SpaceNews 2014 Year in Review

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Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine and the subsequent slide in its relations with the West set the stage for a long-running drama that culminated in a congressional ban on future U.S. government use of the Russian-made RD-180 engine that powers its workhorse Atlas 5 rocket. 

In between was a mix of triumph and disaster, from Europe’s landing of a probe on a distant comet to the fatal crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane.

What follows are some of the highlights and lowlights of the year now coming to a close.


JANUARY

International Space Station. Credit: NASA
International Space Station. Credit: NASA

< The White House proposes extending the international space station’s mission to 2024 — four years beyond what the U.S. had committed to at the time — and begins lobbying its international partners to follow suit.

Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris completes its $831 million purchase of Mexico’s Satmex, closing a hole in Eutelsat’s global coverage.

The European Space Agency pledges to reduce its annual space station operating costs by 30 percent by the end of 2015.

Launch service provider Arianespace orders 18 heavy-lift Ariane 5 rockets from prime contractor Airbus in a deal valued at more than 2 billion euros ($2.5 billion).

Congress approves a bipartisan spending bill for the remainder of 2014 that provides NASA with $17.6 billion and funds major U.S. military space programs at a collective $600 million less than the president’s proposed budget. NOAA got full funding for its Joint Polar Satellite System program but no funding for a free-flyer satellite meant to host a climate instrument and an international search and rescue payload.

Air navigation authorities from Denmark, Ireland and Italy invest a combined $120 million in Aireon, a satellite-based airline tracking business whose space component will ride aboard the second-generation Iridium constellation.

Orbital Sciences launches the first paid Cygnus capsule to the international space station under a NASA contract.

Mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat buys Globe Wireless for $45 million, furthering its move to downstream mobile satellite applications.

EchoStar buys the struggling Solaris Mobile S-band satellite venture from SES and Eutelsat of Europe and announces plans to reintroduce the service with a new satellite.

The GSLV carrying the GSat-14 communications satellite. Credit: ISRO
The GSLV carrying the GSat-14 communications satellite. Credit: ISRO

India launches the first GSLV rocket with Indian-built cryogenic upper stage.

Japan approves $1.9 billion in investment for a new H-3 rocket.

Europe’s Rosetta comet-chaser satellite reawakens after a 31-month hibernation as it approaches Comet 67P.

NASA announces it will buy six Soyuz seats from Russia, covering round trips for three astronauts to and from the international space station.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says in a newly released memoir that Pentagon leaders believed China’s 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test was conducted without the consent of that country’s civilian leadership.

NASA announces it will rename the Dryden Flight Research Center in California the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center.


FEBRUARY

Gen. William Shelton. Credit: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie
Gen. William Shelton. Credit: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie

< Gen. William Shelton, commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, discloses the existence of the previously classified Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness program and says the first two satellites will launch in 2014.

The French-Italian Athena-Fidus civil-military Ka-band broadband satellite is successfully launched in the first bilateral collaboration of its kind.

Italian Space Agency President Enrico Saggese is forced to resign following allegations of corruption in contract awards.

Space Systems/Loral, a builder of large telecommunications satellites, wins a contract to build 13 small Earth observation satellites for Skybox Imaging, which was purchased by Google.

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket. Credit: SpaceX

The U.S. Air Force announces it has accepted SpaceX’s maiden flight of the Falcon 9 v1.1 as part of its certification to launch national security space missions.

Afghanistan announces plans for its own telecommunications satellite, starting with a deal with Eutelsat to use an in-orbit Eutelsat spacecraft, now named Afghansat 1.

The U.S. Air Force launches its fifth satellite in the GPS 2F series of positioning, navigation and timing satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

NASA announces that Google-backed Planetary Ventures will take over management of Moffett Federal Airfield from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

Orbital Sciences finishes its first paid cargo run to the international space station for NASA as its expendable Cygnus space capsule re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and is destroyed along with a load of trash.


