Caption: The international space station is seen from Space Shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin their relative separation in 2008. Credit: NASA photo

Russia plans to end its dependence on U.S. satellites for communications with the International Space Station.

Currently, the Russian segment of the station is in direct contact with Russian controllers only when the station is passing over Russian ground stations, relying the rest of the time on NASA satellite links.

The head of the Reshetnev Information Satellite Systems company said that Ku-band links between the Russian segment and the Luch family of relay satellites should be in place by the end of this year. [TASS]

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SpaceX launched an Inmarsat communications satellite Monday evening. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off on schedule at 7:21 p.m. Eastern from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center and deployed the Inmarsat 5 F4 satellite into geostationary transfer orbit 32 minutes later. The satellite, weighing more than 6,000 kilograms, is the heaviest geostationary satellite launched by the Falcon 9 to date, and that payload prevented SpaceX from attempting a landing of the first stage. Inmarsat will likely use the satellite initially to provide additional service over Europe, but its long-term plans remain to be determined. [SpaceNews]

A Maryland senator said Monday he’ll work to preserve NASA programs in his state threatened with cuts. At a Maryland Space Business Roundtable luncheon, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he and other members of the state’s congressional delegation would work to preserve Earth science and satellite-servicing programs at the Goddard Space Flight Center facing cuts in the administration’s proposed 2018 budget. Cardin said they are stepping up for such efforts that in the past had been handled by the now-retired Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who was a leading appropriator. [SpaceNews]

Japan is considering adding satellites to a domestic navigation system to serve as a backup to GPS. Current plans for the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System call for four satellites that would augment the GPS system to improve the accuracy of navigation data in Japan. Col. Shinichiro Tsui, a counsellor in Japan’s Cabinet Office, said the government is considering three additional satellites for the system to ensure that Japan would have a satellite navigation capability even in the absence of GPS. [SpaceNews]

“Resiliency” is not a line item in military space budgets but rather an overarching approach, Pentagon officials say. At a recent Washington Space Business Roundtable, they said that efforts to improve the resiliency of space systems go beyond new programs to include changes in operations, tactics and policy. They did note that there will be funding for efforts to improve resiliency, including work on both satellites and ground systems. [SpaceNews]

A startup company plans to fly cremated remains on an upcoming Falcon 9 launch. Elysium Space said Tuesday it will fly its Elysium Star 2 cubesat on dedicated SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rideshare mission slated for 2018. Elysium Space flies small amounts of cremated remains on spacecraft that remain in orbit for a few years before reentering. The company’s first satellite was lost in the failure of a Super Strypi rocket in 2015.

The former chief technology officer of EADS Space is joining a European startup with plans to develop an air-launch system. Robert Lainé previously served as the program director for the Ariane program and CTO of EADS Space, now Airbus Defence and Space. He is joining Celestia Aerospace, a Spanish company that does space consulting and is working on a air-launched rocket for small satellites. [Celestia Aerospace]

A company seeking to launch Ukrainian rockets from Canada says it has customers lined up for that program. Maritime Launch Services is seeking to develop a launch site near Canso, Nova Scotia, that would host Cyclone-4M launches of small satellites. The company said it has letters of intent with “several” customers, but declined to name them. Canadian government agencies are beginning the process to evaluate the proposed launch site, including potential environmental issues created by launches there. [CBC]

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex was the backdrop for a supermodel’s latest photo shoot. The cover of the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar features Gigi Hadid at the center, posing in front of a Saturn 5, sitting on a model of a lunar rover, and walking barefoot across a lunar lander diorama. During the photo shoot, she did “casually divulge during a conversation about space that her boyfriend believes in aliens—and that she does too.” [Harper’s Bazaar]

Scientists hope an exoplanet with the density of Styrofoam will aid in the search of more habitable worlds. Astronomers said the exoplanet KELT-11b, closely orbiting a bright star, has been heated and expanded to the point where the planet, one-fifth the mass of Jupiter, is 40 percent larger in diameter, allowing for easier study of the planet’s atmosphere. That planet could serve as a testbed for techniques for studying the atmospheres of other exoplanets. [Lehigh Univ.]

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...