VP Mike Pence will visit Kennedy Space Center today; not expected to make any policy announcements

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Vice President Mike Pence will visit the Kennedy Space Center today, but is not expected to make any policy announcements.

Pence will give a speech early this afternoon to employees at KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building, and will also tour other facilities at the center.

The visit, announced last Friday at the same time that President Trump signed the executive order reestablishing the National Space Council, is being called a “familiarization tour” by NASA. [Florida Today]


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SpaceX set a new company record with its successful launch Wednesday evening. A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 7:38 p.m. Eastern from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, placing the Intelsat 35e satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit a little more than a half hour later. The launch took place after last-second scrubs Sunday and Monday that SpaceX blamed on computer glitches. The launch was the tenth this year for SpaceX, the most missions it has performed in a year and putting the company on track to launch 18 or more times this year. The Boeing-built Intelsat 35e is a high-throughput satellite that will provide services for the Americas, Europe and Africa. [SpaceNews]

The U.S. Air Force is asking SpaceX and United Launch Alliance to bid on a package of five launches. The Air Force released the request for proposals last week for the five launches, which include three GPS satellites, one launch of two space situational awareness satellites and one launch of a Wide Field of View Testbed satellite. The Air Force said soliciting bids for five missions at once, rather than one at a time as it has done in the past, will be more efficient for the service. Companies are required to bid on all five unless they receive a waiver on technical concerns. [SpaceNews]

XCOR Aerospace has laid off its remaining employees, but investors and management are still trying to keep the company alive. The company’s acting CEO said Wednesday that XCOR terminated its employees last Friday, citing “adverse financial conditions,” but will retain a small number of critical employees as contractors. The company laid off nearly half of its workforce last year as it suspended work on a suborbital spaceplane to focus on a engine development contract. XCOR is “actively seeking other options” to keep at least some of the company’s projects alive. [SpaceNews]

The Mexican government will decide by the end of this year whether to replace a satellite lost in a 2015 launch failure. The Boeing-built Centenario communications satellite was destroyed in a Proton launch failure in May 2015. The head of the Mexican space agency AEM said at a conference last week that the government will decide whether to build a replacement satellite or rent capacity on other satellites. AEM’s main concern is having a backup for the L-band services used by government agencies provided by the existing Morelos-3 satellite. [SpaceNews]

NASA is reviewing options for another extended mission for the Dawn spacecraft that could include a flyby of another asteroid. Dawn completed a one-year extended mission in orbit around Ceres at the end of June, and the spacecraft is continuing operations there while NASA reviews the science the mission has achieved there. The agency expects to make a decision in 30 to 60 days about another extension, which could include remaining in a high orbit around Ceres or using the spacecraft’s ion engine to leave orbit and fly by another asteroid. [SpaceNews]

Military satellite communications programs need to emphasize protected signals, one leading officer says. Army Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of architecture, operations, networks, and space for the Army chief information officer, said at a conference last week that protected satellite communications, with anti-jamming features, are becoming critical for the military. While some satellites, like the Advanced Extremely High Frequency system, do provide protected communications, there isn’t enough capacity on those satellites to meet demand. [SpaceNews]

A Chinese communications satellite placed in a low transfer orbit last month has reached geostationary orbit. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said Thursday that Chinasat-9A had reached its planned location at 101.4 degrees east in geostationary orbit after a malfunction in the upper stage of a Long March 3B rocket placed the spacecraft into a transfer orbit much lower than planned. While the satellite is said to be operational, Chinese officials did not disclose by how much the spacecraft’s lifetime would be shortened because it used its own propulsion to make up for the upper stage malfunction. [Xinhua]

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson reiterated plans this week to start commercial flights of SpaceShipTwo next year. Branson, interviewed Wednesday in Hong Kong, said powered test flights of SpaceShipTwo would begin later this year, allowing commercial flights to begin by the end of 2018. The timeline Branson provided is similar to previous statements he has made in recent months about development of the suborbital spaceplane, but company executives have been reticent to provide a schedule with the same level of detail. [Bloomberg]

The head of Roscosmos said Russia will use a new rocket to remain competitive with SpaceX. In an interview posted on the Roscosmos website, Igor Komarov said that the Soyuz 5 rocket under development will be less complex than its predecessors and cost 20 percent less to fly, making it price-competitive with SpaceX’s Falcon 9. The Soyuz 5 is not meant to be reusable, though, meaning that reusable Falcon 9 launches could still cost less than the new Soyuz. [Ars Technica]

Team Indus is looking to raise $40 million to fund the completion and launch of its lunar rover mission. The team, one of the finalists in the Google Lunar X Prize, is seeking a mix of corporate sponsorship and crowdfunding to raise the money to fund the December launch of its lunar lander and rover. Team Indus has raised $20 million from several investors as well as $20 million from agreements to carry payloads for third parties on the mission. [The Times of India]