Trump expected to announce support for Ex-Im Bank
It’s unclear what Trump will say regarding the export credit agency in the speech, at a Boeing factory in South Carolina, but may involve nominations to the bank’s board to re-establish a quorum.
Boeing relies on Ex-Im for financing airliner exports, but the space industry has also made significant use of the bank in recent years to finance commercial satellite and launch deals.
Ex-Im has been unable to approve any deal worth more than $10 million because of a lack of a board quorum. [Bloomberg]
NASA will study putting astronauts on the first launch of its Space Launch System vehicle. NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said Wednesday that the agency will examine what would be required to turn the EM-1 mission, currently planned not to carry people, into a crewed mission. That work would likely push back the launch, currently scheduled for late 2018, but would still be before EM-2, the first crewed mission under current plans, scheduled for no earlier than mid-2021. The study will examine what’s needed to get both SLS and Orion ready to support crews for EM-1. [SpaceNews]
Iridium announced Wednesday the launch of its second batch of next-generation satellites will be delayed by two months. The company said a backlog in SpaceX’s manifest of missions means its second launch of 10 Iridium Next satellites, previously planned for mid-April, is now set for mid-June. Iridium expects the six launches after that to take place every two months, with the complete system in orbit by the middle of 2018. The first 10 Iridium Next satellites, launched in January, are completing in-orbit tests ahead of schedule and should enter service in the coming days. [SpaceNews]
SpaceX’s next launch, set for Saturday, could face weather delays. Forecasts call for a 50 percent chance of acceptable weather Saturday morning for the Falcon 9 launch of a Dragon cargo spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A, improving to 70 percent on Sunday. The launch will be the first for SpaceX from the historic pad, previously used by the Apollo and shuttle programs. SpaceX has yet to receive an FAA launch license for the mission, however. [Spaceflight Now]
The government of Luxembourg will seek to restore funding for a European asteroid mission. Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg’s deputy prime minister and minister of the economy, said at a press conference this week for the upcoming “Asteroid Day” event that he will lobby German and other officials about the Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), which ESA did not fund at its December ministerial meeting. The industry team working on AIM has been refining the mission concept to address concerns about reliability and schedule raised by ESA members. AIM would travel to the near Earth asteroid Didymos and study the asteroid and its moon, and also observe the impact of a separate NASA spacecraft with the moon as a demonstration of planetary defense technologies. [SpaceNews]
Rocket Lab’s first Electron launch vehicle has arrived at its New Zealand launch site in preparation for a test launch. The rocket will undergo tests at the launch site, on Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island, prior to a test flight “in the coming months.” Rocket Lab, a U.S.-headquartered company with its operations primarily in New Zealand, has been developing the Electron for several years to provide dedicated launches for small satellites. [New Zealand Herald]
Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey will be the top Democrat on the Senate’s space subcommittee. Markey was named the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on space, science and competitiveness Wednesday. Markey has not been active on space issues, but has made climate and the environment key topics of interest. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who was ranking member of the subcommittee in the previous Congress, will also serve on the subcommittee. The subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). [SpaceNews]
Poland plans to get into the satellite manufacturing business. Polish company SatRevolution S.A. has announced plans to establish a satellite manufacturing plant in the country to build smallsats. SatRevolution plans to establish the factory near the city of Wroclaw, and is in talks with investors to raise the estimated $50 million needed to complete the facility. [SpaceNews]
The Georgia Senate has passed a commercial space liability indemnification bill. The Senate voted 49-2 to approve the bill, sending it to the state House of Representatives. The bill, similar to those enacted in several other states, would prevent people injured in spaceflight accidents in the state from suing operators, with the exception of cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct. Supporters of a proposed spaceport on Georgia’s Atlantic coast said the bill is essential to their plans. [Atlanta Business Chronicle]
A continuing problem with a drill on the Curiosity Mars rover is keeping scientists from looking for evidence of organic compounds on the planet. The rover’s drill has been out of action since December as engineers diagnose a problem with the tool. The problem came as scientists were preparing to use a “wet chemistry” instrument on the rover for the first time that would given them a new opportunity to look for organic materials. Scientists remain hopeful engineers will either fix the drill problem or find an alternative method to use the drill to allow those tests to be carried out. [Seeker]
A new app gives the public the chance to help look for a hypothetical new planet. The “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” site offers users images from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer of the same region of the sky taken at different times. By comparing the images, users can see what objects have moved relative to the background stars. Those objects could be asteroids or even the proposed “Planet 9,” a large planet thought by some scientists to exist in the distant reaches of the solar system. [GeekWire]
Decades before astrobiology became a scientific discipline, none other than Winston Churchill examined the prospects for life beyond Earth. A newly discovered unpublished essay by Churchill, written in 1939 and revised in the 1950s, discussed the potential for planets around other stars and their ability to host life. Churchill’s essay “mirrors many modern arguments in astrobiology,” according to one scientist, including the importance of liquid water for life and the concept of a “habitable zone” around stars where temperatures would allow liquid water to exist. He wrote that “there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible.” [Nature]