a team of launch personnel at the spaceport between the June and August launches. [SpaceNews]
SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.