Long-delayed Russian module for ISS facing more problems
The Multi-Purpose Laboratory Module, also known as Nauka, was originally set to be added to the ISS in 2007, but has been grounded by a variety of issues, including contamination of its propulsion system.
Technicians have found more contamination in its main propellant tanks recently, which were built in the early 1990s and cannot be easily replaced.
It’s unclear how long this problem will delay the module’s launch, currently planned for late this year or early 2018. [Popular Mechanics]
Arianespace has indefinitely postponed the next Ariane 5 launch as unrest continues in French Guiana. The launch of two communications satellites, SGDC and Koreasat-7, was scheduled for Tuesday but delayed to Wednesday and then Thursday because of protests and a strike by workers for a logistics contractor at the Kourou launch site. While the strike has ended, protests continue, blocking roads and leading to the closure of government buildings and flight cancellations. Arianespace has not set a new date for the launch, citing the “evolution of the situation in French Guiana.” [SpaceNews]
Astronauts have started a spacewalk outside the International Space Station this morning. NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet started the spacewalk shortly before 7:30 a.m. Eastern, more than a half-hour ahead of schedule. The two will disconnect cables on a docking adapter that will be moved to a new port next week, as well as perform other maintenance outside the station. The spacewalk is the first of three planned through early April. [Space.com]
Space Systems Loral has sued Orbital ATK over a breach of confidential documents. In the suit, filed Wednesday in federal district court in Virginia, SSL said an Orbital ATK employee accessed confidential SSL documents about a satellite servicing technology project on a NASA server and shared those documents with other Orbital ATK employees. Orbital ATK told SSL the employee had been fired, but SSL wants more information on who had access to those documents and how they may have been used. The suit comes a month and a half after Orbital ATK sued DARPA over a contract it awarded to SSL for a satellite servicing program. [SpaceNews]
The U.S. Air Force plans to soon issue a request for information about commercial satellite capabilities. The RFI will support an ongoing “analysis of alternatives” by the Air Force for wideband satellite communications, weighing options from government-owned satellites to purchasing commercial services. That analysis started in December and is planned to run for 12 to 18 months. [SpaceNews]
German satellite manufacturer OHB is setting a higher revenue target for 2017 despite missing its goal last year. The company this week reported revenues of $786 million in 2016, short of its $810 goal, saying supply chain issues slowed work on some company programs. The company has set a revenue target of more than $860 million for 2017 as it awaits decisions on several new programs, including a new generation of Galileo satellites and a contribution to ESA’s ExoMars 2020 mission. [SpaceNews]
The deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command says “norms and behaviors” for space activities can help deal with activities by North Korea. Vice Adm. Charles Richard said in a speech this week that by establishing a clear set of accepted behaviors, it will be easier to understand when a country like North Korea is taking offensive action versus performing tests. Richard said one of the challenges is defining what constitutes an attack in space and how to respond to one. [SpaceNews]
An engine test Thursday successfully demonstrated a new computer for a shuttle-era engine. NASA fired an RS-25 engine on a test stand at the Stennis Space Center for 500 seconds. That test used a new engine controller that will be taken off the test engine and installed on one of the four RS-25 engines that will fly on the first launch of the Space Launch System. [Spaceflight Now]
Europe’s first mission to Jupiter has passed its preliminary design review. The Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer, or Juice, is scheduled for launch in 2022 to go into orbit around Jupiter and make flybys of the moons Callisto, Europa and Ganymede. With the preliminary design review complete, prime contractor Airbus is starting work on an engineering prototype to be completed by late 2018. [SpaceNews]
The sun went through its longest period without any visible sunspots in nearly seven years. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft hadn’t detected a sunspot since March 7, the longest blemish-free stretch since April 2010. A sunspot finally appeared Wednesday, breaking the streak. The lack of sunspots is the latest indication that the sun is approaching a minimum in activity in its 11-year cycle, expected to arrive in 2019 or 2020. [Washington Post]
A French astronaut on the ISS took time to create some art while in orbit. Thomas Pesquet, working with artist Eduardo Kac, used two sheets of paper and a pair of scissors to create “Inner Telescope”: a piece of paper rolled into a tube and pushed through another piece of paper cut into the shape of the letter M. “We point a telescope to the stars,” said Kac, explaining the artwork. “But this is a telescope that from the stars we point to ourselves.” [New York Times]