China launches imaging satellite; Israeli GLXP team signs launch contract; Pentagon RD-180 waiver pending; Zubrin takes on The Martian

China launched a commercial remote sensing satellite Wednesday. The Long March 2D rocket carrying the Jilin-1 spacecraft lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 12:13 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday. Jilin-1, weighing 420 kilograms, was developed by companies in the Chinese province of Jilin as part of an effort to build up a satellite industry there. The satellite is capable of taking images with a resolution of 72 centimeters, and multispectral images at a resolution of 4 meters. []

The Defense Department will soon decide on a waiver that would allow United Launch Alliance to use additional RD-180 engines. Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acqusition, said Tuesday that the Pentagon was still considering granting a waiver to ULA, but that a decision could come “fairly soon.” ULA CEO Tory Bruno said last week that the company could not participate in a new competition for a GPS satellite launch because of limits set by Congress on the number of RD-180 engines available for national security missions. [Reuters]

An Israeli team is the first competitor for the Google Lunar X Prize to have a verified launch contract. The X Prize Foundation said Wednesday that SpaceIL has a contract to launch their lunar lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9. The spacecraft will be one of the “co-leads” on a Falcon 9 launch in 2017 acquired last month by Spaceflight Industries. The verification of the contract formally means the competition’s deadline is extended through the end of 2017. Moon Express announced a launch contract for its spacecraft last week, but the foundation has not yet formally verified that contract. [X Prize Foundation]

The European Space Agency and Eumetsat have finalized a contract for a set of next-generation weather satellites. The contract for the Metop Second Generation system, signed Monday, covers the development of six polar-orbiting weather satellites, three with cameras and atmospheric sounding instruments and three with microwave imagers. Eumetsat will make a decision by 2019 on the launch vehicles for those satellites, likely either Soyuz or Falcon 9, with the first launches planned for 2021. [SpaceNews]

Eutelsat and Facebook’s deal to lease satellite capacity to provide broadband Internet access will cost the companies $95 million. In a regulatory filing, Spacecom said the companies agreed to pay that amount to lease the Ka-band payload on its upcoming Amos-6 satellite for five years. The deal includes an option to extend the lease for two years at a reduced rate. Eutelsat and Facebook announced the deal earlier this week as part of an effort by Facebook’s initiative to provide Internet access to portions of Africa. [SpaceNews]

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The Satellite Industry Association is urging Congress to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. In a statement, the industry organization said it’s aware of at least three “pre-existing” satellite manufacturing orders that were withdrawn since the bank’s authorization lapsed at the beginning of July, with other awards lost as well. Some in industry are hoping that the bank can be reauthorized by Congress this month before the current House Speaker, John Boehner, retires. [SIA]

The National Air and Space Museum has formally acquired papers and artifacts belonging to pioneering astronaut Sally Ride. The collection includes notebooks and other documents from her time as an astronaut as well as other items from her life, such as a small telescope from her childhood. A selection of those artifacts will go on display in the museum next year. [collectSPACE]

One former head of India’s space agency blamed another for a decision that may cost the agency $672 million. Former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair blamed his successor, K Radhakrishan, for not following legal procedures to cancel a contract with Devas Multimedia to lease capacity on ISRO satellites. International arbitrators recently ruled that ISRO’s commercial arm, Antrix, owed Devas $672 million for the cancelled deal. Nair, who helped arrange the original deal while leading ISRO, was barred from government service in 2012 for improprieties related to the Devas deal. [The Indian Express]

A Russian space enthusiast has raised one million rubles ($16,000) to start work on a project he says will prove the Apollo missions landed on the Moon. The project raised the money on a Russian crowdfunding website, Boomstarter, to begin studies of a lunar orbiter that would take high-resolution photos of the Apollo landing sites. The project, started by a public relations specialist for Dauria Aerospace, would ultimately cost $5-10 million, plus launch. [The Moscow Times]


Science the You-Know-What on Mars
“Would they really seal them individually and label them with the astronauts’ names for later scientific study? I can’t imagine anyone wanting to bring that stuff back to Earth, or study it on Mars. You’re not on Mars to study your fecal waste, you’re there to study Mars.”

– Robert Zubrin, taking issue with how the movie The Martian dealt with the handling of human waste on Mars. [The Guardian]

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...