Boeing, DARPA will base XS-1 experimental spaceplane at Cape Canaveral when it begins testing in a few years

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Boeing and DARPA will base the XS-1 experimental spaceplane at Cape Canaveral when it begins testing in a few years.

The XS-1 vehicle, known as Phantom Express, will launch vertically from an unspecified pad at Cape Canaveral and make a landing at one of two runways there.

Boeing already has facilities at the Kennedy Space Center for refurbishing the Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane between launches.

Boeing won a DARPA contract last month to develop the vehicle, designed to demonstrate a reusable first stage that, with an expendable upper stage, can launch medium-sized payloads inexpensively. [Spaceflight Now]


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A Soyuz rocket successfully launched a Progress cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station this morning. The Soyuz-2.1a rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:20 a.m. Eastern and placed the Progress MS-06 spacecraft into orbit. The spacecraft, carrying more than three tons of supplies and fuel, will dock with the station’s Zvezda module Friday morning. [NASA]

NASA is in the process of closing out its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) program. Agency officials said Tuesday that ARM is now in “an orderly closeout phase” after the administration announced plans to cancel the mission in its fiscal year 2018 budget proposal earlier this year. That closeout includes cancellation of selections of payloads and members of an investigation team for the mission that were announced last year. ARM would have sent a robotic spacecraft to a near Earth asteroid to grab a boulder and return it to lunar orbit to be visited by a crewed Orion mission. Many key technologies being developed for ARM, like solar-electric propulsion, will continue. [SpaceNews]

Boeing is reorganizing the management of its defense and space business, cutting 50 jobs in the process. The company announced Tuesday that Boeing Defense, Space & Security would break up its two current units, Boeing Military Aircraft and Network & Space Systems, into four smaller groups. The Space and Missile Systems unit, to be led by Jim Chilton, will include the company’s current space business, such as satellite manufacturing, ISS operations and the company’s stake in United Launch Alliance. The move is intended to streamline management of the business and be more responsive. [Bloomberg]

Orbcomm has acquired another company in its effort to transform from a satellite operator to a broader provider of hardware and tracking services. Orbcomm announced this week that it is buying inthinc, a Salt Lake City provider of vehicle telematics and driver safety products, for $35 million. The acquisition is the tenth by Orbcomm since 2012 as it expands its business into hardware, applications and device management. [SpaceNews]

Increased spending on space systems could be a casualty of defense budget negotiations. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned at a hearing this week that unless negotiations on a 2018 Pentagon budget start now, it’s likely the Defense Department will start the fiscal year on a continuing resolution, keeping funding at 2017 levels. That, and the threat of sequestration-related cuts, could jeopardize plans in the budget proposal to increase spending on space systems, including missile warning and GPS satellites. [SpaceNews]

World View’s next test flight of its stratospheric balloon system will carry an unconventional payload: a chicken sandwich. The company announced a deal with KFC Tuesday where the company will fly a “robotic bucket satellite” on its next high-altitude balloon test, scheduled for no earlier than June 21. KFC plans to use the flight to promote the chicken sandwich, while World View will use it to demonstrate technologies for its “stratollite” system that will allow communications and remote-sensing payloads to remain aloft for extended periods, performing missions normally conducted by satellites. [SpaceNews]

Virgin has named Dan Hart as CEO of its Virgin Orbit smallsat launch business. Hart joined Virgin Orbit as president earlier this year, and now additionally takes on the chief executive role as Virgin Orbit becomes a company independent of suborbital spaceflight company Virgin Galactic. Virgin Orbit is developing the LauncherOne air-launch system for small satellites. [Virgin Group]

The former head of the NASA transition team has taken a new job at the Pentagon. The Defense Department named Chris Shank as senior adviser to the secretary and under secretary of the Air Force, one of several appointments to senior positions announced Tuesday. Shank chaired the NASA transition team last fall for the incoming Trump administration before taking a position on the “beachhead team” at the Defense Department after the inauguration. [Defense Dept.]

The B612 Foundation is establishing an “Asteroid Institute” as it sets aside plans for a large space telescope. The foundation, devoted to planetary defense issues, is working with the University of Washington on the institute, supporting two postdoctoral fellows at the university to develop tools to track near Earth objects and assess their impact threats. The foundation has been best known for proposals for a space telescope called Sentinel to track such objects, but foundation leaders say they are no longer pursuing the project because of other efforts, like NASA’s proposed NEOCam mission. [GeekWire]

Weather again grounded the launch of a sounding rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Cloudy conditions scrubbed the planned launch Tuesday, the seventh time weather or range problems prevented the launch of the rocket. The mission requires clear skies at two observing sites in order to study artificial clouds the launch will create in the upper atmosphere. Because of an unfavorable weather forecast for tonight, NASA says the next launch opportunity will be Thursday evening. [NASA Wallops]

A Colorado airport may finally get its commercial spaceport license next year. The FAA visited Front Range Airport, east of Denver, on Tuesday, and said the facility could receive an FAA spaceport license by early next year. The airport has been promoting itself as “Spaceport Colorado” for several years, but said efforts to receive an FAA license have been a “lengthy process,” in part because of the need to coordinate airspace with nearby Denver International Airport. Even with the license, airport leaders say it will likely take five to eight years before commercial spaceplanes would be flying from the spaceport. [Denver Post]