Upcoming SpaceX launch will be first West Coast test of automated flight-termination system

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An upcoming SpaceX launch will be the first West Coast test of an automated flight-termination system.

The Autonomous Flight Safety System will be used on the Falcon 9 launch of 10 Iridium Next satellites scheduled for June 25 from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The system, which uses GPS data and onboard computers to monitor the rocket’s trajectory and destroy it should it go off course, was first tested earlier this year on a Falcon 9 launch from the Kennedy Space Center. [Santa Maria (Calif.) Times]


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China launched its first astronomical X-ray observatory Wednesday night. A Long March 4B rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and placed the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) into Earth orbit. The spacecraft, now known as Huiyan, or “Insight,” will observe X-rays from astronomical phenomena such as black holes and neutron stars. The rocket carried several secondary payloads, including two satellites for a planned Chinese Earth-observation constellation and one for Argentine company Satellogic. [gbtimes]

Planetary Resources has put plans for an Earth-observation smallsat constellation on the back burner. The company announced plans last May to develop a constellation called Ceres with hyperspectral and mid-wave infrared imagers that the company believed could serve terrestrial markets as well as demonstrate technologies needed for future asteroid prospecting missions. However, Planetary Resources has said little about Ceres in recent months, and its president and CEO said this week that the company is focusing on projects more closely linked to asteroid prospecting, including the launch of two Arkyd-6 demonstration satellites this fall. [SpaceNews]

Orbital ATK plans to test the abort motor for the Orion spacecraft today. The company will carry out the first of three planned qualification ground tests of the Launch Abort Motor that would be used to carry the Orion spacecraft away from the SLS in an emergency. The test, at the company’s Utah facilities, will last five seconds. [Spaceflight Insider]

Weather is not promising for a Falcon 9 launch planned for this weekend. Forecasts issued Wednesday predicted a 40 percent chance of acceptable weather for the scheduled Saturdayafternoon launch of BulgariaSat-1 from the Kennedy Space Center. The forecast improves to 60 percent for a launch Sunday. SpaceX has yet to perform the usual pre-launch static-fire test of the first stage, leading to speculation the launch could slip to early next week. [Florida Today]

A Chinese company is planning a satellite constellation to serve shipping and natural resources industries. Commsat Technology Development Co. Ltd. said it plans to launch 60 satellites from 2018 to 2020, ultimately increasing the size of that constellation to as many as 800 satellites. The satellites would collect real-time data to support the heavy machinery and logistics industries, while also potentially serving the maritime and forest conservation sectors. The company is in the process of obtaining communications licenses from the Chinese government, and has not disclosed the cost of the system or its financing. [China Daily]

A close pass of the International Space Station by a classified satellite remains a mystery. USA 273 was launched May 1 on a SpaceX Falcon 9, and amateur satellite trackers noticed its orbit brought the spacecraft to as little as 4.4 kilometers from the station on June 3. Neither NASA nor the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates USA 273, have commented on whether the close flyby was deliberate or a coincidence. [Ars Technica]

Chinese astronomers and engineers are clashing over plans to build a large observatory. The Nanjing Institute of Astronomical Optics & Technology had proposed an unusual design for a 12-meter optical and infrared telescope that engineers said would provide improved image quality. Chinese astronomers, though, were concerned about the complexity of the design and degraded sensitivity. An international review panel backed a simpler design proposed by astronomers, although the institute is seeking another review of its original design. [Science]

KSC Director Robert Cabana and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell will be among the witnesses at a Senate hearing next week. The hearing, scheduled for the afternoon of June 21, will focus on partnerships between the government and the private sector “to advance exploration and settlement.” Other witnesses include Tim Ellis, the co-founder and CEO of launch vehicle startup Relativity; Moriba Jah, a space situational awareness expert at the University of Texas; and Jeffrey Manber, CEO of NanoRacks. The hearing is the third in a series by the Senate’s space subcommittee on commercial space issues. [Senate Commerce Committee]