Caption: India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft attached to the fourth stage of the PSLV-C25 and ready for heat shield closure. Credit: ISRO photo

France will play a role in India’s next mission to Mars. The French space agency CNES signed a letter of intent with its Indian counterpart, ISRO, to participate in India’s next Mars mission, an orbiter tentatively planned for 2020, although the agreement didn’t offer details on CNES’ role beyond providing expertise. CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall did suggest that, after the 2020 mission, the countries could cooperate on a Mars lander. [NDTV]


Blue Origin is planning dozens of test flights of New Shepard over the next couple of years before the suborbital vehicle carries people. In an interview Monday, company president Rob Meyerson said Blue Origin will shorten the turnaround time between New Shepard tests over the course of this year, flying the same vehicle multiple times to demonstrate its reusability. Analysis of data from last Friday’s flight continues, but Meyerson said that everything so far “looks really good” from that test. [SpaceNews]

The U.S. military is considering making use of data from commercial weather spacecraft. The Air Force issued a request for information late last month asking about industry interest in supplying “weather data as a commercial service” either from current or planned satellites. The Air Force’s RFI came at the same time as a paper published in the latest issue of Air & Power Journal concluded that the Defense Department will ultimately rely on commercial services for 80 percent of its weather data. [SpaceNews]

The U.S. Air Force has certified the upgraded version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 for national security missions. The Air Force announced Monday it was updating the certification it previously awarded the Falcon 9 to the upgraded version, which it calls the Falcon 9 Upgrade. That version of the Falcon 9 made its first flight in December. The certification makes the vehicle eligible for EELV-class national security missions. The Air Force certified the Falcon 9 v1.1 last year after a nearly two-year process, but that version of the Falcon 9 made its last planned launch earlier this month. [SpaceNews]

Federal government offices in Washington are still closed. Cleanup from a major winter storm over the weekend continues, leading the Office of Personnel Management to keep DC-area offices closed for a second straight day. A Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on use of Russian-built rocket engines is still on for Wednesday morning, although the committee postponed two hearings scheduled for today. [OPM / U.S. Senate]

Other News

Plans to seek additional funding for New Mexico’s Spaceport America could be hampered by the falling price of oil. The spaceport is seeking an additional $2.35 million this year from the state to cover a gap between revenue and expenses as major customers, like Virgin Galactic, suffer delays in using the spaceport. A complicating factor is the decline in the price of oil, which accounts for an eighth of the state’s revenue. Every one dollar drop in the price of oil cuts revenue for the state by $10 million. [Albuquerque Journal]

A company that operates remote sensing cameras on the ISS offered to use those cameras to monitor European borders. Records released by the European Commission show that UrtheCast proposed to use its two cameras on the Russian segment of the ISS to provide “an unprecedented capability for an integrated persistent space surveillance” for the European Union’s border agency. The EU rejected the proposal, but some say it raises questions about whether such monitoring conflicts with the station’s requirement to serve “peaceful purposes.” [New York Times]

A recent commercial space bill was a missed opportunity to create an international regime for space resource rights, argues one scholar. The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act includes provisions granting property rights to American citizens and organizations that extract resources from asteroids and other celestial bodies, but does not extend that to efforts by other nations. The bill, a law professor argues, could have directed U.S. agencies to recognize similar claims by other nations, which could have started the process towards an international space property rights regime. [The Space Review]

A lonely exoplanet may not be so alone after all. When astronomers first discovered the exoplanet 2MASS J2126 several years ago, it did not appear to be orbiting a star but instead was an “orphan planet” ejected from some other solar system. Astronomers now believe it is orbiting a red dwarf, albeit at a great distance: about one trillion kilometers, or more than 6,500 times the distance between the Earth and sun. Scientists said they’re not sure why the planet is so far from its parent star. []

Third in Satellites, First in Junk

A new study offered a bit of bad news and, well, also bad news for Russia’s space program. The bad news: the study, prepared for Roscosmos by the Central Research Institute of Machine Building, found that Russia is in third place in the number of operating satellites with 139, behind China’s 163 and the United States’ 542. But, the study said, Russia is first in space in another category: the amount of orbital debris. Russia accounts for 6,169 debris objects currently tracked, ahead of the 4,878 from the U.S. and 3,645 from China. “Today we are not in the best condition,” said former Roscosmos head Yuri Koptev. [TASS]