Sea Launch's Odyssey platform with launch vehicle. Credit: Sea Launch

The sale of Sea Launch to a Russian airline company is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Energia announced last September it was selling Sea Launch to the S7 Group, a Russian company whose holdings include an airline.

Energia said in its annual report this week that it expects the deal to close this year, with launches resuming as soon as next year. [TASS]

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United Launch Alliance beat SpaceX for a launch contract for an Air Force mission. The Air Force announced Thursday it selected ULA for the June 2019 launch of the Space Test Program 3 mission. ULA will launch the mission on an Atlas 5 551 under a contract valued at $191.1 million. The award was the third EELV-class mission competed by the Air Force. SpaceX won the previous two competitions, both for GPS satellite launches. [SpaceNews]

House appropriators advanced a spending bill with funding increases for NASA, as Senate counterparts criticized cuts in the administration’s budget proposal. The House CJS appropriations subcommittee approved a bill Thursday that would provide nearly $19.9 billion for NASA, about $780 million above the administration’s request. Earlier in the day, Senate appropriators held a hearing on the NASA budget proposal, with senators opposing planned cuts in exploration, Earth science and education programs at the agency. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX is on schedule for a Sunday Falcon 9 launch after a static fire test Thursday evening. The test, at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, is part of the company’s regular launch preparations. The Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch the Intelsat 35e satellite Sunday at 7:36 p.m.Eastern. SpaceX will not attempt a landing of the first stage on this flight. [Spaceflight Now]

The first stage from the previous Falcon 9 launch from Florida arrived in port, with a “robot” visible on the ship’s deck. The drone ship arrived at Port Canaveral early Thursday with the stage from the Falcon 9 launch last Friday of the BulgariaSat-1 spacecraft. Observers noticed the presence of a robot previously seen in tests that the company said is designed to secure the stage after landing without having people on the ship. [Florida Today]

Vector, a company developing a small launch vehicle, has raised $21 million. Three venture capital funds, led by Sequoia Capital, participated in the Series A round. Vector is working on the Vector-R small launch vehicle, which flew a low-altitude test flight in May from the Mojave Desert as part of an incremental test program. Vector says it will use the funds to accelerate that test program, which includes several additional launches. [SpaceNews]

Canada will announce the country’s newest astronauts on Saturday. The Canadian Space Agency said Thursday the two new astronauts will be unveiled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during Canada Day ceremonies Saturday that also mark the country’s 150th anniversary. The agency selected the two from more than 3,330 applicants. [CSA]

A new nonprofit organization seeks to fund flights to space for a broader population. Investor Dylan Taylor announced Space for Humanity at the NewSpace conference this week, saying the organization would provide flights to space or near-space for 10,000 people. The people who the organization would fly to space would then serve as “ambassadors” to share their experiences with the public. [SpaceNews]

A British venture is planning a training center for both deep sea and space flights. Blue Abyss plans to build a training center at Royal Air Force Henlow, using some facilities at the soon-to-be-closed base and building others. The center hopes to attract business from prospective space tourists as well as professional astronauts and others planning to travel into extreme environments. []

KFC’s chicken sandwich is floating in the stratosphere after a balloon launch Thursday. World View deployed the high-altitude balloon from Page, Arizona, Thursday morning on the company’s first long-duration test flight of its “stratollite” platform. While World View is using the flight to test its technology for future commercial stratollite applications, KFC is using the flight to promote its “Zinger” chicken sandwich, which is flying on the balloon. []

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...