Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a Center for International and Strategic Studies event in 2013 (CSIS photo).

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday his country would remain a part of the International Space Station through at least 2024.

Abe, speaking at a ministerial meeting on space development, said that extension was based on the condition that other Asian nations would be given access to Japan’s Kibo lab module on the station, but he did not state how that access would be arranged.

Japan becomes the fourth ISS partner, after the U.S., Russia and Canada, to agree to an extension of the ISS through 2024. Only the European Space Agency has yet to formally agree to an extension. [Kyodo]

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Aerojet Rocketdyne is reportedly in discussions with the Air Force regarding a contract to fund work on the company’s AR1 engine. The discussions, according to sources, started two weeks ago and could take months to finalize, and neither the company nor the Pentagon would comment on them. Aerojet has stated that without government funding, it would not have its AR1 engine ready by 2019 to serve as a potential replacement for the Russian-built RD-180. [Reuters]

Members of Congress, meanwhile, are debating access to the RD-180 engine and Air Force launch procurements. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to reject a proposal to add language to the final omnibus spending bill that would give the Air Force greater access to RD-180 engines than permitted in defense authorization bills. Separately, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) wrote to the Air Force recently about a recent GPS3 launch procurement United Launch Alliance elected not to bid on, suggesting that the Air Force had “stacked the deck” in favor of SpaceX. [SpaceNews]

Congressional leaders are increasingly skeptical a final omnibus spending bill will be done by the end of this week. House appropriators had planned to release the text of the fiscal year 2016 spending bill Monday, setting up a vote there Wednesday, but negotiations about policy riders some want to add to the bill, as well as extensions of tax cuts, have delayed completion of the bill. Congress had hoped to complete the bill by Friday, when the continuing resolution (CR) funding the government expires, but some raised the possibility of another, brief CR to give Congress a few extra days to pass the omnibus bill. [Politico]

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SpaceX is picking up its trash. Company representatives have traveled to the Isles of Scilly, off the English coast, to claim a piece of a Falcon 9 rocket found late last month by fishermen. “We are just trying to clean up after ourselves,” a company spokesman said, adding that SpaceX will likely take the debris back to the U.S. Local officials had hoped to keep the debris, placing it in a collection of figureheads from shipwrecks in the islands, and the UK’s National Space Centre also sought to keep the debris. [BBC]

A Russian satellite that failed to separate from its upper stage has reentered. The Russian Ministry of Defense said that the Kanopus-ST satellite, still attached to its upper stage, reentered early Tuesday over the Atlantic Ocean. The satellite was launched on a Soyuz rocket Saturday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, but the failure of one of four locks kept it attached to the upper stage. [TASS]


Before it decided on building the space shuttle, NASA studied The Big G. The vehicle, first proposed by McDonnell Douglas in the late 1960s, was an enlarged version of the Gemini spacecraft the company built for NASA and had planned to provide to the Air Force for its Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program. Versions of Big G could carry up to 12 astronauts and launch on Titan or Saturn rockets. NASA considered the concept as late as 1971, before deciding the high flight rates it anticipated required the use of a reusable shuttle rather than a Gemini-derived vehicle. [The Space Review]

A classic novel about Mars settlement is coming to television. The TV network Spike announced Monday that it has ordered a 10-episode series of “Red Mars,” based on the Kim Stanley Robinson novel about human settlement of Mars. J. Michael Straczynski, best known for his work on “Babylon 5,” will serve as writer and executive producer of “Red Mars.” The series is set to air starting in January 2017. [Variety]

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...