An astronaut, anchored to a foot restraint, prepares to investigate the asteroid boulder. Credit: NASA artist's concept

NASA received a record-breaking number of applications for its next astronaut selection round.

The agency said it received more than 18,300 applications by Thursday’s deadline, shattering the old record of 8,000 set in 1978 and about three times the number received in the previous round in 2011.

NASA will now start the process of winnowing down those applications to the several hundred most qualified for additional review and interviews, although officials said that number could change given the large number of applications NASA received.

The agency ultimately plans to select 8 to 14 people as its newest astronauts by mid-2017. [New York Times]

More News

The Air Force will ground the Atlas 5 if use of the RD-180 engine is found to violate sanctions. Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, commander of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, said Friday the Air Force would not use the RD-180 if the Treasury Department determines that a recent reorganization of the Russian space industry means that purchasing the Russian-made engine violates sanctions. Sen. John McCain asked the Air Force earlier this month to prove RD-180 purchases don’t violate sanctions because of changes that will make Roscosmos the majority owner of NPO Energomash, the company that builds the RD-180. [SpaceNews]

Virgin Galactic unveiled its second SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane Friday. The company rolled out the vehicle in an event at its Mojave, California, facility attended by dignitaries and some of its several hundred customers. The vehicle incorporates some improvements over the first SpaceShipTwo, lost in a fatal October 2014 test flight accident, including changes that directly address the root cause of that accident. Virgin Galactic is planning to start ground tests of this SpaceShipTwo, named VSS Unity, in the near future, followed by flight tests, but the company declined to provide a timetable for when the vehicle could be ready for commercial service. [SpaceNews]


The European Union plans to take a closer look at the antitrust implications of Airbus Safran’s purchase of a stake in Arianespace. The European Commission’s Competition Directorate-General appears concerned that Airbus’ satellite unit could get preferential treatment by Arianespace without specific preventative measures in place. Airbus Safran Launchers agreed to purchase the French government’s 35 percent stake in Arianespace for 150 million euros, which would give it majority control of the launch services company. [SpaceNews]

DigitalGlobe is entering a joint venture with two Saudi Arabian organizations for a constellation of small Earth imaging satellites. The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) will build six or more smallsats capable of taking images with a resolution of 80 centimeters for launch in late 2018 or early 2019. KACST will own half of the imagery capacity for Saudi Arabia and the surrounding region, while DigitalGlobe will have the other half, as well as all of the remaining worldwide capacity. Another Saudi firm, TAQNIA, will be responsible for marketing KACST’s share of the images. DigitalGlobe says the satellites will complement its existing and planned satellites that offer sharper images. [SpaceNews] 

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China is working to launch both a Mars orbiter and rover in 2020. The head of China’s National Space Science Centre, Wu Ji, said it was working “urgently” on the ambitious mission, which would be China’s first standalone mission to Mars. He provided few technical details about that planned mission, beyond that it will likely require a launch on China’s new Long March 5 rocket. [gbtimes]

A report by a science team suggests NASA fly a precursor mission ahead of its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) to scout the target asteroid. The report issued last week by the Formulation Assessment and Support Team found no scientific showstoppers for ARM, noting that it was likely that the proposed target asteroid, 2008 EV5, has hundreds or thousands of boulders on its surface in the range of sizes required by the mission. However, the report added that a precursor mission, launched before ARM or at the same time as the main robotic mission but sent ahead, could help with characterizing the asteroid and should be investigated further. NASA currently has no plans to fly such a precursor. [SpaceNews]
The next-generation GPS ground system is the Air Force’s most troubled program, according to a general. Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said Friday he considered the OCX ground system for the GPS 3 satellites to have “significant promise” but continues to experience cost and schedule overruns. Another review of the system by Pentagon acquisition head Frank Kendall is planned for early March. [Reuters]

Japan plans to collaborate with the U.S. and other nations in space situational awareness activities. The Japanese military plans to create a series of optical telescopes and radars to track objects, and will also develop a system to share that information with American agencies. Japan’s civil space agency, JAXA, already performs some tracking of objects in orbit, but provides only part of that data to the U.S. [Nikkei]

Astronauts on the International Space Station are testing out virtual reality headsets. Astronaut Scott Kelly posted an image of himself wearing a Microsoft HoloLens headset recently brought to the station. Kelly didn’t mention what he was using the headset for, but did offer a one-word reaction to it: “Wow!” [Mashable]

The Week Ahead




  • Menlo Park, Calif.: The SmallSat Symposium features panel sessions on the financial, regulatory and technical issues of small satellites, with keynote talks by Steve Jurvetson and John Paffett.



Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...