China ships Long March 7 to new spaceport for maiden flight


China has shipped a new launch vehicle to a new spaceport for a first launch next month.

The first Long March 7 rocket left by sea from the port city of Tianjin on Sunday, bound for the new Wenchang Space Launch Center on the island of Hainan.

That rocket is set to make its debut in late June, carrying a scale model of a reentry capsule for a next-generation crewed spacecraft. [gbtimes]

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A company that won a contract from the Canadian government for satellite-based ship tracking found it was worth far less than expected. The contract that exactEarth won, beating out Orbcomm, was originally expected to be worth $14.7 million over 18 months. Instead, the government determined it needed far less Automatic Identification Service (AIS) data than previously planned; the contract exactEarth won is reportedly worth less than $100,000 and runs through March. The company’s stock price fell by more than half on the Toronto Stock Exchange since the contract was awarded. [SpaceNews]

NASA has assigned both veteran and rookie astronauts to upcoming International Space Station missions. The agency said Friday that Scott Tingle, a member of the 2009 astronaut class yet to fly in space, will launch on a Soyuz mission in September 2017 with two Russian cosmonauts. Randy Bresnik, who flew on the STS-129 shuttle mission in 2009, will go to the station in November 2017. The assignments were part of selections of crews for ISS Expeditions 53 and 54, which include Russian, European, and Japanese crew members. [NASA]

The ongoing debate about the use of ICBM motors for commercial launches is a throwback to the 1990s. In the early 1990s, Lockheed and other companies proposed using retired ballistic missiles for commercial satellite launches. Opposing them was Orbital Sciences Corp., who argued the motors constituted government dumping that threatened its own launch vehicles. Orbital prevailed, and policy established by the Clinton Administration restricted the use of ICBM assets to government-sponsored missions. Today, Orbital ATK is leading the effort to revise that policy to allow the use of ICBM motors for commercial launches. [SpaceNews]

The National Park Service is raising concerns about a proposed spaceport in Georgia. In comments to the FAA, a Park Service official “strongly” recommended the consideration of other sites than one currently being studied along the Atlantic coast in Camden County. The Park Service is concerned about temporary or permanent closures of barrier islands along a national seashore in the area, as well as risks to visitors to the seashore from launches. Advocates of the spaceport said they were not worried about the issues raised by the Park Service, noting that other spaceports coexist with wildlife refuges and parks. [Brunswick (Ga.) News]

You don’t need clear skies to see Mercury cross the disk of the sun today. The planet started crossing the disk at 7:12 a.m. Eastern and will complete its passage at 2:42 p.m.  Such transits are relatively rare: the last was in 2006, and the next will be in three and a half years. Several webcasts will allow people to follow the transit, as Mercury appears as a small black dot on the disk of the sun. []

New Hampshire’s senators have introduced a bill to mint a coin in memory of Challenger astronaut Christa McAulliffe. The bill would direct the Treasury Department to release a $1 coin with McAullife’s likeness on it in recognition of the Challenger accident 30 years ago. Proceeds from sales of the coins would go to the FIRST robotics education program. Two Michigan representatives have introduce a companion bill in the House. [collectSPACE]

A major clothing retailer has revealed a gap in its knowledge about the space program. In one ad, Gap features an image of the space shuttle, with the words “1969: New Generation” superimposed on it. The problem, as many pointed out, is that the shuttle first flew in 1981, and the image Gap used likely came from a much later shuttle launch. The retailer, responding to a tweet from a journalist about the anachronism, said that 1969 referred to the date of Gap’s founding, but didn’t appear interested in changing the image to a rocket from that era. [Adweek]