An artist's concept of China's space station, with the initial module set to launch in 2018. Credit: CMSA

China is planning to increase the rate of human missions and hire new astronauts as it develops a space station.

Chinese officials, speaking at a conference in Beijing this week, said they are planning four crewed missions over the course of five years, including two in 2020, as assembly of the country’s first permanent space station begins in 2019.

China is planning to select a new class of 10 to 12 astronauts, of whom two will be women, this year. [gbtimes]

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The Air Force announced Tuesday that SpaceX will launch the next X-37B mission. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that SpaceX, and not United Launch Alliance, will launch the spaceplane’s fifth mission in August. The first four X-37B missions, dating back to 2010, had all launched on Atlas 5 rockets. The next X-37B mission, like the previous ones, is largely classified, although the Air Force said the vehicle will carry experiments to test electronics and heat pipes “in the long duration space environment.” [SpaceNews]

The head of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) is hopeful geospatial programs will get funding increases. Robert Cardillo, speaking at the GEOINT 2017 conference, said the new administration and Congress provide an opportunity “for us to propose and defend and compete for additional resources.” Cardillo said he said there were no guarantees such programs would get more funding during the 2018 appropriations process, but that “the opening is there.” [SpaceNews]

A conference panel argued the U.S. government should take steps to support the private space sector. At GEOINT 2017, panelists argued for reducing regulations that can hinder companies and turn them away from working with the government. They also called for increased education of federal workers in how to use existing regulations designed for commercial acquisitions. [SpaceNews]

Luxembourg expects to have a new space law and space agency in place soon to support its space resources initiative. Etienne Schneider, the country’s deputy prime minister, said in New York this week that he expected the country’s parliament to pass the space law by next month. A new space agency is also being established with the specific mission of enabling commercial space resources companies, including establishing funds to invest in such companies. The country committed last year to spending at least 200 million euros on an effort to help establish a space resources industry. [SpaceNews]

The NGA needs to do more to help the government deal with North Korea, its director acknowledged. Robert Cardillo said that keeping track of activities in the country is a top priority for the agency, particularly as North Korea carries out a series of ballistic missile tests. Satellite imagery is essential to that effort, he said, because of the lack of intelligence from within the country. Cardillo likened the current situation with North Korea to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. [SpaceNews]

GEOINT 2017 news: Satellite imaging and tracking can revolutionize logistics, according to the general in charge of U.S. Transportation Command. Air Force Gen. Darren McDew said satellite imaging and tracking capabilities will help the military more efficiently move and deploy troops and hardware. NGA is interested in working more with small business. The director of the NGA’s small business office said the agency is particularly interested in companies that can provide machine learning or other technologies to automate the analysis of the growing amount of geospatial data.  Harris and exactEarth are partnering on a system to provide minute-by-minute tracking of ships globally. The Automatic Identification System sensors, flying as hosted payloads on next-generation Iridium satellites, will be able to track ships across most of the world and relay positions with an average latency of less than a minute. [SpaceNews]

The success of India’s new launch vehicle could ultimately mean less business for Arianespace. The GSLV Mark 3 is capable of placing satellites weighing up to 4,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit, about double the capacity of the earlier versions of the rocket. The Indian space agency ISRO has purchased launches, primarily on the Ariane 5, for satellites weighing more than 2,500 kilograms. Some of those satellites could now launch on the GSLV, although the country will still need to use the Ariane 5 for its heaviest satellites, which remain too large to launch on the GSLV Mark 3. [SpaceNews]

Russia is scaling back its launch plans for the Proton rocket this year. Andrei Kalinovsky, CEO of Proton manufacturer Khrunichev, said Wednesday that he expects five Proton launches to take place this year. Previously, Khrunichev was planning on up to seven launches this year. Three of the five launches will be commercial missions, a number that has not changed even as the overall number of Proton launches planned has declined. The Proton will make its first launch in nearly a year tonight, carrying the EchoStar 21 satellite. [TASS]

China has selected a landing site for its upcoming Chang’e-5 sample return mission. The spacecraft, scheduled to launch in November, will land in the Mons Rumker region, in the northwest quadrant of the moon’s near side. Chang’e-5 will be China’s second lunar lander and first sample return mission, and also the first lunar sample return mission from any country in more than 40 years. [Xinhua]

As NASA announces a new astronaut class, it also has a new chief astronaut. The agency named Patrick Forrester as the 16th chief astronaut in NASA’s history, succeeding Chris Cassidy, who will return to active duty to await a new spaceflight assignment. Forrester, selected to become an astronaut in 1996, flew on three shuttle missions from 2001 and 2009, and had served in other management positions before becoming chief astronaut. NASA will announce its new class of astronauts in a ceremony this afternoon at the Johnson Space Center. [collectSPACE]

An effort to develop the first “space-based nation” will start with a cubesat. The Asgardia project will announce plans this month to launch a 2U cubesat containing a 512 gigabyte hard drive preloaded with data, according to applications filed with the FCC. Asgardia announced plans last year to create a nation in space, and some think the satellite could be an effort to establish a private data haven, free from national laws and taxation. Legal experts have treated that effort with considerable skepticism, some noting that the satellite, which will be flown to and deployed from the ISS, will be considered a U.S. satellite under international law. [Motherboard]

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...