The in-orbit separation of SNC's Dream Chaser Spacecraft from its cargo module is shown in this illustration. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Sierra Nevada Corp. is in discussions with the UN about a dedicated Dream Chaser research flight.

The company said Tuesday it signed a memorandum of understanding with the UN’s Office of Outer Space Affairs that it hopes will lead to a later agreement to fly a Dream Chaser mission on behalf of member nations without the ability to purchase their own flights.

The mission would not fly to the ISS but could remain in low Earth orbit for an extended period to carry out scientific research and technology demonstrations. [Geekwire]

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NASA declared the final test of the Space Launch System’s solid rocket boosters a success Tuesday. The Qualification Motor 2 (QM-2) test, carried out at Orbital ATK’s Utah test site, fired a five-segment solid rocket booster cooled to the lower end of its operating range of temperatures. Agency officials said at a post-test press conference that an initial review of the data collected during the two-minute test indicated the booster performed as expected. NASA will use two of the shuttle-derived boosters on its Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, whose first launch is on track for late 2018. [SpaceNews]

China launched a technology satellite that may have military applications late Tuesday.A Long March 4B rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 11:21 p.m. Eastern and placed the Shijian 16-02 satellite into low Earth orbit. The satellite, state-run news media reported, will be used for “environment detection and technological experiments,” although outside observers believe spacecraft will carry out a signals intelligence mission. [Xinhua]

Virgin Galactic’s Steve Isakowitz will succeed Wanda Austin as the head of the Aerospace Corporation. Isakowitz, currently the president of Virgin Galactic, will become president of Aerospace Corp. on Aug. 1 and CEO on Oct. 1 when Austin retires. Prior to joining Virgin Galactic, Isakowitz worked at the Office of Management Budget, NASA, the intelligence community and the Department of Energy. Virgin Galactic said it has already started a search for his replacement, with Tim Buzza, program director of Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne launch services business unit, to lead LauncherOne’s overall development upon Isakowitz’s departure. [SpaceNews]

Orbital Insight, a company that performs analysis of satellite imagery, has raised an additional $20 million. The company said this week that the funding included a $15 million Series B round led by GV, formerly known as Google Ventures. A separate deal with the CIA’s investment fund, In-Q-Tel, raised an additional $5 million. Orbital Insight, which raised $8.7 million last year, develops algorithms to measure “nearly anything” using satellite images. [San Jose Mercury News]

Blue Origin has broken ground on its Florida launch vehicle factory. The company released images of the site as well as renderings of the completed facility, which will be built just outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center. The factory will be used to produce the company’s planned orbital launch vehicle, which will start launching from Cape Canaveral around the end of the decade. [SpaceNews]

A Texas airport has agreed to develop a business park to lure space companies. Midland Development Corp. voted Monday to spend $3 million on infrastructure improvements for the Spaceport Business Park at Midland International Air and Space Port in the west Texas city. The business park is intended to attract companies performing flights or supporting activities at the airport, which is an FAA-licensed commercial launch site. [Midland (Texas) Reporter-Telegram]

Giant planets may have a layer of “dark hydrogen” in their interiors. Scientists reported this week that dark hydrogen, a form of the element that does not transmit or reflect visible light, may exist between the upper layers of gas giant atmospheres and metallic hydrogen in their cores. While blocking visible light, dark hydrogen would allow infrared light through, which would explain how these planets allow interior hear to escape. []

Simon Ramo, a co-founder of aerospace company TRW, has passed away. Ramo and Dean Woolridge founded the Ramo-Woolridge Corp. in the 1950s, which took on the TRW name after a 1958 merger with Thompson Products. TRW was involved in a large number of space projects from the beginning of the Space Age until its acquisition by Northrop Grumman in 2002. Ramo remained involved long after his retirement, including advocating for robotic space exploration. Ramo died of natural causes Monday at the age of 103. [Bloomberg]

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...