Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Concerns about space junk on Mars.

A new paper said that debris jettisoned by spacecraft as they land on Mars, such as parachutes and heat shields, could complicate future sample return missions.

Those components could cover or damage sample caches that those future missions are intended to retrieve for return to Earth.

The paper recommended that those items be jettisoned during landing so that they fall kilometers away to avoid interfering with the mission. [Seeker]

More News

Final preparations are underway for the launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on an Atlas 5 this morning. The launch of the Cygnus, on a mission designated OA-7, is scheduled for 11:11 a.m.Eastern from Cape Canaveral. No technical issues have been reported and weather is forecast to be favorable. The Cygnus is carrying more than 3,400 kilograms of cargo for the station, and will arrive at the station Saturday assuming an on-time launch today. [CBS]

Orbital ATK could launch future Cygnus missions on Atlas 5 vehicles depending on NASA’s needs. The company’s follow-on cargo contract with NASA gives the agency the option of choosing to launch Cygnus spacecraft on either the Atlas 5 or its own Antares rocket. Orbital ATK expects to hear from NASA “soon” about the mix of vehicles it wants to use on that contract. Orbital ATK originally planned to launch all its Cygnus missions on its current contract on the Antares, but an October 2014 failure led it to use the Atlas 5 for two missions. It selected the Atlas 5 for this mission, despite having returned the Antares to flight last fall, in order to meet NASA needs for additional cargo. [SpaceNews]

China rolled out the rocket for its first cargo spacecraft launch Monday. The Long March 7 rocket, carrying the Tianzhou-1 spacecraft, moved to the pad Monday at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on the island of Hainan. The launch is scheduled for Thursday. Tianzhou-1 will dock with the Tiangong-2 space laboratory module in orbit, demonstrating the ability to refuel the module. China plans to use future Tianzhou spacecraft to resupply the space station it is developing. [Spaceflight Now]

Japan plans a record number of launches in its new fiscal year. The Japanese space agency JAXA has eight launches scheduled for the 2017 fiscal year that started April 1, which would break the record of six set in fiscal year 2016. The first of those launches, an H-2A carrying a Michibiki navigation satellite, is scheduled for June 1. Other launches include satellites for climate change studies and reconnaissance and a cargo spacecraft to the ISS. [Nikkei]

India’s space agency is planning to develop a joint venture with industry to produce launch vehicles. The joint venture, which would involve up to half a dozen companies and many more subcontractors, would build the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles that have become the workhorse for the Indian space program. The first PSLV launch by that joint venture is planned for 2020 or 2021. [PTI]

Large constellations of communications satellites could create a dramatic increase in orbital debris. A new study simulating the effects of new satellite systems found that constellations of thousands of satellites could result in a 50 percent increase in the number of collisions between satellites and debris. European officials, holding a conference on space debris this week in Germany, are concerned that such systems may not give much thought to ways to mitigate those risks, such as deorbiting satellites at the end of their lives. [The Guardian]

The NASA official responsible for cybersecurity is leaving the agency. Jeannette Hanna-Ruiz, NASA’s chief information security officer, will leave NASA at the end of the month, just eight months into the job. Mike Witt, who came to NASA in February as deputy chief information security officer, will take on her job on an acting basis. [Federal News Radio]

Good News: Russia is probably not sending the Terminator to the ISS any time soon. News reports over the weekend suggested that a Russian robot called Fyodor, which recently demonstrated the ability to shoot handguns, would fly to the ISS in 2021. The cash-strapped Russian space program, though, probably won’t be able to deliver the robot by then on a next-generation crewed spacecraft called Federation, and NASA says it “would carefully consider any proposals from Russia” to send that robot the station. [Ars Technica]

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...