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ULA’s Atlas 5 launches AEHF-6 communications satellite in its first mission for U.S. Space Force



SMC Commander Lt. Gen. Thompson: “The AEHF launch is one of those we consider absolutely mission essential.”

WASHINGTON — A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off on March 26 at 4:18 PM EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, carrying a $1.4 billion Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-6) communications satellite for the U.S. Space Force.

This was the sixth and final satellite of the AEHF constellation that provides secure, jam-proof voice and data communications for U.S. national leadership, military forces and international partners Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Australia. All six were manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

The Atlas 5 flew in the 551 configuration with five side-mounted solid rocket boosters.

The launch was set to go at 2:57 PM but there was an unplanned hold called at T-minus 46 seconds. ULA CEO Tory Bruno on Twitter explained the hold was due to a fault in the ground hydraulics accumulator.

“Bad amplifier card on a ground system hydraulic pump controller. Working on a solution,” Bruno tweeted.

ULA engineers were able to fix the problem and get the Atlas 5 off within the two-hour launch window.

Atlas 5 rockets launched the first five AEHF satellites in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2018 and 2019.

This was ULA’s 138th launch, the 83rd of the Atlas 5 rocket since 2002 and the 11th in the 551 configuration. The mission also marked the 500th flight of the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engine that powers the Centaur upper stage. Aerojet also provided the five AJ-60A solid rocket boosters.

Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center, told SpaceNews in a March 25 interview that it was important for get AEHF-6 launched on schedule despite reduced staff and other challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The AEHF launch is one of those we consider absolutely mission essential,” said Thompson. “These satellites are hugely important to presidential and national leadership communications in a crisis. They are also essential to warfighters and allies.”

The deployment of the sixth satellite ensures that the AEHF constellation will stay in service beyond 2030, Thompson said.

On its way to AEHF’s final orbit, the upper stage of the Atlas 5 at 4:47 PM released a small rideshare payload named TDO-2. The 12U cubesat carried U.S. government experimental payloads that will test optical calibration and satellite laser-ranging technologies for space domain awareness.

The rideshare satellite, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, was developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology and integrated by Parsons Corp.

The Centaur upper stage will deploy AEHF-6 after a five-hour coast.


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Carnival’s struggle to survive the coronavirus as outbreak wipes out the cruise industry




The COVID-19 outbreak has laid waste to entire sectors of the global economy, but none faster than the cruise industry. The pandemic has basically shut down the cruise-ship business, with the three largest publicly traded cruise companies suspending some, if not all, of their operations.

Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator, has been at the heart of the industry’s struggle against the coronavirus. COVID-19 has spread on ships across nearly half of its brands, infecting hundreds of passengers and killing others. 

Shares of Carnival are down more than 80% in 2020 alone, and the company said in a securities filing that it couldn’t predict when any of its ships would begin to sail again or when ports would reopen. 

Yet, time after time, Carnival has proven resilient, despite seemingly insurmountable setbacks. The company has experienced everything from norovirus outbreaks to fires and capsizes, and it’s still bounced back after every crisis.  

Some experts say this time it’s different. 

In over 30 years, it’s unprecedented. We’ve never seen these types of warnings really ever.

Stewart Chiron

Cruise Industry Expert

For one thing, the government has effectively temporarily cancelled an entire industry. The State Department has advised that no American should set foot on a cruise ship. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which typically issues health warnings about certain regions of the world, not forms of transportation, has warned travelers against all cruise travel worldwide.

“In over 30 years, it’s unprecedented. We’ve never seen these types of warnings really ever,” said cruise industry expert Stewart Chiron. 

Also different this time around — unlike past viral outbreaks aboard ships — passengers have been forced to quarantine on an unprecedented scale either in their rooms on the ships or at U.S. military bases after disembarking. 

Carnival is rapidly hemorrhaging money, and so far, the U.S. government has made it clear that it won’t be helping to bail them out. The question now: Is Carnival too big to fail?

Why Carnival keeps rebounding

Shares of the three largest publicly traded cruise line companies — Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian — are all down more than 80% so far this year, putting the valuations of the big three at multiyear lows.

Carnival and Royal Caribbean did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment, and Norwegian declined to comment. 

Carnival is no stranger to calamity, and when its stock price has taken a hit, it has shown it can recover.

Over the years,  the company has faced every disaster you can envision, from viral outbreaks, to colliding ships, flooding, and fires. But perhaps its two biggest scars are the sinking of the Costa Concordia off the Italian coast in 2012, killing 32 passengers, and an engine-room fire that left the Carnival Triumph without power for days, causing toilets to backup and human waste to overflow into rooms and hallways. That so-called “poop cruise” gripped global media.

