China quietly replaces space agency chief

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The Chinese government has quietly appointed a new head of its space agency. 

The government named Tang Dengjie as administrator of the China National Space Administration shortly before the Global Space Exploration Conference held this week in Beijing.

Tang is a former vice-mayor of the Shanghai municipality and has no apparent experience in aerospace. [gbtimes]


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The Proton’s return to flight after a one-year hiatus was a success. The Proton’s Breeze-M upper stage deployed the EchoStar 21 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit Thursday, more than nine hours after liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The launch was the first for the Proton in almost exactly one year, a pause created by technical issues with the rocket. The 6,900-kilogram EchoStar 21, the heaviest geostationary satellite launched to date by a Proton, will operate at 10.25 degrees east to provide mobile satellite services in Europe. [SpaceNews]

The House Science Committee approved a bill intended to reform commercial space regulations. The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act streamlines commercial remote sensing regulations and sets up a certification system for non-traditional payloads. The committee approved three amendments that made minor changes to the bill. The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), offered an amendment that would have replaced the bill with an alternative regulatory approach, but withdrew the amendment during the markup session. The committee approved the bill on a voice vote. [SpaceNews]

Harris has won a $500 million contract to improve geospatial intelligence searching. The company won the contract from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in January, but did not announce the award until this week. The contract, valued at up to $500 million over five years, will help the NGA and other intelligence agencies manage, search, and use geospatial data acquired from satellites and other sources. [SpaceNews]

With its acquisition of DigitalGlobe, Canadian company MDA hopes to do more business with U.S. national security agencies. MDA had already drafted a “U.S. Access Plan” to increase its government business prior to announcing plans to acquire the commercial imaging company. MDA executives say that, with DigitalGlobe, they will be able to expand the variety of services they offer to government agencies. [SpaceNews]

SES believes it could build the world’s most powerful communications satellite, but that such a satellite would not be effective for its business. Andrew Ruszkowski, vice president of SES’s strategic initiatives in mobility, said at a conference Thursday that it could develop a very-high-throughput satellite, but that such a spacecraft “doesn’t make sense for our customers, nor for our business.” He said the company’s preferred approach was to develop spacecraft “as a part of a scalable constellation” sized to meet specific needs, such as aircraft connectivity. [SpaceNews]

NASA has selected three teams that will fly their cubesats on the first SLS mission as part of a prize competition. The agency awarded $20,000 each to Cislunar Explorers, CU-E3 and Team Miles, three teams in NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge. The three teams will build cubesats that will fly on the EM-1 mission, seeking part of a $5 million prize purse for deep space and lunar orbit achievements. [NASA]

Before the next flight of its most powerful rocket, India has several more launches on its manifest. The Indian space agency ISRO said the second launch of its GSLV Mark 3 rocket is planned for January 2018, after the successful inaugural launch of the vehicle earlier this week. Before then, ISRO plans two launches of earlier versions of the GSLV as well as three launches of its workhorse PSLV rocket, including one scheduled for June 28 carrying a Cartosat-2 satellite. [The Times of India]

Stratolaunch has named a veteran of NASA and SpaceX as its new head of propulsion. Jeff Thornburg joined Stratolaunch as vice president of propulsion last month, although the company only announced his hiring Thursday. Thornburg worked as senior director of propulsion engineering at SpaceX, responsible for the company’s Raptor engine, and before that was a lead propulsion engineer at NASA on the J-2X engine project. Stratolaunch has started ground tests of its giant carrier aircraft, but does not have a launch vehicle for it other than Orbital ATK’s Pegasus rocket. [Stratolaunch]

A Thales Alenia Space subsidiary is setting up a design center in Poland. The new facility, to be developed with Poland’s state-run defense group PGZ and the Warsaw University of Technology, will support Polish space projects. Those efforts include the country’s first Earth-observation satellite, still in the planning stages. [SpaceNews]

Scientists are interested in taking advantage of private space capabilities, but are still struggling to fund such projects. At a recent conference at Columbia University, scientists showed an interest in using commercial capabilities, which could offer faster and less expensive space missions. However, funding for private missions remains difficult to find, as private foundations that fund other scientific research are only now becoming aware of the potential for supporting space missions. [SpaceNews]

NASA’s former chief scientist says she is concerned about “fake information” being disseminated about climate change. Ellen Stofan, who left NASA at the end of last year, said Americans “are under siege by fake information that’s being put forward by people who have a profit motive” on climate change. “There’s this attitude of ‘I read it on the internet therefore it must be true.'” She added she was relieved that proposed cuts in NASA’s Earth science program in the 2018 budget proposal are relatively small. [The Guardian]