Photo of Philae's landing site with a sketch of the lander superimposed to show its orientation. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

A “last ditch” effort to restore communications with a European comet spacecraft appears to have failed.

Project officials said Monday the Philae lander did not respond to transmitted commands to spin up its internal flywheel, a maneuver that could have dislodged the spacecraft from its landing spot on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The transmission was one of the final efforts by the Philae team to restore communications with the lander, which has been silent since shortly after landing in November 2014.

“At some point we have to accept we will not get signals from Philae anymore,” said lander manager Stephan Ulamec. [New Scientist]

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A successful static fire test late Monday clears the way for the next SpaceX Falcon 9 launch and landing attempt. Data from a seven-second test of the rocket’s first stage engines on the pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California “looks good,” the company said Monday night. Verification of the test’s success would allow preparations to proceed for Sunday’s scheduled launch of the Jason-3 ocean monitoring satellite. SpaceX also plans to land the rocket’s first stage on a ship at sea. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said ship landings are needed for “high velocity missions” even after the successful first stage landing last month at Cape Canaveral. [SpaceNews]

The reaction to a Chinese ASAT test nine years ago kept China from performing similar tests, a U.S. official said Monday. Mallory Stewart, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for emerging security challenges and defense policy, said a “huge international outcry” after that debris-generating test led China to find other ways to test anti-satellite weapons that do not generate debris. The test, where a ground-launched missile destroyed a Chinese weather satellite, created thousands of pieces of debris. Stewart spoke at an Atlantic Council event held on the ninth anniversary of the test. [SpaceNews]
The Proton launch of a European communications satellite has slipped a few days. Russian sources said the launch of the Eutelsat 9B satellite, previously scheduled for Jan. 25 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, has been delayed to Jan. 28. The delay gives workers more time to prepare the Proton for launch. Separately, a Soyuz launch of a Glonass navigation satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome has been delayed from late January to Feb. 7 for undisclosed reasons. [TASS]

Preparations are underway for the first Atlas 5 mission of 2016. Stacking of the two-stage rocket is underway at Cape Canaveral for a launch scheduled for Feb. 3. The Atlas will carry the twelfth GPS Block 2F satellite, replacing a GPS satellite launched in 1990. [Spaceflight Now]

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A new round of accusations are flying between Virgin Galactic and a former employee who started a competing company. In legal filings, Thomas Markusic, a former Virgin Galactic vice president of propulsion and co-founder of Firefly Space Systems, claims he left Virgin because of concerns about the safety and performance of the hybrid rocket system used by Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, claims Markusic did not raise those concerns while employed and even sought a consulting agreement after leaving the company. PJ King, another Firefly co-founder, has filed suit to overturn an arbitrator’s decision that would require Firefly to turn over documents to Virgin Galactic. [Parabolic Arc]

Vision problems experienced by astronauts may have a genetic link. NASA researchers said they have identified two significant genetic differences in enzymes tied to vision issues astronauts have experienced on long-duration spaceflights. While researchers said they don’t yet understand the mechanism that causes the vision problem, the genetic link can help them narrow down who to study in efforts to understand and address the problem. [Eurekalert]


The University of Arizona has hired a former Air Force space situational awareness expert to direct a new initiative. Moriba Jah, who previously headed the space situational awareness program at Kirtland Air Force Base, will direct a new “space object behavioral sciences initiative” at the university. “What MIT was for the Apollo space program, I’d like the UA to be for space domain awareness,” Jah said in a statement. [SpaceNews]

Intelligence about Soviet lunar mission efforts in the 1960s didn’t lead NASA to speed up the Apollo program. A review of declassified documents show that for much of the 1960s, the U.S. intelligence community had concluded that the Soviets would not be able to land on the moon before the Apollo missions. That intelligence likely kept NASA from rushing its efforts, running the risk of cutting corners that could have jeopardized those missions. [The Space Review]

Rumors about the potential discovery of gravitational waves have captured the attention of astrophysicists. Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Arizona State University, tweeted Monday that “independent sources” had confirmed to him earlier rumors of a gravitational wave detection by the LIGO observatory. Gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity a century ago but have not been observed. Two years ago, astronomers reported seeing evidence of primordial gravitational waves in the cosmic microwave background, but other scientists concluded the discovery could be better explained by dust. []

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...