NASA’s top civil servant will lead the agency temporarily

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NASA’s top civil servant will, as expected, lead the agency on a temporary basis starting next Friday.

The agency confirmed Thursday that Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot will serve as acting administrator starting Jan. 20, when the current administrator and deputy administrator, Charles Bolden and Dava Newman, depart.

The transition team for the incoming Trump administration has also asked David Radzanowski, the agency’s current chief financial officer, to stay on in that role for at least the near term to provide continuity for NASA until new leadership is in place. [SpacePolicyOnline.com]

 


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Two astronauts are performing the second spacewalk in as many weeks to replace batteries on the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet started the spacewalk ahead of schedule, at 6:22 a.m. Eastern this morning. The two will continue work that Kimbrough and NASA’s Peggy Whitson did on a spacewalk one week ago, swapping out old batteries used in the station’s power supply with new ones delivered by a Japanese cargo spacecraft last month. [Spaceflight Now]

A rumored sale of Google’s Terra Bella satellite imaging company to Planet makes sense to industry observers. Neither Google nor Planet would confirm reports of discussions about a potential deal, where Google’s parent company, Alphabet, would take a stake in Planet. However, industry sources say that Planet would hire about 80 Terra Bella employees as part of the agreement, and also move its imaging processing system from Amazon Web Services to Google’s own cloud computing platform. An early investor in Planet said he didn’t have any knowledge of a deal, but that it would benefit Planet, giving the company access to higher-resolution imagery from Terra Bella’s satellites. [SpaceNews]

The person nominated to be the next Secretary of Transportation has not thought much about commercial space. At a confirmation hearing this week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked Elaine Chao if she believed the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, currently within the FAA, should become a separate office under the secretary, as it was when it was first established in the mid-1980s. Chao didn’t offer an opinion on the topic, but said she looked forward to getting briefed about it. [SpacePolicyOnline.com]

A NASA advisory panel says the agency should closely study the safety concerns associated with SpaceX’s fueling approach. The so-called “load and go” system, where SpaceX fuels the Falcon 9 rocket with supercooled propellants shortly before launch, has been criticized by some because it would require astronauts to be on board the rocket before fueling started, a departure from past practice. The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, in its annual report issued this week, said NASA should carefully study issues associated with the “dynamic thermal environment” of that fueling process before approving plans to use it on crewed launches. [SpaceNews]

Tweaks to export control rules have moved some more space-related items out of the jurisdiction of ITAR. The revised rules, published by the State and Commerce Departments this week, are tweaks to a major revision of the export control regime made in 2014. They include increasing the aperture limit for camera systems from 0.35 to 0.5 meters, an increase that is less than what industry sought. It also removes human-rating as a condition for keeping a spacecraft under ITAR, although such spacecraft may be retained on the list for other technology they contain. [SpaceNews]

Maritime satellite services and hardware provider KVH is upgrading its systems to take advantage of high-throughput satellites. Upgrades planned for this year will allow its systems to use high-throughput satellite systems in geostationary orbit, tripling connection speeds. KVH is also developing antennas to make use of planned low Earth orbit broadband constellations, in particular OneWeb. [SpaceNews]

Another expedition on “Mars” — or, rather, Hawaii — is about to begin. An eight-month simulated Mars mission in a habitat on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa will begin next week. Six scientists and engineers will live in the habitat to study how people live and work in a Mars-like environment. The experiment is the fifth for the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program, funded by NASA. [Space.com]