Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reached space on Sunday, eight months after the first demonstration flight of its air-launched rocket system failed, the company said.
A 70-foot-long (21.34-meter-long) LauncherOne rocket was released from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 carrier aircraft off the coast of Southern California, ignited moments later and soared toward space.
The two-stage rocket carried a cluster of very small satellites known as CubeSats developed and built as part of a NASA educational program involving U.S. universities.
The launch occurred after the Boeing 747-400 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and flew out over the Pacific Ocean to a drop point beyond the Channel Islands.
“According to telemetry, LauncherOne has reached orbit!” Virgin Orbit tweeted later. “Everyone on the team who is not in mission control right now is going absolutely bonkers.”
The rocket’s upper stage coasted for a period, reignited to circularize the orbit and then deployed the nine CubeSats.
The flight developments were announced on social media. The launch was not publicly livestreamed.
Virgin Orbit, based in Long Beach, California, is part of a wave of companies targeting the launch market for increasingly capable small satellites, which may range in sizes comparable to a toaster on up to a home refrigerator.
Competitor Rocket Lab, also headquartered in Long Beach, has deployed 96 payloads in 17 launches of its Electron rocket from a site in New Zealand. Another of its rockets was nearing launch Sunday.
Virgin Orbit touts the flexibility of its capability to begin its missions by using airports around the globe.
Virgin Orbit attempted its first demonstration launch in May 2020.
Also read: New Chinese satellite enters assembly stage
The rocket was released and ignited but only briefly flew under power before it stopped thrusting. The lost payload was only a test satellite.
The company later said an investigation determined there was a breach in a high-pressure line carrying cryogenic liquid oxygen to the first-stage combustion chamber.
Virgin Orbit is separate from Virgin Galactic, the company founded by Branson to carry passengers on suborbital hops in which they will experience the sensations and sights of spaceflight.
Virgin Galactic expects to begin commercial operations this year in southern New Mexico.
President-elect Joe Biden will deliver an appeal to national unity when he is sworn in Wednesday and plans immediate moves to combat the coronavirus pandemic and undo some of President Donald Trump’s most controversial policies, his incoming chief of staff said Sunday.
Biden intends a series of executive actions in his first hours after his inauguration, an opening salvo in what is shaping up as a 10-day blitz of steps to reorient the country without waiting for Congress, aide Ron Klain said.
Klain told CNN's “State of the Union” that Biden, in his inaugural address to the nation, will deliver "a message of moving this country forward. A message of unity. A message of getting things done.”
Biden will end Trump’s restriction on immigration to the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries, move to rejoin the Paris climate accord and mandate mask-wearing on federal property and during interstate travel. Those are among roughly a dozen actions Biden will take on his first day in the White House, incoming chief of staff Ron Klain said Saturday in a memo to senior staff.
Other actions include extending the pause on student loan payments and actions meant to prevent evictions and foreclosures for those struggling during the pandemic.
“These executive actions will deliver relief to the millions of Americans that are struggling in the face of these crises,” Klain said in the memo. “President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward.”
Incoming White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said Biden would use his address to the American people to appeal to those frustrated by the rancor of Washington and to explain how his administration will tackle the nation's challenges.
“I think you can expect that this will be a moment where President-elect Biden will really work to try to turn the page on the divisiveness and the hatred over the last four years and really lay out a positive, optimistic vision for the country, and lay out a way -- lay out a path forward that really calls on all of us to work together," she told “Fox News Sunday.”
Despite the flurry of expected executive action, "full achievement” of Biden’s goals will require Congress to act, Klain said memo, and that includes the $1.9 trillion virus relief bill that Biden outlined last Thursday. Klain said that Biden would also propose a comprehensive immigration bill to lawmakers on his first day in office.
Some lawmakers have already balked at the aid bill's price tag, and immigration overhaul efforts over the past decade and a half have all stalled in Congress. Still, Klain expressed optimism.
“I think there are people in both parties we can work with to move this agenda forward," Klain said Sunday, noting voters elected a 50-50 Senate, where Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will serve as the tie-breaking vote. “We’re going to have to find ways to get Democrats and Republicans to work together to get things done.”
Providing a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally will be part of Biden's agenda, according to people briefed on his plans.
Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum and among those briefed, said immigrants would be put on an eight-year path. There would be a faster track for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields people from deportation who came to the U.S. as children, and for those from strife-torn countries with temporary status.
