A concept of the European Space Agency's ExoMars Rover. Credit: European Space Agency/AOES Medialab artist's concept

The European Space Agency has reaffirmed its support for a Mars rover mission despite launch delays. 

The ESA Council, meeting in Paris this week, backed plans to launch the ExoMars lander and rover mission in 2020, two years later than previously planned.

That support includes the immediate release of 77 million euros ($87 million) in funds from ESA’s four largest member states into the project to ensure work on the mission is not further delayed.

ESA officials said the rover mission now has a “realistic technical schedule” to support that 2020 launch. [BBC]

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SpaceX successfully launched two communications satellites Wednesday, but failed to land the first stage. The Falcon 9 lifted off on schedule from Cape Canaveral at 10:29 a.m. Eastern and released the Eutelsat 117 West B and ABS-2A communications satellites into geostationary transfer orbit a little more than a half-hour later. The two satellites, both Boeing 702SP all-electric satellites, are the second pair of a four-satellite purchase made by ABS and Satmex (since acquired by Eutelsat) four years ago. There were no issues with the launch itself, but the Falcon 9 first stage failed to land successfully on a ship downrange, breaking a streak of three consecutive landings. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk later said that one of three first stage engines used during the landing attempt had low thrust, and the other two were unable to compensate. Falcon has successfully landed four times in nine attempts over 17 months. [SpaceNews]

A gun control filibuster has delayed Senate consideration of a spending bill that funds NASA and NOAA. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) filibustered on the Senate floor for nearly 15 hours Wednesday, ending in the early morning hours Thursday after reaching an agreement to hold votes on gun control amendments. The filibuster stopped action on the commerce, justice and science appropriations bill, which funds NASA and NOAA as well as the Department of Justice, among other agencies. The Senate will resume consideration of the bill later today. [The Hill]

Physicists announced Wednesday they have detected gravitational waves from another black hole collision. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected the gravitational waves on Christmas Day last year, about three months after the LIGO facilities in Louisiana and Washington made their first gravitational wave find. The newer detection came from the collision of “garden variety” black holes 14 and 7.5 times the mass of the sun. Physicists said the second detection reassures them that LIGO, which completed upgrades last year to improve its sensitivity, should be able to routinely detect gravitational waves in the future. [Science]

United Launch Alliance says it has identified and resolved the problem on the previous Atlas 5 launch. In a statement Wednesday, the company said an “unexpected shift in fuel pressure differential” across a mixture ratio control valve in the RD-180 engine, nearly four minutes after liftoff, caused the engine to run oxidizer-rich. That depleted the supply of liquid oxygen and shut down the engine prematurely, even though there was still “significant fuel” left on the first stage. ULA said the engine supplier, NPO Energomash, has made a minor change to the valve to prevent that problem from taking place again, and that change has been verified in hot-fire tests. The Atlas 5 is set to return to flight June 24 with the launch of the MUOS 5 military communications satellite. [ULA]

Arianespace has postponed the Ariane 5 launch of two communications satellites again. The company said Wednesday the launch of the EchoStar 18 and BRIsat spacecraft, which was scheduled for Thursday, would be delayed by 24 hours because of “an umbilical connection-related anomaly” during the vehicle’s rollout to the launch pad. The vehicle was originally scheduled to launch last week but was delayed by another issue involving a fluid connector between the rocket’s upper stage and launch table. [Arianespace]

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said he thinks NASA should pursue large prize competitions and “gigantic” technology development efforts. Bezos, interviewed during a presentation at the National Air and Space Museum this week, said that if the next administration asked him for space policy advice, he would recommend NASA offer large prizes for efforts currently being done in-house by NASA, like Mars sample return. NASA should then pursue very difficult technology efforts, like an in-space nuclear reactor, he said. [SpaceNews]

Three top JAXA officials will take a temporary pay cut in response to the failure of the Hitomi mission. The agency announced Wednesday the three, including JAXA President Naoki Okumura, would take a 10 percent pay cut for four months. Hitomi, an x-ray astronomy mission launched in February, failed in March after a series of problems, with human error playing a factor. [JAXA]

An experiment to create the largest controlled fire in space was a success. NASA said Wednesday the Saffire experiment, included in the Cygnus spacecraft that departed from the station Tuesday, burned a sample material nearly one meter long in an enclosed space within the spacecraft. Images and data from Saffire will be returned to Earth before the Cygnus reenters next week. Two more Saffire experiments are planned for future Cygnus missions. [NASA Glenn]

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...