SpaceX SES-9 launch on tap for Friday night
SpaceX has rescheduled its next Falcon 9 launch attempt for tonight. The company confirmed plans Thursday to make another attempt to launch the SES-9 communications satellite during a 91-minute window that opens at 6:35 p.m. Eastern tonight.
SpaceX postponed a previous attempt Tuesday because of strong upper-altitude winds that have now subsided.
Forecasts call for a 90-percent chance of acceptable weather for launch Friday or Saturday.
Three earlier attempts were postponed by fueling issues, in one case caused at least in part by a hold when a boat entered restricted waters off Cape Canaveral. [Florida Today]
Inmarsat is not concerned about potential competition from a planned ViaSat satellite system. In a conference call with investors, Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pierce called the planned ViaSat-3 system of broadband satellites a “mythical beast” that won’t be in service for many years. Pierce said that by the time ViaSat-3 is operational, Inmarsat will have locked up the aviation market in Europe with its S-band service there, complemented by its Global Xpress system. He was also skeptical about plans by EchoStar to place an S-band satellite over Europe for an undisclosed service. [SpaceNews]
NASA has pushed back launch dates for robotic and crewed elements of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). In a presentation earlier this week to a NASA Advisory Council committee, the agency said it is now planning to launch the ARM robotic spacecraft in late 2021, a year later than previously planned. That would push out the crewed mission to the boulder that robotic mission will return by a year as well, to 2026. The delays will give NASA more time to complete studies in earlier phases of the robotic mission, and does not change the cost of the mission. [SpaceNews]
Accelerating the phase out of the RD-180 engine could cost up to $5 billion, the Secretary of the Air Force said Thursday. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Deborah Lee James said a preliminary analysis on the transition from the RD-180 to an American-built engine indicates the cost would be between $1.5 billion and $5 billion, depending on how quickly the change is desired. The committee’s chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), criticized a determination by the Treasury Department that the RD-180 is not subject to sanctions against the Russian government. [Reuters]
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is working on spaceplane concepts based on a British engine. An AFRL engineer said the lab will unveil two-stage-to-orbit vehicle designs based on the SABRE engine later this year or early next year, although it’s not clear if AFRL will have funding to do additional development of those proposed vehicles. SABRE is an engine under development by Reaction Engines Ltd. in the U.K. that is designed to use atmospheric oxygen, cooled into liquid in a fraction of a second, to power a rocket engine. That company has proposed a single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane, called Skylon, that uses SABRE, although the company still in the early phases of work on SABRE itself. [SPACE.com]
Buzz Aldrin made a non-partisan pitch for human missions to Mars at a conservative political conference Thursday. In a 10-minute speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Aldrin argued that human missions to Mars would demonstrate U.S. exceptionalism. Aldrin said he was speaking as neither a Republican nor a Democrat and, contrary to recent rumors that he was advising Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, stated that he was not an adviser to any candidate. Aldrin also spent time Thursday promoting a space tourism-themed contest at a Maryland casino that offers flights to the edge of space on a World View balloon. [TownHall.com / YouTube / WBAL-TV Baltimore]
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz called for a space-based missile defense system in Thursday night’s Republican debate. Cruz said that an advantage of a space-based system is that it could “take out one or two or three missiles” launched from Iran and North Korea before they approached the U.S. That comment was the only space-related mention during the often-contentious debate in Detroit. [New York Times]
J.J. Abrams is going from spaceflight fantasy to reality in a new documentary series. Abrams, who directed two Star Trek movies and the latest Star Wars movie, is the executive producer of Moon Shot, a nine-part online documentary about teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize. All nine parts of the Google-backed series will be released at once later this month on Google Play and YouTube, and will be free to watch. [GeekWire]
Pluto has mountains capped with methane snow. Images from the New Horizons spacecraft taken during its flyby of the distant world last year revealed the snow-capped mountains in a part of the world known informally as Cthulhu Regio. Scientists believe that the snow is methane that condenses out of Pluto’s tenuous atmosphere at higher altitudes, like water vapor on Earth. The mountains themselves are made of water ice. [Mashable]
A galaxy born shortly after the Big Bang has sent a new distance record. Astronomers announced Thursday the discovery of the galaxy, known as GN-z11, which is about 13.4 billion light-years from the Earth. That distance implies the galaxy formed within a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Astronomers detected the galaxy in Hubble Space Telescope images. That distance record may stand until after the launch of the more powerful James Webb Space Telescope in 2018. [Science]
The last surviving shuttle external tank will travel the streets of Los Angeles in May. The tank, currently at the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, will be sent by barge via the Panama Canal to Marina del Rey, California. It will then be trucked on city streets in Los Angeles and neighboring communities to the California Science Center, home of the shuttle Endeavour. The tank will eventually be mated to Endeavour and two solid rocket boosters and put on vertical display at the museum. [collectSPACE]