MARCH

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. Credit: NASA/Carla Thomas
Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. Credit: NASA/Carla Thomas

< As part of its $17.6 billion budget request for NASA in 2015, the White House proposes to cancel the jet-mounted Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA. The observatory, an 80-20 partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, cost about $1 billion to get flying.

China Great Wall Industry Corp. blames a blocked fuel line for the December Long March 4B failure that destroyed the China-Brazil CBERS-3 Earth observation satellite.

SpaceX says its $60 million price for Falcon 9 rises by $10 million for NASA launches, and $30 million for U.S. Air Force launches, because of additional requirements levied by these agencies.

A soldering problem delays completion of the third satellite in the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System, prompting a change in the constellation’s launch order.

Kathryn Sullivan. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Kathryn Sullivan. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Former astronaut Kathryn Sullivan is confirmed as the new administrator of NOAA.

NASA solicits ideas for a $1 billion mission to Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter. The price tag is less than half that of the lowest-cost mission NASA’s own engineers and scientists had devised.

The U.S. Air Force announces that because of budget pressures it will halve the number of competitive launches available from 2015-2017.

NASA extends space station cargo contracts with Orbital Sciences and SpaceX through 2017.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awards Boeing a contract worth as much as $104 million to build and demonstrate a low-cost airborne launching system for small satellites, known as Airborne Launch Assist Space Access.

Gen. John Hyten. Credit: U.S. Air Force/Duncan Wood
Gen. John Hyten. Credit: U.S. Air Force/Duncan Wood

U.S. President Barack Obama nominates Lt. Gen. John Hyten to receive his fourth star and take over as commander of Air Force Space Command, the service’s top uniformed position for space.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank says $1 billion in satellite financing deals since 2010 made the satellite industry the fastest-growing of the bank’s export-credit sectors.

NOAA orders instruments for the third and fourth Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft, plus spares. The satellites themselves are not yet under contract.

NASA says it will cost about $1.25 billion to build a robotic spacecraft to capture a small asteroid and haul it into lunar space for astronauts to explore sometime in the 2020s.


APRIL

Metop Second Generation. Credit: ESA
Metop Second Generation. Credit: ESA

< Airbus Defence and Space beats Thales and OHB for a $1.1 billion ESA contract for Europe’s next-generation polar orbiting Metop satellites.

SpaceX files a lawsuit seeking to overturn the U.S. Air Force’s $11 billion, sole-source contract for rockets from its incumbent provider, United Launch Alliance.

The U.S. intelligence community publicly endorses imaging satellite operator DigitalGlobe’s request for government permission to sell its highest-resolution photos on the open market.

The second-to-last satellite in the U.S. Air Force’s long-running Defense Meteorological Satellite Program successfully launches aboard a ULA Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The first European Union Sentinel satellite, Sentinel 1A, reaches orbit. The radar satellite is part of the EU’s multibillion-euro Copernicus environment monitoring program.

Ice, Cloud,and land Elevation Satellite-2. Credit: Orbital Sciences
Ice, Cloud,and land Elevation Satellite-2. Credit: Orbital Sciences

The U.S. Government Accountability Office says NASA’s overbudget ICESat-2 Earth-observing mission will launch no sooner than 2018, two years later than planned.

The U.S. Air Force orders the seventh and eighth GPS 3 satellites from Lockheed Martin.

Israel conducts first Shavit rocket launch in four years, placing the Ofeq 10 radar reconnaissance satellite into low Earth orbit.

Sky Perfect JSat of Japan orders two satellites, JCSat 15 and JCSat16, from Space Systems/Loral after ordering JCSat 14 from the same manufacturer a year ago.

A California district court awards satellite broadband provider ViaSat Inc. $283 million in its lawsuit against Space Systems/Loral and then-parent Loral Space and Communications for patent infringement and breach of contract.

The Canadian government pulls its M3M satellite, with a commercial maritime surveillance payload, from the manifest of Russia’s Soyuz rocket in protest against Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

Commercial satellite operators say U.S. government sanctions on Russia related to Ukraine are slowing shipping-license approvals for satellites slated to launch on Russia’s Proton rocket.

