The former head of ULA has joined the board of XCOR Aerospace.

The company announced this week that Michael Gass, who stepped down as president and CEO of ULA in 2014, is one of three new members of its board.

Also joining the board of the suborbital vehicle and rocket engine developer are former Lockheed Martin executive Tom Burbage and Art Bozlee.

Jeff Greason, a co-founder of XCOR who left the company last year, is among those leaving the board. [XCOR Aerospace]

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United Launch Alliance has traced an anomaly in last week’s Atlas 5 launch to the vehicle’s first stage fuel system. The company said in a statement that it has isolated the anomaly, where the RD-180 engine shut down six seconds early, to the rocket’s “first stage fuel system and its associated components,” without providing more specifics. That early shutdown forced the Centaur upper stage to fire for a minute longer than planned to put its payload, the Cygnus cargo spacecraft, into its planned orbit. ULA said that a review team is working to trace the root cause of the problem and make corrective actions before the next Atlas 5 launch, currently scheduled for May 12. [SpaceNews]

Russia launched a new Progress cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station on Thursday. A Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on schedule at 12:23 p.m. Eastern and placed the Progress MS-02 spacecraft into orbit. That spacecraft, carrying a variety of supplies, is scheduled to dock with the station shortly before 2 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. [CBS]

UrtheCast is planning a second constellation of remote sensing satellites. The Canadian company disclosed its plans for the UrtheDaily system of eight medium-resolution imaging satellites, to be built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. That would be separate from the 16-satellite OptiSAR constellation, which includes both high-resolution optical and synthetic aperture radar satellites, that the company announced last year. UrtheCast said both systems will be developed when they get enough customer commitments to finance them. [SpaceNews]

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A deal to build a new headquarters and launch facility for World View Enterprises may violate the Arizona constitution, according to a think tank. In a letter to officials in Pima County, Arizona, this week, the conservative Goldwater Institute argued that the $15 million deal the county reached with World View earlier this year violates a gift clause in the state constitution that prohibits so-called “sweetheart deals” with companies. The institute also claimed the county violated its own procurement rules by using an “emergency” procurement to sign contracts to build the headquarters and neighboring launch pad. The county’s administrator defended the deal, arguing it complies with state law and will provide economic benefits for the city of Tucson. [Arizona Public Media]

Huntsville officials are pressing ahead with plans to accommodate landings of Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser vehicle at its airport. SNC officials said they while they have been approached by other airports to serve as potential landing sites for the vehicle, which glides to a runway landing, they are not currently pursuing any of those opportunities other than at Huntsville International Airport. A recent study identified several obstacles to landing Dream Chaser there, including the need for licenses and the potential for runway damage, but airport officials indicated those issues could be resolved. [Huntsville Times]


Astronomers have started a search of 20,000 dim stars for signals from alien civilization. The SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array in California is starting a two-year effort to scan 20,000 red dwarf stars for signals that could indicate the presence of intelligent life. While red dwarfs are smaller and dimmer than the sun-like stars that have been more common targets of SETI searches, red dwarfs are far more common and are also older, giving them more time for intelligent life to develop. []

If we’re worried about aliens finding us, though, there may be a way to cloak our planet from their telescopes. Astronomers find most exoplanets today by detecting the brief drip in brightness from their stars as the planets pass between the star and the Earth. Any alien civilizations might use the same approach to discover the Earth. A recent paper, though, argues that the dip in brightness caused by the Earth crossing the sun could be cancelled out by a relatively modest burst of lasers pointed in the direction of that star. The lasers, they added, could instead serve as a beacon to alert anyone of our presence. “It makes sense to me that we might want to target specific interesting habitable planets and say, ‘Hey, we’re here!’ There’s no reason we couldn’t build that right now,” said astronomer David Kipping. [New Scientist]

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...