Jeff Bezos says Blue Origin’s next suborbital test flight is coming “very soon.”

The and Blue Origin founder said Thursday that work was ramping up for another flight of the company’s New Shepard vehicle, but did not give an estimated date of the flight. Company officials have recently said another test flight is planned before the end of the year.

Bezos said a goal of the next flight would be to recover both the vehicle’s payload capsule and its propulsion module, which crashed to Earth because of a hydraulic problem on its previous test flight in April. [GeekWire]

Another Bezos venture showed off a rocket engine Thursday. Seattle’s Museum of Flight unveiled an F-1 engine from the Saturn 5 rocket that launched Apollo 12 in 1969.

The engine was recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic in 2013 by an expedition funded by Bezos.

That engine will be on temporary display at the museum until early January, and will later be included in a permanent exhibition about the Apollo missions that will open in 2017. [collectSPACE]

The thrust chamber from the no. 3 F-1 engine that launched Apollo 12 in 1969 is now a part of the collection at The Museum of Flight in Seattle. The rocket engine part was among the Apollo artifacts found and recovered by Bezos Expeditions.
This thrust chamber from the no. 3 F-1 engine that launched Apollo 12 in 1969 was among the Apollo artifacts found and recovered by Bezos Expeditions and donated to Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Credit: Cosmosphere via CollectSPACE
This thrust chamber from the no. 3 F-1 engine that launched Apollo 12 in 1969 was among the Apollo artifacts found and recovered by Bezos Expeditions and donated to Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Credit: Cosmosphere via CollectSPACE

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Cubesats will become standard payloads on future Atlas 5 launches. ULA announced a new initiative Thursday to fly a cubesat dispenser on nearly every Atlas 5 mission starting in mid-2017. The dispenser would carry up to 24 cubesats, with at least six slots on two launches set aside for free launches of university-built cubesats. ULA said one of those slots will be provided to the school that offers the best name for the new program. [Florida Today]
A key senator said he’ll seek to allow United Launch Alliance to buy more RD-180 engines than currently allowed by law. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Thursday he plans to add a provision to the upcoming omnibus spending bill for 2016 that would give ULA approval to purchase additional RD-180s for Air Force launches until a domestic replacement is available. Current limits on the number of RD-180 engines ULA can use for national security launches, put into place by defense authorization bills, was one reason why ULA elected not to bid on a GPS 3 launch contract this week. [SpaceNews]

NASA’s next Mars rover could also feature a helicopter. Charles Elachi, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a speech Thursday that his lab is studying adding the small helicopter to serve as a scout, helping the rover chart a path. JPL has been working on the Mars helicopter concept for some time, and plans to test a full-scale version of it in a Mars atmosphere chamber next March. No decision, though, has been made on including it on the mission. [SpaceNews]

Commercializing Europa

“This is possibly the best way to detect life elsewhere beyond the Earth, and it’s a mission that’s not that expensive, so I’m going to guess that it happens in the private sector.”

– Univ. of Arizona astronomy professor Chris Impey, speaking at the SpaceCom Expo in Houston Thursday and predicting a submersible to explore the subsurface oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa will fly in 2040. NASA expects to spend at least $2 billion on a mission to to Europa in the 2020s that may include a small lander. A vehicle able to land and drill through many kilometers of ice to reach the subsurface ocean is widely believed to be far more complex and expensive.

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The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency plans to spend “real money” on studying use of images from smallsat companies. NGA Director Robert Cardillo said this week that the agency would request funding for the new initiative, on the order of tens of millions of dollars, in its fiscal year 2017 budget request. The NGA released a new strategy document last month that calls for working with companies developing smallsat remote sensing constellations to augment existing sources of images. [SpaceNews]

Major French military space programs are likely to avoid major changes as the government responds to last week’s terror attacks in Paris. The French parliament was reviewing the 2016 defense budget when the attacks occurred, and the government is expected to make major revisions to the budget proposal in response. A renewed emphasis on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs likely means that three key military space programs involving intelligence and communications satellites will probably avoid significant changes.
JPL is working with two companies to develop a network of space sensors to track wildfires. The FireSat system will consist of more than 200 sensors mounted on an unidentified satellite constellation that will be able to detect wildfires within 15 minutes of when they start. JPL is working with a San Francisco startup, Quadra Pi R2E, on the sensor system. Ecliptic Enterprises will build the sensors, with the goal of having the system in place by June 2018. [NASA/JPL]

NASA announced a series of partnerships Thursday to advance “tipping point” space capabilities. NASA selected nine projects, from robotic in-space manufacturing and assembly of spacecraft to smallsat propulsion systems, for fixed-price contracts with values of $1 million to $20 million. NASA also chose an additional 13 projects in smallsat launch systems, engine development, and spacecraft technologies for unfunded Space Act Agreements. NASA picked technologies that it believes can advance significantly with a modest investment. [NASA]

Space Florida is working with other states to get space policy on the radars of the presidential candidates. The state space development organization is working with people in Colorado, Ohio and Virginia — all considered key states in the 2016 election — to get the candidates to speak out about their space policy views. To date, few Democratic or Republican candidates have offered any details about what they might change about NASA’s plans if elected. [My News 13 Orlando]


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...