The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the 2016 NDAA, which exempted a total of nine RD-180 engines, prevailed in the compromise bill hashed out by House and Senate conferees. Credit: ULA

The Air Force is moving too quickly to replace the RD-180, an independent panel warned.

That panel of acquisition exports advised the Air Force last year to adopt a slower schedule that could delay introduction of a new engine until 2025, making greater use of the Delta 4 during that period.

That approach, the panel claimed, would reduce risks and could be less expensive in the long run.

Air Force officials disagree with that assessment, arguing that using the more expensive Delta 4 could cost several billion dollars. [Wall Street Journal]

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SpaceX finally launched the SES-9 satellite Friday night, but couldn’t land the first stage. The upgraded Falcon 9 lifted off at 6:35 p.m. Eastern Friday evening from Cape Canaveral, and the upper stage released SES-9 into a geostationary transfer orbit a little more than a half hour later. An attempt to recover the first stage on a ship several hundred kilometers downrange failed when the stage “landed hard” on the ship, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. The company had previously cautioned that, due to this mission’s particular profile, a successful landing was unlikely. [SpaceNews]

Scott Kelly says he’s feeling a only a little worse for the wear after spending nearly a year in space. Kelly said at a Friday press conference that his muscles and joints ache, and that his skin is “very, very sensitive,” but that overall he feels good. Kelly, who spend 340 days on the ISS before returning last week, said he could have stayed there longer if needed. “I personally think going to Mars, if it takes two years or two-and-a-half years, yeah, that’s doable,” he said. [CBS]

Two major satellite manufacturers hope that a high-profile bankruptcy doesn’t affect export credit financing. In interviews, executives with Airbus and Boeing said they’re still waiting to see how the NewSat bankruptcy affects the willingness of the Ex-Im Bank in the U.S. and Coface in France to finance satellite projects. The executives said they are hoping for a “reasonably good” or “plus-par” year for satellite orders in 2016 after a slow 2015. [SpaceNews]


A coalition of space organizations released a white paper Friday with space policy recommendations for presidential and other candidates. The paper, produced by a group of 13 organizations, seeks stability and continuity for civil, commercial and military space efforts, endorsing continued development of both SLS and Orion as well as commercial crew vehicles. The paper has been distributed to all the major presidential candidates, who to date have said little about space policy. Those organizations said they hope space does not become a major issue in the campaign, hoping instead for bipartisan support. [SpaceNews]

The satellite broadband service provided by Hughes Network Systems scored well in a report by the FCC. That report found that Hughes did better than most other Internet service providers, satellite and terrestrial, in offering broadband services that meet or exceed what the company promises. One factor is that rating is that Hughes promises lower speeds than another satellite company, ViaSat, whose service has declined marginally in the last two years as its existing ViaSat-1 satellite reaches capacity. [SpaceNews]
Another Russian company is making plans to develop a suborbital vehicle. KosmoKurs said the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos has provided its approval of a technical design for a suborbital system capable of carrying six people plus a pilot. The company did not disclose the technical specifications of the vehicle, but said they hope to have it ready for launches in 2020, offering tickets for $200,000 to $250,000. Past Russian efforts to develop suborbital space tourism vehicles, dating back to the X Prize, failed to take flight. [TASS]

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Scientists have reportedly discovered clouds in the tenuous atmosphere of Pluto. Emails circulating among members of the New Horizons science team have discussed several images that appear to show clouds, kicking off a discussion among scientists about whether the features are real. An image circulated last week offered the latest evidence for a cloud of some kind in the atmosphere. Scientists have not formally confirmed the presence of clouds, or, if they exist, what their composition is. [New Scientist]

A cubesat built by elementary school students will soon be deployed from the ISS. The STMSat-1 satellite, brought to the station on a Cygnus cargo spacecraft in December, will be deployed from the station as soon as Tuesday. The spacecraft was built by elementary school students at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Virginia over the last few years. The satellite will be the first built by elementary students to fly in space. [CBS]

This Week



  • National Harbor, Md.: The Satellite 2016 conference features a wide range of sessions on the satellite industry and related topics.



  • Kourou, French Guiana: An Ariane 5 is scheduled to launch the Eutelsat 65 West A satellite in a launch window that opens at 12:20 a.m. Eastern.



  • Sriharikota, India: A PSLV rocket is scheduled to launch the IRNSS 1F navigation satellite at 5:30 a.m. Eastern.
  • Washington: The Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee holds a hearing on NASA’s budget request at 10:30 a.m. Eastern.



  • Baikonur, Kazakhstan: A Soyuz rocket is scheduled to launch the Resurs P3 remote sensing satellite at 1:56 p.m. Eastern.

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...