NASA orders more flights from Boeing, SpaceX


NASA said Tuesday it was exercising options for additional commercial missions from Boeing and SpaceX.

The agency will order four additional flights from each company, bring the number of missions ordered from each to six.

The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts NASA awarded to each company in September 2014 guaranteed each company at least two missions, with options for up to six.

NASA noted that there is no funding provided yet for those additional missions, and that the awards are pending a successful certification of each company’s vehicle, which won’t be until 2018. [GeekWire]

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NASA will announce the winner, or winners, of its latest Discovery planetary science mission competition today. A 4 p.m. Eastern briefing is scheduled where NASA is expected to announce one, or possibly two, missions it will fly from five finalists. Those finalists include both Venus and asteroid missions. While NASA has traditionally selected only one Discovery mission at a time, agency officials have suggested in recent months it is considering selecting two, although when each mission would launch, and how they would fit into the agency’s budget, are unclear. [NASA]

An X-ray astronomy spacecraft will be the next mission in NASA’s Small Explorers program, the agency announced Tuesday. The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft will study black holes and other energetic phenomena by measuring how the X-rays they emit are polarized. The mission won out over two other finalists. The $188 million mission is scheduled for launch in late 2020. [SpaceNews]

The James Webb Space Telescope remains on track to resume vibration testing later this month, NASA confirmed Tuesday. A Dec. 3 test, designed to mimic the vibrations encountered during launch, shut down after instruments detected a “higher-than-expected response” at one frequency. Tests of the telescope structure have found no evidence of any damage. Reviews of the anomaly are in progress, and JWST’s program manager said plans continue to call for resuming vibration tests later this month. [NASA]

China plans to conduct nearly 30 launches in 2017. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation told state-run media in China Tuesdaythat those launches will include flights of the new Long March 5 and Long March 7 rocket. Key missions planned for launch in 2017 include the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission and the first flight of a Tianzhou cargo spacecraft to the Tiangong-2 lab module. China carried out 22 launches in 2016, a new national record and tied with the United States for the most launches in the year. [gbtimes]

The White House issued a new strategy Tuesday for dealing with the risks posed by near Earth objects (NEOs). The Detecting and Mitigating the Impacts of Earth-Bound Near-Earth Objects (DAMIEN) strategy, developed by an interagency working group, sets out a series of goals regarding the detection of NEOs, development of approaches for deflecting threatening NEOs and emergency procedures in the event of an impact. The strategy document will be followed by an action plan to be updated every three years. [SpacePolicyOnline]

The universe may have slightly less dark matter now than it did early in its history. Russian astrophysicists studied whether dark matter might be unstable and decay over time by examining data from ESA’s Planck mission. They concluded the Planck data could be best explained if the early universe had about two to five percent more dark matter than it does today, suggesting that a small amount of dark matter has decayed over time. The composition of dark matter, though, remains unknown. []

A new cup lets you drink just like astronauts on the space station. Spaceware, a side venture by Oregon-based IRPI, is selling cups based on a design developed by IRPI and NASA astronaut Don Pettit that could be used in microgravity. The cup’s unique shape makes use of capillary flow to allow an astronaut to sip from the cup despite the absence of gravity. Spaceware is selling a $75 version of the cup made from porcelain, as well as a $500 3D-printed flight-certified version. The cups have one difference from those used on the space station: the addition of a base so you can set the cup down. [collectSPACE]