North Korean satellite still silent but no longer tumbling


 The North Korean satellite launched Saturday is no longer tumbling, but is still not transmitting.

Initial reports from U.S. military sources said the Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite was tumbling, but unnamed sources now say the satellite’s orientation has stabilized.

There’s no confirmation, however, that the satellite is transmitting, which could suggest other problems with what North Korea claims is an Earth observation satellite. [Reuters]

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Blue Origin expects to start construction of a Florida rocket manufacturing plant this summer. The facility, announced in September, will be located just outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center and be used to build the company’s planned orbital launch vehicle. The company is also considering Florida for a future factory to build its BE-4 engines, but a company executive noted there are a number of other states vying for that factory. [Florida Today]

A Delta 4 rocket lifted off this morning carrying a classified satellite. The Delta 4 Medium-Plus (5,2) rocket launched at 6:40 a.m. Eastern from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on a mission for the National Reconnaissance Office known as NROL-45. The NRO has released no details about the payload, but outside observers believe it is a radar imaging intelligence satellite. The launch went into a news blackout common for NRO missions several minutes after liftoff. [Spaceflight Now]

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The Obama administration’s final budget proposal offers $19 billion for NASA in 2017, but with cuts in some key programs. The overall budget, $260 million below what NASA received in 2016, includes sharp decreases from 2016 levels for the Space Launch System and Orion. Agency officials said the proposed funding levels keep both programs on track for a first launch in 2018, followed by an initial crewed mission as soon as 2021, but some in industry and Congress decried the lower spending levels. The budget also offers $50 million for a Europa mission and recommends a funding profile that would push back its launch from a 2022 date set by Congress last year to the late 2020s. The budget does provide increases to space technology and to aeronautics, where NASA proposes a 10-year program to develop a new series of X-planes for subsonic and supersonic flight. [SpaceNews]

The Air Force’s budget request includes $1.2 billion over five years to develop a new launch system. Previous plans called for spending $208 million on a new liquid-fueled engine, but the 2017 budget proposal calls for the development of next-generation launch systems using a “shared-investment approach” with two or more U.S. companies. The budget includes long-range plans to develop “evolved” versions of the AEHF communications and SBIRS missile warning satellites. The Air Force proposal also increases spending on the GPS 3 ground segment, known as OCX, that has suffered delays and technical problems. [SpaceNews]

ViaSat offered new details about a $1.4 billion global broadband satellite system it plans to develop. The five-year effort calls for the construction of three ViaSat-3 Ka-band satellites that will provide inexpensive broadband services around the world, ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg said in a conference call with investors Tuesday. Boeing will build the satellites, which will be launched on Ariane 5 and Falcon Heavy rockets. ViaSat also announced that it was moving its ViaSat-2 satellite from a Falcon Heavy to an Ariane 5 launch in early 2017 due to uncertainties in the Falcon Heavy’s launch date. Meanwhile, ViaSat and Eutelsat will form a joint venture, with ViaSat paying nearly $150 million for a 49-percent stake in Eutelsat’s Ka-Sat business. [SpaceNews]

SES says it’s pleased SpaceX sacrificed a landing attempt back at Cape Canaveral on its next Falcon 9 launch to get its satellite into its final orbit faster. SES CEO Karim Michel Sabbagh said SpaceX’s willingness to abandon a landing attempt of the rocket’s first stage should result in accelerating the time it takes the all-electric SES-9 satellite to reach its final orbit. The exact time savings, he said, won’t be known until after the launch. SpaceX may still attempt a landing on a ship at sea, although with a lower probability of success. [SpaceNews]

Astronomers hope the third time is the charm for an advanced x-ray instrument on a Japanese satellite. The Astro-H spacecraft is scheduled for launch early Friday on an H-2 rocket. The spacecraft’s instruments include an advanced sensor called the Soft X-ray Spectrometer, designed to take high-resolution spectra of low-energy x-rays. A similar instrument was flown on the Astro-E mission in 2000 but was lost in a launch failure. It was also on the Suzaku spacecraft launched in 2005, where a problem with its helium coolant crippled the instrument just weeks after launch. [Nature]

Scientists and others hope to make an impact with Asteroid Day. The June 30 commemoration of the anniversary of the Tunguska explosion in Siberia will feature events around the world, including Austria, South Korea, Spain and the U.S. The European Space Agency is involved, as well as a group of scientists and advocates that includes Bill Nye, Chris Hadfield and Brian May. They hope to use Asteroid Day to raise global awareness about the potential impact risks posed by asteroids and what can be done to better understand and mitigate that threat. [ESA]

But there’s growing skepticism that a man in India was killed by a meteor impact. An explosion Saturday killed one person and injured three others on the grounds of a college, and officials almost immediately claimed the explosion was caused by a impact. Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer, said such an impact would be exceedingly rare, and suggested photos of the aftermath, which showed a very small crater, were more consistent with a “land based explosion.” Rock fragments local officials claimed were meteorites from the impact have been handed over to Indian scientists for analysis. [New York Times]