SpaceX tests the recoverability of its Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage following the launch of a Dragon capsule to the international space station.

Manfred Fuchs. Credit: OHB
Manfred Fuchs. Credit: OHB

Manfred Fuchs, who with his wife turned OHB AG of Germany into Europe’s third-largest space hardware integrator, dies at 75 of a heart attack.

Airbus Defence and Space bests a crowded field to win a $211 million Peruvian optical reconnaissance satellite contract.

Orbital Sciences and ATK announce plans to merge their aerospace and defense divisions.

NASA leases a mothballed space shuttle launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center to SpaceX for launches of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.


MAY

Dmitry Rogozin. Credit: ITAR-TASS
Dmitry Rogozin. Credit: ITAR-TASS

< Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin threatens to ban exports of Russian-made rocket engines used to launch U.S. military satellites.

The U.K. government recommends terrestrial backups for GPS and other satellite-based positioning, navigation and timing networks to reduce effects of outages or jamming.

The Brazilian government auctions four orbital slots, with associated broadcast rights, generating $67.6 million in revenue from winning bidders SES, Eutelsat and Hispasat.
A Proton rocket fails, its sixth anomaly since 2010, destroying the Russian Satellite Communications Co.’s Express AM4R telecommunications satellite, which was to replace the AM4 satellite lost in a previous Proton failure.

An Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-26 engine, the main propulsion system for Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket, explodes on a test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

ULA releases previously undisclosed pricing information, including the value of a controversial U.S. Air Force contract for 36 launch vehicle cores, in an effort to blunt criticism that it is overcharging the U.S. government.

KT Sat of South Korea orders two telecommunications satellites from Thales Alenia Space, Koreasat 7 and Koreasat 5A.

Space insurance underwriters say 2013 was the first money-losing year for them since 2007, with more than $800 million in claims likely.

SES's Astra 2G mounted to a Proton rocket. Credit: International Launch Services
SES’s Astra 2G mounted to a Proton rocket. Credit: International Launch Services

The U.S. State Department, after delays, issues shipping licenses for Inmarsat and SES commercial telecommunications satellites to launch aboard Russia’s Proton rocket.

A Boeing executive says the U.S. Air Force is discussing the possibility of buying two more Wideband Global Satcom communications satellites with funding from international partners.

The U.S. Air Force launches its sixth GPS 2F navigation satellite aboard a ULA Delta 4 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.


JUNE

Space Fence. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Space Fence. Credit: Lockheed Martin

< Lockheed Martin wins a $914 million contract to build the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation ground-based space surveillance system, known as the Space Fence.

WorldVu Satellites of Britain’s Channel Islands registers plans with international regulators for a fleet of several hundred Ku-band satellites in low Earth orbit. Financial partners are not disclosed.

A National Research Council panel says NASA’s human spaceflight roadmap will not lead to the agency’s ultimate goal, Mars.

ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain says the agency’s dealings with Russia have not been affected by the international sanctions regime imposed on Russia over Ukraine.

Arabsat and Inmarsat join forces to build a satellite carrying an Arabsat telecommunications payload and an Inmarsat S-band payload for mobile communications.

Ariane prime contractor Airbus and motor maker Safran say they will merge their rocket manufacturing operations into a joint venture as a first step in restructuring Europe’s launch sector, with the French government’s blessing.

A Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket, operating from Russia’s Yasny spaceport, places 33 satellites, including payloads from the United States, Britain and Spain, into low Earth orbit.

Panasonic Avionics purchases a large amount of capacity, prelaunch, on a Eutelsat satellite over the Pacific Ocean region for in-flight broadband, and says when operational the satellite will give Panasonic coverage of 99.5 percent of the air routes of the world’s top 50 airlines.

