Explaining Luch’s lurking — Another SpaceX employment class action — SS/L wins order Orbital ATK says it lost because of Ex-Im shutdown

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SpaceX is facing another employee class-action lawsuit. A suit filed Monday in a Los Angeles Superior Court alleges SpaceX required employees to work off the clock to avoid paying them overtime or their full compensation. Stan Saporito, the suit’s plaintiff who worked for SpaceX from June 2013 until February as a structures integration technician, says SpaceX doesn’t budget enough labor hours for what needs to get done and then requires them to clock out before finishing a job. SpaceX spokesman John Taylor told SpaceNews Oct. 21 that “SpaceX denies the claims made in this complaint and will refute them in court.” SpaceX was sued last year by former employees who maintain the Hawthorne, California, company violated state labor laws when it laid hundreds off without notice. SpaceX said the employees were fired for poor performance reviews.  [Law360.com (subscription required)]

Space Systems/Loral (SSL) said Tuesday it won a contract to build a communications satellite for the government of Azerbaijan. The Azerspace-2 spacecraft, to be operated by Azercosmos in conjunction with Intelsat, will launch in 2017 and operate at 45 degrees east in GEO. Part of the deal includes “knowledge transfer cooperation related to radar Earth observation” to Azercosmos from SSL’s parent company, Canada’s MDA. Orbital ATK said last month that it lost the Azerspace-2 contract to SSL because of a lack of export credit financing, but it was not clear how big a role that played in the decision to pick SSL, which had access to Canadian financing. [SpaceNews]

APT Satellite Holdings has ordered a Chinese satellite just after the launch of another such spacecraft. The Hong Kong-based satellite operator said China Great Wall Industry Corp. will build and launch the Apstar-6C satellite in a contract valued at $180 million. The contract comes just after the successful launch of APT’s Apstar-9 satellite, also built and launched by China Great Wall. [SpaceNews]

A Russian space expert denies that a satellite maneuvering in GEO poses any threat to other satellites there. Ivan Moiseyev of Russia’s Space Policy Institute told RIA Novosti Tuesday that the Luch satellite is “simply a relay satellite” used for communications. The satellite has moved to several locations in GEO since its launch last year, including near other satellites operated by Intelsat. While the company has raised concerns about Luch’s movements, Moiseyev claimed the chance of a collision or other interference is “extremely small.” [SpaceNews]

Lockheed Martin’s space division reported a decline in revenue and earnings from the same quarter a year ago. The company, in its third quarter financial results released Tuesday, reported a drop of 5 percent in net sales and 17 percent in operating profit for its Space Systems division from the same quarter in 2014. The company said a decline in sales for space transportation programs and government satellite programs explained the difference. The company also reported a decrease of $20 million in equity earnings for the quarter, primarily from its stake in United Launch Alliance. [Lockheed Martin]

NASA plans to start the competition for its next heliophysics mission in the first half of next year. The agency said in a statement posted on its procurement site that it will release a request for proposals in the spring or summer of 2016 for the Heliophysics Small Explorer program, with proposals due 90 days later. NASA will select two or three proposals for additional study in early 2017, with a final decision coming in 2018. The cost cap for the mission is $115 million, excluding launch. [SpaceNews]

Mark Watney’s Favorite Class

“‘Congratulations! You are leaving Earth forever,’ the case study begins.’ You are selected to be part of a mining colony of 100 people located on the planet Mars. Before you head to Mars, however, you need to figure out how to feed yourself and your colleagues once you are there.’”

– from a Washington State Univ. press release about a study guide for students regarding how to grow food on Mars. The release of the study guide was timed to the premiere of the film The Martian.

ULA may bring additional suppliers to its main manufacturing plant in Alabama, the state’s governor hinted this week. Gov. Robert Bentley, on a visit Monday to ULA’s Decatur factory, said other companies “are going to come and be a part of what they do here,” but didn’t mention any specific companies or their plans. RUAG Aerospace announced in July it would lease space in the Decatur facility to manufacture components for ULA’s vehicles. [Huntsville Times]

The B612 Foundation said it is pressing ahead with plans to build a space telescope to look for near Earth asteroids despite a recent setback. In August, NASA terminated a Space Act Agreement it had with the foundation, saying that the organization failed to meet milestones in the agreement signed in 2012. B612 has also struggled with raising funds for the space telescope, with less than $1 million in total assets at the end of 2013 according to one tax filing. NASA, meanwhile, recently selected another concept for a space-based telescope to look for asteroids as one of the finalists for the next Discovery-class mission. [SpaceNews]

Intelsat’s chief financial officer is leaving the company. Michael McDonnell will leave Intelsat in mid-December to take a similar post at Quintiles, a healthcare services provider based in North Carolina significantly larger than Intelsat. McDonnell had been Intelsat’s CFO since 2008 and oversaw the company’s initial public offering in 2013. [SpaceNews]

Two NASA Langley Research Center employees have reportedly been charged for violating national security regulations. An indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, but not yet formally announced, alleges that the two employees gave a Chinese national, Bo Jiang, unrestricted access to information at the center. Jiang was arrested in 2013 on espionage charges when trying to return to China, but those charges were later dropped in a plea deal where he pleaded guilty to only a misdemeanor charge of misuse of government equipment. [The Daily Caller]

DeLoreans really do fly, thanks to Orion. A small model of the car, best known as being a time machine in the three Back to the Future movies, flew on Orion during its brief test flight last December. The model was provided by Claudia Wells, who played Marty McFly’s girlfriend in the original film. “This is my childhood dreams coming true,” Wells said. “Please count me in as a passenger when humans are on the shuttle going to Mars!” [collectSPACE]

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...