Expedition 46 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko and flight engineers Tim Kopra of NASA, center, and Tim Peake of ESA farewell prior to boarding the Soyuz TMA-19M rocket for launch Dec. 15 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. These three astronauts will make their way back to earth this evening. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

A Soyuz spacecraft is en route to the International Space Station after a successful launch this morning.

A Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft lifted off on schedule at 6:03 a.m. Eastern from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and entered orbit nine minutes later.

The Soyuz spacecraft is carrying Tim Kopra, Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Peake to the ISS. The spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the station at 12:24 p.m. Eastern. [SPACE.com]

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NASA started accepting applications Monday for the next astronaut selection round. Prospective astronauts have until Feb. 18 to submit their applications, which, like other federal jobs, is done through the USAJobs website. NASA expects to make the final selections in mid-2017. In the previous astronaut selection round, more than 6,000 people submitted applications, with eight people ultimately selected. [NASA]

A final fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill might be released today, but another stopgap funding bill is likely. Sources familiar with the negotiations said they expect the omnibus bill, delayed by more than a week, to be finally released on Tuesday. That schedule, though, makes it unlikely it can be passed by the House and Senate before the continuing resolution (CR) funding the government expires Wednesday night, requiring Congress to pass yet another CR to avoid a government shutdown. [The Hill]

The countdown is underway for the launch of six satellites Wednesday on an Indian PSLV rocket. The launch of the spacecraft is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Eastern from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre, and preparations for the launch are on track. The PSLV will launch six satellites for Singapore, including a commercial remote sensing satellite called TeLEOS-1. [PTI]

World War III Could Also Be a Problem for Mars

There’s a window that could be opened for a long time or a short time where we have an opportunity to establish a self-sustaining base on Mars, before something happens to drive the technology level on Earth below where it’s possible. So does the base become self-sustaining before spaceships from Earth stop going?…I mean, I don’t think we can discount the possibility of a third World War.”

– Elon Musk, in an article in GQ magazine about his work at SpaceX and Tesla, and his desire to establish a second home for humanity on Mars. Musk’s comments about the prospect of World War III got the most attention in follow-up media coverage of that story.

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A Florida spaceport expects to lose money in the short term to be profitable down the road. Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville doesn’t expect to show a profit until the fifth year of operations, losing $2 million during that time. The spaceport, a former naval air station, hopes to capture 40 percent of the horizontal launch market in Florida, although it currently has only one potential user: Generation Orbit, a company developing a small air-launch system. Spaceport officials said they hope grants will cover the shortfall in revenues in its early years of operation. [Jacksonville Business Journal]

A flyby of the Earth earlier this month put a Japanese spacecraft on course to reach its destination, an asteroid. Japan’s space agency JAXA said the Dec. 3 gravity-assist flyby of the Earth by the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft went as planned, and put the spacecraft on course for the asteroid Ryugu. Hayabusa-2 will arrive at the asteroid in mid-2018 and collect samples for return to Earth in 2020. [AFP]

An Australian broadband provider will move some of its customers off of satellites in order to make more effective use of that capacity. NBN Co. Ltd. said it will shift 40,000 customers from satellite to terrestrial wireless and fixed-line broadband service, freeing up satellite bandwidth. That will allow NBN to provide students using satellite services for distance education with up to 50 gigabytes a month. NBN, like other satellite broadband providers, is facing a challenge of managing demand to ensure customers get their guaranteed minimum level of service. [SpaceNews]


Extrasolar planets may hide their water in thick cloud layers. Spectroscopic observations of some exoplanets, known as “hot Jupiters,” have turned up less water than expected. Scientists now think that the water may exist on those worlds, but is hidden from view by clouds and haze. “Our results suggest it’s simply clouds hiding the water from prying eyes, and therefore rule out dry hot Jupiters,” said one astronomer. [Washington Post]

Suborbital vehicle developer XCOR Aerospace said it’s made a “major breakthrough” in engine design. The company said it’s successfully tested its 5K18 rocket engine in “closed cycle” mode, using waste heat from the engine to power other parts of the engine. That approach, the company says, allows it to eliminate the use of compressed gas in the engine and improves its reusability. [XCOR Aerospace]

CIA analysts were skeptical in the early 1960s that the Soviet Union had a human Moon landing program. Declassified documents showed that analysts did not find what they considered to be clear evidence that the Soviets were developing a large rocket and other infrastructure needed to send humans to the Moon as late as 1964. Those conclusions were not forwarded on to NASA, although that was as much a concern about the lack of conclusive evidence as it was any political issues. That ambiguity was, in retrospect, accurate, since the Soviets did not make a formal decision to pursue a human Moon landing until 1964. [The Space Review]

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...