Ariane 5. Credit: Arianespace
Ariane 5. Credit: Arianespace

Launch service provider Arianespace says its decision early in the year to reduce prices for smaller satellites riding aboard Ariane 5 rockets is paying off in contract wins.

The U.S. Air Force awards Lockheed Martin Space Systems a $1.86 billion contract to complete the fifth and sixth SBIRS missile warning satellites.

Raytheon wins the hotly contested FAB-T strategic military satellite terminal contract after fighting its way into a competition with the original prime contractor, Boeing.

David Chenette is fired as director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division after nine months on the job. His supervisor, NASA science chief John Grunsfeld, cites leadership and management failures.

Robert Cardillo (left). Credit: NGA
Robert Cardillo (left). Credit: NGA

The Pentagon announces that Robert Cardillo, the No. 3 official in the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, will take the reins of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency beginning in October, succeeding Letitia Long.

Arabsat publicly accuses Ethiopia of harboring jammers that have interfered repeatedly with Arabsat satellite transmissions. Eutelsat says intentional jamming of its signals has increased and it specifically points to Ethiopia as the source of some of the incidents.

The U.S. Air Force’s space acquisition arm is officially looking for possible challengers to Lockheed Martin to build the service’s next batch of GPS positioning, navigation and timing satellites.

A U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense interceptor destroys a target in the first success in the last four intercept attempts by the nation’s primary missile shield.

Mary Kicza steps down after seven years as head of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service.

Sierra Nevada Corp. acquires liquid-rocket propulsion shop Orbitec of Madison, Wisconsin.

NOAA decommissions the NOAA-16 polar-orbiting weather satellite after 13 years of service.


JULY

Space Launch System. Credit: NASA
Space Launch System. Credit: NASA

< A GAO report warns of cost and schedule risks for NASA’s Space Launch System program.

The U.S. Air Force awards contracts to 14 space companies to facilitate the placement of military payloads aboard commercial satellites.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launches the first six second-generation Orbcomm machine-to-machine messaging satellites.

The U.S. Air Forces launches two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness satellites, adding to its existing ground and in-orbit network of sensors tracking space objects.

The U.S. Air Force formally requests bids to launch a National Reconnaissance Office mission in the first competition under its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program since 2006.

NASA awards $25 million in study contracts for instruments for a proposed NASA mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

OCO-2. Credit: United Launch Alliance
OCO-2. Credit: ULA

NASA’S Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2 reaches orbit after a launch aboard a ULA Delta 2 rocket. It replaces the OCO satellite lost in a 2009 launch failure.

India’s PSLV rocket successfully launches the Spot 7 commercial Earth observation satellite for Airbus Defence and Space, a launch that cleared the usual hurdles that make it difficult for U.S. satellite components, such as those on Spot 7, to launch on Indian rockets.

Russia’s Khrunichev Space Center reports success in the inaugural flight of the Angara 1.2 rocket, the first in the Angara family including heavy-lift vehicles and lighter versions.

Arianespace employees stage a brief work stoppage to signal their worries about a planned reorganization and streamlining of Europe’s rocket sector.

NASA awards contracts valued at $130 million for seven instruments that will be flown on the agency’s Mars 2020 rover mission.

Second group of O3b satellites launch on a Europeanized Soyuz. Credit: Arianespace
Second group of O3b satellites launch on a Europeanized Soyuz. Credit: Arianespace

A Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launches a second batch of four O3b Networks Ka-band broadband satellites, paving the way for the start of commercial O3b service, which needs six spacecraft.

U.S. Reps. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) introduce the ASTEROIDS Act, legislation that would grant property right protections to resources obtained from asteroids.

Northrop Grumman and Boeing say they have responded to a U.S. Air Force call for contractors interested in building the service’s next batch of GPS positioning, navigation and timing satellites.

The Pentagon asks for $100 million to support an eighth competitive satellite launch under its EELV program.

A Blue Origin executive reveals that company founder Jeff Bezos has invested more than $500 million into the commercial spaceflight company.


