Countdown underway for launch of Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle late tonight


The countdown is underway for a launch of a Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) late tonight.

The PSLV is scheduled to lift off at 11:59 p.m. Eastern tonight carrying a Cartosat-2 remote-sensing satellite.

Also on board will be 30 smallsat secondary payloads from 15 countries, including the United States. [PTI]

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SES says its malfunctioning AMC-9 satellite does not pose a risk to other satellites in geostationary orbit. The spacecraft, which suffered a “significant anomaly” June 17, is slowly drifting westward in GEO on a stable and predictable trajectory, and does not pose a collision hazard to nearby satellites. The spacecraft is being tracked by SES and others, including the Space Data Association, who says it will notify other satellite operators should AMC-9 come close to their satellites. [SpaceNews]

Airbus will be the first commercial customer for the Vega-C launch vehicle. Airbus signed a contract this week for two Vega-C launches, each carrying two Earth-imaging satellites. Those launches are scheduled for mid-2020. Vega-C is an upgraded version of the existing Vega small launch vehicle, whose first launch is planned for 2019. [SpaceNews]

Smallsats could provide an insurance policy for larger national security space systems. During a panel discussion Wednesday, advocates for small satellites and small launch vehicles argued that such systems could deter attacks on larger systems in the event of a conflict, or supplement or replace them as needed. Those systems could be developed for one to two percent of current investment in national security space systems. Smallsats have long been proposed as a responsive solution for national security, but panelists said increasing capabilities of smallsats make that approach more feasible than ever. [SpaceNews]

Luxembourg has signed an agreement with the European Space Agency on space resources. The agreement, signed this week at the Paris Air Show, will include a feasibility assessment and analysis of technical maturity by ESA of asteroid exploration and utilization. Luxembourg, an ESA member state, has its own space resources initiative, funding investment in asteroid mining companies and other efforts to support the field. [Government of Luxembourg]

China’s Tianzhou-1 spacecraft has undocked for a second time from the Tiangong-2 module. The spacecraft, the first in a series of cargo spacecraft intended to support a future Chinese space station, undocked Wednesday, after undocking, flying around, and redocking with the module earlier in the week. Tianzhou-1 will fly free for three months, performing experiments and releasing a cubesat before docking with Tiangong-2 for a final time. [Xinhua]

The launch of a space surveillance satellite has been postponed by up to two months. The launch of the SensorSat spacecraft on a Minotaur 4, previously scheduled for mid-July from Cape Canaveral, is now planned for some time between the end of August and mid-September. SensorSat, also known as ORS-5, is a mission by the Operationally Responsive Space office to track satellites and other objects in geostationary orbit. The Air Force did not disclose the reason for the delay. [Spaceflight Now]

Astrobotic, a company developing commercial lunar landers, has signed a partnership to provide high-speed communications. Astrobotic will carry a laser communications payload from Atlas Space Operations, allowing its lunar lander to transmit data at up to one gigabit per second. Astrobotic, a former competitor for the Google Lunar X Prize, is developing a lunar lander for an “upcoming” mission. [Astrobotic]

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is able to target rocks for study on its own. A software upgrade to the rover last year incorporated a new autonomous targeting capability, allowing the rover to identify suitable rocks and even automatically firing a laser to vaporize a layer of that rock to study its composition. That system has a 93-percent accuracy despite using a relatively low-powered computer on the rover. [Wired]

New studies offer conflicting assessments on the presence of additional planets in the outer solar system. One survey has found a number of additional objects in highly elongated orbits in the outer solar system, raising doubts that a previous cluster of such bodies were put into those orbits by the presence of a ninth planet. A separate study, though, suggests there is a ninth — or tenth — planet in the outer solar system based on the warping of orbits of Kuiper Belt objects. Searches have not, so far, directly detected any planet-sized objects in the outer reaches of the solar system. [Science / New Scientist]