Ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the global space industry. Scroll down for daily updates.
Space events delayed or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic
Rocket Lab is proceeding with upcoming launches after being classified as an essential business. The company said in a March 21 statement that the majority of its workforce at its new Long Beach, California, headquarters is working from home, but that a “significantly reduced number of mission critical personnel will remain operating from our facilities.” Like Virgin Orbit, which is also headquartered in Long Beach, Rocket Lab said it could continue work despite a statewide “Safer At Home” order that closes non-essential businesses because aerospace manufacturing is considered a critical infrastructure sector by the federal government. The company said it is taking measures to protect the health of those workers who are continuing to work on site. The company’s next launch, from New Zealand, is scheduled for no earlier than March 30, and it said it is “working with our customers and local government authorities to minimize any potential disruption to our future missions planned in the months ahead.” It added that, with vehicles already complete, it could handle any pause in manufacturing “with minimal impact to our scheduled manifest.”
The Farnborough International Airshow 2020, one of the biggest events of the year for the aerospace industry, has been canceled. Event organizers said March 20 it reached the decision to cancel the event, scheduled for July 20–24, because of “the unprecedented impact” of the pandemic that “make it impossible for us to create and host the Airshow this July.” The air show, held every two years, has long been a major event for the aviation industry but has become a bigger event for space in recent years, particularly as the British government seeks to grow the country’s space industry and support the development of spaceports.
The next meeting of the National Space Council, already scaled back because of the coronavirus pandemic, has been postponed, the White House announced March 21. In a brief statement, the White House said that the March 24 meeting of the council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, had been postponed to a date yet to be determined.
Maxar Technologies has warned customers that spacecraft deliveries could be late due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a March 20 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Maxar said it’s “observing stress in its supplier base” and noted that its California workforce has been impacted by local orders closing many businesses and requiring residents to stay at home void unnecessary travel to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Maxar, the filing says, “has sent force majeure notices as appropriate to certain customers to protect its legal rights given the uncertain nature of the current pandemic and its near and long-term impacts on the cost and schedule of the numerous programs in the Company’s existing backlog.” Maxar builds government and commercial satellites in Palo Alto and San Jose, California.
Virgin Orbit announced March 20 that it will continue operations at its facility in Long Beach, California, after state officials categorized the work as an essential service that should not be completely shut down during the coronavirus pandemic. “In conversations with our representatives, we have learned that our work of developing and operating our flexible, responsive space launch system for our customers, including those at NASA and in the U.S. Department of Defense, has been deemed as one such essential service, and that therefore we have been exempted from many of the “Safer At Home” shelter in place restrictions,” Virgin Orbit Kendall Russell said in a statement.
NASA has suspended work on the James Webb Space Telescope as it prioritizes what agency missions require people to be on site during the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement March 20, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said NASA had completed an assessment of work across the agency, deciding which projects are essential enough to require people to go to NASA centers or other facilities to work on them.
NASA is suspending work on the Space Launch System and Orion at two NASA centers because of the coronavirus pandemic. NASA announced that it was elevating the Michoud Assembly Facility and Stennis Space Center to “Stage 4” of its pandemic response framework. The decision effectively shuts down both facilities, allowing only those personnel needed for safety and security to be on site. That puts a halt to work such as SLS core stage testing at Stennis and manufacturing of SLS core stages and Orion components at Michoud.
The space industry may not be as strongly affected by the pandemic as other parts of the economy, according to a report. The study by Quilty Analytics concluded that growing demand for broadband created by teleworking, and reduced cord-cutting of traditional TV services by people stuck at home, will bolster the satellite communications sector. Companies that do provide maritime and aviation connectivity will be hurt, the report noted, but continued government business may sustain others.
Virgin Orbit’s first launch may slip because of the pandemic. The company said Thursday that it is reassessing the schedule for the first LauncherOne mission, which was likely to take place in April, while “moving aggressively” to protect the health of its employees and families. Most employees are teleworking, although some are still working on site at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California to prepare the vehicle.
Viasat issued a letter to shareholders saying that it expects the coronavirus’ impact on air travel will hurt the company’s inflight connectivity business, but that it expects that impact to be limited. Commercial air revenues represent less than 10% of Viasat’s revenues, the company said. Viasat’s stock closed at $39.69 a share March 18, down more than 50% since the beginning of the year.
The U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation has canceled the GEOINT 2020 Symposium, which was to take place April 26-29 in Tampa.
The 2020 CubeSat Developers Workshop, which was scheduled for May 4-6 in San Luis Obispo, California, has been postponed. Conference organizers said they are still working to “determine the best way to move forward.”
The National Space Society has canceled its International Space Development Conference, scheduled for May 26-28 in Frisco, Texas. The organization said it will investigate “the possibility of ISDC activities of different kinds later in 2020.”
NASA says it’s targeting a launch of a Crew Dragon spacecraft with two NASA astronauts on board for the latter half of May. The agency said late Wednesday that it was scheduling the Demo-2 mission launch from the Kennedy Space Center for no earlier than mid-to-late May, and was starting the media accreditation process for that mission. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will fly on that spacecraft, the first crewed orbital launch from U.S. soil since the end of the shuttle program in 2011. The announcement didn’t disclose the length of the mission as NASA weighs whether to extend the mission to address a shortfall in the station’s crew. NASA acknowledged that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could affect both planning for the mission and media access for the launch.
