stratolaunch pegasus
An illustration of Stratolaunch Systems' aircraft carrying three Orbital ATK Pegasus launch vehicles. Credit: Stratolaunch Systems

Orbital ATK has no plans to phase out its Pegasus rocket despite limited demand for the small launch vehicle.

The Pegasus, which performed its first mission in nearly three and a half years earlier this month, has only one launch on its manifest, a NASA mission scheduled for mid-2017.

Despite the lack of business, the company said it is pursuing various opportunities for the vehicle, including a partnership with Stratolaunch that would involving launching Pegasus rockets from Stratolaunch’s giant aircraft under construction. [Spaceflight Now]

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A pair of Chinese remote sensing satellites launched overnight may have failed to reach the proper orbit. A Long March 2D rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center at 10:23 p.m. Eastern Tuesday night carrying two SuperView high-resolution imaging satellites. The launch was initially declared a success, but in the hours after liftoff observers have suggested the satellites may be in an incorrect orbit, or failed to reach orbit entirely, because of problems with the launch vehicle. Siwei Star Co. Ltd., the Chinese company that owns the satellites, has not confirmed the status of the spacecraft. []

The Chinese government issued a new space policy white paper that largely reaffirms existing programs. The “China’s Space Activities in 2016″ paper, released Tuesday, laid out plans for the next five years, including initial development of a space station and robotic missions to the moon and Mars. The paper largely reiterates missions previously announced and confirms progress on existing efforts, such as its Beidou satellite navigation system. It also endorsed cooperation with other nations in space, making only a passing reference to the United States. [Xinhua]

A report prepared for Congress supports giving space traffic management responsibilities to a civilian agency. The report, delivered by NASA to Congress under a provision of last year’s Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, endorsed frameworks where a civil agency would handle giving warnings of potential collisions to non-military satellite operators, a role currently handled by the U.S. Air Force. The report stopped short of recommending a specific agency to take on that role, although the FAA has been widely seen as the most likely agency to handle that work should the next administration and Congress decide to move ahead with those recommendations. [SpaceNews]

Energia has closed a deal announced earlier this year to sell Sea Launch to the S7 Group. Energia said Wednesday it signed the last of the paperwork earlier this month for the sale, announced in September. S7 Group, which owns a Russian airline, has paid part of the undisclosed price for Sea Launch, with the rest to be paid by June 2017. S7 Group said in September that it hoped to resume launches using the Sea Launch system in about two years. [TASS]

Russia wants to perform twice as many launches in 2017 as it did this year. Igor Komarov, head of the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, said Russia plans to “double space launches” in 2017 compared to 2016, but disclosed few details about how it will carry out that effort. Russia performed 19 launches in 2016, fewer than either China or the United States. [TASS]

NASA’s Curiosity rover has shown that its landing site was likely habitable early in the history of Mars. Recent studies of Gale Crater by the rover, which landed there in 2012, have revealed evidence of conditions on early Mars that would have supported life. “We see all of the properties in place that we really like to associate with habitability,” John Grotzinger, the former project scientist for the mission, said earlier this month. [Astrobiology Magazine]

A new technique could make it possible to soon search for life on the nearest exoplanet. At a recent workshop, scientists proposed using a combination of direct imaging and high-resolution spectroscopy to study the composition of Proxima b, a planet recently discovered around Proxima Centauri, the star closest to the sun. That approach, feasible with a new generation of giant ground-based telescopes under development, would allow scientists to look for any spectral signatures of chemicals linked to life from the planet. []

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...