Long March 7 rocket lifting off June 25, 2016. Credit: CMSE

The first launch of China’s newest rocket, the Long March 7, was a success.

The rocket lifted off from the new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center at 8 a.m. Eastern Saturday, placing a scale model of a next-generation human spacecraft and several small secondary payloads into low Earth orbit.

The Long March 7 is the newest, and most powerful, Chinese launch vehicle, capable of placing about 13.5 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

The Long March 7 is powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants, more environmentally friendly than the fuels used on older Chinese vehicles.

The launch was also the first from Wenchang, a new spaceport on the island of Hainan. [Spaceflight Now]

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The capsule launched on that Long March 7 landed less than 24 hours after liftoff. The capsule landed in the Badain Jaran Desert of Inner Mongolia at 3:41 a.m. Eastern, and Chinese officials deemed its mission a success. The spacecraft, those officials said, tested “core technologies” needed for a future crewed spacecraft that would replace the Shenzhou spacecraft currently used to launch Chinese astronauts. [Xinhua]

The Atlas 5 returned to flight Friday with the launch of a Navy communications satellite. The Atlas 5 551 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on time at 10:30 a.m. Eastern and placed the MUOS-5 satellite into its planned orbit about three hours later. The spacecraft is the final one in the Mobile User Objective System series of spacecraft that provide mobile communications. The launch was the first for the Atlas 5 since a March mission that, while placing its payload into the proper orbit, suffered an anomaly that caused its first stage engine to shut down prematurely. [SpaceNews]

NASA is considering using the Curiosity rover to study streaks on the Martian surface that may be caused by flowing water. The agency said Friday it’s studying how close the rover could get to those streaks to examine them in more detail while also taking into account planetary protection protocols to avoid contaminating those regions with terrestrial life. NASA believes the rover should be able to approach within kilometers of two such streaks seen on the side of Mount Sharp, the mountain that Curiosity is gradually ascending. That would allow the rover to study the regions with one of its cameras to look for changes over time. [NASA/JPL]

The House aviation subcommittee is showing renewed interest in commercial spaceflight. The subcommittee, part of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, held a hearing last week on commercial spaceflight issues and the FAA’s oversight of the industry. Some committee members raised questions about issues that legislation last year appeared to resolve, like an extension of the “learning period” that limits the FAA’s ability to issue safety regulations for spaceflight participants. The hearing was the first on commercial space held by the subcommittee in seven years, although members said they hope to hold additional hearings on related issues as soon as early next year. [SpaceNews]

An Australian company says it will launch up to 200 nanosatellites on Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne in 2018. Sky and Space Global, with operations in Europe and Israel but trading on an Australian stock exchange, says the satellites will be used to provide voice and data communications in equatorial countries. The agreement is only a letter of intent, according to a report, not a full-fledged contract, and the company didn’t disclose details about the satellites it plans to develop for launch on LauncherOne. [ZDNet Australia]

Virginia’s commercial spaceport is hoping to also become a test site for unmanned vehicle systems. State officials believe that the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island would be an ideal site for a planned “science and technology testing ground” for both aerial and underwater unmanned vehicles by the Department of Homeland Security. They are also working to convince the Navy to base some of its Triton drones at Wallops. Spaceport officials said that the next Antares launch from the facility, which will be the first of a new version of the vehicle, is now planned for mid-August. [Roanoke (Va.) Times]

NASA’s Juno spacecraft is on track to enter orbit around Jupiter in a week. The spacecraft’s main engine will fire for 35 minutes on the evening of July 4, slowing the spacecraft down enough to enter an initial orbit around the planet. At the time of its arrival at Jupiter, Juno will be traveling 265,000 kilometers per hour, faster than any spacecraft ever. If all goes well, Juno will go into a polar orbit around the planet, beginning a mission that will last into 2018 to study the planet’s interior and its magnetic field. [Orlando Sentinel]

Lockheed Martin will work with the United Arab Emirates Space Agency to offer space training opportunities in the UAE. The company said Sunday it’s signed an MOU with the agency to provide a four-month space training program for students and young professionals as part of the agency’s efforts to develop a space workforce. That training program will take place at Lockheed Martin facilities in the UAE and the U.S. [Lockheed Martin]

The Martian’s Mark Watney might well be able to grow edible potatoes on Mars.A study by researchers in the Netherlands found that crops planted in simulated Mars soil were able to grow, and did not contain high levels of metals found in Martian soil. While the research is backed by Mars One, the venture planning one-way human missions to Mars, the Dutch scientist leading the study said he’s more motivated about the ability to grow crops in places on Earth currently not considered arable. [Washington Post]

The Week Ahead



  • Arlington, Va.: The Milsatcom USA conference will discuss various aspects of military satellite communications activities, with speakers from the U.S. military and industry.



  • International: Asteroid Day, an international event to raise awareness of the risks posed by near Earth objects, will hold events in various locations around the world.


Monday, July 4:

  • Jupiter: NASA’s Juno spacecraft is scheduled to fire its main thruster to enter orbit around Jupiter. The 35-minute burn will begin at 11:18 p.m. Eastern.

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...