NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said he doesn’t believe government climate scientists will be intimidated by congressional inquiries into their work.

“It’s peoples’ life’s work, and they’re not just going to walk away because somebody threatens them with a subpoena to appear before the Congress of the United States,” he said in an interview, referring to investigations of NOAA scientists by the House Science Committee.

Bolden said he would also continue to push for increased Earth science funding at NASA to bring the program back to its historic levels. [Ars Technica]

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A fomer International Launch Services executive has taken a similar job at United Launch Alliance. Tom Tshudy has joined ULA as vice president and general counsel, ULA announced Wednesday. Tshudy had been general counsel of ILS since 1998 and a senior vice president since 2012, but ILS announced early this month that he had left the company. Tshudy succeeds Kevin MacCary, who announced his retirement from ULA earlier this year. [ULA]

Another company is announcing plans to develop a constellation of remote sensing smallsats. Hera Systems says it plans to deploy an initial constellation of nine satellites by late 2016, which could be expanded to as many as 48 depending on market demand. The cubesat-class spacecraft will be able to take images in several spectral bands at up to 1 meter resolution, and also take video. The company recently raised several million dollars, and is planning to raise $50 million more early next year. Hera Systems joins several other companies with plans to launch Earth imaging smallsat constellations over the next several years. [SpaceNews]

Vulcan Aerospace is pushing back against reports that its Stratolaunch venture is in jeopardy. In a statement, it described as “inaccurate” a report this week by the Wall Street Journal that Stratolaunch’s overall viability was in question because of a shift in demand towards smaller satellites that would not require the company’s large aircraft. That report, Vulcan said, was “based on nothing more than rumors and speculation, not facts,” and that its support for Stratolaunch was “unwavering” even as it continues to evaluate options for the rockets that the aircraft will carry. [SpaceNews]

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Neil deGrasse Tyson Cosmos
Neil deGrasse Tyson

Sorry, Pluto

“I was as surprised as everybody else that Pluto has fascinating surface features. Pluto’s not just some victim of its environment, just riddled with craters from stuff that hit it. It’s got mountains the size of the Rockies I’m told. So that means some interesting geologic activity — Plutologic activity — has taken place there and that remains to be understood and studied… And it always resurrects the same old question — will we reconsider whether Pluto is a planet? Of course the definition of a planet has nothing to do with anything that was happening on its surface. But it satisfies the criteria for dwarf planet.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson, asked in an interview about Pluto’s planetary status after the new findings from NASA’s New Horizons mission. Tyson argued that Pluto should not be considered a planet long before the International Astronomical Union reclassified it as a dwarf planet in 2006. [Astrobiology Magazine]

The governments of Russia and Iran have agreed to expand cooperation in space research. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced the agreement Wednesday after a meeting with Iranian government officials in Tehran. Rogozin did not provide details on what that cooperation would entail, but suggested one area would be remote sensing. [TASS]

Astronomers announced that they have observed planets forming around another star for the first time. Observations of a young star already known to have a protoplanetary disk and one planet revealed a gap in the disk that contains at least one, and possibly two, planets forming there. Astronomers said it’s the first time they have detected a planet forming in a gap in the protoplanetary disk, as predicted by models of planetary development. []

A “chemical laptop” could help future NASA missions detect evidence of life on another world. The device, being developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, would be able to detect amino acids and fatty acids that are signatures of life, and perform additional analyses to confirm that the chemicals have a biological origin. The device uses liquid samples, which makes it particularly well-suited for use on icy worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa thought to be hospitable to life. [Mashable]

A Hawaiian court has issued an injunction halting work on a controversial telescope in the state. The Hawaii Supreme Court issued the injuction Tuesday, halting any work on the Thirty Meter Telescope until Dec. 2. The court issued the order after the consortium developing the observatory said it was planning to send crews to the observatory site atop Mauna Kea this month to perform site preparation work. Construction of the telescope was halted in March by protests, and the court is hearing a case about whether its construction permit was properly issued. [Reuters]


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...