Carnival wasn’t defeated. It sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into upgrading its systems across the fleet, and it gave the Carnival Triumph its own $200 million makeover, plus a new name.

After each one of these crises, Carnival’s stock mostly rebounded. Lately, things haven’t been looking quite as good for Carnival’s stock. It has been steadily declining since 2018 and began 2020 at a lower share price than in 2016. On Tuesday, Carnival announced it would suspend dividend payments.

Credit rating agency S&P downgraded Carnival on March 13 and says it’s continuing to monitor the company for further downgrades.

The fundamentals

Despite the onslaught of bad news, Carnival still dominates the market. It is the world’s largest cruise operator, accounting for nearly 50% of all cruise passengers. It  also enjoys a stronger balance sheet than its rivals. 

Until the outbreak of COVID-19, sales for Carnival had been strong, rising every year since 2015, and up more than 10% from fiscal year 2018 to 2019. That’s nearly double the revenue of Royal Caribbean and more than three times Norwegian’s sales in fiscal year 2019. Net profit also dwarfs the competition, though the company has been struggling to maintain growth.

Carnival’s long-term viability ahead of the outbreak was also promising. As of the end of fiscal year 2019, Carnival’s debt-to-equity ratio, a measure used to help evaluate a company’s risk, was 45.3%, which is considered a good balance between what it owes and what it owns.

Compare that to its two chief rivals. Norwegian and Royal Caribbean’s debt-to-equity ratios are around 100%. Both took on a lot of debt, at a time when debt was cheap, which may prove difficult to pay back during a rough patch like this. 

Carnival has its own debt payments coming due, not to mention the fresh injection of new debt it took on last week, and the $4.8 billion it’s committed to spending on new ships in 2020. 

On top of the $518 million in cash it already had on hand, Carnival tapped its entire $3 billion credit facility, and it is trying to raise over $6 billion in stock and debt. However, Carnival said it needs about $1 billion a month to keep operating, according to an April 3 securities filing. 

Getting credit investors on board comes at great cost to the company. The bulk of this new financing is from bonds paying investors 11.5%, an interest rate typically seen in the junk bond market. 

“The cost of financing was particularly onerous, given this is an investment-grade entity with a substantial amount of collateral coverage,” said John McClain, a portfolio manager at Diamond Hill Capital. “Its collateral coverage is 86 vessels, plus intellectual property, with a net book value north of $28 billion. Historically, this would give a huge amount of confidence.”

The future

Some have compared the current plight of the cruise industry to that of the airlines, when the government closed airports following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Travel demand tanked, and several major American airlines declared bankruptcy, despite receiving federal aid. 

For the moment, it doesn’t look as though the U.S. government will be coming to the rescue of any of the major cruise lines. The $2 trillion relief package excludes companies which are not incorporated in the U.S. and don’t have significant operations in and a majority of its employees based in the U.S. 

Carnival, for example, is headquartered in Miami, its shares trade on the NYSE, but it is actually incorporated in Panama. Cruise lines also tend to hire foreign workers who don’t always fall under the protection of American minimum wage requirements.

Industry experts think that, unlike past outbreaks, COVID-19 will fundamentally alter the cruising model.

An image of Carnival Splendor cruise ship at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay on March 22, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.

Izhar Kahn | NurPhoto | Getty Images

“Even under the best case scenario where there’s containment of this virus, it could literally take up to a year for things to get back to any semblance of normalcy,” said Tuna Amobi, senior media analyst at CFRA Research. 

To try to salvage sales while the industry is effectively dormant, cruise lines are looking to revive their post-pandemic travel seasons, slashing ticket prices in order to lure customers. 

“Cruising is pretty affordable, and the allure of cheap travel options will continue to drive new cruisers, despite the pandemic. Cruise lines are going to be offering unbelievable deals,” said McClain. 

Also promising: Americans love to go on cruises.

Before the coronavirus pandemic brought the industry to a standstill, 2020 was poised to be a record-breaking year for the business. The industry was expecting to carry more than 32 million passengers, almost twice as many as in 2009. And they’re getting younger travelers on board, with 71% of millennials having a more positive attitude about cruising compared to 2017, according to Cruise Lines International Association.

Still, some analysts remain bearish on the industry’s ability to recover.

“If you look at the whole tourism segment, I think that this is going to be painful for all of them, but airlines will likely recover. People will get back on planes. I think that hotels will also recover. But I think cruises may actually have a hard time,” said Gina Sanchez, founder and CEO of Chantico Global.


