Falcon Heavy artist's concept
SpaceX artist concept depicting an uncrewed Dragon capsule launching to Mars atop a Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX

A Government Accountability Office study reportedly raises questions about “defects” in SpaceX Falcon 9 engines.

A draft version of the report notes that engineers have found cracks in turbine blades in the turbopumps of the engines.

Those cracks, which have not caused problems on Falcon 9 missions to date, would still require a redesign for NASA to allow the vehicle to be used for crewed missions.

The report also identified issues with the parachute systems on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner vehicle.

SpaceX, in a statement, said that its engines are “robust” to such cracks but is working on a redesign to eliminate them entirely and qualify the engines for crewed missions. [Wall Street Journal / Reuters]

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Panasonic Avionics, a maker of satellite-based inflight entertainment services, is the subject of a U.S. corruption and securities probe. The California-based company said Thursday it is being investigated by the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, but did not disclose additional details. The company’s chief executive and chief financial officer have also left, effective immediately. Panasonic Avionics is one of the top providers of satellite-based inflight entertainment and connectivity services, with approximately 70 percent of the seat-back entertainment market and an estimated 1,300 aircraft equipped for its in-flight connectivity service. [SpaceNews]

While space science groups speak out against an executive order regarding immigration, space companies have been less outspoken. Since the release of President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 order placing temporary bans on immigration from several countries, as well as by refugees, many science organizations have called for the order’s withdrawal, saying it restricts the free flow of scientists and students. Among the groups opposed to the order are the American Astronomical Society, American Geophysical Union and American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics. Companies and industry groups, though, have said less about the order, weighing how it will affect international trade and their workforces. [SpaceNews]

Boeing will continue to support older generations of GPS satellites for five years under a new contract with the U.S. Air Force. The contract, with an undisclosed value, covers operations of the Block 2A and 2F series of GPS spacecraft that were built by Boeing. The Block 2A spacecraft are used only as backups to the current constellation, although the 2F spacecraft remain in service. Lockheed Martin is building the next generation of GPS satellites, Block 3, with the first scheduled for launch later this year. [SpaceNews]

United Launch Alliance is planning another round of job cuts. The company is currently seeking voluntary departures to minimize the number of layoffs required. ULA has not indicated how many jobs it plans to cut, but based on past statements as many as 400 jobs could be eliminated this year. ULA, which employed 3,750 people in 2015, cut 350 jobs last year and indicated then it planned to reduce its workforce to 3,000 by the end of 2017. [Denver Business Journal]

An Arizona judge has voided an agreement between a county government and World View for the company’s new headquarters. Judge Catherine Woods said the 2016 agreement between Pima County and World View violated state law and the state constitution by providing a gift to the company. Under that agreement, Pima County built a $15 million headquarters and manufacturing facility near Tucson International Airport and leased it to World View, which makes high-altitude balloons for research and tourism applications. County officials are reviewing the ruling before making a decision whether to appeal. [Arizona Daily Star]

Lockheed Martin has won a $345 million modification to a missile defense contract. The company said the change to its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) contract with the Missile Defense Agency covers additional development, test, and support requirements. The total potential value of the indefinite-quantity, indefinite-delivery contract is now more than $1.3 billion. [SpaceNews]

If a Finnish company’s crowdfunding effort is successful, you could train to become an astronaut with a smartphone app. Cohu Experience is seeking to raise six million euros to support development of Space Nation, an app that provides users interested in spaceflight a variety of mental, social and physical challenges. The top 100 competitors, plus 30 from corporate sponsors and partners, would be eligible to participate in a 12-week training program, with the top contestant winning a suborbital spaceflight. The company is working with several space-related ventures, including private space station company Axiom Space. [SpaceNews]

A Georgia Senate committee has passed a bill that would provide protections for a planned spaceport in the state. The Senate’s Science and Technology Committee unanimously approved a bill that would provide liability protection for companies operating from a spaceport in the state, similar to laws in several other states. The bill is seen as important for the development of Spaceport Camden, a proposed launch site near the Atlantic coast in the southeast corner of the state. [Atlanta Business Chronicle]

Blue Origin is the winner of the National Space Club’s Goddard Memorial Trophy. The company won the award for its development of the New Shepard suborbital vehicle, which performed several successful test flights from November 2015 through last October. Other winners of awards from the organization include NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter and Andy Weir, author of the novel The Martian. The awards will be presented at the Goddard Memorial Dinner in Washington next month. [National Space Club]

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...