Both the U.S. Air Force and Space Force say they are continuing essential activities during the pandemic. The Space Force continues to carry out key duties such as supporting space launches and monitoring potential threats in outer space, a spokesman said March 18, with no impacts due to the coronavirus. The launch of a critical U.S. military communications satellite, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) 6 spacecraft, remains scheduled for March 26 on an Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral. The chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein, said the service is still conducting its missions around the world.
German space company OHB is expecting delays to programs, but not a loss of revenue, because of the pandemic. OHB CEO Marco Fuchs said the company is standing by its forecast of generating $1.2 billion in revenue this year. Fuchs said the immediate risk to OHB from the coronavirus is delays with completing spacecraft and getting them launched. Programs may be delayed, he said, but he did not anticipate cancellations that would reduce revenue.
Explore Mars has rescheduled its Humans to Mars Summit, previously scheduled for May 12-14 in Washington, D.C., to Aug. 31-Sept. 1.
Space Tech Expo, previously scheduled for May 18-20 in Long Beach, California, has been rescheduled for Aug. 10-12.
The ILA Berlin air show scheduled for May 13-17 has been canceled because of restrictions on large gatherings recently established by local officials.
All of NASA’s centers have instituted mandatory telework for most personnel in response to the coronavirus pandemic. NASA announced late March 17 it was moving to “Stage 3” of its response framework, allowing only mission-essential personnel to access its centers. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that while only a “limited” number of NASA personnel had tested positive for COVID-19, the shift to mandatory telework was a “pre-emptive step to thwart further spreading of the virus among the workforce and our communities.” Several NASA centers had already gone to Stage 3, either because of cases among employees or concerns about community transmission of the disease.
The United Arab Emirates Space Agency says that Hope, its Mars orbiter mission, is still scheduled to launch in July despite travel disruptions caused by the pandemic. A spokesperson for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, whose H-2 rocket will launch the spacecraft, said the company expects only “minimal” impacts on its operations.
Norsat, a provider of signal amplifiers, filters and other equipment, said it is increasing production to keep inventory at “safety stock levels.” The company has also developed a emergency succession plans for key positions within the company, should employees die due to the coronavirus. Norsat said its employees are working remotely as much as possible during the outbreak.
The 16th International Conference on Space Operations, or SpaceOps, has been postponed because of the pandemic. The conference, which was scheduled for May 18-22 in Cape Town, South Africa, has been rescheduled for May 3-7, 2021.
Arianespace has suspended upcoming launches because of the closure of its French Guiana launch site. The spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, is closed following guidance from the French government to suspend all nonessential activities during the coronavirus pandemic. That decision will delay a Vega launch scheduled for March 24 as well as a Soyuz launch that had been rescheduled for early April.
Blue Origin is continuing work on its launch vehicles and engines despite the pandemic. The company, headquartered near Seattle, a hotspot for the disease in the United States, set up a task force weeks ago on the issue, and many employees are now teleworking. Company CEO Bob Smith said that Blue Origin continues to work on its New Shepard and New Glenn launch vehicles and testing of the BE-4 engine that will be used by New Glenn and ULA’s Vulcan rocket. He added the company still expected to start flying people on the New Shepard suborbital vehicle before the end of this year.
Inflight connectivity company Gogo is seeking relief on its satellite capacity contracts as demand for air travel plummets. Gogo CEO Oakleigh Thorne said decreased airline traffic has had a knock-on effect on demand for passenger wi-fi. Because the coronavirus pandemic is driving airlines to remove planes from service, Gogo is not issuing financial guidance for 2020. Gogo plans to use its heft as a large buyer of satellite capacity from companies like Intelsat and SES to get more favorable terms for capacity leases.
NASA Ames has revised its guidance to employees after local officials instituted a “shelter in place” order that takes effect at 12:01 a.m. local time March 17. With that order, all previously approved exceptions for work on-site have been rescinded, with only personnel required to maintain safety and security allowed at the center.
The U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation said it is “exploring all options to cancel or postpone” the GEOINT 2020 Symposium scheduled for late April in Tampa. Organizers are suspending registration for the event and asking vendors to halt preparations.
The Rotary National Award for Space Achievement (RNASA) Foundation said it is postponing its annual award gala in Houston that had been scheduled for April 17. Former astronaut and Johnson Space Center director Ellen Ochoa will receive the organization’s annual National Space Trophy at the event.
A second NASA center has moved to mandatory telework because of the coronavirus pandemic. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama said that one of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19 and, as a result, the center was closed to all but mission-essential personnel. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley moved to mandatory telework a week ago after one of its employees was diagnosed with the disease. In a statement late Saturday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said other NASA centers were open, but that employees were “strongly encouraged” to telework. Separately, the European Space Agency said it was asking its employees to work remotely “wherever possible” until further notice.
