Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata of JAXAtalks on a satellite phone in a chair outside the Soyuz Capsule just minutes after he and Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin and Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA, landed in their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft in Kazakhstan in May 2014. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Japanese government has formally agreed to extend its participation in the space station program.

The government signed an agreement Tuesday with the U.S. government to continue to be part of the station program through 2024.

Japan operates the Kibo laboratory module and provides cargo through its HTV spacecraft, which will continue to fly during the station’s extension.

JAXA said in a statement it will be “promoting unprecedented utilization” of the Kibo module.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said earlier this month that Japan would sign onto an extension of the ISS, but the formal agreement for that was still being finalized at the time. [JAXA]

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launched Monday night and its first stage made an unprecedented landing back at Cape Canaveral. The upgraded Falcon 9 lifted off at 8:29 p.m. Eastern carrying 11 Orbcomm second-generation satellites. After the second stage separated from the first to deliver the satellites to low Earth orbit, the first stage did a series of engine firings to return to the Cape, making a landing in the middle of the pad at a decommissioned launch site called Landing Zone 1. The landing, the first time SpaceX successfully recovered the rocket’s first stage, is a major milestone in the company’s efforts to make the vehicle reusable. Orbcomm reported that all 11 satellites were in good health after launch. [SpaceNews]

The landing won widespread praise, but also a little snark from the founder of Blue Origin. Jeff Bezos tweeted congratulations to SpaceX for “landing Falcon’s suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!” One month earlier, Blue Origin made a successful landing of the propulsion module of its suborbital New Shepard vehicle. That prompted a series of tweets then from SpaceX founder Elon Musk that his company had already done a series of low-altitude landing tests, and that landing a Falcon 9 stage was more challenging than the smaller, suborbital New Shepard. [SpaceNews]

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Two spacewalking astronauts quickly fixed a stuck cart on the exterior of the International Space Station Monday. Astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra spent 3 hours and 16 minutes outside the station on an unscheduled spacewalk to move the station’s Mobile Transporter, which became stuck about 10 centimeters from its worksite. Astronauts released brake handles on the cart, which then moved to its worksite and locked in place. The two also spent time on other tasks, including routing a set of data cables. [Reuters]


The Air Force has controlled all its missile warning satellites with a single ground system for the first time. The new Mission Control Station allowed controllers to operate SBIRS and older DSP satellites in geostationary orbit and SBIRS payloads on classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits. The Air Force current uses separate ground systems for each of the three sets of satellites. [SpaceNews]

Dry ice, and not water, may have created some of the gullies seen on the surface of Mars. French scientists argue in a new paper that the gullies appear correlated to the distribution of carbon dioxide frost seen on the planet. Sunlight passing through translucent deposits of dry ice causes the bottom to heat up and sublimate. This eventually causes slabs of ice to break up and flow down slopes, creating the gullies. [Los Angeles Times]

No Space for The Donald

“I wouldn’t go on his rockets. I don’t like that world. I’ve seen too many exploding before they get off the ground.”

– Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, asked on the Fox News Channel’s “MediaBuzz” show Sunday about an offer by Jeff Bezos to send Trump to space on a Blue Origin vehicle. Bezos made the offer recently after Trump criticized his ownership of the Washington Post.

Extrasolar planets need the right stuff, and not just the right orbit, to be habitable. Scientists said that Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zone of other stars, a region where temperatures would allow liquid water on its surface, could still lack the right composition to support life. Planets, for example, similar in size to the Earth but with a lower ratio of magnesium to silicon would not be able to support plate tectonics, which regulates carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. [Science News]

Returning to Earth in a Soyuz is “tremendous fun,” according to an astronaut who just made the trip. Kjell Lindgren, who came back from the ISS on a Soyuz earlier this month, said he didn’t know whether the trip would be fun while it happened, or “Type 2 fun,” which he described as fun in retrospect. Lindgren said it was the former, describing the reentry as “pretty amazing to watch” and the deployment of the Soyuz’s drogue chute as “an amazing experience.” [Ars Technica]

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...