Bridenstine emerging as leading candidate for next NASA administrator

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Congressman Jim Bridenstine is emerging as the leading candidate to be the next NASA administrator.

Bridenstine, an Oklahoma Republican active on space issues in the House, has reportedly talked with Vice President-elect Mike Pence about the position, although no final decision has been made by the transition team.

Bridenstine’s name has been under discussion for the position since immediately after the election, along with several other individuals.

An announcement could come as early as this week, although that could be subject to delays. [Wall Street Journal]


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SpaceX plans to resume Falcon 9 launches on Sunday after completing its investigation into a September pad explosion. The company announced Monday that its study of the explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 during preparations for a static-fire test Sept. 1 found buckles in the aluminum liners of composite overwrapped pressure vessels that store helium in the liquid oxygen tank of the rocket’s upper stage. Liquid oxygen then pooled in the gaps between the liner and the carbon overwrap, causing the tanks to fail. The company said it’s mitigating the problem in the near term by using warmer helium, and in the long term will redesign the pressure vessels. SpaceX said it plans to resume launches of the Falcon 9 with a Sunday launch of 10 Iridium Next satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, provided the FAA concurs with the investigation’s outcome and issues a launch license. [SpaceNews]

Teams competing for the Google Lunar X Prize will have to wait until later this month to find out if they’ll be able to continue in the competition. The deadline for the X Prize Foundation to verify launch contracts, a step required for teams to continue in the race to the moon, was Saturday. However, the foundation isn’t expected to announce until later in the month which teams made the cut beyond the five who already have verified contracts. Two of the 16 teams, Astrobotic and Team PuliSpace, have said they will not be continuing in the competition since they were not planning to get launch contracts by the deadline. The fate of the remaining teams, including one, PT Scientists, who announced a contract in November, remains unclear. [SpaceNews]

China is moving ahead with plans for its own lunar landing mission in 2017. The Chang’e-5 spacecraft, expected to launch in the second half of the year, will be China’s second lunar lander and the first to attempt to return lunar samples to Earth. State media recently showed progress on the development of the spacecraft for the Chang’e-5 mission, and indicated that scientists had selected a landing site for the spacecraft, but did not disclose its location. [gbtimes]

A Brazilian satellite manufacturer is looking for new work as it completes its first major satellite. Visiona Tecnologia Espacial has been working with Thales Alenia Space on the SGDC communications satellite for the Brazilian government, which is scheduled for launch on an Ariane 5 in March. While waiting for the government to decide whether to proceed with a second such satellite, Visiona is considering development of an Earth observation smallsat, while also building up its business as a reseller of imagery from other satellites. [SpaceNews]

NASA is starting preparations for a pair of spacewalks to swap out batteries on the International Space Station. Controllers started work this weekend on the effort, using the station’s robotic arm to start moving into position new lithium-ion batteries brought to the station last month on a Japanese cargo spacecraft. Astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson will perform a spacewalk Friday to continue the installation of the new batteries, with a second spacewalk by Kimbrough and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet a week later to help finish up the work. [CBS]

DataPath has won a contract to provide satellite communications services for the U.S. Army. The Global Tactical Advanced Communication Systems contract, valued at more than $360 million over four and a half years, covers hardware and software support for terminals used in the field to provide satellite communications. The contract is a major win for DataPath, which has been working to rebuild its business since being spun off from Rockwell Collins in 2014. [SpaceNews]

NASA’s aging Mars Odyssey orbiter went into safe mode last week. JPL said that the spacecraft, which has been in orbit around Mars since October 2011, went into safe mode Dec. 26 but remained in contact with controllers. A problem with the spacecraft’s knowledge of its orientation with respect to the sun and Earth triggered the safe mode, and controllers expected full operations of the spacecraft to resume this week. [NASA/JPL]

World View Enterprises has moved into its new headquarters and “spaceport” in Tucson, Arizona. A ceremony last week marked completion of the facility that will serve as the headquarters and factory for World View, which develops high-altitude balloons for research and other applications, and eventually tourism. A concrete pad adjacent to the building, dubbed Spaceport Tucson, will serve as a launch site for those balloons. The company is leasing the building from Pima County, which said it completed the structure under its planned cost of $15 million. [Arizona Daily Star]

A new road to Spaceport America is one step closer to being built.Commissioners in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, have approved plans to upgrade an existing dirt road that promises to shorten the travel time to the facility from Las Cruces, the nearest major city. Pending final approvals, work to upgrade the road to an all-weather gravel, but not paved, surface could start later this year. The improvement of the so-called “southern road” had long been a priority for the spaceport, but was delayed by funding issues and a long environmental assessment process. [Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News]