NASA’s InSight Mars lander is being assembled at Lockheed Martin Space Systems' Denver facility. The InSight mission, scheduled to launch in March 2016, will record the first-ever measurements of the interior of the red planet, giving scientists insight into the evolution of Mars and other terrestrial planets (Lockheed photo).

A problem with a key instrument for NASA’s Mars InSight mission raises concerns about its March launch date.

JPL confirmed reports Thursday that a vacuum-sealed sphere that holds three seismometers has suffered a leak that would degrade the instruments’ performance.

The French space agency CNES, which is providing the seismometers, is working to repair the leak before shipping the instrument to California to be integrated onto the spacecraft.

The spacecraft is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California during a window that lasts most of March, and JPL said they remain committed to launching InSight during that window. [Nature]

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NASA has named a new associate administrator for international and interagency relations. Al Condes, who had been deputy associate administrator in NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations since 2004, succeeds Michael “Obie” O’Brien, who is retiring. Condes has been with NASA since 1984, serving in a variety of international relations roles, including the International Space Station and Shuttle-Mir programs. [NASA]

A bill that would reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank is now on the President’s desk. Congress passed Thursday a transportation bill that includes provisions extending the bank’s authorization through September 2019. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law today. The bank’s authorization lapsed at the end of June, preventing the bank from doing new deals, including financing for commercial satellite and launch contracts. [Reuters]

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Weather grounded Thursday’s scheduled launch of a Cygnus cargo mission to the ISS, and today’s forecast isn’t favorable, either. Clouds and rain at Cape Canaveral scrubbed the launch of an Atlas 5 carrying the Cygnus late Thursday. The launch has been rescheduled for a 30-minute window that opens at 5:33 p.m. Eastern today, but forecasts call for only a 30 percent chance of acceptable weather at launch time, with the weekend forecast also unsettled. The Cygnus, flying for the first time since an October 2014 Antares launch failure, is carrying 3,500 kilograms of cargo for the station. [SpaceNews]

Virgin Galactic unveiled Thursday a Boeing 747 that will serve as the carrier aircraft for its LauncherOne smallsat vehicle. The 747, previously owned by Virgin Atlantic, will be modified to allow LauncherOne to attach to the plane’s left wing. Using the 747, rather than Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo plane, allows the company to increase the size of LauncherOne, doubling its payload performance. Modifications to the 747 will be done in late 2016, and LauncherOne test launches are planned for some time in 2017. [SpaceNews]

The White House and members of Congress are discussing ways to hand over space traffic management responsibilities to the FAA. That work is currently handed by the Joint Space Operations Center, but concerns about an increasing number of satellites and flat budgets for the center have triggered a new round of discussions about moving that work to another agency. The most likely one to take on space traffic management work would be the FAA, and an upcoming FAA reauthorization bill might be used to handle that change. [SpaceNews]


Wednesday night’s successful Vega launch ended the rocket’s demonstration phase. The launch of ESA’s LISA Pathfinder spacecraft was the sixth Vega mission, ending a test phase financed by the agency. “There will now be a smooth transition to commercial use,” said ESA Launcher Director Gaele Winters after the launch. Arianespace, which operates the Vega, made an initial purchase of 10 Vega rockets and has sold nine of them. [SpaceNews]

Eutelsat is looking to cut the cost of its future satellites by at least 20 percent. The company’s chief technical officer said that moving to all-electric propulsion on future satellites will decrease satellite mass and launch costs, and also extend the spacecraft’s life, providing an initial cost reduction of 20 percent. The company is also looking at other technologies to further reduce spacecraft costs, with a goal of reaching 1 million euros per gigabit a second of bandwidth. [SpaceNews]

A Japanese spacecraft bound for an asteroid flew past Earth Thursday. Hayabusa 2, launched a year ago, made the gravity assist flyby at about 5 a.m. Eastern Thursday, passing 3,090 kilometers above the Pacific. The flyby puts the spacecraft on course to reach the near Earth asteroid Ryugu in mid-2018, where it will collect samples for return to Earth in 2020. [AFP]

The space agencies of Russia and the United Arab Emirates signed a cooperative agreement Thursday. The memorandum of understanding between Roscosmos and the UAE Space Agency permits “extensive cooperation” between the two in training, ground station operations support, and “general awareness.” No specific missions or other major initiatives were announced as part of the agreement. The UAE Space Agency is developing its first Mars mission, an orbiter scheduled for launch in 2020. [Arabian Aerospace]

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...