Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton at a New Hampshire event in November. Credit: Marc Nozell

In the final stretch before today’s Iowa caucuses, one candidate had support from some space travelers.

Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, campaigned for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over the weekend.

While Kelly spoke primarily about gun control, he did say that Clinton “believes in science and technology and innovation.”

Also campaigning for Clinton in Iowa over the weekend was Richard Garriott, who flew to the International Space Station as a commercial spaceflight participant in 2008.

Garriott, wearing his flight suit from that mission, was out canvassing for votes with his wife Laetitia, co-founder of space transportation startup Escape Dynamics, and others, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. [Wired News / Twitter]

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China launched a Beidou navigation satellite early this morning. The Long March 3C carrying the Beidou-21 satellite lifted off at 2:35 a.m. Eastern. The satellite is reportedly the last experimental satellite for Phase 3 of the overall Beidou system, which will expand its coverage from regional to global. Chinese officials had not formally confirmed the success of the launch a few hours after liftoff. []

An ILS Proton successfully launched a Eutelsat communications satellite with a European laser communications payload Friday. The Proton lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 5:20 p.m. Eastern Friday and released Eutelsat 9B into its transfer orbit a little more than nine hours later. The spacecraft, built by Airbus, will provide Ku-band coverage of Europe from 9 degrees east, replacing the existing Eutelsat 9A spacecraft. The satellite also carries a laser communications payload for the European Data Relay System, designed for high-speed transfer of data from Earth observation spacecraft. [SpaceNews]

Google has been testing high-altitude drones for broadband communications from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The company is using the spaceport to test solar-powered drones and millimeter-wave radio technology that could enable “5G” wireless communications with data rates of gigabits per second. Google built communications facilities at the spaceport and set up a flight control center in the spaceport’s operations building. It is also leasing space in the spaceport’s main hangar from Virgin Galactic. [The Guardian]

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The company developing the Ariane 6 expects to submit a bid for the first batch of those vehicles by the end of this year. Alain Charmeau, head of Airbus Safran Launchers, said the company is working to achieve a mid-year review of the Ariane 6 design and production cost with ESA, to be followed by a bid for the first set of vehicles by the end of this year. Charmeau said that schedule, which would allow a first Ariane 6 launch by 2020, depends on the resolution of a tax issue regarding a payment of 800 million euros from Safran to Airbus as part of the creation of the joint venture. [SpaceNews]

Pluto has more water ice on its surface that previously believed. New analysis of data collected by the New Horizons spacecraft during its flyby last July shows water ice to be “considerably more widespread” across the surface than previously thought. Water ice serves as the bedrock of Pluto’s crust. Scientists noted the water ice was particularly absent in Sputnik Planum, the left part of the “heart” feature on the surface, where it may be obscured by other ices. []


New Horizons also has a new project manager at the Applied Physics Laboratory. Helene Winters took over as project manager from Glen Fountain, who plans to retire after managing the mission since 2004. Winters was previously the manager for another APL-led mission, the MESSENGER Mercury orbiter, which ended its mission last April. [JHUAPL]

A former NASA official is under consideration for a leadership post at the University of Colorado. Robert Braun spent two days at the university last week for interviews regarding the position of dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science there. University officials said Braun was a “special target of opportunity” that they sought to interview outside of a normal search process. Braun, a professor of space technology at Georgia Tech, served as NASA chief technologist in 2010 and 2011. [Boulder Daily Camera]





  • Cape Canaveral, Fla.: An Atlas 5 is scheduled to launch the GPS 2F-12 satellite during a 19-minute launch window that opens at 8:38 a.m. Eastern.


  • Helsinki: SpaceUp Finland, a user-run space “unconference,” takes place at Aalto University.


  • Plesetsk, Russia: A Soyuz-2 rocket is scheduled to launch a Glonass navigation satellite.

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...