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Mystery Shipwreck Dates to Before Revolutionary War, Researcher Says




In 1769, a cargo ship laden with flour, pork and English goods set sail from Salem, Mass., headed to Portland, Maine.

The ship encountered a fierce storm and never made it to its destination. Now a maritime archaeologist believes he may have solved the mystery.

Every few years, the remains of a shipwreck have surfaced on a beach in York, Maine. Its wooden hull, which is about 50 feet long, appeared in 1958 after a storm, and again in 1978, 2007 and 2013, capturing the interest of local residents and visitors to Short Sands Beach. The last time waves exposed its frame was in March 2018.

The Maine Historic Preservation Commission has said it believes the wreckage dates from the period between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. But the history and identity of the ship remained uncertain in York, a small resort town 45 miles south of Portland.

In 2018, after waves revealed the wreckage again, Mr. Claesson took wood samples from the hull plank and ship frame. The samples were tested at the Cornell University Tree-Ring Laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., to determine their age.

The analysis suggested that the trees that were felled had a ring date of about 1753.

“Of interest in this particular study was that three different species were used, two that are not commonly used in shipbuilding, that grow right here in New England and northeastern North America,” Carol B. Griggs, a senior research associate at the Tree-Ring Laboratory, said on Sunday.

Whether the ship is the Defiance or another vessel, it was built in 1753 or soon after, and most likely somewhere along the New England coast, she said.

After combing through historical and notary records, including a firsthand account he found at the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum in Rowley, Mass., Mr. Claesson learned that there was a sloop called the Defiance that had been wrecked in York in 1769.

He also found that a sloop with the same name “was coincidentally built in 1754 in Massachusetts, which fits well with out tree-ring dates of circa 1753,” he said.

Mr. Claesson said his research found that the Defiance was traveling from Salem and headed for Portland when it encountered a storm.

“They took anchor, but in heavy seas the crew was forced to cut the anchor cables, and were pushed ashore onto York Beach,” Mr. Claesson said. “The ship was a total loss, but the crew survived.”

“It would be great to have a chance to conduct a more detailed archaeological investigation to understand how the ship was designed and built, and confirm the identification as Defiance,” he said. “We may not have too many more opportunities to document marine architecture of this vintage, and tell the story of these early American seafarers.”


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Top Democrats Press Treasury to Accelerate Airline Bailout




WASHINGTON — Top Democratic lawmakers have urged Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to quickly provide American airlines with direct payroll assistance and to avoid insisting on overly restrictive terms that could deter companies from taking the money.

Major airlines began submitting their applications for government support to the Treasury Department on Friday but there is growing concern within the industry that Mr. Mnuchin will demand strict terms to ensure that taxpayers are compensated, such as large equity stakes in the companies. Some of the airlines, which have seen demand plummet as the coronavirus pandemic has stalled global travel, are wary of giving the government too much control over their businesses and accepting strict conditions tied to the aid.

Democrats fear that if Mr. Mnuchin drives too hard of a bargain, airlines will balk and lay off more workers. In a letter that was sent to Mr. Mnuchin on Sunday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that it would not be in the public interest if the airlines chose to declare bankruptcy.

“Assistance must not come with unreasonable conditions that would force an employer to choose bankruptcy instead of providing payroll grants to its workers,” they wrote in the letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times on Sunday.

The lawmakers said that they recognized the Treasury Department’s need to protect taxpayer money being used to bail out industries and to seek warrants — options to buy stock in a company — in exchange for government assistance. But they said that the administration must ensure that the companies commit to protecting workers, which was the intent of the law signed by President Trump. The letter was co-signed by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the banking committee, and Representative Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, the Democratic chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“We urge you to quickly and fairly enter into direct payroll assistance agreements with each of the carriers and contractors provided for in the law,” they said.

The $2 trillion economic stabilization package that Congress passed last month earmarked $25 billion in grants and another $25 billion in loans for the industry. Cargo carriers were also allocated $8 billion of grants and loans. Airlines are expected to maintain their staffing levels through the end of September if they accept the money.

Last week, the Treasury Department laid out the application process for airlines and asked them to propose how they would compensate the government for aid. Mr. Mnuchin is working with investment banks to help negotiate the terms and said last Thursday that he had selected PJT Partners to work with the airlines and Moelis & Company to focus on cargo carriers.

The department has been under pressure to ensure that taxpayer money is protected and that the government does not just hand a blank check to companies, especially those that have spent several years using their cash to engage in stock buybacks, which reward shareholders. Major airlines spent $19 billion repurchasing their own shares over the last three years.


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