China launched an experimental communications satellite this morning.

A Long March 3B rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 7:02 a.m. Eastern carrying the Shijian-13 satellite.

The spacecraft, also known as ChinaSat-16, will test Ka-band communications and other spacecraft technologies, including electric propulsion, from geostationary orbit. []

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Crew assignments for commercial crew test flights next year could come this summer. In a recent interview, Robert Behnken, one of four NASA astronauts currently training to fly Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon V2, said assignments for the crewed test flights that are key milestones in the development of those vehicles could come about a year before those flights. SpaceX is currently planning a May 2018 crewed test flight, and Boeing an August 2018 flight. Behnken said astronauts are currently being trained to fly both spacecraft, which ultimately will be designed so that any astronaut, as opposed to a special pilot class of astronaut, can fly them. [SpaceNews]

The former CEO of a satellite connectivity company is still upbeat about the industry’s prospects. Dave Davis left as CEO of Global Eagle in February, but is working with the company as a consultant. Davis said he stepped down because he had completed some major milestones with the company and felt someone else should lead the firm as it goes into its next stage of operations. He declined to comment on why his departure, and that of the CFO, coincided with delayed financial filings. He said he was still bullish on the use of satellites to provide in-flight connectivity, despite one company’s recent funding round to build a new terrestrial network, adding that inclined orbit geosynchronous satellites like the one Global Eagle recently acquired offer “compelling” economics. [SpaceNews]

The head of Roscosmos says Russia plans to launch two satellites from the Vostochny Cosmodrome late this year. In an interview with a government newspaper, Igor Komarov said that the Canopus-V and Meteor-M satellites will launch on Soyuz-2 rockets from Vostochny in December. The launch site, built in Russia’s Far East, hosted its first and, to date, only launch nearly a year ago. Komarov also said that construction of a launch pad at Vostochny for the Angara-A5 rocket will begin there next year, with the first Angara launch scheduled from there in 2019. [TASS]

The U.S. Air Force has ordered two more “neighborhood watch” satellites to monitor geosynchronous orbit. Orbital ATK says it has received a contract to build another pair of Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites. The company built the first four GSSAP satellites, launched in pairs on Delta 4 missions in 2014 and 2016. A launch date for this latest pair has not been announced, but Air Force officials said the launch contract will be competed between SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. The Air Force declined to give the value of the latest GSSAP contract. [Spaceflight Now]

NASA Langley broke ground Tuesday on a new laboratory building. NASA says the Measurement Systems Laboratory, slated for completion in mid-2019, will support the center’s work in the research and development of measurement concepts, technologies and systems. The $95.6 million building is one of four new facilities being built as part of the center’s 20-year revitalization plan. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and other elected officials participated in the groundbreaking ceremonies. [WVEC-TV]

An Australian startup has raised an initial round of funding to support work on a planned constellation of nanosatellites to support the “Internet of Things.” Fleet, based in Adelaide, said it raised a US$3.8 million Series A round to support initial work on a planned 100-satellite constellation to provide communications for network-connected devices. Fleet joins a growing number of satellite operators seeking to provide services through existing or planned satellites for the estimated 75 billion devices that will have internet access by 2025. [Mashable]

Astronomers have wrapped up a project to connect telescopes around the work in an effort to directly image a black hole. The Event Horizon Telescope brought together millimeter-wave telescopes in the Americas, Europe and Antarctica for several days though a technique called very long baseline interferometry to create a telescope with a virtual aperture as large as the Earth. It will take months of analysis of the data to determine if their effort was successful. [Scientific American]

Jupiter has a second large spot, and it’s cold. The “Great Cold Spot” gets its name because it is nearly as large as the Great Red Spot observed by astronomers for centuries, and is about 200 degrees colder than the surrounding atmosphere. Scientists recently found the spot in infrared observations by the Very Large Telescope in Chile, and then confirmed its existence in older images by another telescope dating back 15 years. Scientists suspect the spot may be formed by interactions with the planet’s aurorae, and could be thousands of years old. []

NASA will provide the first 4K, or Ultra HD, live video from the International Space Station later this month. The broadcast, on April 26, will feature NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson participating from the station in a panel discussion taking place at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas. The panel will be livestreamed in 4K, and lower-resolution traditional HD, by Amazon. [Variety]

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...