Russia’s space agency is facing another cut to its long-term budget plan, according to Roscosmos Director-General Ikor Komarov.
Komarov said in a statement Roscosmos released this week that the agency now expects to get 1.5 trillion rubles ($22.5 billion) from 2016 through 2025, less than half of its original plan for that period.
Komarov didn’t state what that reduced budget meant for ambitious Russian space exploration plans announced in recent months, including concepts for a new space station or human missions to the Moon. [Moscow Times]
A Vega rocket successfully launched ESA’s LISA Pathfinder spacecraft overnight. The Vega lifted off from Kourou, French Guiana, at 11:04 p.m. Eastern Wednesday night, placing the spacecraft into an elliptical parking orbit. The spacecraft will later maneuver to the Earth-sun L-1 Lagrange point to carry out its mission to demonstrate technologies that could be used by future spacecraft to detect gravitational waves. [Spaceflight Now]
An Atlas rocket is set to launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS late today. The Atlas 5 rolled out to the pad at Cape Canaveral Wednesday in advance of the launch, scheduled for 5:55 p.m. Eastern time at the beginning of a 30-minute launch window. Weather forecasts still predict a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather at launch time. The Cygnus is carrying 3,500 kilograms of cargo for the station, ranging from food and other consumables for the crew to a variety of smallsats to be deployed later from the station, including one built by elementary school students. [SpaceNews]
The Pentagon’s top acquisition official said he is open to recompeting a GPS ground system contract. Frank Kendall said that the Raytheon-led Operational Control Segment (OCX) contract, which covers the ground system for the next-generation GPS satellites, “is not executing where we’d like it to be.” Kendall said he will review the OCX contract with Raytheon on Friday, and is keeping open all options, including recompeting the contract. [SpaceNews]
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Eutelsat is not concerned about threats facing the satellite telecom industry. Eutelsat Deputy Chief Executive Michel Azibert said that while satellite capacity overall is growing faster than demand, Eutelsat is focusing less on conventional offerings and more on high-throughput satellite services in regions of high demand and stable prices. He added that most of the national satellite systems that have been announced in recent years “don’t have a clue” about how to develop a business with those satellites. [SpaceNews]
A Hawaiian court has revoked the construction permit for a controversial telescope. The Hawaiian Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the state’s Board of Land and Natural Resources improperly approved a permit to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop Mauna Kea because it did not allow opponents the opportunity to state their concerns about the observatory. Construction was set to start earlier this year but had been on hold because of protests. Officials with the TMT said they are reviewing their options, which would include restarting the process to obtain a permit. [Nature]
The Most Important Cygnus Payload
“No pressure, right? I didn’t know the toilet supplies were so low.”
– Frank Culbertson, president of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group, during a pre-launch briefing Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center. Culbertson spoke after NASA ISS program manager Kirk Shireman said that, without the supplies on the Cygnus, toilet supplies on the station would run out in February.
PlanetiQ will launch its first two commercial weather satellites on an Indian PSLV. The company announced Thursday that its first two smallsats will fly as secondary payloads to an 800-kilometer orbit on a PSLV slated for launch in November 2016. PlanetiQ is developing a constellation of a dozen satellites that will use GPS radio occultation to collect atmospheric profiles that can be used to refine weather forecasts. The company is one of several planning such satellite systems, with the hope of selling the data to companies and government agencies. [SpaceNews]
A paperwork problem could delay the launch of a European Earth science satellite on a Russian rocket. A Rockot is scheduled to launch the Sentinel-3A satellite this month from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. However, an industry source said that the Russian military and Khrunichev, the company that provides the Rockot, had not finalized the paperwork to allow the pre-launch processing activities to start. The launch could slip to late January, since work at the space center will stand down from Dec. 30 to Jan. 10 because of the New Year’s holiday. [TASS]
Astronaut Scott Kelly said Wednesday that growing plants on the ISS has helped him deal with the “sense of isolation” during his year-long stay on the station. In a videoconference with members of the House Science Committee, Kelly, who has been on the station for more than eight months, said he has enjoyed recent experiments to grow lettuce on the station. “There’s the psychological aspect of having something else green up here that’s living that we can take care of, that we can see grow that we can utilize later as food,” he said. [Florida Today]