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RD-180 waiver rejected — NASA’s Mars roadmap panned — a SpaceX-XCOR merger of sorts — Falcon 9 failure investigation winding down

The Defense Department has declined to grant a waiver that would allow United Launch Alliance access to more RD-180 engines. In a statement late Friday, the Pentagon said it determined no “immediate action” is needed to ensure competition in the launch services market, and thus rejected a waiver that would have lifted current limits on the number of RD-180 engines ULA can use for national security missions. ULA had argued that without a waiver or relief from Congress, it would not be able to compete for some missions, including a current request for proposals for a GPS 3 satellite launch. [Washington Post]

A bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank will go to the House floor later this month after a rarely-used parliamentary maneuver. A majority of members of the House signed a discharge petition by Friday, setting the stage for a vote as soon as Oct. 26 on the legislation. The bill had been held up in the House Financial Services Committee by its chairman, an opponent of the bank. Ex-Im had been used extensively in recent years to finance commercial satellites and launches provided by U.S. companies. [SpaceNews]

The release of a NASA report about its human Mars exploration plans didn’t go over well with some members of Congress. At a hearing Friday morning by the House’s space subcommittee, members criticized the “Journey to Mars” report released last week by the agency as lacking details on budgets and schedules for sending humans to Mars. Members also used the hearing, where two former NASA officials testified, to criticize cuts proposed by the administration in the Space Launch System and Orion. [Houston Chronicle (subscription)]

A maneuvering Russian satellite alarmed Intelsat earlier this year. A Russian satellite known as Luch or Olymp moved to a spot in geostationary orbit between the Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 901 spacecraft and stayed there for five months. While the Russian satellite didn’t interfere with Intelsat’s satellite, it was a cause of concern for the company and also reportedly led to classified meetings within the Defense Department. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX expects to complete its investigation of June’s Falcon 9 failure in the next month. A company official said last week that the failure investigation should be done and a final report submitted to the FAA “maybe in the next month.” The faillure, during the launch of a cargo mission to the ISS, was blamed on a faulty strut holding down a helium bottle in the rocket’s upper stage, a cause that has held up as the investigation continued. SpaceX expects to resume launches in the next couple of months, but has not provided a more detailed schedule. [SpaceNews]

One of the world’s leading exoplanet astronomers engaged in sexual harassment, a university investigation concluded. A six-month internal investigation by the Univ. of California Berkeley concluded that astronomy professor Geoff Marcy violated its sexual harassment policies on several occasions, but Marcy received no punishment beyond a warning not to engage in such activities again. Marcy is one of the pioneers in the search for planets around other stars. Many astronomers believe that Marcy should face stronger punishment, including dismissal from the university, for his actions. [BuzzFeed]

Flooding hit a French satellite manufacturing factory recently, but did not damage any satellites there. Flash floods in Cannes, France, earlier this month hit a Thales Alenia Space factory there, causing water damage to the facility. None of the satellites in the factory’s clean rooms there, though, were affected by flooding. [SpaceNews]

A veteran Russian cosmonaut says that people who want to take one-way trips to Mars have “unstable minds.” Gennady Padalka, who set a record for cumulative time spent in space at 848 days when he returned from the ISS last month, described those volunteering for efforts like Mars One as “people with unstable minds” and unfit for spaceflight. Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov, who returned with Padalka after a short stay on the station, said he might consider a one-way trip, but “any cosmonaut would be happy to participate in a there-and-back flight.” [TASS]

The Martian topped the box office for a second straight weekend. The movie generated a “better-than-expected” $37 million in ticket sales in its second weekend in North America, far better than a new movie, Pan, which was panned by critics. Since its release, the movie about a stranded NASA astronaut on Mars has generated $227.7 million globally. [The Hollywood Reporter]

There was a SpaceX-XCOR Aerospace merger Friday — sort of. Molly McCormick, an engineer with SpaceX, married Mark Street, an engineer with XCOR, in a ceremony in Big Sur, California. The two met at a space conference in 2010 and bonded over a “deep interest in space,” McCormick said. “We are both very interested in making humans a multiplanetary species, we want to see the species continue to live beyond our solar system.” [New York Times]

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