Facebook friends Eutelsat — Soyuz too big for Vostochny hangar — “The Martian” can’t escape “Gravity” — McCarthy’s speaker bid challenged

The head of United Launch Alliance says the company can’t bid on an upcoming launch contract. Tory Bruno said Friday that current congressional limits on the number of RD-180 engines available to it prevents the company from bidding on a GPS 3 launch contract announced by the Air Force last week. While a defense authorization bill pending approval by Congress would give the company access to four more engines, Bruno said that until that bill becomes law the company is forced to remain under the limits set by last year’s bill. An Air Force official said there are several options ULA could pursue to compete for the contract, including reallocating engines previously ordered for non-military missions or requesting a national security waiver. [SpaceNews]

Eutelsat and Facebook are partnering to lease satellite capacity to provide Internet access in Africa. The companies will lease the entire broadband payload on Spacecom’s Amos-6 satellite, scheduled for launch in the second half of next year. They plan to use that capacity to provide Internet access for underserved regions of Africa as part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative. [Eutelsat]

Two French government agencies plan to collaborate on reusable rocket technology, taking a different approach than that pursued by Ariane’s manufacturer. The French space agency CNES and France’s ONERA aerospace research institute plan to work together on technology to reuse the entire first stage of a future launch vehicle, an approach similar to the one being pursued by SpaceX. Airbus, though, previously stated it’s instead studying an approach to recover only the first stage engines, the most valuable part of the overall stage. [SpaceNews]

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NASA is weighing making two awards in its ongoing Discovery competition for planetary science missions. Agency officials said they are considering making two awards next September, after the evaluation of follow-on studies awarded last week to five concepts for missions to study asteroids and Venus. It wasn’t clear how the two missions would fit into the funding profile for the overall Discovery program. [SpaceNews]
The Soyuz rocket doesn’t fit inside buildings at Russia’s newest spaceport. The assembly building at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East was apparently built for “a different modification” of the Soyuz launch vehicle, and the current version doesn’t fit inside it, according to Russian sources. That mismatch raises new doubts about Russian plans to conduct the first launch from Vostochny by the end of the year. [The Moscow Times]

The Week Ahead




  • Jiuquan, China: A Long March 2D is scheduled to launch Jilin 1, China’s first commercial high-resolution imaging satellite, at approximately 12:10 a.m. Eastern.
  • Houston: NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel will meet at the Johnson Space Center at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time.


  • Washington: The Hosted Payload and Smallsat Summit holds a day of sessions on hosted payloads and smallsat constellations.
  • Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.: An Atlas 5 is scheduled to launch a classified mission designated NROL-55 between 8 a.m. and noon Eastern time. A number of cubesats, some sponsored by NASA, will fly as secondary payloads on the mission.




An advocate for commercial space is facing competition in his bid to become Speaker of the House. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Sunday he will challenge House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for the position of speaker, saying the California Republican lacks the majority of votes needed to win the post. McCarthy, who remains the frontrunner to succeed retiring House Speaker John Boehner, represents a district that includes the Mojave Air and Space Port and sponsored commercial space legislation the House passed in May. [Roll Call]

India’s space agency is gearing up for a major ground test of its GSLV Mark 3 rocket. A test of the complete cryogenic upper stage of the rocket is planned within the next six months, agency officials said. A successful test would keep the agency on track for a first flight of the GSLV Mark 3, which offers increased payload capacity over existing versions, by the end of 2016. [The New Indian Express]

The asteroid that a Japanese spacecraft is en route to now has a name. The Japanese space agency JAXA said Monday that it selected the name “Ryugu” for the asteroid, previously designated 1993 JU3. JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft, launched last year, will arrive at the asteroid in 2018 and collect samples for return to Earth in 2020. The name, selected from 7,336 entries in a competition, comes from an ancient Japanese story where a traveler visited a “dragon’s palace” called Ryugu and returned treasure from it. [JAXA]

“The Martian” soared at the box office, but couldn’t quite escape “Gravity.” The movie had $55 million in ticket sales in North America on its opening weekend, with an additional $45 million overseas. That $55 million just missed the record for the best opening weekend in October, a mark of $55.8 million set two years ago by another tale of an astronaut struggling to survive in space: “Gravity.” [Variety]

Elon Musk clarifies comments about nuking Mars to make it habitable. Musk, speaking at a SolarCity event in New York on Friday, said his idea was not to explode nuclear weapons on the surface of Mars but instead above its poles, firing them every several seconds to create a temporary sun to melt the planet’s polar caps, adding carbon dioxide to the planet’s atmosphere to create a greenhouse effect. Those nuclear devices, he said, would be “very large, by our standards, but very small by calamity standards.” [Mashable]

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...