On Thursday, the new president's second day in office, Biden would sign orders related to the COVID-19 outbreak aimed at reopening schools and businesses and expanding virus testing, Klain said. The following day, Friday, will see action on providing economic relief to those suffering the economic costs of the pandemic.
In the following week, Klain said, Biden would take additional actions relating to criminal justice reform, climate change and immigration — including a directive to speed the reuniting of families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump’s policies.
More actions will be added, Klain said, once they clear legal review.
Incoming presidents traditionally move swiftly to sign an array of executive actions when they take office. Trump did the same, but he found many of his orders challenged and even rejected by courts.
Klain maintained that Biden should not suffer similar issues, saying “the legal theory behind them is well-founded and represents a restoration of an appropriate, constitutional role for the President.”
The death toll from tribal violence between Arabs and non-Arabs in Sudan’s West Darfur province climbed to at least 83, including women and children, a doctor’s union and aid worker said, as sporadic violence continued Sunday.
The deadly clashes grew out of a fistfight Friday between two people in a camp for displaced people in Genena, the provincial capital. An Arab man was stabbed to death and his family, from the Arab Rizeigat tribe, attacked the people in the Krinding camp and other areas Saturday.
Among the dead was a U.S. citizen. Saeed Baraka, 36, from Atlanta, had arrived in Sudan less than two months ago to visit his family in Darfur, his wife, Safiya Mohammed, told The Associated Press over the phone.
The father of three children rushed to relieve a neighbor amid the clashes in the Jabal village in West Darfur, when he was shot in his head Saturday, his brother-in-law Juma Salih said.
Baraka's wife said the U.S. embassy in Khartoum phoned her to offer condolences. The embassy did not return phone calls and emails from the AP seeking comment.
The violence led to local authorities imposing a round-the-clock curfew on the entire province. Besides the 83 killed, at least 160 others were wounded, according to Sudan’s doctors’ committee in West Darfur. It said there were troops among the wounded.
It said clashes subsided by midday on Sunday and the security situation started to improve.
The committee is part of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which spearheaded a popular uprising that eventually led to the military's ouster of longtime autocratic president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.
The clashes pose a challenge to efforts by Sudan’s transitional government to end decades-long rebellions in areas like Darfur, where most people live in camps for the displaced and refugees.
Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy and is being ruled by a joint military-civilian government.
That bout of violence came two weeks after the U.N. Security Council ended the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force’s mandate in the region. The UNAMID force, established in 2007, is expected to complete its withdrawal by June 30.
It also puts into question the transitional government’s ability to stabilize the conflict-ravaged Darfur region.
Salah Saleh, a physician and former medical director at the main hospital in Genena, said clashes renewed Sunday morning at the Abu Zar camp for internally displaced people, south of the provincial capital.
He said most of the victims were shot dead, or suffered gunshot wounds.
Adam Regal, a spokesman for a local organization that helps run refugee camps in Darfur, said there were overnight attacks on Krinding. He shared footage showing properties burned to the ground, and wounded people on stretchers and in hospital beds.
Also read:Over 60 killed in Sudan violence: UN
Authorities in West Darfur imposed a curfew beginning Saturday that includes the closing of all markets and a ban on public gatherings. The central government in Khartoum also said Saturday a high-ranking delegation, chaired by the country’s top prosecutor, was heading to the province to help re-establish order.
A database by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, showed that inter-communal violence across Darfur region doubled in the second half of 2020, with at least 28 incidents compared to 15 between July and December 2019.
West Darfur province experienced a “significant increase” of violence last year, with half of the 40 incidents reported in the entire Darfur region, OCHA said Sunday.
From “emaciated” refugees to crops burned on the brink of harvest, starvation threatens the survivors of more than two months of fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
The first humanitarian workers to arrive after pleading with the Ethiopian government for access describe weakened children dying from diarrhea after drinking from rivers. Shops were looted or depleted weeks ago. A local official told a Jan. 1 crisis meeting of government and aid workers that hungry people had asked for “a single biscuit.”
More than 4.5 million people, nearly the region's entire population, need emergency food, participants say. At their next meeting on Jan. 8, a Tigray administrator warned that without aid, “hundreds of thousands might starve to death” and some already had, according to minutes obtained by The Associated Press.
“There is an extreme urgent need — I don’t know what more words in English to use — to rapidly scale up the humanitarian response because the population is dying every day as we speak,” Mari Carmen Vinoles, head of the emergency unit for Doctors Without Borders, told the AP.
