China launches first cargo spacecraft on mission to test docking and refueling
A Long March 7 rocket lifted off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center at 7:41 a.m.Eastern and placed the Tainzhou-1 spacecraft into orbit.
The spacecraft, the first in a new line of spacecraft designed to eventually support a Chinese space station, will dock with the uncrewed Tiangong-2 laboratory module in orbit to test automated docking technologies and refueling of the lab module by the cargo spacecraft.
Tianzhou-1 also carries experiments it will perform for three months after completing initial docking and refueling tests. [gbtimes]
A Soyuz spacecraft is on its way to the International Space Station after a launch early Thursday. The Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Kazakhstan at 3:13 a.m. Eastern and placed the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft into its planned orbit. The spacecraft is carrying NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and Roscosmos cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin to the ISS. The Soyuz is scheduled to dock with the station about six hours after launch. This is the first Soyuz to carry only two people in more than a decade, as Russia temporarily reduces the size of its crew on the station from three to two. [CBS]
NASA is facing the prospect of five years of flat budgets without inflation adjustments, putting the pinch on research funding. At a microgravity research meeting Wednesday, Gale Allen, acting chief scientist at NASA, said the agency has been advised to expect those flat budgets for the next five years, which, without keeping pace with inflation, would result in an effective cut of $3.4 billion over that time. That, she warned, could put pressure on technology development and research programs, which she noted have traditionally been the “bankers” for other programs seeking funding in tough budget times. [SpaceNews]
Astronomers said Wednesday they have discovered an exoplanet that may be the most hospitable yet to life. The planet, LHS 1140b, is a rocky “super-Earth” about 1.4 times the diameter of the Earth, orbiting in the habitable zone of a star less than 40 light-years away. Scientists acknowledged that they don’t know for certain if the planet is habitable, since they lack information about any atmosphere it may have, but are planning follow-up observations using the Hubble Space Telescope and the future James Webb Space Telescope. [Space.com]
Astronaut Peggy Whitson will celebrate breaking a spaceflight record on the ISS Monday with a call from President Trump. The president, along with Ivanka Trump and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, plan to call Whitson Monday when she breaks the NASA record of 534 cumulative days in space. NASA and the Department of Education plan to encourage classrooms across the country to tune in to the call on NASA TV. [NASA]
A Canadian parliamentary committee is recommending to the government that it classify satellites as “critical infrastructure.” The report by the Canadian Senate’s Standing Committee on National Security and Defence said the country should work in partnership with the United States and other countries to secure satellites and radar facilities from “significant threats” by 2020. An example mentioned in the report is a malfunction of the Anik F2 satellite in 2011, which cut off much of the telecommunications capacity for the territory of Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic. [SpaceNews]
Luxembourg’s interest in space mining means it’s prospecting in Silicon Valley. A delegation from the country visited NASA’s Ames Research Center and companies in the area earlier this month. Luxembourg’s SpaceResources.lu initiative has 200 million euros to invest in space companies, and Étienne Schneider, deputy prime minister and economy minister, said a new space agency in the country, working with private capital, could invest 70-100-million euros more. Startups are particularly interested in that funding because the country is taking a long-term approach to its investments. [SpaceNews]
The Internet of Things poses a cybersecurity challenge for satellite systems. Each internet-connected device, security experts warn, provides a means of entry into a network. Satellite companies are also assessing the security of more traditional systems, like VSAT antennas, that can access satellite networks. Some companies have even said they have turned down business when customers proposed using equipment from an unnamed manufacturer the U.S. government cited as a potential threat. [SpaceNews]
Part of an Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) spacecraft will become Mongolia’s first communications satellite. ABS announced Wednesday that 12 transponders on the ABS-2A spacecraft would be co-branded as MongolSat-1, providing free nationwide television and other telecommunications services. ABS-2A, a Boeing 702SP, entered service earlier this year after a launch last year on a Falcon 9. [ABS]
A private group has selected two finalists in an effort to fly the first German woman in space. Die Astronautin is a project that seeks to fly a German woman to the ISS by 2020. At a ceremony in Berlin Wednesday, the project announced its two finalists: Nicola Baumann, a test pilot, and Insa Thiele-Eich, a meteorologist and daughter of German astronaut Gerhard Thiele. The two will begin training on a part-time basis later this year as the project rasies money to pay for a flight. [collectSPACE]