Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong enter the Tiangong 2 module Oct. 18. Credit: CCTV video still

China’s Shenzhou-11 spacecraft, with two astronauts on board, docked with Tiangong-2 at 3:31 p.m. Eastern Tuesday.

The astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, entered the module about three hours later.

The crew will remain at Tiangong-2 for a month on the longest Chinese human space mission to date, part of China’s efforts to develop a permanently-crewed station by the early 2020s. [Xinhua]

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A Soyuz spacecraft is on its way to the space station after a launch early this morning. A Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:05 a.m. Eastern and placed the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft into orbit. On board the spacecraft are Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko and American astronaut Shane Kimbrough. The Soyuz spacecraft will dock with the station early Friday. []

Today is landing and orbit insertion day for Europe’s ExoMars mission. The Schiaparelli lander is scheduled to reach the surface at 10:48 a.m. Eastern. The 600-kilogram spacecraft is a technology demonstration mission in advance of a planned 2020 rover, and will operate for only a few days on the surface even if it lands successfully. As Schiaparelli attempts a landing, the Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft will enter orbit around the planet to begin its mission to search for methane and other rare gases in the planet’s atmosphere. [BBC]

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The FAA and the Pentagon foresee a gradual transition of responsibilities should the FAA get authority to perform space traffic management work. In recent speeches, FAA officials said they expect a phased transition, starting with a pilot program where the FAA makes assessments of potential collision risks in parallel with the Air Force’s existing work in this area. Over time, the FAA expects to take over handing collision warnings for all non-military satellites. Air Force officials largely support this approach, although it will require formal authority from the White House and Congress to move ahead. [SpaceNews]
Recovery from a hurricane has pushed back the launch of a weather satellite to mid-November. NOAA said Tuesday the Atlas 5 launch of the GOES-R satellite, previously scheduled for Nov. 4, is now planned for no earlier than Nov. 16. NOAA cited ongoing work at Cape Canaveral to repair damage from Hurricane Matthew earlier this month. United Launch Alliance said Tuesday its facilities at the Cape sustained “minor to moderate” damage from the storm, but added no flight hardware was damaged. [SpacePolicyOnline]


DARPA has turned over operations of a space tracking telescope to the Air Force. DARPA formally handed over operations of the Space Surveillance Telescope in New Mexico to Air Force Space Command on Tuesday, after DARPA completed several years of development and testing of the telescope. The observatory can track objects out to the geostationary belt far better than existing telescopes, and is also used to to discover and track asteroids. The Air Force plans to move the telescope to Australia under an agreement signed with the Australian government in 2013. [SpaceNews]

Another Air Force space tracking system could be threatened by climate change. The Air Force is building the Space Fence radar at Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists say the atoll is vulnerable to flooding as climate change causes sea levels to rise, and could be submerged by storms at least once a year within a few decades. The Air Force and Lockheed Martin, the Space Fence contractor, said that they do not believe rising sea levels pose a risk during the 25-year lifetime of the Space Fence, and that they can build seawalls if necessary to deal with any flooding risks. [AP]

A fire broke out Tuesday at a factory where Soyuz rockets are built. The fire took place in a warehouse on the grounds of TsSKB Progress in Samara, with no reports of injuries. It was not immediately clear what effect, if any, the fire would have on production of Soyuz rockets. [TASS]

Data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft suggests Pluto’s tenuous atmosphere may have clouds. Observations by the spacecraft during its 2015 flyby are “quite suggestive” of clouds at dusk and dawn on the planet, although scientists cautioned that the presence of the clouds can’t be confirmed since they form close to the surface, beyond the resolution of the spacecraft’s instruments. The last of the data collected during that July 2015 flyby will be transmitted back to Earth on Sunday. [The Guardian]

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...