SBIRS-3 launch delayed by satellite thruster doubts

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A thruster issue will delay the launch of a missile warning satellite until at least January.

In a statement Sunday, the U.S. Air Force said that it is studying any commonality between the main thruster on the SBIRS-3 satellite with those on two other spacecraft, thought to be the MUOS-5 and Intelsat-33e satellites, each of which experienced problems after launch in recent months.

Those studies will delay the SBIRS-3 launch on an Atlas 5 until no earlier than January. [Spaceflight Now]


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India successfully launched eight satellites on a PSLV early Monday. The PSLV lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 11:42 p.m. Eastern Sunday night and first released the SCATSAT-1 ocean wind data satellite 17 minutes after liftoff. Seven other satellites, including a technology demonstration satellite for commercial remote sensing company Black Sky, were then released over the next two hours after the upper stage moved into another orbit. The launch is the fifth this year for the PSLV, breaking a record of four launches of the vehicle in 2015; a sixth launch planned for late this year may slip into 2017. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX said Friday a “large breach” in the helium system in the Falcon 9’s second stage caused a pad explosion earlier this month. While investigators believe the breach in the liquid oxygen tank triggered the explosion, what caused the breach remains a mystery. SpaceX, in its first detailed update about the anomaly in three weeks, said investigators from the company, government and elsewhere in industry continue to pour over data. SpaceX did note that the failure was not linked to a June 2015 launch failure also associated with the helium pressurization system in the second stage. The company reiterated it hopes to resume Falcon 9 launches as soon as November. [SpaceNews]

The head of a key House subcommittee said he wants to carry out “major reform” to national security space. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, said last week he will seek those reforms in a fiscal year 2018 defense authorization act, warning that the military is not “organized and prepared to fight and win a war in space.” His subcommittee is holding a hearing on the issue Tuesday. [SpaceNews]

Experts argue that, contrary to widespread opinion, cubesats do not pose a significant orbital debris risk to larger spacecraft. Speaking at the AMOS conference in Hawaii last week, industry officials said that all but one cubesat launched to date has been tracked by the U.S. Air Force, allowing it to issue warnings of possible collisions. Cubesats accounted for only three of the 121 maneuvers larger spacecraft had to perform in 2014 to avoid a threatened collision. They advised cubesat operators, though, to follow debris mitigation guidelines, including staying in orbit for no more than 25 years after ending its mission. [SpaceNews]

 

The Japanese government will decide by the end of the year whether to provide funding to start work on a replacement for its Hitomi astronomy spacecraft. Funding for a Hitomi replacement is included in a budget request for the Japanese space agency JAXA submitted recently to Japan’s finance ministry, JAXA President Naoki Okumura said last week in a speech in Washington. Okumura said the Japanese Diet should act on that budget request by the end of the year. Hitomi, an X-ray astronomy satellite launched in February, failed in late March when it spun out of control because of a control system malfunction. [SpaceNews]

The world’s largest single-dish radio telescope is starting testing in China. The Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) formally started testing Sunday after an opening ceremony. The telescope, 500 meters in diameter, is far larger than the previous record-holder, the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico that is 305 meters across. The size of the observatory makes it potentially far more sensitive to faint radio signals. [BBC]

NASA is expected to announce new evidence today for liquid water below the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. A press briefing this afternoon will disclose the findings from the Hubble Space Telescope. Many believe the findings will be linked to plumes spotted by Hubble several years ago but not found in follow-up observations. Other lines of evidence, including observations by the Galileo mission, have led scientists to conclude an ocean of liquid water exists below the moon’s icy surface that could support life. [Seeker]

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson endorsed space settlement as a long-term solution to climate change. Johnson, interviewed by ABC Sunday, said humanity has to ultimately “inhabit other planets. The future of the human race is space exploration.” Johnson made those comments in response to a question about past comments where Johnson appeared to play down the threat of climate change. Johnson told the group ScienceDebate recently that “we welcome private participation and even dominance in space exploration” given the resources private ventures offer. [CNBC / ScienceDebate]

Legislation introduced last week would establish an Apollo 1 memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The bill, introduced by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), directs the Secretary of the Army, working with NASA, to establish a “memorial marker” for the Apollo 1 crew at the cemetery. Similar memorials are there for the astronauts lost on the Challenger and Columbia shuttle accidents. [collectSPACE]

Correction: an item earlier this month about the space-related comments and NASA hat worn by New England Patriots football player Martellus Bennett misidentified his position. He is a tight end, not a wide receiver. [ESPN]