AUGUST

Ariane 5 launches final ATV. Credit: ESA/S. Coravja
Ariane 5 launches final ATV. Credit: ESA/S. Coravja

< Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket launches the fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle to the international space station, part of an in-kind reimbursement to NASA in return for Europe’s share of the station’s common operating costs.

DigitalGlobe launches its WorldView-3 satellite, whose sharpest images — able to resolve objects 31 centimeters across — will eventually be cleared for sale on the commercial market following a change in U.S. government policy.

Two former SpaceX employees sue the company seeking compensation for what they claim was a layoff and what the company says was termination for cause.

A NASA review concludes that the Space Launch System will not be ready for its first flight until as late as November 2018, at an estimated development cost of up to $7 billion.

An official with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, says tensions with the West over Ukraine have halted discussions with the space station partners about extending the station’s operations beyond 2020.

Tory Bruno. Credit: ULA
Tory Bruno. Credit: ULA

ULA Chief Executive Michael Gass is replaced by Tory Bruno, who had been president of Lockheed Martin Strategic and Missile Defense Systems.

Commercial launch services provider International Launch Services cuts 25 percent of its staff and says commercial Proton launches are likely to number no more than three or four per year, rather than seven or eight as in the past, given changes in the market.

Raytheon announces it has finished renegotiating its contract with the U.S. Air Force for the GPS 3 ground segment, postponing some program elements by up to 23 months.

The state of Texas agrees to invest $15 million in a new launch site for SpaceX near Brownsville.

A Europeanized Soyuz rocket places two Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites into a useless orbit. The cause is later traced to unclear design specifications for the vehicle’s Fregat upper stage.

The GPS2F satellite launched Aug. 1 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Florida. Credit: ULA
The GPS2F satellite launched Aug. 1 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Florida. Credit: ULA

The U.S. Air Force launches the seventh of its GPS 2F series of positioning, navigation and timing satellites.

A U.S. District Court judge rejects a jury’s $283 million award to ViaSat from Space Systems/Loral and Loral Space and Communications, and says a new trial on damages will be held.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General says NOAA’s next-generation polar-orbit meteorological satellite system is vulnerable to cyberattacks and that NOAA is too slow in fixing the problem.


SEPTEMBER

Tony Bruno (left), Jeff Bezos and the BE-4 engine. Credit: SpaceNews/Brian Berger
Tony Bruno (left), Jeff Bezos and the BE-4 engine. Credit: SpaceNews/Brian Berger

< ULA invests in an engine being developed by Blue Origin, a launch vehicle startup founded by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, as a replacement for the RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket.

NASA’s senior review of ongoing planetary science missions recommends that all should continue, but criticizes the Mars Science Laboratory mission’s proposed science goals as underwhelming.

The U.S. Defense Department sends Congress a report that says buying bandwidth from commercial satellite providers is nearly four times more expensive than using military-owned communications satellites.

U.S., India agree to expand ties in Mars exploration, Earth observation.

NASA awards contracts valued at $6.8 billion to Boeing and SpaceX to develop commercial crew transportation systems. Losing bidder Sierra Nevada Corp. protests to the GAO.

MAVEN. Credit: NASA
MAVEN. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft enters orbit around Mars. India’s first Mars probe reaches its destination just days later.

SpaceX breaks ground on its commercial spaceport near Brownsville, Texas.

NASA issues a request for proposals for the follow-on to the Commercial Resupply Services contract to transport cargo to and from the space station.

NOAA names Stephen Volz as the assistant administrator for its Satellite Information Service.

The Russian government pledges 50 billion rubles, or about $1.3 billion, to complete construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome, scheduled to be operational in 2015.

O3b satellites. Credit: O3b
O3b satellites. Credit: O3b

Two of the first four O3b Networks satellites are taken out of service to conserve power in the event a hardware problem common to all four causes a much-shortened lifespan.

Russia’s RSCC satellite fleet operator, which has suffered multiple satellite losses in Proton failures, says that starting in 2016 it will consider new contracting arrangements that could see its satellites launched on different vehicles.

