Astronaut Scott Kelly is back on Earth after nearly a year in space. The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft carrying Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov landed in Kazakhstan at 11:26 p.m. Eastern Tuesday night, more than three hours after undocking from the International Space Station.
Kelly and Kornienko spent 340 days in space, a U.S. record for Kelly, while Volkov spent a more typical six months on the station.
All three appeared to be in good condition after landing. Kelly is scheduled to return to Houston late tonight. [CBS]
Not to take anything away from @StationCDRKelly‘s tremendous & challenging accomplishment, but at 340 days, NASA has now defined a Lite Year
— Alan Ladwig (@SpaceArtAl) March 2, 2016
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is on hold again, this time because of weather. SpaceX postponed a planned Tuesday evening launch of the SES-9 satellite citing strong upper level winds that created an extreme wind shear in the upper atmosphere. Those winds are forecast to persist through Thursday, postponing the launch until no earlier than Friday. Three previous attempts to launch this Falcon 9, dating back a week, have been postponed because of various technical issues with the vehicle. [SpaceNews]
The Air Force is considering building three more WGS communications satellites. The proposal, mentioned in a briefing to industry in January, would involve three government satellites, either as a continuation of the existing WGS program or new spacecraft, to replace existing satellites in the WGS constellation. That proposal has alarmed some in industry who believe the Air Force should instead purchase more bandwidth commercially. [SpaceNews]
Two key members of congressional appropriations committees survived primary challenges Tuesday. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) got 65 percent of the vote in the Republican primary in Alabama, winning the nomination for a sixth term and avoiding a runoff that appeared possible given the several others running against him. Shelby chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, and has been a key player in the debate about the future of the RD-180 engine. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) also won his primary, avoiding a runoff by winning more than 50 percent of the vote over two challengers. Culberson chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. [AL.com / Houston Chronicle]
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s CEO says her company’s AR1 engine is on track to be ready by 2019 after winning an Air Force contract. Eileen Drake said the Air Force contract awarded Monday will allow the company to remain “laser-focused” on developing the AR1 as a potential replacement for the RD-180. United Launch Alliance is considering the AR1, but only as a backup to the BE-4 engine under development by Blue Origin. [Reuters]
A draft of a comprehensive space policy bill is now circulating in industry. The office of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) is seeking comments on the draft of the American Space Renaissance Act, which includes a variety of military, civil and commercial provisions that Bridenstine believes could be implemented in other legislation. The bill would restructure NASA management similar to the Space Leadership Preservation Act and direct NASA to make landing humans on Mars its main priority. The bill authorizes significant spending increases for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. It also requires the Pentagon to make greater use of hosted payloads and other commercial approaches. [SpaceNews]
A Singapore company with ambitions to clean up orbital debris has won $30 million in investment from Japanese organizations. Astroscale announced Tuesday it secured funding from the Innovation Network Corp. of Japan and venture capital fund Jafco. The company will use the funding to continue development of an orbital debris mapping satellite, IDEA OSG 1, that is scheduled to launch at the end of this year. Astroscale later plans to demonstrate technology that can be used to remove debris from orbit. [Japan Times]
Four people are facing charges in Canada of exporting sensitive space-related technologies to China. Two of the four people allegedly stole technical data from the company they worked for, Teledyne DALSA, and sold it to Chinese companies that will use it to enhance cameras on Chinese satellites, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Officials did not release additional details on the technology and its applications. [National Post]
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India’s space agency will get a modest funding increase in the government’s latest budget. The budget proposes giving ISRO 75 billion rupees ($1.1 billion) for its 2016-17 budget, an increase of about 8 percent over 2015-16. The increase is the largest for science agencies in the overall Indian budget proposal. The budget includes funds to continue development of the GSLV Mark 3 rocket and the Chandrayaan 2 lunar mission. [PTI]
The best way to look for aliens may be to search worlds that would be looking at us. A new study in the journal Astrobiology suggests looking at stars where, from their vantage point, the Earth would transit the sun. That approach has been widely used to detect extrasolar planets, and scientists surmise any extraterrestrial civilizations will use the same technique. “They have a higher motivation to contact us, because they have a better means to identify us as an inhabited planet,” said one astronomer, René Heller. [Nature]