Astronaut Mark Kelly

Former astronaut Mark Kelly will speak at next week’s Democratic National Convention, although not necessarily about space.

Kelly and his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, are among the speakers convention organizers said Thursday will appear at the convention in Philadelphia.

Kelly, in a tweet, said he and Giffords will speak on July 27 to discuss why the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, “will make our country safer.”  [ DNC / Twitter @ShuttleCDRKelly ]

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NASA is considering building an instrument for a Japanese astronomy satellite to replace one that failed earlier this year. Paul Hertz, the head of NASA’s astrophysics division, said this week that JAXA has approached NASA about providing a copy of the Soft X-Ray Spectrometer instrument NASA supplied for the Hitomi spacecraft. That spacecraft launched in February but failed in orbit in late March after a series of errors. Developing a “build-to-print” version of the instrument would cost NASA about $70–90 million, a figure Hertz believes can be accommodated within NASA’s current astrophysics budget even if the overall program gets no additional funding. JAXA is seeking approval to start work on a replacement for Hitomi by the end of this year for launch around 2020. [SpaceNews]

Dish Network says it is losing satellite broadband subscribers as it awaits the launch of new satellites. Dish said it lost 15,000 subscribers in the last quarter, a loss it blames on “stricter customer acquisition policies” as well as satellite capacity constraints. Dish sells broadband services provided by both Hughes and ViaSat, who are planning to launch new satellites that will provide additional capacity next year. [SpaceNews]

Space Systems Loral has won a DARPA contract to provide robotic arms for a satellite servicing program. SSL said the contract, valued at $20.7 million, covers the design and development of robotic arm hardware for DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites program. That effort seeks to develop a spacecraft that can capture satellites not designed for docking and repair them. [SSL]

Houston will host a convention of astronauts in 2019. The Association of Space Explorers (ASE) announced this week that its annual Planetary Congress, a gathering of its members, will take place in Houston in October 2019. It will be the first time the ASE has held its annual conference in the U.S. since 2008 in Seattle. ASE, whose membership is open to people who have flown in space, has more than 400 members worldwide. [collectSPACE]

The Curiosity Mars rover has an upgrade that allows it to fire its laser on its own. The new software for the rover now gives the rover the ability to target rocks for study by its ChemCam instrument, which fires a laser and studies the composition of the vaporized rock. That autonomy, project scientists say, gives them more flexibility when they don’t have time to select targets themselves. []

The latest effort to detect dark matter has come up empty. The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) detector, based in a mine in South Dakota 1.5 kilometers underground, was designed to detect one possible dark matter candidate called weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. However, while LUX turned out to be four times more sensitive than originally designed, scientists failed to detect any signatures of WIMPs colliding with xenon atoms in the detector. The failure to detect WIMPs doesn’t rule out their existence, but does set limits on what they may be. [Ars Technica]

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...