Bangladesh announces plans to order its own telecommunications satellite following negotiations on access to an orbital slot.

Industry officials say the U.S. Missile Defense Agency is revisiting concepts from an interceptor program canceled by the White House in 2013 as part of its effort to field a new or redesigned kill vehicle.

The U.S. Air Force issues contracts to at least four companies to examine how they might pick up the slack should the service shutter one or more of its satellite-operating facilities.

Qatari satellite operator Es’hailSat selects Mitsubishi Electric to build the Es’hail 2 telecommunications satellite, a second big win for Melco after its two-satellite contract with Turkey’s Turksat.

Loral and its former satellite manufacturing arm, Space Systems/Loral, agree to pay ViaSat $100 million over 2.5 years to settle patent infringement and breach-of-contract lawsuit claims.

HiSpecIQ orders two Boeing Phoenix satellites for a commercial hyperspectral mission that would be the first venture of its kind. Raytheon is later picked to supply the sensors.

Former NASA scientist and Lockheed Martin executive Noel Hinners dies at 78.


OCTOBER

Antares rocket explodes on liftoff. Credit: NASA Television
Antares rocket explodes on liftoff. Credit: NASA Television

< An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes on liftoff, destroying a Cygnus capsule carrying supplies to the space station. Orbital subsequently says it will no longer use the Russian-built, Aerojet Rocketdyne-refurbished AJ-26 main-stage engine, which is implicated in the failure.

NASA cancels the Sunjammer solar sail technology demonstration mission, citing concerns about the contractor’s ability to develop the spacecraft.

The Obama administration nominates MIT aerospace professor Dava Newman to become NASA deputy administrator.

The Canadian government reassigns Canadian Space Agency President Walter Natynczyk to deputy minister of veterans affairs.

SpaceShipTwo wreckage. Credit: CNN/KABC
SpaceShipTwo wreckage. Credit: CNN/KABC

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashes during a test flight near Mojave, California. The vehicle’s co-pilot is killed in the crash and the pilot is injured.

The Russian Proton rocket returns to flight after its May failure.

European Commission says it will back a proposal to allow terrestrial broadband operators to use C-band spectrum currently reserved exclusively for satellite use. The issue will be considered at the World Radiocommunication Conference in late 2015.

NASA says designers of the proposed Europa Clipper mission have chosen solar arrays rather than a nuclear generator to power the deep space probe.

AJ-26 rocket engine being test fired. Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne
AJ-26 rocket engine being test fired. Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

Aerojet Rocketdyne says it took a $17.5 million loss in its most recent financial quarter due to issues with the AJ-26 engine.

Many Russian delegates to the International Astronautical Congress, held in Toronto, are refused entry visas by the Canadian government, possibly because of Russia’s Ukrainian incursion and the large Ukrainian population in Canada.

NASA resumes work on commercial crew contracts with Boeing and SpaceX that had been halted by a Sierra Nevada protest.

NanoRacks says the malfunction of its satellite-dispenser system at the international space station was caused by overly tightened dispenser screws that in one instance prevented deployment and in another caused premature deployment.

The X-37B returns from its third flight. Credit: Boeing
The X-37B returns from its third flight. Credit: Boeing

The U.S. Air Force X-37B spaceplane returns from the program’s third flight after 22 months in orbit on a classified mission. A fourth mission is planned for 2015.

India launches the third Indian Regional Navigation Satellite into geostationary orbit aboard an Indian PSLV rocket.

Argentina launches its first telecommunications satellite, Arsat-1, saying it plans to develop a sustainable domestic satellite supplier base.

The French and European space agencies scrap a planned mid-November launch of a suborbital space vehicle because of range safety concerns at the French Guiana spaceport.

An Air Force official says a new contracting vehicle for hosting government payloads on commercial satellites likely will be used exclusively for civilian scientific missions for three to five years.