One of the biggest space conferences of the year has been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Space Foundation notified key stakeholders Thursday night that the 36th Space Symposium will not be held March 30 to April 2 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Conference organizers are working to identify a new date for the conference, which regularly attracts thousands of registrants and hundreds of exhibitors from around the world.
A major amateur astronomy conference near New York City, the Northeast Astronomy Forum, has canceled plans for an in-person event in April after its host college banned gatherings of more than 50 people. Organizers will instead offer virtual presentations April 4.
The American Physical Society (APS), which already canceled its major annual conference in March, said it will not hold a smaller conference in April in Washington, D.C. Instead, the organization will attempt to offer an online meeting.
The Satellite 2020 conference ended a day early amid a growing wave of coronavirus-related cancellations. Conference organizers said March 12’s scheduled sessions were canceled, and the exhibit hall closed, after Washington, D.C., officials announced it would close the convention center in response to a recommendation limiting mass gatherings of more than 1,000 people. Many other space-related conferences and meetings have also been cancelled or postponed in the last few days, although organizers of both the Space Symposium at the end of the month and next month’s GEOINT 2020 Symposium say their events, for now, are still scheduled to take place.
The coronavirus epidemic has so far not affected any missions being prepared for launch. United Launch Alliance says it is implementing measures like reducing nonessential travel in response to the growing outbreak, but has not delayed work on its next launch, an Atlas 5 launch of a military communications satellite scheduled for March 21. Blue Origin, whose headquarters near Seattle is in the heart of the biggest outbreak in the United States so far, has set up an internal task force to cope with the coronavirus, including increased telework and decreased travel
Meanwhile, the American Astronautical Society (AAS) announced it was postponing its Goddard Memorial Symposium next week because of recent cases found in the Washington metropolitan region, while the National Space Club is postponing the Goddard Memorial Dinner scheduled for next Friday. No new dates have been announced for either event yet.
The Satellite 2020 conference is starting today in Washington as scheduled, with organizers estimating 12% of exhibitors and about 10% of attendees having canceled so far. The Satellite Industry Association, though, has postponed its annual leadership dinner, normally held in conjunction with the conference, until September
Space companies will feel the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak, but may not be as hard hit as other industries. Analysts and executives said Monday that they saw the outbreak as having only a “transitory” effect on most of the industry, with those involved in transportation and related markets hardest hit. Drop in demand for travel, and services like satellite-based inflight connectivity, might trigger consolidation among service providers in that sector. Raising new investment may also be more difficult, with startups encouraged to reconsider hiring and capital investment plans.
The Space Foundation says it is still planning to hold its annual Space Symposium event at the end of this month in Colorado Springs despite the outbreak, although some members of the city council there are raising concerns about those plans, with one suggesting it be delayed to protect the health of local residents.
AIAA and the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute have canceled a hypersonic technologies and spaceplane conference scheduled for this week in Montreal because of the coronavirus outbreak.
NASA’s Ames Research Center announced Sunday night it was instituting mandatory telework, effective immediately and until further notice. The center said an employee tested positive for COVID-19 Sunday and that, while exposure to others there was limited, it was shifting to telework “out of an abundance of caution.”
The city of Austin, Texas, canceled South by Southwest (SXSW), the sprawling cultural festival set to take place this month. SXSW had scheduled a series of space-related sessions for this year’s event, including one with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Organizers of the Global Aerospace Summit scheduled for mid-March in Abu Dhabi have postponed the conference until June, according to an email sent to participants, citing travel restrictions caused by the disease.
The MIT Space Week series of events at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology next week, including the “Beyond the Cradle” and “New Space Age” conferences, have been canceled because of a university policy prohibiting in-person events on campus of more than 150 people. Some online events may take place instead.
The American Astronautical Society (AAS) says its Goddard Memorial Symposium in the Washington DC area will continue as scheduled in mid-March, as the event is at a “fairly low risk” of being disrupted. The Goddard Memorial Dinner by the National Space Club March 20 is also proceeding.
SES announced it will not participate in the Satellite 2020 conference next week in Washington because of “deepening concerns” about the disease, but will have CEO Steve Collar in attendance to speak on conference panels.
The Lunar and Planetary Science Institute announced it is canceling the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, the largest planetary science conference of the year, later this month because of coronavirus concerns. Some peripheral events, like a NASA town hall, will instead be held virtually, but not individual sessions.
The International Astronautical Federation is canceling its spring meeting later this month in Paris, and will instead hold teleconferences to conduct planning for this fall’s International Astronautical Congress. • NASA and some Air Force personnel will be asked to work remotely Friday as a test of wide-scale telework procedures should that be required as the outbreak grows.
The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has so far had a limited effect on the space industry. The spread of the disease, formally known as COVID-19, has led to the cancellation of a number of major conferences in various industries. The American Physical Society, for example, canceled its major annual conference that was to take place this week in Denver on less than 36 hours’ notice. However, several big space industry events in the coming weeks, including next week’s Satellite 2020 conference, are still scheduled to take place. NASA said it’s taking a “day-by-day” approach to the epidemic, and may tailor any responses on a center-by-center basis depending on where the outbreaks are located.