Raytheon's work on a new ground control system for GPS 3 satellites has been delayed by several years and faces additional scrutiny from the Pentagon. | Credit: Raytheon

The DoD’s top acquisition official said meeting on a new GPS ground control system produced a “mixed bag” of results.

Frank Kendall said he has not yet decided if the Operational Control Segment program needs to be recompeted or if Raytheon can fix technical and scheduling issues that have sidetracked the program. [Defense News]

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Legal questions have slowed a U.S. Air Force project to develop new ways to buy commercial satellite bandwidth. Under the Pathfinder 2 program, the Air Force proposed buying a transponder on one commercial satellite, and then use that to access capacity on the satellite operator’s entire fleet. However, questions raised within the Pentagon about its legal ability to barter that transponder for access to other satellites have stopped the Air Force from issuing a request for proposals, making it unlikely it will be able to award a contract before the next fiscal year begins. [SpaceNews]

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has resumed normal operations a week after going into safe mode. JPL said Monday that the rover, which landed on Mars nearly four years ago, returned to normal operations after a software problem July 2 put the spacecraft into safe mode. The most likely cause of the safe mode, according to project officials, is a “software mismatch” in how the rover’s computers transfer image data. [NASA/JPL]

The commander of the final shuttle mission says he feels “right back in the fight again” working on Boeing’s commercial crew vehicle. Chris Ferguson, who commanded the STS-135 shuttle mission five years ago this month, left the agency shortly afterwards and jointed Boeing, where he is leading development of the CST-100 Starliner vehicle. Ferguson hasn’t said if he plans to fly on the first crewed CST-100 mission, planned for early 2018, which will include a Boeing test pilot as well as a NASA astronaut. [Spaceflight Now]

Sierra Nevada Corp. said Monday it has completed the first milestone on its commercial cargo contract with NASA. The company said the milestone involves the NASA approval of a program plan covering the development and testing of the Dream Chaser vehicle that will transport cargo to and from the International Space Station. The company expects to make the first of at least six missions to the ISS under that contract in the second half of 2019. [SpaceNews]

Orbital ATK announced a new contract with Thales Alenia Space for a major component of its Cygnus cargo spacecraft. The contract, signed Monday, covers the delivery of nine pressurized cargo modules built by Thales Alenia Space to Orbital ATK. Those modules are a key element of the Cygnus spacecraft that Orbital ATK uses to transport cargo to the ISS under its current contract with NASA, as well as a follow-on contract that begins in 2019. [Orbital ATK]

China is planning a new satellite to study the Earth’s water cycle. Chinese officials said Monday the Water Cycle Observation Mission, scheduled for launch in 2020, will provide “unprecedented, accurate observations” of water and ice conditions. Officials added they hope to work with American and European scientists on a “worldwide water cycle observation network” that will combine observations from the Chinese spacecraft with data from their own satellites. [Xinhua]

Astronomers have discovered a dwarf planet in the outer solar system with an unusual orbit. The object, provisionally known as 2015 RR245, is thought to be at least 700 kilometers in diameter. It has an eccentric orbit in the Kuiper Belt, taking it between 34 and 120 times farther from the sun than the Earth. Objects that far from the sun are difficult to detect with even the largest telescopes, so “it’s really exciting to find one that’s large and bright enough that we can study it in detail,” said one astronomers involved in the discovery. [SPACE.com]

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...