NOVEMBER

Mosaic of the first two images showing Rosetta's lander Philae safely on the surface of Comet 67P. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA
Mosaic of the first two images showing Rosetta’s lander Philae safely on the surface of Comet 67P. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

< Europe’s Rosetta comet chaser drops its 100-kilogram Philae lander to the surface of Comet 67P in a world first. Despite nonperforming landing gear, the lander delivers a rich harvest of data.

The U.S. Air Force awards the Raytheon-led industry team Range Generation Next LLC a contract potentially worth $2 billion to support the U.S. Air Force’s two main launch ranges.

Orbital Sciences announces a “go-forward” plan in the wake of the Antares failure, including accelerating replacement of the vehicle’s first-stage engines and using other companies to launch Cygnus missions in the interim.

NASA approves for development the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission, scheduled for launch in 2017.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) is named to chair the U.S. House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, succeeding the retiring Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.).

NOAA acknowledges that the “unscheduled maintenance” that temporarily disrupted the flow of certain satellite data to the National Weather Service in October was prompted by “an Internet-sourced attack” on four NOAA websites.
NASA names Jim Watzin as the new director of the agency’s Mars exploration program.

WorldVu Satellites issues a bid request for 600-800 small Ku-band satellites to deliver Internet connectivity worldwide.

Orion. Credit: ESA
Orion. Credit: ESA

ESA contracts with Airbus Defence and Space for the completion of work on the service module to be used with NASA’s Orion crew transport vehicle.

Indonesian satellite operator PSN selects Space Systems/Loral to build the PSN-6 telecommunications satellite after preferred contractor Boeing fails to find a companion customer for an identical satellite that would share a launch vehicle.

Satellite builder Thales Alenia Space warns that planned cuts to Italy’s space budget could stop work on the second-generation Cosmo-SkyMed radar satellite system.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, loses his re-election bid.

Former NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale joins the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation as deputy associate administrator.


DECEMBER

Orion launches on Delta 4 Heavy rocket. Credit: NASA
Orion launches on Delta 4 Heavy rocket. Credit: NASA

< NASA’s Orion spacecraft successfully completes a four-and-a-half-hour uncrewed test flight, launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

Japan’s H-2A rocket successfully launches the Hayabusa-2 asteroid sample-return mission 11 years after the first mission. Asteroid rendezvous is scheduled for 2018.

The U.S. Justice Department approves the planned merger of ATK and Orbital Sciences Corp.

An omnibus spending bill provides NASA with $18 billion for fiscal year 2015, more than $500 million above the administration’s request, including increases for the Space Launch System, Orion and planetary science. The defense portion of the bill includes $220 million to develop a replacement for the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine.

Airbus Defence and Space sells its newly operational Spot 7 Earth observation satellite to the government of Azerbaijan as part of a cooperation accord in commercial remote sensing.

Iridium and the U.S. Air Force disagree about whether the Iridium 91 satellite was struck by debris, with the former identifying four new objects around the satellite and Iridium saying the satellite is working fine.

Ariane 62. Credit: ESA
Ariane 62. Credit: ESA

ESA governments agree to finance development of a new generation of Ariane rockets, called Ariane 6, and a more-powerful Vega small-satellite vehicle, among other decisions taken at a ministerial conference.

Airbus Defence and Space, and Safran create a joint venture company to manage Ariane 6 development consolidate Europe’s rocket sector.

Technical issues force the U.S. Navy to postpone, to December 2015, the certification of the MUOS satellite system, which includes a new waveform whose functioning with the ground network needs further work.

Orbital Sciences announces it will launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on a ULA Atlas 5 in the fourth quarter of 2015.

A European Galileo navigation satellite placed into a useless orbit in August is successfully moved to a still-suboptimal but functional orbit with enough fuel remaining to operate for 12 years. The second satellite left in the same orbit is expected to follow.

The U.S. Air Force announces it will send warnings of potential satellite collisions directly to China’s space operators, without a detour through the U.S. State Department.