The Proton lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 11:45 p.m. Eastern Wednesday night carrying the EchoStar 21 communications satellite.
The satellite will separate from the Breeze M upper stage more than nine hours after liftoff after a series of engine burns to place the satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit.
The Proton last launched almost exactly one year ago, having been grounded by technical issues since then. [TASS]
Vice President Mike Pence reiterated plans Wednesday to reestablish the National Space Council, but with few new details. Pence, speaking at the Johnson Space Center, said that President Trump would “soon” reestablish the council, dormant since the end of the presidency of George H.W. Bush, and that he, like previous vice presidents, would chair it. Pence, though, didn’t give a specific timeline for setting up the council. He offered general support for NASA and space exploration, saying that the council “will reenergize the pioneering spirit of America in space.” [SpaceNews]
Pence spoke at a ceremony where NASA unveiled its newest class of astronauts. The 12 people selected came from a pool of 18,300 applications, the largest number of people to ever apply during an astronaut selection round. The seven men and five women come from a wide range of backgrounds, from military test pilots to geologists to an engineer from SpaceX. The group will start two years of training in August, after which they will be eligible for flight assignments. [collectSPACE]
The House Science Committee is expected to approve today a bill intended to improve the commercial space regulatory process. The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act, formally introduced Wednesday, will be marked up by the committee this afternoon. The bill streamlines the existing process for commercial remote-sensing licensing and creates a similar “certification” system for other commercial spacecraft not currently regulated. Proponents see the bill as key to eliminating regulatory uncertainty for new commercial space applications. Some in industry, though, are concerned about aspects of the bill, such as assigning authority for the certification process to the small Office of Space Commerce within NOAA. [SpaceNews]
An Air Force general warns that the slow space acquisition process runs the risk of threatening national security. Maj. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, said at a recent event that layers of bureaucracy in the current process for acquiring space systems slows down their development, and runs the risk of having them outmatched by more agile adversaries. Thompson blamed that on an overreaction to problems with space acquisition in the past that have stripped the government of “the ability to judge and handle risk in a reasonable fashion.” [SpaceNews]
GEOINT 2017 news: A new commercial remote sensing company, Earth-i, is looking for applications for the video its satellites will provide. The company’s first satellite will launch later this year, with five more launching in 2019. The company said it wants to “start seeding the market” with high-resolution color video to see how potential customers might use it. Ball Aerospace unveiled a new software platform for combining geospatial data sets. VizZen, a cloud-based content library and visual-data repository, will allow commercial and government customers to combine and analyze a wide range of data. Ursa Space Systems, a geospatial data and analytics company, announced a revenue-sharing agreement with Italy’s e-Geos, which operates the Cosmos-SkyMed radar satellite system. The agreement will give Ursa access to Cosmo-Skymed data for use in analytic products. [SpaceNews]
SpaceX has won a lawsuit brought against it by a disgruntled former employee. A jury ruled in favor of SpaceX after three hours of deliberation at the end of a two-and-a-half-week trial. Jason Blasdell had argued he was wrongfully fired from the company for whistleblowing, claiming he had warned company executives of quality lapses. The company countered that Blasdell had become disruptive and that other employees did not observe the falsification of test records alleged by him. A lawyer for Blasdell called the verdict “unfortunate.” [Los Angeles Times]
China plans to offer private companies more opportunities to participate in the nation’s space program. Tian Yulong, secretary general of the China National Space Administration, said his agency is working on “creating favorable laws and policies” to support private space endeavors in the country. Tian said the goal is to create “a favorable environment for middle and small-sized enterprises” in space exploration programs in China. [Xinhua]
NASA awarded a contract to Dynetics Wednesday to build a component of the Space Launch System. The Alabama company won a $221 million contract to develop and manufacture the Universal Stage Adapter, a component of the SLS that connects the Orion spacecraft with the rocket’s upper stage. Dynetics will build a new facility in Decatur, Alabama, to manufacture the adapter. [WAFF-TV Huntsville]
Astronomers turned to Albert Einstein for assistance in measuring the mass of a white dwarf. Scientists said Wednesday they used gravitational lensing, an effect predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relatvity, to measure the mass of the white dwarf Stein 2051 B by observing the deflection of light from a more distant star as Stein 2051 B passed in front of it. Astronomers found the white dwarf has a mass 68 percent that of the sun, close to previous estimates but one that does not rely on assumptions of the star’s composition. [New Scientist]