Defective engines may ground Russia’s Proton rocket for months.

Russian media reported that test firings found problems with engines used in the second and third stages of the Proton rocket, reportedly due to the replacement of heat-resistant alloys in those engines with cheaper, but more failure-prone, materials.

The Proton may not return to flight until June or July as a result. Roscosmos is also looking into engines made by the same manufacturer, Voronezh Mechanical Plant, used in the upper stage of Soyuz rockets.

The director general of the plant resigned last week. [Russian Space Web]

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Commercial smallsat systems provide new opportunities and challenges for the weather community. At a panel session at the AMS meeting this week, companies developing constellations of smallsats to collect GPS radio occultation data argued their systems could provide much more data per dollar than conventional satellite systems. However, those systems also face challenges, including how to incorporate their data into weather models as well as how governments can buy data while also maintaining their mandate to freely share weather data. [SpaceNews]

A former NASA deputy administrator is back at the agency, at least temporarily.Shana Dale, NASA deputy administrator from 2005 to 2009, is on loan to NASA from the FAA for four months, officially to perform a commercial space study. However, observers say she is poised to become part of the “beachhead team” at the agency to guide it during the early months of the new administration. The White House has yet to nominate a new administrator or deputy administrator for NASA. [SpaceNews]

The first sign of the Trump administration’s space priorities will likely come with its 2018 budget request this spring. That budget proposal is expected to include increases in defense spending, including for military space programs, although it may provide fewer insights into civil space issues. In a talk this week, Carissa Christensen of The Tauri Group said that the large number of space professionals that served on the NASA transition team was a sign that the new administration “values this sector and its workforce and what it does.” [SpaceNews]

British astronaut Tim Peake will get a second trip to the International Space Station. Peake, who flew to the ISS in late 2015 for a six-month mission, said Thursday he expects to get a second trip at a later date, likely no sooner than 2019. Peake disclosed his expectation for a second ISS trip at the unveiling of an exhibit in a London museum featuring the Soyuz spacecraft that returned him to Earth last year. [The Guardian]

The first results of NASA’s “twins study” show signs of the stress spaceflight imposes on the human body. The initial results are based on studies of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent nearly a year on the ISS, and his twin brother and fellow astronaut Mark, who was on Earth during that time. The first results shows differences between the Kelly twins, including gene-expression signatures and microbiomes, although how much of that difference is due to the spaceflight versus just natural variability is still uncertain. [Nature]

Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser vehicle has arrived at a NASA center for tests, including a glide flight. The engineering test model of the lifting body vehicle was trucked from Sierra Nevada’s factory in Colorado to the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California for several months of tests. Those test will culminate in a glide flight where the vehicle is dropped from a helicopter to glide to a runway landing at Edwards Air Force Base. The tests are part of an earlier commercial crew agreement the company has with NASA, although the company is now developing Dream Chaser as an ISS cargo vehicle. [NASA]

The universe is expanding faster than expected. A new study, using observations of quasars by the Hubble Space Telescope, calculated a Hubble constant — a measure of the expansion rate of the universe — of 71.9 kilometers per second per megaparsec. That’s higher than the rate of 66.9 kilometers per second per megaparsec derived from data from the Planck space observatory. The discrepancy, astronomers suggest, could be linked to the effects of dark energy accelerating the universe’s expansion over time. []

A former astronaut and NOAA administrator will be writing a book about satellite servicing. The National Air and Space Museum announced Thursday that Kathryn Sullivan will join the museum as its 2017 Charles A. Lindbergh Chair of Aerospace History. Sullivan was an astronaut who flew on three shuttle missions and was the first American woman to perform a spacewalk, and later served as NOAA administrator during the Obama administration. Sullivan will spend her one year at the museum researching and writing a book on the “philosophy and practice” of satellite servicing. [SpacePolicyOnline]

On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 accident, parts of the spacecraft are going on public display for the first time. A new memorial, located in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Apollo/Saturn V Center, features the three hatches from the Apollo 1 spacecraft never previously displayed. It was 50 years ago today that, during a test on the pad at Cape Canaveral, a fire broke out in the spacecraft, killing astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White II and Roger Chaffee. [collectSPACE]

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...