But pockets of fighting, resistance from some officials and sheer destruction stand in the way of a massive food delivery effort. To send 15-kilogram (33-pound) rations to 4.5 million people would require more than 2,000 trucks, the meeting's minutes said, while some local responders are reduced to getting around on foot.
The specter of hunger is sensitive in Ethiopia, which transformed into one of the world's fastest-growing economies in the decades since images of starvation there in the 1980s led to a global outcry. Drought, conflict and government denial contributed to the famine, which swept through Tigray and killed an estimated 1 million people.
The largely agricultural Tigray region of about 5 million people already had a food security problem amid a locust outbreak when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Nov. 4 announced fighting between his forces and those of the defiant regional government. Tigray leaders dominated Ethiopia for almost three decades but were sidelined after Abiy introduced reforms that won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict. More than 50,000 have fled into Sudan, where one doctor has said newer arrivals show signs of starvation. Others shelter in rugged terrain. A woman who recently left Tigray described sleeping in caves with people who brought cattle, goats and the grain they had managed to harvest.
“It is a daily reality to hear people dying with the fighting consequences, lack of food,” a letter by the Catholic bishop of Adigrat said this month.
Hospitals and other health centers, crucial in treating malnutrition, have been destroyed. In markets, food is “not available or extremely limited,” the United Nations says.
Though Ethiopia's prime minister declared victory in late November, its military and allied fighters remain active amid the presence of troops from neighboring Eritrea, a bitter enemy of the now-fugitive officials who once led the region.
Fear keeps many people from venturing out. Others flee. Tigray’s new officials say more than 2 million people have been displaced, a number the U.S. government’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance calls “staggering.” The U.N. says the number of people reached with aid is “extremely low.”
A senior Ethiopian government official, Redwan Hussein, did not respond to a request for comment on Tigray colleagues warning of starvation.
In the northern Shire area near Eritrea, which has seen some of the worst fighting, up to 10% of the children whose arms were measured met the diagnostic criteria for severe acute malnutrition, with scores of children affected, a U.N. source said. Sharing the concern of many humanitarian workers about jeopardizing access, the source spoke on condition of anonymity.
Near Shire town are camps housing nearly 100,000 refugees who have fled over the years from Eritrea. Some who have walked into town "are emaciated, begging for aid that is not available,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Thursday.
Food has been a target. Analyzing satellite imagery of the Shire area, a U.K.-based research group found two warehouse-style structures in the U.N. World Food Program compound at one refugee camp had been “very specifically destroyed.” The DX Open Network could not tell by whom. It reported a new attack Saturday.
It's challenging to verify events in Tigray as communications links remain poor and almost no journalists are allowed.
In the towns of Adigrat, Adwa and Axum, “the level of civilian casualties is extremely high in the places we have been able to access,” the Doctors Without Borders emergency official Vinoles said. She cited the fighting and lack of health care.
Hunger is “very concerning," she said, and even water is scarce: Just two of 21 wells still work in Adigrat, a city of more than 140,000, forcing many people to drink from the river. With sanitation suffering, disease follows.
“You go 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city and it’s a complete disaster,” with no food, Vinoles said.
Humanitarian workers struggle to gauge the extent of need.
“Not being able to travel off main highways, it always poses the question of what’s happening with people still off-limits,” said Panos Navrozidis, Action Against Hunger’s director in Ethiopia.
Before the conflict, Ethiopia’s national disaster management body classified some Tigray woredas, or administrative areas, as priority one hotspots for food insecurity. If some already had high malnutrition numbers, “two-and-a-half months into the crisis, it’s a safe assumption that thousands of children and mothers are in immediate need," Navrozidis said.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, funded and managed by the U.S., says parts of central and eastern Tigray are likely in Emergency Phase 4, a step below famine.
The next few months are critical, John Shumlansky, the Catholic Relief Services representative in Ethiopia, said. His group so far has given up to 70,000 people in Tigray a three-month food supply, he said.
Asked whether combatants use hunger as a weapon, one concern among aid workers, Shumlansky dismissed it by Ethiopian defense forces and police. With others, he didn’t know.
“I don’t think they have food either, though,” he said.
By the busload and planeload, National Guard troops were pouring into the nation’s capital on Saturday, as governors answered the urgent pleas of U.S. defense officials for more troops to help safeguard Washington even as they keep anxious eyes on possible violent protests in their own states.
