U.K. commercial spaceport.
An artist's concept of a U.K. commercial spaceport. Credit: UK Space Agency

The British government is offering grants for ventures that want to launch from new spaceports in the country.

The UK Space Agency announced the program Thursday that will provide grants worth up to £10 million ($12.5 million) to joint ventures of British launch companies and proposed spaceports.

The ventures have to demonstrate that they will be ready to begin launches by 2020.

The government is also expected to introduce supporting legislation later this month. [BBC]

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DARPA is moving forward with a controversial satellite servicing program, announcing Thursday it will partner with Space Systems Loral. Under the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, SSL will provide a satellite bus for a DARPA-developed servicing payload, which, after launch, will carry out a series of demonstrations to show its ability to inspect and repair satellites. SSL plans to use that system commercially, servicing government and commercial satellites, once the demonstrations are completed. Orbital ATK filed suit earlier this week to block the deal, arguing that it violated national space policy by giving SSL an unfair advantage over other commercial satellite servicing programs. [SpaceNews]

NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans will remain closed through the weekend after a tornado hit the center Tuesday. Work to assess the damage to the center’s buildings and make repairs continues, with one estimate of more than $1 million in damage to the facility. Michoud officials said that no hardware involved with the production of the Space Launch System or Orion was damaged, although the building where that work takes place did suffer significant damage. [WWL-TV New Orleans]

Orbital ATK has won a contract for the next Space Test Program satellite. The $78 million contract covers integration and early on-orbit support for the STPSat-6 spacecraft, slated for launch in 2019. The primary payload for the satellite will be the Space and Atmospheric Burst Reporting System, designed to detect nuclear explosions and monitor space weather. STPSat-6 will also carry eight secondary payloads for various agencies. [SpaceNews]

House appropriators hope to move ahead soon on spending bills for the rest of fiscal year 2017. In a speech this week, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), chair of the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, said a new version of a 2017 spending bill is essentially complete. He declined to provide details about the bill’s contents, but told a space industry audience that “you’ll be very pleased” with it. Culberson said it was too soon to say if NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission would continue under the new administration, and added he supported Earth science programs at the agency provided they are “free of any political filter or agenda.” [SpaceNews]

Eutelsat is not worried that a satellite television provider is offering a “dish-less” option for customers. British broadcaster Sky recently introduced an option that gives customers access to programming without a satellite dish. Eutelsat CEO Rodolphe Belmer told investors Thursday that he did not expect that option to draw people away from satellite TV, based on interest in similar “over-the-top” products rolled out elsewhere in Europe, as they’re targeted primarily for urban dwellers unable to use satellite dishes. Belmer said Eutelsat is days away from finalizing a joint venture with ViaSat announced last year that will offer mobile broadband and residential services in Europe. [SpaceNews]

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Another problem with the GPS 3 program has led the Air Force to raise new questions about Lockheed Martin’s oversight of the effort. The most recent delay involves capacitors that had not been property tested by a subcontractor, Harris Corp. Testing of those capacitors was completed in December, but the issue delayed the delivery of the first GPS 3 satellite until later this month. The testing problem “raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris program management,” Air Force Maj. Gen Roger Teague said in a December message to congressional staff about the issue. [Bloomberg]

China is set to launch its first cargo spacecraft in April. The Tianzhou-1 will launch on a Long March 7rocket and dock with the Tiangong-2 laboratory module. The mission will test the ability of Tianzhou to transfer fuel into the lab module. Tianzhou, designed to also carry 6,500 kilograms of cargo, is intended for later use supporting China’s planned permanent space station. [gbtimes]

A panel of former NASA employees will discuss the agency’s past and future at a congressional hearing next week. The lineup for the Feb. 16 House Science Committee hearing on “NASA: Past, Present, and Future” includes former astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Thomas Stafford, former NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan, and former NASA Goddard director Tom Young. The hearing is intended to introduce the committee’s new members to NASA and its various programs. [SpacePolicyOnline]

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...