SpaceX and Blue Origin have taken big steps toward reusability with the successful landing of their Falcon 9 (left) and New Shepard (right) boosters. Credit: SpaceX/Blue Origin

The main Russian space research institute is skeptical about the prospects for reusable launch vehicles.

A spokesman for  Russia’s Central Research Institute of Machine Building  (TsNIIMash  for short) said that the institute’s research suggests the economic feasibility of reusable vehicles “is not obvious” despite recent technical achievements by Blue Origin and SpaceX.

“The designers are still to demonstrate the real costs of production and of making reusable stages for re-launching,” the institute’s spokesman added. [TASS]

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The next Orion spacecraft flew to Florida Monday inside a cargo airplane. NASA used a Super Guppy aircraft to transport the Orion pressure vessel from New Orleans, where it was put together at the Michoud Assembly Facility, to the Kennedy Space Center. The pressure vessel will be outfitted with the spacecraft’s other key subsystems in the coming months at KSC. The spacecraft is scheduled to launch on an uncrewed test flight in late 2018 on an SLS. [Orlando Sentinel]

Planet Labs is opening an office this year in the Netherlands. The San Francisco-based commercial remote sensing company hosted Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Monday and used the visit to announce the office plans. The company said the Netherlands is “an excellent gateway to the European space community and startup ecosystem.” Besides its San Francisco headquarters, the company has offices in Berlin and in Canada thanks to its acquisition last year of Blackbridge. [Planet Labs]

SpaceX launch delays are raising concerns by some in the industry. Despite a successful launch of the upgraded version of the Falcon 9 in December, the company has yet to schedule upcoming launches of that vehicle carrying the SES-9 communications satellite or a Dragon cargo mission to the ISS. The SES-9 launch may not take place until March. The satellite’s owner, SES, said it’s awaiting word from SpaceX on the launch schedule and added that the satellite itself is in good condition. Also being delayed is the first launch of the Falcon Heavy, which company CEO Elon Musk said over the weekend is now planned to fly “toward the end of this year. I’d say maybe late September.” [SpaceNews]


NASA is considering launching a congressionally mandated Europa lander separately from a spacecraft already under development. The fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill directs NASA to fly a mission to the icy moon of Jupiter that consists of an orbiter and a lander, launching them on an SLS by 2022. NASA officials said Monday that adding the mass of the lander to the “clipper” mission under development would not only require an SLS, but force the mission to use a slower trajectory to reach Jupiter. One option under consideration is to continue with development of the clipper mission for launch in 2022, to be followed by a lander mission. [SpaceNews]

Todd May is the new director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. May takes over as director on a full-time basis after serving as acting director of the center since mid-November, when former director Patrick Scheuermann retired to take a position in industry. May is best known for serving as SLS program manager for several years, shepherding the program through a critical design review before becoming Marshall’s deputy director last August. [SpaceNews]

The Missile Defense Agency successfully tested a ground-based interceptor in a flight that did not involve an intercept. In the Jan. 28 test, an interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and deployed a Raytheon CE-2 Exoatmostpheric Kill Vehicle, which targeted a ballistic missile in flight but did not intercept it. Officials said the test was intended to collect data on the kill vehicle’s attitude control and divert systems. The next intercept test is planned before the end of the year. [SpaceNews]

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Two shuttle-era astronauts will join the Astronaut Hall of Fame this year. The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation announced Monday that Brian Duffy and Scott Parazynski will join the hall, with a formal induction ceremony in May. Duffy commanded two shuttle missions and served as the pilot on two others. Parazynski flew on five shuttle missions, including the STS-95 mission in 1998 that included John Glenn and the STS-120 mission in 2007 where he performed an unplanned spacewalk to repair an ISS solar array. [collectSPACE]

If Donald Trump is looking to make a getaway from Iowa, Jeff Bezos is still offering a ride. Bezos, owner of the Washington Post, held a town hall meeting with staff Monday where he reiterated an offer he made to Trump in December: a seat on a future flight on one of his Blue Origin launch vehicles. “My offer to send Donald to space still stands,” Bezos said, according to tweets from several Post employees attending the meeting. Trump, who finished second in the Iowa Republican Party caucuses Monday night, had criticized Bezos and his various business ventures back in December. [Nieman Lab]

Jim Green, Meet Jim Green

“We’re hoping to get a name for this. [NASA Planetary Science Division Director] Jim Green has agreed to do a naming contest. I keep asking Jim when we’re going to do it. In fact, I’ve been asking him long enough I told him that our team can’t really wait, that ‘2014 MU69’ is too much of a mouthful. So, for the time being, I told Jim that until he gets a naming contest and a name, we’re going to call this target ‘Jim Green.’”

– Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, on the desire to name a Kuiper Belt object currently only known as 2014 MU69 that the spacecraft will fly by at the beginning of 2019. Stern, speaking at a meeting of the Outer Planets Assessment Group Monday, referred to the object as “Jim Green” for the remainder of his presentation.

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...