A Cygnus cargo spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station early this morning, and successfully berthed with the orbital outpost a few hours later.

The station’s robotic arm grappled the Cygnus spacecraft at 6:19 a.m. Eastern time; berthing was completed at 9:26 a.m. when the cargo ship was bolted into place on the station’s Earth-facing port on the Unity module.

The Cygnus, launched on an Atlas 5 Sunday, is carrying more than 3,500 kilograms of cargo for the station, ranging from supplies for the crew to satellites that will later be deployed from the station. [Spaceflight Now]

More News

An omnibus fiscal year 2016 spending bill “most certainly” won’t be complete by Friday as originally planned, lawmakers acknowledge. Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate are debating the inclusion of dozens of policy riders to the spending bill that some Democrats have warned are “poison pills.” With the current continuing resolution (CR) funding the government expiring Friday, Congress is expected to take up a second, short-term CR lasting up to a week to provide appropriators more time to finalize the bill. [Roll Call]

Repairs to a French instrument should not delay a NASA Mars mission launching in March. Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the French space agency CNES, said repairs to a seismic instrument CNES is providing for NASA’s Mars InSight lander should be done in time to ship the instrument to the U.S. in early January. NASA announced last week that instrument was suffering a leak in its vacuum chamber, which Le Gall blamed on a defective weld. [SpaceNews]

Russia is delaying the launch of a military satellite after another was lost in a recent launch. The Garpun military communications satellite was set to launch Thursday on a Proton rocket from Baikonur, but that launch has now been rescheduled for Sunday. A Russian space industry source said the delay will allow for additional tests of the satellite’s separation system after the Kanopus-ST satellite failed to separate properly from its Soyuz upper stage after launch Dec. 5. [TASS]

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The Farce is Strong in This One

“Unless NASA plans to colonize Mars with a herd of sheep, putting the animals in microgravity is just a baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad way to spend $1.2 million.”

— from the 2015 edition of the “Wastebook,” an annual compendium of spending that Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) considers wasteful. The report was critical of a NASA-funded project to simulate, using sheep, how microgravity could weaken bones. Shear lunacy. Two other NASA’s projects are in the report: a $279,000 study at NASA Langley Research Center of concepts for human missions to Venus, and NASA’s $3 million in support for the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) project, a Mars analog base on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa. This year’s report had a Star Wars theme, with the subtitle “The Farce Awakens.”

France and Germany are moving ahead with plans to develop a satellite to monitor greenhouse gases, the countries’ space ministers said Tuesday. The Merlin satellite was first announced by the countries in 2010 but was delayed by difficulties with the principal lidar instrument. The countries now expect Merlin to be ready for launch in 2020 on a Soyuz or Vega rocket at a total cost of 250 million euros. [SpaceNews]

A launch contract Moon Express announced in October for its lunar lander has been verified by the X Prize Foundation. The contract covers three launches of Moon Express’s MX-1E “micro-lander” on Rocket Lab’s Electron small launch vehicle, with two of the launches scheduled for 2017. Moon Express is the second team competing in the Google Lunar X Prize competition to have its launch contract approved by the foundation; an Israeli team, SpaceIL, was the first, in October. The other 14 teams have until the end of 2016 to submit their launch contracts to remain in the competition, and the competition itself expires at the end of 2017. [SpaceNews]

Japan’s space agency JAXA has confirmed its Akatsuki spacecraft is in orbit around Venus. The agency announced Wednesday that the spacecraft is in an elliptical orbit of 400 by 440,000 kilometers around the planet. The spacecraft will gradually adjust its orbit into an more inclined orbit with a lower peak altitude and begin regular operations next April. The spacecraft entered orbit around Venus late Sunday, five years after an earlier attempt to enter orbit failed because of a problem with its main engine. [JAXA]

NASA and Google showed off quantum computing technology Tuesday that could be far more powerful than conventional computers. NASA Ames Research Center is working with Google and D-Wave Systems on a quantum computing lab at the center to advance the technology, which in some limited cases can operate 100 million times faster that conventional computing systems. NASA hopes to use the technology to solve “difficult optimization problems” in aeronautics and spaceflight. [Bloomberg]

A Seattle art competition is offering a $10,000 grand prize for the best work of art that could be displayed on the moon. The “Giant Steps” competition is seeking proposals, due by mid-January, of works of art that could be installed on the moon by no more than two people, weigh no more than 60 kilograms, and take up no more than 6 cubic feet of volume on a spacecraft transporting it. Seattle gallerist Greg Lundgren is running the competition and has brought in several people from the aerospace community to serve as judges. The winner will get $10,000, but no guarantee the work of art will be installed on the moon any time in the foreseeable future. [Seattle Times]


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...