Artist's rendering of the factory OneWeb Satellites is building in Exploration Park, Florida. Credit: OneWeb

Space Florida has approved a $3 million bridge loan to accelerate work on OneWeb’s Florida factory.

The state space development agency approved the loan at a board meeting Wednesday, saying it will cover construction equipment and other resources needed to speed up work on the satellite factory to be built just outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center.

The loan will be due in three months and be jointly repaid by Space Florida and OneWeb. [Orlando Sentinel]

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An updated Soyuz spacecraft launched Wednesday night, carrying three International Space Station crewmembers. The Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft launched on schedule at 9:36 p.m. Eastern. On board the Soyuz are Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi and American astronaut Kate Rubins. The spacecraft will dock with the ISS at 12:12 a.m. Eastern Saturday. [Reuters]

A year after unveiling its plans for a massive satellite constellation, OneWeb says it is on schedule. The company’s chief operating officer said OneWeb has completed the preliminary design review for its 700-satellite constellation and should finalize the selection of subcontractors for those satellites by August. An initial set of 10 satellites will be built at an Airbus plant in France and launched on a Soyuz late next year before beginning full-scale production at a new factory in Florida. OneWeb says it has kept the cost of those satellites to within 5 percent of its original target so far. [SpaceNews]

Leaders of the House Science Committee are seeking details on the Obama administration’s policy regarding launches of commercial satellites on Indian rockets. In a series of letters issued Wednesday, committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and space subcommittee chairman Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) sought information on the process by which the administration grants approvals for U.S.-built satellites to launch on India’s PSLV. Current policy discourages the use of Indian rockets because of a lack of a commercial space launch agreement between the U.S. and India, but several companies have won approvals to launch their satellites on the PSLV. The issue has pitted satellite companies seeking improved access to space against launch vehicle firms concerned about competing with a government space agency. [SpaceNews]

Satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space and partners are investing in development of a high altitude platform. The companies are using their own money, plus grants from the French government, to work on Stratobus, an airship 100 meters long that would operate at altitudes of about 20 kilometers. Thales Alenia and partners are initially focused on Earth observations in the tropics, but plan to expand their use to include communications once they win approval from the International Telecommunication Union to operate at Ka- and Ku-band frequencies. A full-scale test model of Stratobus could fly in 2020. [SpaceNews]

U.S. Strategic Command is taking the lead on space wargames at a new space operations center. In an interview, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said that U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Buck, the Joint Functional Component Commander for space at Stratcom, will take over exercises run at the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center, or JICSpOC. He takes over for Andrew Cox, director of Air Force Space Command’s space security and defense program. The move may also provide more clarity about who would command military space assets in the event of a conflict in space. [Breaking Defense]

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover went into a protective safe mode over the holiday weekend. The spacecraft went into the safe mode July 2, likely because of an “unexpected mismatch” between different software packages in the rover’s main computer. Controllers are communicating with the rover and working to restore normal operations in the coming days. Curiosity has gone into safe mode three previous times, all in 2013. []

President Obama’s science adviser said that the administration scaled back human space exploration ambitions to revitalize other aspects of the space agency. John Holdren said in an interview that while the outcome of the 2010 debate about the future of NASA’s human spaceflight program retained the Orion spacecraft and created the heavy-lift Space Launch System, “we scaled them back” compared to what was planned under the Constellation program. That effort, he said, allowed the administration to “revitalize Earth observation, to revitalize planetary science, to revitalize robotic exploration, to think about new missions.” [Nature]

A small launch vehicle developer is one of three new members of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF). The industry organization announced Wednesday that Firefly Space Systems, a Texas company working on a small launch vehicle with a contract from NASA, is joining the organization as as associate member. Also joining the CSF are Calspan, an engineering services and testing company; and TIP Technologies, a developer of quality assurance software. [Commercial Spaceflight Federation]

2016 is going to last a little bit longer. The U.S. Naval Observatory announced Wednesday it will add a leap second to its master clock after 6:59:59 p.m. Eastern on December 31. The additional second is designed to keep time, as measured by atomic clocks, in sync with the Earth’s rotation, which runs slow compared to atomic clock time by 1.5 to 2 milliseconds per day. [USNO]

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...