Russia delays next Soyuz, Progress launches to ISS
A Russian industry source said the launch of the Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft, previously scheduled for June 24, will be delayed to July 7 because of a “flaw” in the spacecraft’s control system that could cause the Soyuz to roll uncontrollably as it approaches the station.
The Soyuz will carry a crew of three people to the station. That delay, the report said, would push back the launch of a Progress cargo spacecraft from July 7 to July 17.
It’s not yet clear how the Soyuz delay would change plans to launch a Cygnus cargo mission, tentatively planned for early July, or a Dragon mission scheduled for July 16. [TASS]
Elon Musk believes SpaceX could launch humans to Mars as soon as 2024. Speaking at the Code Conference late Wednesday, Musk said a Mars mission architecture he plans to release in September calls for Mars mission in every launch window starting in 2018. If all goes according to plan, he said, a human mission could launch in 2024 and land there the following year. Musk also said that SpaceX plans to launch the first Falcon 9 with a reused first stage in two to three months, and make the first Falcon Heavy launch by the end of this year. [SpaceNews]
Kennedy Space Center plans to make available land for commercial launch sites or other development projects. The center will release a “notice of availability” Thursday for nearly 5,000 acres of property that the center has set aside for development in its master plan. That property includes areas designated for new launch sites, a solar power farm and research facilities. The notice of availability will remain open for two years. [Florida Today]
France’s space minister wants Europe to invest more in launch vehicle technology to keep up with investments in the U.S. and elsewhere. Thierry Mandon, who is responsible for space policy in the French Ministry of Education and Research, said that while SpaceX has made breakthroughs in recovering rockets, they have yet to demonstrate reusability, and thus there was an opportunity for Europe to remain competitive. He specifically promoted a French reusable engine project called Promethee, or Prometheus, that the French government has been seeking to expand into a European project. [SpaceNews]
The payload for the next Ariane 5 launch has been mated to the rocket. The Ariane 5 will launch the EchoStar 18 direct-to-home television satellite and BRIsat, a communications satellite for Bank Rakyat Indonesia, an Indonesian bank. Launch of the two satellites to geostationary transfer orbit is scheduled for June 8. [Spaceflight Now]
The head of Bigelow Aerospace says he’s proposed a lunar base to NASA using his company’s expandable modules. Robert Bigelow said the lunar base would be assembled in Earth orbit by combining several B330 modules with solar arrays and other systems, at which point it would be transferred to the moon and landed on the surface. Bigelow said that he hasn’t gotten a response from NASA to the idea, but added that they also haven’t rejected it, either. [KLAS-TV Las Vegas]
Scientists believe they understand the formation of a smooth, heart-shaped region on the surface of Pluto. The region, named Sputnik Planum, is devoid of any significant craters, indicating that it is very young. Scientists said that smooth surface, and polygon-shaped features on its surface, are evidence of convecting nitrogen ice, keeping the surface less than a million years old. That convection is likely driven by heat from the decay of radioactive elements in the planet’s interior. [BBC]
Spinning comets can break up, only to get back together again. A comet that spins fast enough, scientists argue, can cause pieces of its nucleus to break apart, but not fast enough to escape. The pieces then collapse back into a single nucleus, but in a different shape. That may explain the unusual, irregular shapes of some comet nuclei, like that of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which resembles a rubber duck. [SPACE.com]