U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz  paid a visit Friday to SpaceX’s Texas test site. The Texas Republican, who is chairman of the Senate’s space committee, visited the McGregor facility and witnessed an engine test at the site.

In a statement, Cruz said he was “an enthusiastic advocate of competition” and that he would “work closely with the commercial space industry to ensure that companies like SpaceX have the freedom to thrive.”

“In recent years, there has been tremendous progress within the commercial cargo and crew programs, and it is encouraging to see how the commercial space industry is revolutionizing the future of space exploration,” Cruz said.

“One of the great benefits of commercial space exploration has been the jobs and economic development that have flowed from allowing innovation and the private sector to play a critical role in space, and Texas has been at the epicenter of those advancements.” [KWTX-TV Waco, Texas]

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SpaceX successfully launched a communications satellite early Sunday, while landing the first stage. The Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 1:26 a.m. Eastern and released the JCSAT-16 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit a little more than a half-hour later. The rocket’s first stage landed on the company’s “drone ship” in the Atlantic Ocean, the sixth time in eight months the company successfully recovered the first stage. The company has a crowded manifest for the remainder of 2016, with as many as eight launches planned for commercial customers and NASA. [SpaceNews]

A U.S. Air Force request to release funding for a weather satellite program aggravated members of Congress. In a July 1 letter, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James asked Congress to lift restrictions on $21 million for the the Weather Satellite Follow-on so that the Air Force could move ahead with plans to launch a gapfiller satellite, ORS-6, next fall on a SpaceX rideshare mission. Congress agreed to release only $3.3 million, saying that was sufficient to keep the program on track, while complaining about the short notice the Air Force gave in its request and a lack of a plan to address other gaps in weather satellite data. [SpaceNews]

A June test of a solid rocket booster planned for use on the Space Launch System was a “remarkable success.” Orbital ATK said Friday that analysis of data collected during the June 28 Qualification Motor 2 test confirmed that the five-segment motor performed as designed. That test was the final one planned for the booster prior to the first Space Launch System mission in late 2018. [NASASpaceFlight.com]

Ariane 6 is on schedule for a first launch in 2020. Alain Charmeau, chief executive of Airbus Safran launchers, said in an interview that he was “extremely confident” that the vehicle, in its early stages of development now, will be ready for a first launch as planned in 2020. The vehicle’s launch rate will ramp up to 11-12 launches per year by 2023, when the Ariane 5 will be retired. He said the vehicle should be less expensive than the Ariane 5, allowing Arianespace to be cost-competitive with SpaceX’s Falcon 9. [Spaceflight Now]

The reports of Chinese lunar rover Yutu’s demise may be exaggerated. Chinese media reported earlier this month that the rover, on the lunar surface since late 2013, had ended its mission. However, officials with the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense said that those reports were inaccurate: Yutu was simply “hibernating” through the two-week lunar night, as it has throughout its mission, and could resume activities later this month. While Yutu has been unable to move since shortly after landing, its instruments have continued to operate. [gbtimes]

The spacecraft for China’s next human spaceflight has arrived at the launch site. China’s manned space engineering office said the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft arrived at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Saturday. The spacecraft is scheduled to launch in mid-October and carry two people to the Tiangong-2 module, which will launch next month, for a mission lasting up to 30 days. [Xinhua]

Scientists have reportedly discovered an Earth-sized planet orbiting another star. A report in the German magazine Der Spiegel Friday claimed that astronomers had discovered the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun. According to the report, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) will announce the discovery later this month, although ESO officials declined to comment on the report. [AFP]

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...