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 carrying three ISS crew members will return to Earth late tonight.

The Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft is scheduled to undock from the station at 1:52 a.m. Eastern Saturday, landing in Kazakhstan at 5:15 a.m. Eastern.

The Soyuz will return to Earth Yuri Malenchenko, Tim Kopra and Tim Peake after 186 days in space.

Three new ISS crew members will launch to the station in early July. [BBC]

More News

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made a pitch to European Space Agency member nations to continue their participation on the ISS. Bolden, speaking at a meeting of the ESA Council in Paris this week, made an “impassioned plea” to them to extend their participation in the station to at least 2024. ESA is the only ISS partner yet to agree to that extension, and a formal decision on an extension won’t be made until a ministerial meeting late this year. [SpaceNews]

The return to flight of Orbital ATK’s Antares launch vehicle is likely to slip to August. The company said Thursday that it is now planning the launch of a Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS for “the August timeframe,” rather than July as previously planned. The company did not indicate if the delay was primarily due to the schedule of other spacecraft visiting the ISS in July or issues uncovered during a static fire test of an Antares first stage at the end of May. The launch will be the first of a new version of the rocket that replaces the AJ26 engine in its first stage with an RD-181. [SpaceNews]

Blue Origin has postponed the next suborbital test flight of its New Shepard vehicle to Sunday. The launch was scheduled for Friday, but company founder Jeff Bezos tweeted Thursday the company delayed the launch to replace a leaking O-ring in the nitrogen gas pressurization system in the vehicle’s crew capsule. The launch will be webcast on Blue Origin’s website, the first time it has offered a live broadcast of a test flight. [GeekWire]

The Canadian Space Agency will make an announcement today about the future of its astronaut program. The announcement, scheduled for 9 a.m. Eastern in Ottawa, will include government officials and the country’s two active astronauts. Some speculate the announcement will unveil a new astronaut selection round. Canada recently announced that one astronaut, David Saint-Jacques, would fly to the ISS in 2018, while the other, Jeremy Hansen, has yet to fly in space. [SpaceRef Canada]

The House approved a defense spending bill that cuts funding for the EELV program. The full house voted 282-138 Thursday to approve the fiscal year 2018 defense appropriations bill. The bill funds only three EELV launches instead of the five requested by the administration, saying the two it cut were “early to need.” The administration, in a statement threatening to veto the bill, argued the bill actually cut three, not two, launches from the request. [SpacePolicyOnline]

Elon Musk offered more details about Wednesday’s failed landing of a Falcon 9 first stage. Musk, in a series of tweets, said “early liquid oxygen depletion” caused an engine shutdown just before the stage landed on the deck of its autonomous spaceport drone ship in the Atlantic. The landing, he said, was not as fast as originally thought, but still broke the stage apart and caused the engines to “accordion.” Musk reiterated he expects about a 70 percent success rate in landings this year; so far, it is at 50 percent (3 for 6). [The Verge]

NASA’s Juno spacecraft is set to enter orbit around Jupiter on July 4, project leaders said Thursday. Juno will fire its main engine for 35 minutes late that day, slowing the spacecraft enough to enter into a polar orbit around Jupiter. Juno, launched in 2011, is a mission to better understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter by studying its interior. Juno is shielded to protect key systems from the powerful radiation environment close to Jupiter, but its mission is expected to last less than two years. [CBS]

Chinese officials say they’re ready for commercial space efforts to take a larger role there. At the first China Space Economic Forum, held Thursday in Beijing, Tian Yulong, the general secretary of the China National Space Administration, said military and other government officials are discussing ways to share existing resources with companies. He added that many resources were ready now for commercial development. [Xinhua]

A small asteroid is a “quasi-moon” of Earth. Planetary scientists said this week that a newly discovered asteroid, 2016 HO3, is in an orbit around the sun that keeps it in the vicinity of the Earth, between 15 and 39 million kilometers away. The asteroid, up to 100 meters across, likely has been a quasi-moon of the Earth for at least a century, and should remain so for centuries to come. [SPACE.com]

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...