EchoStar 21. Credit: SSL artist's concept

The Proton launch of an EchoStar communications satellite, planned for this week, has been postponed.

The Proton was scheduled to launch EchoStar-21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Wednesday, but late last week Russian officials announced a delay in order to perform additional tests on the launch vehicle.

A new launch date has not been formally announced, but Russian sources said the flight is likely to be postponed until mid-January. [TASS]

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NASA has found no damage to the James Webb Space Telescope after an “anomaly” during a vibration test earlier this month. The agency said Friday that examinations of the telescope structure found no evidence of damage after accelerometers mounted on the telescope detected an unspecified problem during a Dec. 3 test at the Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA said that engineers are making good progress on tracking down the source of the anomaly and could be ready to resume vibration tests in January. The vibration tests are designed to simulate the conditions the spacecraft will experience during launch on an Ariane 5 in late 2018. [SpaceNews]

The second SpaceShipTwo made its second glide flight Thursday. The glide flight went as planned, Virgin Galactic said, but offered few details about the flight. The free flight was the second for the suborbital spacecraft, known as VSS Unity, after an initial glide flight Dec. 3. The test was the last planned for SpaceShipTwo in 2016, as the company gears up for additional unpowered and, later, powered test flights of the vehicle in 2017. [SpaceNews]

Spacecom decided to purchase a Boeing communications satellite despite the lack of Ex-Im financing. Officials with the Israeli satellite operator said they decided last week to purchase a Boeing 702 for its Amos-17 spacecraft largely because Boeing could deliver the satellite in 24 months. Boeing officials, meanwhile, said that while they won the Spacecom order without the benefit of Ex-Im financing, the bank’s inability to approve deals larger than $10 million means they are losing other satellite orders to companies that can use Canadian or French export credit financing. [SpaceNews]

Language in the defense authorization bill calls on the Pentagon to start work on space-based missile defense systems. A provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President Obama Friday, requires the Defense Department to begin “research, development, test and evaluation” of such technologies. That work, which would require funding in future appropriations bills, has been criticized by many analysts, who consider space-based systems ineffective and unaffordable. [Los Angeles Times]

Boeing and Engility won space-related contracts last week. Boeing received an $8.8 million contract modification from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) to help operate and maintain the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellite constellation in 2017. SMC also exercised a $47 million contract option with Engility Corp. for providing continued systems engineering and integration support for the center’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate. [SpaceNews]

India’s space agency is looking to lease a foreign communications satellite. ISRO is seeking to take over all the capacity on either a satellite with Ku-band transponders already in orbit or one planned for launch in the first quarter of 2017. The satellite would be moved to one of six slots in geostationary orbit held by India, and operate there for two to three years. The satellite will “temporarily augment” capacity on existing Indian satellites. While ISRO routinely leases capacity on foreign satellites, this is the first time the agency has sought to lease an entire satellite. [The Hindu]

Space Florida is providing a line of credit to a space manufacturing company. The $1 million line of credit will be used by Made In Space to fund a project to test the production of high-quality fiber optic cables on the International Space Station. The hardware the company is developing for the experiment will serve as collateral for the loan, marking the first time Space Florida has used “space-bound or space-based equipment” to secure a loan. [Florida Today]

Piers Sellers, a NASA astronaut and climate scientist, passed away Friday. The 61-year-old Sellers had been diagnosed about a year earlier with advanced pancreatic cancer, but continued to work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as acting director of Earth sciences there, with a focus on climate change research. Earlier in his career, he flew on three shuttle missions between 2002 and 2010, performing six spacewalks to help assemble the space station. A week before his death, Sellers won the Gen. James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award from the Space Foundation. [collectSPACE]

Vera Rubin, a pioneering astronomer who discovered evidence for the existence of dark matter, died Sunday. Rubin, 88, spent much of her career at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, studying the rotation of galaxies. She concluded that the rotational speeds of those galaxies could only be explained if the galaxies were embedded in a much larger halo of unseen, or dark, matter. Rubin won a National Medal of Science in 1993 and was the second female astronomer elected to the National Academy of Sciences. [AP]

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...