Artist's concept of a four-engine Exploration Upper Stage for NASA's Space Launch System. Credit: Boeing

Despite conflicting budget language, NASA is pressing ahead with plans to use a more powerful upper stage on the second flight of the Space Launch System.

Agency managers have reportedly placed a “stop work” order on efforts to human-rate the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), a stage derived from the Delta 4 that will be used on the first, uncrewed launch of SLS in 2018.

Congress, in the final 2016 omnibus spending bill, directed NASA to accelerate work on the larger Exploration Upper Stage and not spend any money to human-rate the ICPS for the second SLS mission, which will carry a crew.

NASA’s 2017 budget request, however, assumes a level of funding  insufficient for actually using the Exploration Upper Stage on that second SLS launch. []

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The Air Force is pressing ahead with plans to develop three weather satellites despite skepticism from Congress. The plan, laid out in the administration’s 2017 budget request, calls for a “technical demonstration” satellite called the Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer that would launch next year on a small launch vehicle, followed by two Weather Satellite Follow-on spacecraft in 2022 and 2026. Congress, which canceled the launch of the last DMSP weather satellite last year, has raised questions about the Air Force’s plans, including whether those planned satellites fill key data gaps. [SpaceNews]

A New Zealand company has won a contract to launch small satellites for Spire. Rocket Lab will launch an unspecified number of Spire smallsats on up to 12 launches of its Electron rocket planned from late 2016 through 2017. Spire is developing a constellation of more than 100 cubesats that will collect weather and maritime tracking data, relying primarily on secondary payload accommodations to launch its satellites. Rocket Lab expects to begin test launches of Electron in the middle of this year from a new launch site it is building on New Zealand’s North Island. [SpaceNews]

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The United Arab Emirates is seeking to enhance space cooperation with the U.S. The UAE Space Agency met with a NASA delegation Tuesday in Abu Dhabi to discuss information exchanges and cooperation on space projects. This cooperation could include the use of NASA’s Deep Space Network to communicate with the UAE’s Mars orbiter mission, slated for launch in 2020. The UAE has been seeking closer space ties with a number of other nations in the last year. [The National]

Aerojet Rocketdyne has won a NASA contract to work on a high-power electric propulsion system. The contract from NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division, valued at more than $2.5 million, covers work on a 100-kilowatt Hall Thruster System and related technologies. NASA has identified solar electric propulsion as one of the key technologies for both its Asteroid Redirect Mission and later human missions to Mars. [Aerojet Rocketdyne]


A Russian company is showing off its satellite designs at the Singapore Airshow. ISS Reshetnev is exhibiting at the event for the first time, displaying models of communications and navigation satellites it builds. The company hopes to use the air show to win new commercial business for its satellites from Asian customers. [Sputnik International]

A new Chinese radio telescope will displace more than 9,000 people that had been living near it. Chinese media reported that people living within five kilometers of the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope will be relocated in order to avoid any electromagnetic interference with the telescope’s observations. The telescope, which will replace the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico as the world’s largest, is scheduled to be completed later this year. [The Guardian]

A new TV series offers the most realistic depiction of space settlement to date, and that could be bad news for space advocates. The Expanse, which features a solar system with people living on Mars and the asteroid belt, is the latest in “solar sci-fi” shows that depict relatively near future life in the solar system. But the people living out in the solar system are shown on the show to be “poor, and dirty, and cold, and generally miserable.” That’s not the vision that space advocates, who have for decades been trying to win support for a more utopian view of space settlement, want to see. [The Space Review]

Accept No Imitations

Any space-enthused kid has endured the crumbly, chalky agglomeration of flavors known as ‘astronaut ice cream.’ We deal with it because of the supposed connection to the lives of real space explorers.

The only problem is that astronaut ice cream is a lie.”
– from a Vox article that reveals that astronauts have never eaten astronaut ice cream while in space.

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...