Military leaders spent chunks of Thursday evening and Friday calling states in an unprecedented appeal for more National Guard troops to help lock down much of the city in the days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. In dribs and drabs, governors responded, some agreeing to send an extra dozen, 100 or even 1,000, while others said no.
The calls reflect fears that violent extremist groups are targeting the city in the wake of the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The threats range from armed insurgents to possible attempts to plant explosive devices at so-called soft targets. But as Washington begins to resemble an armed camp, with more than 25,000 Guard due in the city by early next week, concerns about violence at state capitals has grown.
Troops walk behind security fencing on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Washington as security is increased ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she turned down the federal request to send at least 100 more National Guard troops to D.C. “I didn’t think that we could safely fill that commitment,” Brown said. Oregon has already agreed to send 30 to Washington, but state leaders are worried about violence at the state capitol in Salem.
Others agreed, setting off a dizzying torrent of military flights and convoys into the region.
“The peaceful transfer of power is a central tenet of American democracy, and Connecticut stands ready to aid in the protection of our country.” said Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who had initially approved sending 100 Guard and on Friday agreed to send 200 more.
All told, more than 130 U.S. Air Guard flights in the past 72 hours have carried at least 7,000 Guard troops to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, according to U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal numbers. Thousands more are in buses and military trucks, thundering up highways toward Washington.
With the U.S. Capitol in the background, troops are let through a security gate on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Washington as security is increased ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Army Gen. Dan Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, called adjutants general around the country, and others, such as Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, called governors to seek help. McCarthy praised the states, saying defense and military officials are keenly aware of the threats they also are facing.
“The governors and the TAGs have been great. They helped us a lot,” McCarthy told The Associated Press. “That’s the thing — that in the midst of a really horrible situation you’re seeing the greatness of this country, everybody coming together and help each other get through this.”
What began in early January as a routine deployment of about 350 members of the D.C. National Guard to help with expected protests exploded over the past two weeks into a vastly greater operation to protect the inauguration and the U.S. Capitol, and to shut down access to the city and many of its historical monuments.
The U.S. Capitol is seen through security fencing on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Washington as security is increased ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
As protesters stampeded their way into the Capitol on Jan. 6, only a bit more than 100 National Guard were scattered around the city, guarding checkpoints and Metro entrances. Hours later, five people were dead, the Capitol was in shambles and all 1,100 of D.C.’s Guard had been activated.
By the next day, as information came in about more violence being planned, requests went out for 6,200 Guard members from the surrounding states.
By Thursday night, as law enforcement and defense officials poured over maps and staged security drills, they concluded they would need at least 25,000 to adequately lock down the Capitol grounds and a wide swath of D.C., including the National Mall. And they agreed that the bulk of those Guard will be armed.
At that point, the new round of calls to the state governors and military leaders began.
Many governors were willing to help, but they made it clear that their own state capitals were their priority. Some agreed to send more, while others couldn’t. And the numbers varied widely.
With the U.S. Capitol in the background, members of the National Guard change shifts as they exit through anti-scaling security fencing on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Washington as security is increased ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf doubled his initial commitment of 1,000 to 2,000. Other states were able to scrape up an additional dozen.
After reviewing the threats to its own state, Minnesota decided it could significantly increase its contribution and will send 850 Guard rather than the 130 initially tapped to go, according to the state’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine had already agreed to send 700. On Friday, he announced he’d be sending 300 more — even as he ordered nearly 600 to secure the Ohio statehouse in Columbus. Similarly, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper initially agreed to send 200 Guard, and on Friday spokesman Ford Porter said the state will send 100 more. Iowa first said it was sending 250 and now the number is 265.
The vast military response comes as Congress and law enforcement authorities are trying to figure out how the U.S. Capitol was overrun so dramatically on Jan. 6. Leaders of four committees in the Democratic-controlled House sent a letter Saturday requesting briefings and documents from the FBI and other federal agencies as part of their review of the insurrection.
The appeals for more of America’s citizen soldiers also underscore the Pentagon’s limits on the use of active-duty troops. Under the law, they can’t be used for law enforcement, and officials are intent on avoiding the appearance of armed active-duty forces being used against U.S. citizens on American soil.
Active-duty forces are routinely prepared to respond to emergencies in Washington, such as flight violations in restricted airspace over D.C., and a quick reaction force is always on standby. Other active-duty units will take part in various inaugural ceremonies.