Russia open to keeping ISS going past 2024

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Russia is open to a potential extension of the International Space Station beyond 2024.

At a press conference during the Space Symposium, Igor Komarov, director general of Roscosmos, said he was ready to discuss an extension of the ISS to at least 2028.

He said that Russia wants to continue to have a presence in low Earth orbit and has been studying developing its own space station using modules from its segment of the ISS, but only as an alternative should the ISS not continue. [Reuters]

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The U.S. Air Force is creating a new leadership position for space to be filled by a three-star general. Gen. Jay Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, said Tuesday the new deputy chief of staff for space will be in charge of organizing space efforts and policy for the Air Force, similar to existing deputy chief of staff positions for operations and intelligence. Raymond, speaking at Space Symposium, said the Air Force was looking at ways to overhaul is acquisition system for space and make more use of the Operationally Responsive Space Office. [SpaceNews]

The U.S. military’s Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center is getting a new, and shorter, name. U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that the center, known as JICSpOC, has been renamed the National Space Defense Center. The center, based at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, brings together the Defense Department, intelligence community and commercial sector to address threats in space. The name change reduces any confusion with the Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, the Defense Department’s space command and control center. [SpaceNews]

The president of the French space agency CNES is hopeful that launches will resume from French Guiana soon. Jean-Yves Le Gall said Tuesday at Space Symposium that the French government is working “very hard” to resolve protests there that have suspended launch preparations at the Kourou spaceport. “I am very, very confident that we will resume with the launches in the coming days,” he said. The comments came the same day as a group of protestors staged a sit-in in a conference room at the spaceport. [SpaceNews / Advanced Television]

The return to flight of the Proton is now scheduled for late May. A Roscosmos spokesman said Tuesday that the first Proton launch since last June is scheduled for May 29, carrying a commercial communications satellite. Issues with upper stage engines on the Proton have delayed launches in recent months. Roscosmos said seven Proton launches, four government and three commercial, are planned for this year. [TASS]

A key House member called for the formation of a “Space Corps” that could eventually lead to a separate branch of the U.S. military. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said in a Space Symposium speech Tuesday that a Space Corps within the Air Force would ensure that space systems within the Air Force are led by people with expertise in them, and give those people more opportunities to rise through the ranks. Rogers said a transition process for creating a Space Corps, which could later lead to a separate military branch, could start in defense authorization bills this year and next. [SpaceNews]

The Falcon 9 first stage that launch and landed for a second time last week is back in Florida. The “drone ship” that hosted the landing of the first stage after its launch of the SES-10 satellite last Thursday returned to Port Canaveral early Tuesday. The stage, the first to be reflown by SpaceX, will be put on display in Florida in a location yet to be announced, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said after last week’s launch. [Orlando Sentinel]

The CEO of United Launch Alliance said that, despite SpaceX’s success, the “jury is still out” regarding reusability. Tory Bruno said that while SpaceX demonstrated a full first stage could be reused, it’s not yet clear what the best technical and economic approach to reusability is. ULA has been studying a different approach it may implement on its Vulcan vehicle, which would recover only the first stage engines. The Vulcan’s upper stage, ACES, could also be reused in space, becoming a tug or even a lunar lander. [Florida Today]

Russia has postponed the next launch of the Angara rocket until next year. Andrei Kalinovsky, head of the rocket’s manufacturer Khrunichev, said additional tests at a new production facility in the city of Omsk have delayed the next Angara mission to 2018. Meanwhile, the last launch of the Rockot small launch vehicle, also provided by Khrunichev, is planned for late 2017 or early 2018. That launch will place Europe’s Sentinel-3B Earth observation satellite into orbit. [TASS]

This month marks the beginning of the end for NASA’s Cassini mission. The spacecraft, orbiting Saturn since 2004, will start the “Grand Finale” phase of its mission April 22 with its last close approach to the planet’s largest moon, Titan. That will begin a series of ring-grazing orbits and close approaches to Saturn’s atmosphere, culminating with an entry into the atmosphere Sept. 15, ending the mission. NASA is ending Cassini’s mission since the spacecraft is running low on fuel and the agency wants to avoid the spacecraft crashing into, and contaminating, the potentially habitable moons of Titan and Enceladus. [Space.com]